Friday, December 9, 2011

On The Couch with Alan Astor

Originally published June, 2005.

An Interview with singer, songwriter, and all around bad-ass Alan Astor
(www.alanastor.com)

DrB: Normally, I'm the one answering the questions, not asking them so if this turns out to be the suckiest interview ever, well that's why. Um, so what are you drinking?

AA: At night? Tequila and red bull, though sometimes vodka and soda, or my favorite beer, Mirror Pond.

During the day I drink a lot of tea - green or black to get moving, or throat coat to heal the damage I did the night before.

DrB: You live in New York City, any chance you know Susan?

AA: I don't think so. Is she nice?

DrB: Naw, a real bitch. Actually, I'm from the city myself and I get a kick out of people asking me questions like that. So I know you're originally from Wilmington, Delaware. What was it like growing up there? You must have a ton of credit cards in your pocket.

AA: Yeah, Wilmington is the credit card capitol of the world. Its also home of tax free shopping in case you ever need to stop off at Borders, Olive Garden, or TJ Maxx on your drive between Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Delaware is a really difficult place for creative people to grow up - there's almost nowhere to see live music, all the local bands play covers, there's no real art and the people all moved there for the cheap home ownership so it isn't the most aggressively forward thinking place. On the upside, there's a lot of dark fields to hang out in and a lot of places to drive forever. I spent a lot of time being bored and hung out with a bunch of other bored creative people. We'd play music or tell jokes or make little movies or whatever.

DrB: Sounds like an environment that could definitely lead to some innovation or serious drug problems. Now, here's a typical psychologist question for you, what was your childhood like?

AA: Difficult? I was the smart, rebellious, hyperactive kid that very few people knew what to do with and I spent a lot of time being confused because I was always told to sit down and shut up but it was like 'hey, this is who I am!' I think a lot of my thinking was shaped by that. Now that I'm older I'm only listening to me.

DrB: I think it's interesting that behaviors we punish early on are often those we reward with record contracts and movie deals later on. Were you diagnosed with ADHD? You definitely still have the energy.

AA: Yeah I mean, society rewards people more and more the closer they come to being insane. Megalomania, depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism, egomania - these are the building blocks of actors, musicians, artists, and writers.

I've been diagnosed with a whole lot of things throughout my life, but I've rarely felt helped by psyche doctors. I think a lot of medical conditions, mental and otherwise, are assumed by western medicine to be intrinsic, or at least they are treated that way, rather than symptomatic. I mean, I had some bad depression for awhile but I figured out how to work through it. I haven't been depressed in a long time now. If I had listened to the doctor, I probably wouldn't be doing this interview, I'd be at home on some meds. I'm pretty opposed to psyche meds, at least for me. Some people out there I wish would take more. Really though, things start working out for you when you start making them work out.

DrB: The first time I caught your act was in Pittsburgh and both of the girls I was with could barely stop drooling long enough to take the CD you were handing out. Is that a typical reaction? Cuz damn, that sort of thing just doesn't happen to advice columnists.

AA: Hahaha, it's happening more and more to me and it would be hard to say it's not fun. Have you thought about switching professions?

DrB: Many times, need a back-up singer, or at least a roadie?

AA: Not right now, but you can check for new job postings at AlanAstor.com.

DrB: The last time I saw you perform, you were sporting, and I say this in the most hetero way possible, a fairly spectacular beard. Coincidentally, that same week my friends and I held the first meeting of the unofficial "Pittsburgh Beards Club"-okay, it was more like three guys at a party, but it still seems facial hair is becoming more popular lately (at least for men). I like to think it looks a little distinguished, but there's a fine line between that and Ted Kaczynski. What's your take?

AA: Bottom line is - grow a beard. You'll exit from the oppressive societal norm of running sharp objects over your face, you can look like your favorite bible hero, and girls will want to touch your face and tell you how hairy you are while they think to themselves 'god he's like an animal!'

I'm a huge Kaczynski fan by the way - I've read his manifesto like 6 times. He should be required reading for high school students.

DrB: Excellent advice Alan, have you ever thought about switching professions?

AA: Not since I started this one. I've been frustrated at times with the professional side of what I do, but I really can't imagine not doing music. I wanna be doing this for a long, long time.

DrB: I guess at some point we'd have to talk about your music. I know I've described you as a "crooner for the digital age" how would you describe your brand of pop?

AA: I'm not big on descriptions, but the best comparison I've heard is 'Neil Diamond meets NIN'. I dunno, I just try to make the most exciting, expressive, and poppy shit I can.

DrB: Alan, you're not exactly a big guy, but you manage to belt out this amazing soulful voice. In a way, watching you sing reminds me of the first time I saw that Rick Astley video in the 80s. You're like a crouching tiger, hidden Barry White. Wassup with that?

AA: Honestly when I started singing, I didn't know it either. Guess I was born with it. One of my favorite things about singing is that no matter how much you try to sound like someone else, you'll always end up sounding like you.

DrB: Seriously Alan, you've got a great voice and a terrific sound, but enough with the slow stuff already, how about giving us something a doctor can dance to?

AA: For some school book report on music when I was like 10 and I read this really academic book where the guy said that one of the fundamentals of music appreciation is bodily movement. I've been confused ever since. The Western world has been anti-dancing from the time they met black people all the way through the other night here in NYC where I was told to stop dancing because the club didn't have a 'cabaret license', a dancing permit. I've never understood NOT moving to music, I mean, what do you think that rhythm is there for?

And you know, I am a little disappointed in how undanceable my first record is. Wait til the next one hits - there's some real bangers on it.

DrB: You started your career playing jazz and rock, how'd you get mixed up in the world of synth and mp3s?

AA: You wouldn't call my music jazz-rock fusion? The electronic thing happened first out of curiosity, and continued out of necessity. When I can get a 40 piece band to back me up, I will.

DrB: I'll look forward to that album. Who would you say are your biggest musical influences?

AA: Shit I hate this question, I love so much music and take so much from so many places. To really simplify: Scott Walker, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Aphex Twin, Buju Banton, Jaques Brel, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wilson Pickett, and definitely James Brown.

DrB: I knew you would hate that one, I hated asking it but you know readers. How about this one, what makes your ears bleed?

AA: Overly sentimental teen ballads, poorly done songs about self-loathing, electro-clash and most ironic music, new country, overly self-important stuff. I like all kinds of music I think, especially when it's emotive and well done. I generally can't stand things that are poorly done.

DrB: I believe artists, such as yourself, represent a genre that, if there is any space left on the iPod after all that crunk, should be a major force in the near future. What do you think of the future of electronica?

AA: Electronica is a weird word that I don't think anyone who ever made electronic music was ever happy with. I think the future of music is where it's always been - experimentation in emotions with sound. There's a lot of new feelings now that no one's ever felt before - time to make soundtracks for them.

DrB: And the future of Alan Astor, do you have anything on the horizon you'd like to talk about?

AA: My second record is called 'Winning Is The New Suicide' and its heating up. It's not quite finished and I haven't figured out how it's going to be released yet, but it's going to kill. I've got some touring coming up, some songs that are going to be in commercials, and a lot more feeling good to do.

DrB: You know, I usually write a sex & relationships advice column, so if there has been anything that has been on your mind…
Actually, it seems most of the questions I get asked lately deal with a common theme of people that find themselves stuck in unhappy situations (cheating boyfriends, lame girlfriends, abusive imaginary friends, etc.). You've overcome a bit of depression yourself, what advice could you give my readers?

AA: Commitment is everything. Commit to yourself, what you want, your ideas, the people you love, and don't ever stray from that commitment. When people are talking, evaluate what they are saying and accept it as absolute truth, then pit it against what you know and see what wins. Eliminate anything in your life that you don't like. Don't take shit from people. When you get destroyed, build yourself up even stronger. Don't pay attention to the government, politics, the news - its not worth it. Know your past and think of yourself as an individual point on a long line extending infinitely back and forward. Live as though you are already dead. Always know that nothing ever had to be the way that it is, and that Everything Is Possible.

DrB: Well said.
I know that you spent some time in Austin, Texas, which is a kick ass town for music. I lived there for a while too, moving down from New York. How did you deal with the transition from east coast to third coast, and back again?

AA: I've moved every year for the last 10 years, so transition isn't that hard for me anymore. Going to Texas definitely made me appreciate the East coast. I don't think I could live anywhere else in the US.

DrB: And finally, some quick ones:
Girls making out: pro or con?

AA: Pro. Double-Pro if you are making out with them.

DrB: Rich or beautiful?

AA: Hm, materialistic or vain? They're both so good I just can't choose!

DrB: And for all the Austinites that may be reading this, which did you prefer Magnolia or Kerby queso?

AA: Magnolia man, though maybe its the atmosphere. Its a much better brunch spot. I'm a big brunch person.
For more on Alan and to check out samples of his music, visit www.alanastor.com.