John Ashton

Interview by Dennis Morgillo

An Interview with John Ashton
By David Iozzia

John Ashton is a British musician, songwriter, and record producer. He is best known as the lead guitarist from the Psychedelic Furs. John joined the band in 1978, and he played on their seven studio albums released between 1980 and 1991. Although the band had radio hits like "Love My Way" and "Heartbreak Beat," they had others like "Sister Europe," "Highwire Days," and "Dumb Waiters" that are songs on the soundtrack to my youth. Psychedelic Furs were on hiatus between 1991 and 2000. When the band reformed, John joined the band on occasion for many of their worldwide tours. The Furs remain a "can't miss" band for me every time they tour on the East Coast of the United States. In 2014, John recorded and released his first solo project, "Satellite Paradiso," a full length self-titled record. I was chatting with John on social media late 2015 when he told me about this record. I purchased a physical copy because this dinosaur does not download! "Satellite Paradiso" was the best new music I purchased in 2015. Hands down! I was thrilled when John agreed to do this interview. We talked a bit about the Furs and a lot about "Satellite Paradiso."

Madhouse:   What factors led to the recording and release of your latest record "Satellite Paradiso"?
John:  For a long time I wanted to do something on my own. After the Psychedelic Furs originally broke up in 1992, I wrote songs, still with the Furs in mind, but with an eye on releasing something on my own. I started writing for an album that I wanted to put out in 1994 or 1995. I put that record on hold several times. I'd stop and I'd start. One of the things that held me back was that Psychedelic Furs frontman Richard Butler initially showed some interest in working on those songs. But he never really came through. He became more focused on a solo career and his painting career. Without a lead vocalist to bounce ideas off, I was basically writing tunes. Fast forward to 2010 or 2011, and I got a visit from an old friend, Rob Sacher. He was a big champion of everything I had ever done. He was also a huge Furs fan. 

Madhouse: Rob owned a few New York City nightclubs I believe?
John:  Right. Rob owned a club called The Mission in the 80s. He started a new club called Luna Lounge, and I played there a few times. He had worked with a band called The Ancients, and he thought their singer Fred Schreck would be a good fit for me to work with. I started trading e-mails with Fred and I sent him some songs. The first song was "Angelic." He came back to me quickly with a finished idea for a song. Then another one and another one. At that time, I knew I had my guy. 

Madhouse: You can't go wrong picking a singer from New Jersey (laughing).
John: I had already worked with Sara Lee, the bass player from Gang of Four. She is a friend and a neighbor of mine. She introduced me to Gail Ann Dorsey, who was David Bowie's bass guitarist. Between the two of them, I had my bass players for the album. I already had B.P. Hurding, a friend and another local guy who played drums on one track. He was the drummer from X-Ray Spex. Paul Garisto is back drumming with the Furs. But when we were recording, he was not with the Furs. He played on a couple of tracks. My original idea was to put out a record with different singers, kind of like what Carlos Santana had done. 

Madhouse: He stole your idea John!
John:  Yeah. So I went back into my rabbit hole. Frank Coleman came along and played some drums. Fred introduced me to Big Paul Ferguson, the drummer from Killing Joke. He played on a few tracks and it snowballed from there. I had my ideas for the band, and then I called a few ex-Furs, guitarist Roger Morris and saxophonist Duncan Killburn. They played on a few tracks. Slowly but surely, and then very quickly at the end, I pretty much had an album.  

Madhouse: If we go back to the year 2000, you rejoined the Psychedelic Furs in a reformed lineup. As a big fan of the band, I attended many of the subsequent tours. They recorded a new song "Alive" for a greatest hits package and two others for the companion DVD. Yet I sensed a reluctance to record new material. Was that a trigger that forced your hand to do the
"Satellite Paradiso" record and depart from the Psychedelic Furs?
John:  Yes Dave. That was the biggest trigger of all. I had given Richard Butler a version of "Angelic," and he wrote the Furs song "Cigarette" from that. Richard had written some stuff with a songwriter named Jon Carin. I didn't like the songs; they weren't in the right vein. I don't quite know how to explain it but they weren't Psychedelic Furs material. A big divide occurred, and over the next couple of years Richard's reluctance to get involved got me more and more depressed. I was still working with Furs bass guitarist Tim Butler trying to write for the Furs. He would come up and play. We'd hash out some ideas we had, and he'd take them back to Richard. But Richard never listened to them.  Or if he did, he was indifferent to them. I got the feeling that we were done as a songwriting team. The other thing was he kept saying that he had these songs. I said you wrote them with
Jon Carin and they don't sound like the Furs. Richard thought they did. I thought the songs were too polished. They had typical chord changes, bridges, and hooks that didn't sound like the Furs to me. I told him to put those songs on a solo record and he did. I got more and more depressed, and I thought it was time to move on.

Madhouse:  I was unaware of Fred Schreck until I purchased my copy of "Satellite Paradiso." After reading the liner notes and contacting him on Facebook, we are from the same home town: Paterson, New Jersey. What a small world.
John:  Fred's work with The Ancients was good stuff. He and Morgan Visconti, son of David Bowie's producer, Tony Visconti, had written many of The Ancients songs together. Rob Sacher, who I mentioned earlier, wrote a book about his story running the music clubs in New York City. Rob kickstarted quite a few careers. He managed The Ancients for a while. Joey Ramone was a big fan of the band and wanted to do something with them. It was quite poetic how Rob brought Fred and I together and made it all happen.

Madhouse: You mentioned earlier that you gave Fred demos and raw material long distance to add lyrics to and turn them into songs. Did he take your ideas in the direction you expected, or in a different direction?
John:  For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised with what he came up with. I let him have free rein. I write the music and I have no preconception on what a lyric should be. I never did with Richard Butler either. I was pretty happy. They were pretty much finished tracks that I had given to Fred.

Madhouse:  Satellite Paradiso played a week’s worth of East Coast shows in June. Are you planning anything yet for 2016? 
John:  Satellite Paradiso lands at the ultimate port of call, Times Square in New York City,  on September 1st. We’re playing an exclusive show at the world famous Iridium Jazz Club.

Madhouse:  For Satellite Paradiso shows, do you have enough material or will you have to add some covers to round out the set?
John:  I'll add a few Psychedelic Furs covers. 

Madhouse:  Thanks for the interview, John. Feel free to close the interview with closing comments to your fans. 
John:  Thank you to the Psychedelic Furs fans and the new fans we've picked up along the way with Satellite Paradiso. I thank them sincerely for buying or downloading the record, and spreading the word. I hope that our summer shows branch out into more shows. I hope they'll check out the new EP when it comes out.  I'm currently mixing it. It sounds really good. It's raw. It's different. It's not as polished as the album.

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