After playing bass alongside Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley in the truly legendary Burning Witch, G. Stuart Dahlquist formed the avant-garde drone outfit Asva to continue shaking the very core of the Earth with his slow motion riffs. M3 heard all about contemporary classical music, Andy Warhol and warrantless wiretapping…
photo credit: Tim Jensen
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Stuart – I like to write and record music, it is my passion and has been so for a very long time. As luck would have it I’m good at and do quite a lot of other jobs (without actually having a real day to day job) in order to finance that passion and support my family; without those abilities I doubt music- at least the creation of it- would be the focal point of my being.
What inspired you to form Asva? What is your own musical background?
Initially the band came about at the request of Brad Mowen; he wanted to write some heavy music and form a band based a little upon our old project Burning Witch. Asva has changed dramatically over the years and is still evolving, the notion of what Asva ‘is’, from the music to the people involved in that music is always in flux. These days I’m really getting into the music I grew up listening to, my parent’s music really. Orchestral, choral, opera… that sort of thing. I’m trying to implement these classical ideas with my own ham-fisted method of playing and composing. Since I’m not some virtuosic talent on any instrument in particular my approach has to be simple, guided by the slow, methodic combining of sonic textures and melodic phrasing.
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
Quite a bit of truth to that actually but I do think you can make money selling records, it all depends upon what one considers to be ‘enough money’. I personally do not make very much money through music or my other work and the idea of having to leave my family and my studio for an extended period- say more than a month which (for a band like Asva) is just about when you’d start earning a decent profit- in order to ‘make money’ seems silly to me. As a family we don’t need much in the way of ‘stuff’ to be very happy but we do need each other and I care about being available for my wife and daughter very much. Selling the records that I manage to sell, an advance here, a royalty check there, a commissioned piece or score now and again, it does add up- perhaps not to glamorous living but for a frugal man and his family it can work. For us it absolutely has to work because I’m sure as hell not giving up.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
No I don’t think digital has killed the record store, I just think the piles of money aren’t nearly so huge as they once were and the love of business ownership- for some, for many I suppose- wasn’t so strong once the status symbols of the traditional ‘successful’ business owner became unaffordable. There are quite a few record stores here in Seattle, none of which seem to be in any danger of going out of business. Sure they all felt the crunch of the MP3 eating into sales but they rethought the business model, realizing that there are alternative ways of operating a business and an alternative clientele out there. Its about living within your means as an individual or as a business and figuring out how expectations and abilities need to evolve in order to cope within new environs.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I’ve never had an MP3 player… I prefer vinyl if I’m really listening, CD if I’m busy with something but want listenable music in the background, classical radio if I’m typing an interview or something. Its a matter of convenience really, and what I’m up to at the time.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
While I do think to some extent this is true I also don’t begrudge anyone for liking one track more or less than another on any single recording and spending money on that track instead of all six or whatever. I adore Andy Warhol and some of his artwork I would (had I a few million dollars laying around) truly love to have hanging on our walls but there are also works by him I simply don’t much care for… this doesn’t detract one bit from the stuff of his I love nor him as an artist. I also don’t think too many musicians really think along the lines of an entire 60 minute long recording being an individual, singular work. Even contemporary composers (Arvo Part for example) are frequently writing shorter works not meant to be tied to the prior piece and rolled into the following… although listening from start to finish might sound good it’s hardly required.
Similarly, do you feel that the abundance of recorded music that is easily available on the internet has led people to place more importance on the live experience as the ‘authentic’ way to hear music?
I don’t think seeing something live today is any more credible than it always was. Live has always been best when relating directly to the band. Years ago I saw Arrowsmith at their worst (Joe Perry was about to quit… yes I’m that old!) and still talk about that show as a revelation of some sort. I do think recorded music though, as a personal listening experience can be considerably more intimate and for myself much more emotional.
Recently, there seem to be a large number of bands offering their releases for free via sites like Bandcamp. What do you think of this distribution method, do you think it is a realistic solution to the problem of illegal downloading?
I think it’s great but bands and composers need to realize giving away music has no guarantees; you either want it out there or you sit on it until your big break appears. I post music all the time because I never really expect to make anything off of it anyway, I simply like to share my ideas and music and I love the mostly positive feedback… if it generates a little income somehow or interest from a label or a possible collaboration with someone I admire it’s a wonderful surprise.
What is your take on the current SOPA/ACTA controversy?
I’d thought this was put to rest some time ago… I felt then that the things I’m concerned with in regards to my music wouldn’t be affected at all; I don’t expect anything so why would I care? I really didn’t dig into the controversy nearly as deeply as I should have but I do see how someone who’s got more at stake than I do could have been severely effected by it’s passage. Warrentless wiretapping seems a much greater issue and still goes on pretty much under the radar.
Finally, what does the future hold for Asva?
I’ve written and recorded a couple of records worth of new material so I’ll be getting a handle on releasing that stuff… There is a Japanese imprint I’m talking with and hope to make something very special for them with the profits going to the Fukushima relief effort.
For more information about Asva, you can follow them on Facebook.