2014 Artist Survey: Ashrae Fax

Alex Chesney and Reneé Mendoza Haran on Animal Testing, Mark Kozelek, Common Criticisms, Celebrity Crushes, and Terrible Haircuts

Jan 20, 2015 Web Exclusive
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For Under the Radar's 12th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2014. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2014 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions.

Check out our Best of 2014 print and digital issues for answers from alt-J, Camera Obscura, Chromeo, The Dears, Death From Above 1979, Deerhoof, The Drums, The Flaming Lips, Glass Animals, Hookworms, Sondre Lerche, of Montreal, Ought, Owen Pallett, The Rosebuds, Strand of Oaks, Teleman, Sharon Van Etten, The War on Drugs, Warpaint, Woman's Hour, Wye Oak, Zola Jesus, and others.

Here are some answers from Alex Chesney and Reneé Mendoza Haran of Ashrae Fax.

Top 5 Albums of 2014

Alex Chesney: Props! I don't keep track.

Reneé Mendoza Haran: I only have five for you:

1. Jenny Hval and Susanna: Meshes of Voice-This one's on the edge of out there. It's raw and honest vocal music.
2. Sylvan Esso: Sylvan Esso-Debut record. So great. So happy for these Durhamites to be living the dream and making such good stuff. Just a solid pop record.
3. Sam Smith: In the Lonely Hour-I love the reemergence of blue-eyed soul. Voices draw me in and Sam does it for me.
4. Caribou: Our Love
5. Blonde Redhead: Barragán-Still killing it.

What was the highlight of 2014 for either you personally or for the band?

Alex: Mexican Summer putting out our records!

Renee: I had a baby. A beautiful, glowing, joy-filled baby girl.

What are your hopes and plans for 2015?

Alex: Peace and hair grease.

Did you take part in the ice bucket challenge? If not, why not? Grimes declined due to animal testing issues, was the grief she got for that deserved?

Renee: I did not take part, but I am very much an advocate for raising awareness about the disease. A friend of mine from college suffered for years and passed away with ALS a few years ago. I got to donate my music to a documentary series that got a lot of attention and educated a lot of people about ALS: https://vimeo.com/channels/oftenawesome.

Grimes can do whatever she wants, but I happen to disagree with her. From a medical and purely rational perspective, it's impossible to live in a world without an animal model for research. Fortunately, as a former scientist, I know how rigorous the protocols for actually conducting research on animals is, and animal research (at least in a medical research environment) isn't done unless it's absolutely necessary, which is true in the case of ALS. It's not like they're sitting there dropping chemicals in bunnies' eyes. Rigorous medical research has to be conducted if we're ever going to find a cure or effective treatment for complex and terrible neuro disorders such as ALS.

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri opened up a new national dialogue on police shootings and racism in America. Do you think anything will actually change because of it?

Alex: Stay posi.

Renee: No, I don't, unfortunately. Not until some of the folks harboring very old ways of thinking are replaced with people who have new ideas about how things should work. Guns are simply too quick as weapons. They don't require any real thought or skill. When you think about guns in such a simple light, it makes sense that these things will keep happening until we change the way we think about and define our choice of weaponry.

What's your craziest theory for what happened to the missing Malaysian Air flight? 

Alex: Pilot error

Renee: Russia/Iran. Plane landed somewhere. 

Mark Kozelek was criticized in 2014 for insulting his audience (calling them "hillbillies" for talking during his set) and for making fun of The War on Drugs when their sound bled over to the stage he was playing. What responsibility do performers have to be respectful of their audiences and fellow bands?

Alex: Respect... bop!bop!

Renee: Wow, Mark really blew this one up. I cut my 4-track teeth on Red House Painters, so I totally love the man's writing. He's always been a bit of a loose and loaded cannon though. I went to see Red House Painters in 1996 and the band was there, but Mark had gone missing and was nowhere to be found. I was very disappointed that I never got to see them play. Hopscotch is a festival I've been involved with for several years now musically, and I know a lot of the folks who run the festival, so I was disappointed to hear that he acted like such a tantruming toddler. Seriously, if you're doing your job well as a musician, which is to connect with your audience, you don't ever have to ask them to shut up. That's my take. I've fortunately never had to ask an audience to pay attention to me. You ask with your music. Mark, have you forgotten how to love yourself? Love yourself by loving your audience.

"Weird Al" Yankovic was back in a big way this year. If he were to lampoon any one of your songs, which one would you want it to be? What would the "Weird Al" version's lyrics be about? 

Renee: I love "Weird Al!" He's so with it with this new video campaign. Unfortunately, I'm not sure any of the Ashrae Fax songs could be parodied just because my lyrics are so abstract. But I might make that a new goal for any future AFax songs.

Which common criticism of your music do you most agree with?

Renee: We sound a lot like Cocteau Twins and other bands from the 4AD era. I get it. We're huge fans and definitely influenced by that stuff. BUT there's a lot more going on, at least in my opinion... a soulfulness and gritty side to what we do. And we wrote this music when Cocteau Twins were still a band, so...

What's the most uplifting or heartwarming fan interaction you've ever had?

Renee: We played a private show for Modern English once. It was a punk venue in Charlottesville, VA. They had just played an arena gig and came to our gig accidentally after their show. But we had just finished our set when they arrived. They shouted, "Play another one for Modern English!" So we did, and then we hung out. It was cool.

What's the topic no one asks you about in interviews that you wish they would? Conversely, if you could get journalists to stop asking you one question, which would it be?

Alex: It's okay to have an opinion.

Who from your youth (such as a former bully, an unrequited love) do you most hope pays attention to the fact that you're now a successful musician?

Renee: I didn't know we were successful musicians now! When did that happen? I still work a full-time job!

Which musician or celebrity did you most have a crush on as a child or teenager?

Alex: Isabella Rossellini.

Which subject do you wish you paid more attention to in school?

Alex: All of 'em.

What was your first concert experience like (who did you see and who did you go with)?

Alex: Ha! Aluminum Noise and USAISAMonster tour!

Renee: My first concert was also my first "real" date. With Scott Johnson in the sixth or seventh grade. We went to see Alabama play at the Greensboro Coliseum. We two-stepped in the isles. Lots of fun!

In 2024, as part of the Mars One program, four people might be sent to Mars with no hope of ever returning to Earth. Are they completely crazy or brave? Would you ever consider such a thing?

Renee: Absolutely brave.

What advice would you give to a musician who is writing and recording a follow-up to a critically acclaimed and successful album in terms of dealing with the pressure and delivering an album that meets expectations?

Renee: Take your time, but don't be precious. Just make stuff and don't worry about if you "make it" or not. You'll lose your ability to create if you do it for the wrong reasons. Just make art for the art's sake. And for yourself. 

If you could travel through time, which historical event would you most like to alter the outcome of and why?

Alex: We do travel through time! 

What was your most disastrous haircut experience?

Alex: Right now or the high-point road fade.

Renee: Yeah, Alex got a really bad haircut in high school once. He wore a toboggan until it grew back out. We had to ask the principal to let him wear a hat or he wouldn't come to school.

After years of hard work, Future Islands finally broke through to a larger audience in 2014 thanks to a much praised Letterman performance. Which other long-running lesser-known band would you also like to see garner similar surprise success?

Renee: Ashrae Fax!  

When you can't sleep, what worry is most likely to be keeping you up at night?

Renee: Weird ass dreams. 

Which unique location on Earth would you most like to perform in (for examples, the top of the Eiffel Tower or at the North Pole)?

Renee: Red Rocks.

What out-of-date technology do you most miss?

Alex: Census.

Renee: Card catalogs.

Do you have any other thoughts about 2014 (such as on the World Cup, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, immigration reform, the failed Scottish Independence Referendum, ISIS, Ebola, Winter Olympics, celebrity nude photo hacks, etc.) or the state of the music industry?

Renee: Stay posi.

www.ashraefax.com

 



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Fade Haircut
May 12th 2017
5:37pm

What’s your craziest hypothesis for what happened to the missing Malaysian Air flight?

Alex: Pilot blunder

Renee: Russia/Iran. Plane landed some place.

Stamp Kozelek was scrutinized in 2014 for offending his gathering of people (calling them “hillbillies” for talking amid his set) and for ridiculing The War on Drugs when their sound seeped over to the stage he was playing. What duty do entertainers need to be aware of their groups of onlookers and kindred groups?