interview for DPRP by Martien Koolen
Three years after Aura, ASIA, once again, show that they still rock. With Silent Nation (their eighth studio album) the band ties on to their sensational early times and they come full circle with the very beginnings of the super group. Back in 1981 four supreme musicians started the Asia-project, the beginning of one of the most artistically, as well as commercially, most successful careers in rock music. Sadly the artistic flight does not last for a very long time because already in 1986, after the release of the third album Astra, the curtain falls for Asia and all four musicians turn to other projects. Geoff Downes restarts the group, with John Payne, as the most important new member of this second incarnation of Asia. Now in 2004, Asia consists of Downes, Payne, Slade and newcomer Guthrie Govan on lead guitar. The new album has just been released and I have a talk with John Payne about Silent Nation and new plans for Asia. It is Monday evening, 13 September 2004, and yesterday the band had their release party, so I hope that the alcohol does not “spoil” this interview too much ...
Still a formidable progressive rock band
JOHN: Hi, Martien, I am the best survivor of last night, we really had a great release party over here. Actually at a certain point it turned into a drum party as there were present Micky Dee (Motorhead), Steve Zucherman (Styx), Sting of all people and our drummer Chris Slade of course ... In the end we all got rather drunk, but let’s not get into that.
MARTIEN: You guys have been working on this new album for almost three years, rather a long time. Was there no more inspiration or was something else going on?
You are right that in between our previous album "Aura" and the new one lies a period of almost three years, however we released a live DVD in the mean time with Classic Rock Productions. Unfortunately, we came across some contractual difficulties, as it turned out that they never paid us for the DVD ... Furthermore the record company that released "Aura" went bankrupt and so we had lots of things on our minds and this caused serious creative problems. But then we decided to move to California and there the ideas for a new album came very quickly, the inspiration was back and during 9 months we worked very hard on the new songs and the concept. During that time I listened to classic rock stations a lot and I heard a lot of early material from bands like Yes, Journey and even Asia ... This made clear that this music is still great to listen to and I decided to go back to our origins for the new album.
So, "Silent Nation" is a sort of 'back to the roots' album for Asia?
In a way you could say that, we are a classic rock band so we kind of relax in our own musical world, so to speak. I think that we gained a lot of new fans with this album and I also think that we confused a lot of old fans. So far the album has been received very well; I have not read a bad review – knock on wood – so far. Even the fact that in the past some people called us dated or retro is not mentioned ... We knew that the songs were good, we worked on the material for about a year and at a certain time, after the mix, you really have no clue what the result is going to be. No, after a few months time you can step back and you can see/hear that it is a good album.
All the other seven Asia albums had titles that started with the letter A, This one is the first that does not start with an "A", was this coincidence, or ...?
Well, actually we were thinking of a title with an "A" again, just to carry on with this rather strange tradition, but in the end we came to the conclusion that we virtually exhausted all "A"-words. Then we started to look for Latin or Greek words starting with an A, but nothing came up. In fact, later on we had a title namely Arkana, which means mysterious, but it did not fit with the rather political lyrics that I wrote. At some time I was watching the Howard Stern show, which was about the Janet Jackson tit exposure and they were dealing with censorship and bad language on TV and in magazines and then I came up with the title for the album. I directly knew that "Silent Nation" was the perfect title for this album.
The title and also the cover of the album kind of remind me of George Orwell and the “Big Brother Is Watching You” theme. Is that what you had in mind while writing the material for this album?
I think that you are right; the cover even has a kind of Clockwork Orange feeling, don’t you think? It is indeed a concept album and in some magazines I already got criticised for being too political. Some critics even accuse me of being a retro hippie, but I don’t mind that, for me it’s far more important that listeners start to think about the destruction of the World by men during listening to our album. We are doing things to the environment that will destroy this beautiful planet in due time. Think of Los Angeles and the daily smog, nobody does anything about it. Why don’t we invent an electric car, so that we can stop this dreadful air pollution? In politics however there is only short term thinking, we never think about the future. The song "Midnight" deals with that topic, how will the future for our children look like, how will the environment look like in a 100 years’ time? I really believe in our beautiful planet and in wonderful people, but during the last 100 years man has done some serious damage to our planet. Till 1800 this planet was pretty unspoilt, but after that it really started to get worse. Of course the lyrics are ambiguous – the song "What About Love" deals with mankind and ... - and I also do nothing about it, I truly realise that, I am as guilty as the next guy. Money is the thing that is most important in our society, a society that is rotten. Our modern age is bad, but also great in a way and something has to change to keep our planet alive. However I do not want to shove this, or anything, down people’s throats, I do not want to preach. Preaching is wrong; therefore I am also not a fan of the Rock against Bush thing, which is taking place at the moment.
You wrote all the lyrics for the new album?
Yes, I did and the rest of the band is quite happy with that. Writing lyrics is hard work, but when you have thought of an album title then it becomes easy. Geoff and I sat down for 7 months to come up with the lyrics and the music, then we started to rehearse, create keyboard melodies and guitar riffs and make some changes here and there, till we find it satisfactory to round off. Actually I composed all songs on a simple acoustic guitar in the first place.
The guitar solos on this album are really amazing, like for instance in songs like "What About Love" or "Gone Too Far". Who is this new Asia guitar picker called Guthrie Govan?
Yeah, he really is amazing, he is an incredible find, unknown to most people and he has never played in a band before. He is a real guitar monster and some of his solos on this album are really out of this world. He is THE ingredient that we missed; his guitar playing gives the album an extra musical dimension.
I am really looking forward to see him and the rest of the band of course playing live. When can we expect Asia to be touring in Europe, especially The Netherlands?
In February we will be touring in Germany and then later on we will be going back to the USA. Geoff and I will do an unplugged tour in bookstores in America, which is a great way to sell CDs. In November we will do a two weeks’ tour in Latin-America, for the very first time, by the way, and then we will have a writing break during X-mas time. We need to write new songs for the next album then ... The setlist will probably be a great surprise; we will play stuff from the first Asia album and songs from the new album. In the past we did two songs from each album but it turned out that this expands the music too much. The songs from the first album and "Silent Nation" work together very well, so I am really looking forward to this.
I assume you will be headlining, other bands that you are going to take along, or will it just be Asia?
We were thinking of Barclay James Harvest, actually ...
My God, are they still around?
Yes, they are and they still have lots of fans in Europe, especially in Germany, so it may be a good choice to ask these guys to join us on the European tour.
Have you already thought about releasing a single? The opener of the album "What About Love" would be very suitable as it has a very catchy chorus.
I totally agree with you there, we are thinking about it. We definitely need some airplay on the radio, we need a push. "Silent Nation" is a very important album for us, it must be successful, because as you know the competition out there is very keen. In the USA it is very difficult to get radio attention; you have to pay to be played over there, but maybe it is better to concentrate on the European radio stations, but then we have to release a single of course. But I look at the future with confidence, progressive music is getting more popular again, just think of the two sold-out Wembley concerts of Rush, and Yes is also still around and doing great, so why not Asia?
I wish you and the rest of the gang all the luck and I hope to see you in Europe on the coming tour.
Thanks for your time and the interview and hope to see you on our European shows.
Interview for DPRP by MARTIEN KOOLEN
Read our review of Silent Nation
The Official Asia Website
Inside Out Music