Interview with Asher for a German on-line music magazine
Interviewer: Ingo Andruschkewitz for www.musikanisch.de
First of all, as you are hardly known to most of our readers, could you tell them a little about your musical career?
Hardly known, Ingo, hardly known? But I am a world renowned rock God and international sex symbol. Both my fans agree on this. I began being a rock God aged three when I started to play the piano, intuitively. I was very shy as a teenager, like many international sex symbols, and used to play the piano to impress girls. The other thing I could do intuitively was to play football. I also used that to impress girls. Because I was so busy trying to impress girls, I did not get a recording contract until I was 30, with a company called New World Music. My main inspirations as a teenager were, amongst others, Vivaldi, Jewish folk music, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Mike Oldfield. I remember Dylan once saying he started out by wanting to be as famous as Elvis Presley. Well, I wanted to be as famous as Dylan, then. Now, I simply feel very grateful to have been able to express the music I felt inside for so many years, and to have been able to offer it up to others and to have had it received. I feel tremendous gratitude for the miracle of that simple energy exchange.
My first album, OPEN SECRET, was instrumental… a mixture of classical, folk, progressive rock and visual narratives which almost approached something like film scores. It was the mid 1980's, and I had not gotten anywhere with writing more mainstream pop and rock stuff, so I resolved just to 'do my own thing' and record the music that was truly in my heart, and sell it to friends! I happened to go into an esoteric bookshop in London one day, and they were playing interesting music… something called New Age. I looked at the cassettes and took down the details of two companies; one was a German company and the other was New World Music. I sent them both my cassette, and New World gave me a contract the next day. The German company never replied! New World Music were an established new age company world-wide, who specialised in instrumental music.
OPEN SECRET was very successful, which took me rather by surprise, and I followed this up with MYSTIC HEART, into which I put spiritual chants and lyrics… because that was true to my heart… expressly against the wishes of the record company, as it happens, who wanted only uplifting but 'safe' background music. MYSTIC HEART sold even better! Over the next fifteen years I produced about an album a year for New World... always a blend of instrumental and intimate, esoteric vocal with spiritual themes, and in a mixture of styles which embraced classical, folk, pop, ambient and new age, and included chants, piano vignettes, orchestrated epic 'journey' pieces and even mainstream ballads. WINGS OF FIRE and CONCERT OF ANGELS also topped the new age charts world-wide.
CONCERT OF ANGELS, a largely improvised piano album with additional subtle orchestration, took only three days to record and cost only £300 to make, in 1993, but is still my best-seller! I only make the music that I really want to make, or am sometimes guided to make… because I feel a higher hand in the proceedings, sometimes, orchestrating things… and make no concession whatsoever to fashion, trends, the music 'business' or what might sell. I am interested only in following my heart.
Over the last few years I have produced more mainstream singer-songwriter albums, like EAST OF EAST, SERPENT IN PARADISE and my new release FALLING THROUGH TIME… and all of them still very much embrace spiritual themes. I sing love ballads, but universal love ballads, if you know what I mean. I've also released a CD/DVD of a 'live' acoustic solo concert, called ASHER QUINN 'LIVE' AT VIOLET HILL, a double CD of cover versions of tracks by my favourite artists, like Dylan and Leonard Cohen, called SONGS OF LOVE AND CHAINS, and various compilations of my New World back catalogue.
Several of my tracks have been used as anthems by various spiritual organisations, tracks like 'Soldier of love', 'Missa Greca' and 'This love', and a couple of years back two of my tracks were used in the sound-track of a French art film made by author Michel Houellebecq, called "La possibilite d'une ile".
Now I have started a little record company called SINGING STONE MUSIC which I use exclusively to promote and distribute my own albums. There are sixteen albums in the catalogue, and at last I can take over the world! Muhaha!
Even though you've sold more than half a million copies of your music, you are little known to a wider audience. What do you think are the reasons for this?
Well… that's an interesting question, but the truth is, I think, that women faint with adoration and ecstasy when they hear me sing, so I am regarded as a health risk. They also throw their knickers at me, of course, like they did at Elvis and still do at Tom Jones. I think this creates problems for the cleaners after concerts. Men also throw their knickers at me, or become very envious of my reputation as an international sex symbol, so some shops are reluctant to even stock my discs in case it causes a frenzy.
I have heard it said that record companies, shops and distributors find it hard to know which genre to put me in, as I don't quite fit any of their marketing categories… they can't decide if I am a new age artist, a folk singer, a film score composer or a singer-songwriter? But I don't think it's that, I think it's to do with the knickers.
I wish the shops would get 'modern' and invent a new genre called 'Visionary Prophet'. That would guarantee me a wider audience and world domination instantly. People would go into a shop and browse through New Age, Folk and Rock & Pop, and then wonder if there was anything new in the Visionary Prophet category… that's where they would see all my albums.
The thing is, I've come to understand that I'm not so concerned with the music business, or even with any persona as a musician. I realise that what's really important to me is to try to be true to myself, and to make art… because art expresses the contradictions inherent in life that science cannot. And I create music first to heal my own soul, and then to reach out to others. Sales and marketing are less important to me than the artistic process itself, and I wouldn't want to get lost in the business side of music at the expense of the soul of it. I feel that a 'higher hand' is guiding both the music that comes through me, and the matter of who receives it. I do what I can to network it all, but only if it flows organically. I try not to be will-driven.
Your records were released under different names: first it was Denis Quinn, later Asha and nowadays it is Asher Quinn. What’s the reason for this? Marketing strategies of record companies?
Actually, no. I was adopted aged two, and I found out that my natural father was quite a well-known singer in the UK in the 1950's and that my natural mother, a young Russian Jewess, was a fan of his… a groupie I suppose, like I have legions of myself now. Hence I had a lot of different names early on… registered first under my mother's Russian name, then my father's and then my adoptive family's name. None of them really felt like 'me' if you know what I mean. OPEN SECRET was recorded under the name Denis Quinn, but then, one night, I had a dream about the name 'Asha', in 1987. I investigated the mythology of the name and found that in Sanskrit Asha meant 'hope'. Also, in the Hebrew tradition, there was a variant, Asher, meaning 'tree of life'. This name, which came from within, felt like something I could embrace, and so I changed it legally. Asha had a more feminine feel, which suited me at that time when I was trying to integrate a more feminine, feeling side to my nature. Most of my albums were released under the name of Asha. Over the last few years I have settled upon Asher Quinn as the final more masculine expression of my identity, so now all of my albums are released under that name. I suppose it causes further confusion as to my identity for shops and distributors, and makes it hard to know not only which category to put my titles in, but also which name to put them under. When I take over the world it will not matter. Muhaha!
Your first records were produced by the great Anthony Phillips, a founding member of Genesis. How did you get in contact with him? Are you still in touch with him and might there be any musical projects with him in the future?
Anthony is a friend. Our original contact was not through music at all, but through football and cricket, and the humour of Monty Python. As a teenager he briefly went out with my cousin, and lived not far away. We still meet up, and live near each other. He was very much a musical mentor for me, and taught me a lot about arranging and recording. My early demos (demonstration cassettes) and first three albums were produced by Anthony (I've always known him as Ant), and that set me on my way. He is a wonderful classical guitarist and proper, eccentric, civilised, kind-spirited English gentleman. As a composer he is very much, to my mind, in the great English pastoral tradition of people like Ralph Vaughan Williams. Anthony is an intuitive classicist, whereas I am an out and out intuitive… more of a troubadour. He is water and I am fire. It is always possible that we might collaborate again.
Your music is mostly labelled ‘New Age’. Are you happy with this?
No, no, no, no and no! After hearing something interesting called New Age in the esoteric book shop that time, I have increasingly cringed, really, at the term New Age, as both a musical genre and also as a spiritual philosophy. Musically, if New Age is associated with people like Phillip Glass, Einaudi, Eno, Mike Oldfield or Enigma then I am proud to stand up and be counted as a New Age artist… but if it is associated with wallpaper, background muzak with big pictures of idealised angels, dolphins or King Arthur on the CD cover, then I get very jihadist and feel like issuing a fatwa against the New Age. Of the albums sometimes found in plastic dolphin shops, however, I have long had a soft spot for the album SHAMANIC DREAM by Anugama.
Equally, confronted with any idealised sense of a spiritual New Age, I become the Incredible Hulk and go on the rampage. I am currently working only on world peace inside my own conflictual psyche. It may take some time. But the planet is changing… and the collective consciousness is changing, too. The essential wrestling line-up seems to be fear v. love, or conservativism v. liberalism… not so much east v. west, or religion against religion, it seems to me. I believe peace and love can only emerge through each individual winning that struggle within. Then we would know better how to implement kinder economic, religious and social structures. Something evolutionary of an organic nature to do with a higher vibration of love does seem to be on the move, though, in the collective consciousness. I hope it arrives soon.
How are the reactions to the release of "Falling Through Time“? Are you happy with these reactions?
I have not had a single poor reaction to FALLING THROUGH TIME, or even a non-committal one. Everyone so far, fans and reviewers alike, has really enjoyed it, and I myself am happier with this album than with any previous recording I have made. Of course I use sorcery to influence the reviewers, and simple intimidation to coerce my fans into giving positive reactions. I find that works very well. (*Actually, I just had a negative reaction last night from a fan… the only one. I must check my sorcery manual).
Your last recordings became more and more vocalised. Was it a natural shift for you to use more vocals instead of making more instrumental music?
It was always my heart's desire to sing proper visionary songs like Dylan and Leonard Cohen do, but I was a bit shy of my voice as a younger man. Then, when New World banned me from singing, because it didn't suit their profile, I was further constrained, though naturally rebellious. The truth must come out! I also found it hard to work out how to translate my complex studio arrangements into a concert format, but I've gradually learned how to do that now.
I forged an intention to work out how to make my songs more like a Picasso line-drawing, rather than a Mozart opera, so I could sing simply and directly with just a piano or guitar, and allow myself to be more honest and vulnerable before an audience. This was also a spiritual challenge because I realised that I had to centre myself in generosity and not ego in order to do that, properly. In the early days I 'hid' a little behind my own arrangements. It has taken a while to work out what my main 'thing' is here; what my purpose, such as it is, might be in the bigger sense. Should I be an entertainer, a business-man or what, quite? What I have found out is that I am a postman.
How important are the words for you? They often are very spiritual or even religious. Are you religious in a Christian way or is there any other spirituality you believe in?
I am not a Christian at all in the ordinary reality sense. I don't go to church or follow the scriptures, but the living energy of the Christ, in a felt, untutored, uninfluenced sense, acts as a portal for me to other dimensions of being.
My natural mother is Jewish, which makes me a Jew in Jewish law, but my formative spiritual experiences as a young adult were through the Sufi path… the mystical aspect of Islaam. Things such as Aikido, Jungian analysis, shamanic practices, Daoist energy practices, Tibetan breathing practices and many, many spontaneous inner 'epiphanies', I suppose one could call them, have deepened and actualised my relationship to what feels like spirit. Spirit is what shaman's would call the Holy Ghost, or Daoists would call the Dao… it is a living experience, not an ideology or a religious structure.
Shaman's call non-ordinary reality the mythological world, beyond time and space. This is where they go to find healing for the souls in their care, and this is where I go to find my songs, and the poetry in them. It is where I go for my own healing, and for the therapy clients I see. This is where our unconscious dreams come from. To access this realm one is initiated, sometimes by suffering, sometimes by conscious intent, sometimes suddenly and sometimes slowly. I was initiated by suffering, and rather suddenly… though also in various stages throughout my life. I am still being initiated.
When I first tried to write songs as a teenager, I was a middle-class suburban boy who knew nothing about anything. I still know nothing about anything, but more convincingly these days, and with more style! I remember Leonard Cohen once saying something like 'I wake up every morning and check to see if I'm in a state of grace yet… if not, I go back to sleep.'
My early songs were considered to be promising, melodically, but absolutely inconsequential, lyrically. I tried to write about love, politics, society and so on, but it was cringeworthy, as we say in the UK… really embarrassingly bad. Aged about twenty-five however, I had the gates of perception opened for me through Sufi mysticism… through practices like drumming, chanting, whirling, Zikr (mantra-like meditations) and so a secret, psychic doorway opened inside my heart into the mythological realms. I finally found something inexhaustible to write about… about the higher, deeper part of our being, and the love story that that really is. Much Sufi poetry exists at two levels… there is the love between two lovers, at the ordinary level, and the love of the lover for the Beloved, for life itself, at the non-ordinary level. I am greatly comforted and inspired by that, and that is what I try to put into my songs… that matrix of meaning.
How important was the help of Co-Producer, Sound Engineer and musician Shaun Britton during the process of recording, mixing and mastering "Falling Through Time"?
Shaun is tremendously important. He's young, at 26, and a masters graduate in sound engineering, as well as being a composer himself. I gave a concert in the UK last year and he came and gave me a CD of his stuff afterwards, when he met me to come and say 'hello'. He told me he had discovered my music when he was about 12, and how much it had influenced him! I do find that touching. I'm a tribal elder now!
I get sent a fair few CD's from budding new age artists, but something in Shaun's music had a quality to it from a dimension that I recognised… something in the beauty, harmony and occasionally melancholic nature of it… something sometimes bittersweet. If there were an image to describe this dimension, it would be a Botticelli angel looking down with sorrow and compassion at the world, an image that I actually put onto the front cover of my own album MYSTIC HEART, back in 1989.
It occurred to me, and I felt it intuitively, that he could record my songs very sympathetically. And this is how it turned out to be. Shaun's set-up is very simple… a MacBook Pro, some speakers, a good keyboard and microphone and an old organ in his Mum's front room! This is a long way away from the state of the art, million euro studio I recorded my previous album SERPENT IN PARADISE in, in the Netherlands. Both these albums are extremely well-produced.
With Shaun, and "Falling Through Time" the whole thing was a great joy. He is extremely responsive, resourceful, balanced, unflappable, talented and 'other-worldly' himself, in a very grounded way. He surely will become a master producer, and manifest his own compositions in the very near future. We neither of us had much money to throw at this project, but I could not imagine a better result. To get a Flamenco rhythm for one track, Shaun found an old pair of shoes and a formica plank in the cupboard of the local youth centre (called the Genesis Centre), where he ran sound workshops, and he played the rhythm with the shoes on his hands! Genius!
You now have your own independent record label ‘Singing Stone Music’ to release your records. Weren’t you happy with your former record company?
New World Music put me on the map, so to speak, but like many artists starting out I was just grateful to be signed and I didn't know how to interpret the contract properly, and couldn't afford a lawyer. As the years went by I realised that the contract was not fairly balanced. Also, they had their own corporate ethos and in-house design and we constantly argued about artistic integrity. At one point I was told that they could guarantee me a million sales just by putting me on the front of their catalogue, so I said 'well, why don't you, then?' The reply was that I cost more than another artist who had his own studio, so it was not commercially worthwhile for them! I then realised that sales were more important than artistic integrity to them.
Getting my rights back proved to be a long and arduous struggle involving heavy artillery, land and sea invasions and 'dirty' nuclear bombs. A couple of other well-meaning amateurs established record companies to try and promote my albums, from the Netherlands, but they didn't have the know-how or time-commitment to make it work. I also tried the eclectic Voiceprint Records in the UK, but realised that I got swallowed up in a corporate maze once again.
After some successful bombing campaigns, I finally secured my rights again from all these companies, and got some stock, too, as part of the peace plan. This is when I established Singing Stone Music, more by default than by design. Having some stock was the crucial component, in that it enabled me to just keep ahead with cash-flow as I sought to expand, so I could sell and then re-stock with the income. It's still a break-even venture so far, rather than a profitable one financially, but with the infrastructure established that leaves more room for profit now, theoretically, at least.
Being fully in control of the kind of music I wish to make, the artwork, the energy and everything about the product, is extremely gratifying, and satisfying to my soul. I have a singular vision and I have really always needed to be in charge of it. I'm unemployable, in truth… even as an artist signed to a record company.
Is there a plan to release the music of other artists as well?
I am not actively seeking to distribute the music of other artists. If I was a record company boss I would instantly turn into the spawn of Satan, overnight. The other artists would start by loving me, and by being enormously grateful for my help and wisdom, and end up by taking me to court because they felt exploited. It is a mythic theme, rather like finding out that Darth Vader is your own Dad! All proper recording artists must be ruthlessly exploited by unscrupulous record companies as a rite of passage and initiation into wisdom and mastery. Look at George Michael and Prince, for example.
But if I heard music that made me simply have to throw my knickers at the artist, and bow down with humility before a truly Divine spirit, then I suppose I would be compelled to take them on and ruthlessly exploit them.
There was a special campaign for pre-ordering your new record "Falling Through Time“. Every person who pre-ordered the new CD got any CD of your back catalogue for free. Was this a success? Will there be similar campaigns in the future?
It proved to be enormously successful! Some might say it was a marketing tactic, but I like to think of it more as mind control, or a kind of sorcery. This bargain is still on offer, and my website shop often offers great bargains… like buying 5 CD's for €30 or something. We always keep some promotional thing going. I do it by 'feel' or intuition, rather than sitting down and thinking about it.
I suppose the internet is a great help for independent artists. What do you think about the internet?
I only got a computer four years ago, for the first time, and I'm not very computer literate, myself. However, a 'fan' who runs Anthony Phillips's site offered to set a site up for me too. This is Jonathan Dann who works as an archivist by day. Jonathan has helped me establish a quirky kind of site with an on-line shop, which I now love. It means I can take over the world from the comfort of my study or living-room. My site and record company are going into year three now, and last year sales increased by about 1000%!
Gone are the days of big CD sales, what with downloads and streaming, of course, but it seems like the best way for an independent artist to progress, and even prosper, is to build a loyal, enthusiastic fan-base, slowly and patiently. I have another friend, Emoke Labancz in Budapest, who now does all the artwork for my catalogue and albums, makes YouTube videos to accompany certain tracks, and researches shops, radio stations and distribution companies for me to contact. We try and manage about ten a week. By offering regular bargains on-line, and using Facebook, YouTube and (soon) Twitter, I can reach out to a new music-buying audience and add to my existing fan-base, garnered through my long association with New World. I always respond to any customer and fan quickly and personally, and only threaten them with violence when entirely necessary if they fail to buy a new album. Through the internet I have also secured distribution over much of Europe… with Oreade in the Netherlands, and Silenzio here in German-speaking territories, for instance.
So, a combination of internet expansion and occasional concerts seems to be working. It's still at a manageable level, in that I can attend to it around family things and my daytime work as a therapist, and the other two in the Singing Stone team can also manage things around their other professional work. I pay them a modest fee, but they do it for love really, because I am a rock God and international sex symbol. I try to use sorcery, of course, to bend them entirely to my will, but mercifully Jonathan and Emoke are highly evolved chi masters, adept at dealing with monsters like myself, intent on taking over the world.
Will you be touring to promote your new record?
Touring is tricky for me. I'm a family man, and don't want to be an absent Dad, like Darth Vader. Equally, I work as a psychotherapist and have a weekly workload. This is how I provide reliably for my family. Although I am a rock God and international sex symbol, and although music is a true passion and necessity for my soul, very few recording musicians can reliably earn a living from it these days. With illegal downloads it gets very difficult for an artist to manage, financially. It may be that with the development of streaming, music will become a community commodity, like gas and electricity, and each artist will get a small sum from some central fund, and become state or corporation owned, like in some grim science-fiction fantasy. I think maybe it already is quite like that.
But art can never die… it is evergreen in the soul, and will always find new ways to thrive. I love performing now, and can finally impress the young girls I wanted to impress when I was young. I have no manager or agent, however, and give concerts quite rarely, and usually when I'm invited to. For instance, a yoga group in Pamplona have invited me to do an acoustic concert in May, and before that I might give a couple of acoustic concerts at Violet Hill Studios, the healing centre in London where I practice psychotherapy. Violet Hill has a lovely, small concert room. I prefer giving small, intimate concerts and have never performed in front of more than 500 people. I perform in Holland from time to time where my music is probably better known even than in England… I don't know why, really… so I'm hoping to give three or four concerts there later this year. And I now have five addresses of New Age concert promoters in Germany, whom I intend to contact to see if I can perform there, in your country, Ingo! I'd love to perform in Berlin… people say that it's such a marvellous city with a real heart and soul.
Besides your music, you also work as a Jungian analyst. What exactly does this mean?
I am a psychotherapist, and treat people who come to me with a wide variety of problems, such as anxiety, depression, relationship issues, eating disorders, phobias, sexual problems, spiritual problems, panic, anger difficulties, issues of abuse, life crisis… many, many problematic and painful things. I work in a deep way by looking at the possible meaning of their dreams, at the messages contained in their symptoms, and at the fate patterns and synchronicities in their lives… all gateways to the unconscious world where buried truths are kept. We do this by talking, by active imagination and creative visualisation, by psychodrama and music sometimes, through art, through shamanic journeying… through creating a bond whereby a sacred space is created between myself and the soul in front of me, into which their healing truths can emerge, safely. Jung himself called this sacred space the 'temenos' from the Greek.
These relationships are special in my life… they are like crystals lit up from within.
I go to the same place in myself with my clients to find healing as I go to find my songs… this mythological world… and my job is to facilitate a cumulative journey for my clients so that they can access their own mythological world for healing, their own eternity within.
Any last words to our readers?
Segen und frieden!