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Asmodeus X - Interview

Interview with: Paul Fredric
Conducted by: Ines

Asmodeus X. A name that strikes you and speaks to you, doesn't it? With a memorable name and a unique musical style, giving the classical darkwave meets EBM more of a cosmic and even psychedelic touch, this Houston, Texas based ensemble has been present in the scene since 1999 and have released six full length studio albums up to this day. The band, which draws influence from Slovenian industrial legends Laibach, as well as the big names you all ought to know well, such as Kraftwerk and Death In June, has so much history and stories behind its name, I simply won't lose any more words and just leave you to the words of Paul Fredric, who really poured his efforts into our conversation and gave us a very detailed and intimate view into Asmodeus X as well as himself as an artist.

Ines: Hello Paul and thank you for doing this interview with our webzine, it was a pleasure and a pleasant surprise to getting to know Asmodeus X. The band was founded way back in 1999, but I want to go even further to the past - could you give us some words about your music history before Asmodeus X was born?
Paul: I cannot remember a time when music was not a part of my life. My father was blind and so that alone probably started me down the 'auditory path' early on, and he was always a great source of encouragement and inspiration. He gave me my first acoustic guitar when I was 5, and I started to learn it by trying to play along with Hank Williams and Elvis Presley records. Then in Elementary School I signed up for orchestra. When we were choosing what instrument to play I wanted to play the cello. With each instrument we'd raise our hands and the teacher would put us down on the list. She didn't see my hand when I raised it for cello, and I was too shy to say anything so I just rose for the next thing which happened to be the viola. So that's how I ended up playing viola throughout childhood, and also why I always get a little choked up when I hear the cello. Makes you think about destiny and fate. Through all of this my father was the one who supported me, encouraged me, took me to lessons, and so forth. He died when I was 10 years old and I stopped doing music at that time. When I was 16 I was getting into the new music that was going around then, which was a lot of post-punk and industrial type stuff like Joy Division, Bauhaus, Throbbing Gristle/PTV, Neubauten, SPK, Laibach; and got myself an electric guitar. There wasn't a lot going on in the small Midwest town of Lincoln, Nebraska, but there was enough interest in these sorts of indie things that there were all-ages shows and indie record stores. I started my first band One Dark Rabbit when I was in High School and we played shows around town and recorded an album on a 4 track recorder - that was my first recording experience and probably where I first fell in love with the production side of things. At some point in the late eighties I crossed over into playing the bass, with a punk band called Red Max. It was fun and high energy, and I learned the basics of gigging via regional touring, and I got to share stages with very early incarnations of 311 and Helmet, but ultimately found the whole thing unmeritous from a production/creative standpoint. I took a little break from music there, and tried to live a 'straight' life, but like always something eventually called me back. So in the mid 90's I started playing with Johnny Lee in the gothic group that would eventually become Morphine Angel, and this is probably where the past starts to slightly resemble the present. Here I played bass and also programmed the drum machine and started to get more interested in electronics in general. With Morphine Angel a much larger world opened up and we released a CD, toured internationally, signed a record deal, moved to the 'big city,' got corrupted by decadence, exploited by managers, all the great things bands are supposed to do including ending in a maelstrom of heated emotion. A lot of the ideas that we started Asmodeus X out with were based on lessons learned and perceived mistakes from these sorts of experiences with Morphine Angel. Bands just starting out tend to just have that 'Four Blokes Against the World' mentality, and don't even imagine the sorts of problems that can arise once you sign a contract or agree to have someone else manage your money. But with Morphine Angel I learned what can be done with the right people connected with the right aim - in those moments our fire was unstoppable.
Ines: That’s a really interesting story and also personal, so thank you for sharing that. And how did the story continue to the point when Asmodeus X was formed?
Paul: When Morphine Angel finally split up it was just Marshal and me living in Houston as the other guys all headed back to Wisconsin. We just started working on new music there using what we had which was basically a Roland DR5, a Korg N364, and a couple of other things and talking about a new direction. I'd been thinking of Asmodeus X - a true Left-Hand Path electronic project that cuts through to the dark side of man - since our days in Wisconsin, and being 'dropped-off' as it were in Houston was like a huge opportunity opening up.
Ines: The very name Asmodeus X sounds so ravishing and appealing to me, so naturally I need to ask: what does it represent and mean?
Paul: So this figure from Demonology, which traces back to the ancient Hebrew as “Ashmedai” is a figure that had fascinated me for years. When I was still quite young I became fascinated with Black Magic and Demonology, and this particular figure stood out to me even then, but it all came together really at the tail end of the Morphine Angel days. We were stationed momentarily in Kenosha Wisconsin hanging out with The Electric Hellfire Club, and I was spending some time working with Rich Frost of EHC on his new project called Sons Of Midnight. We were also talking a lot about philosophy, magic and the occult and one book that we both were really fascinated with was Holy Blood Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln. That books talks about Renee Le Chateau in France which has this statue of Asmodeus in it. Asmodeus became like this symbol for creative power that had been lost and forbidden. When you put an X on the end of a name like with Malcolm X it make that statement about that personage becoming a symbol, and also adding the X makes it Cabbalistically add up to 3 which I thought was good since 3 is the magic number.
Ines: That’s an answer I did not expect but it sure raised another question: I did an interview with Per Aksel Lundgreen - a legend of European dark electro scene - and he said to me that one of his bands got labelled as Satanic at one point, even though they did no such thing to promote that. Did anything similar perhaps ever happen to you with your bands, especially now that you've told us a story about the band name; did you ever get wrongfully labelled or accused of anything similar - by media, listeners, maybe even fellow musicians?
Paul: No, nothing like that has ever really happened for us, but I think it’s pretty apparent so no one would be too surprised. And really if people thought we were “Satanic” or whatever we wouldn’t mind so much because people have to take from the music and make their own place for it in their own minds. An important part of the artistic process is letting your work go - saying “I’m done with this,” and sending it out into the world. You have to do this to evolve, or else you’re forever just hanging on to the same fixed idea. When you let your idea go, it gives the idea and you room to grow. Then maybe one day it will come back to you and you will remember yourself. If you get too worried about how people will judge you that’s just the reptilian part of your brain kicking in with a fear response. People give into this instinctual urge to conform all the time and that’s why cultural evolution happens so slowly for humanity. It’s those with the courage to battle through this and not loo+se faith in their vision who end up doing things that change the way we think about music, art, literature, technology, and so on. Also, I’d go back to looking at a lot of our influences from the 80s/90s industrial and a lot of that stuff drew heavily on magic, philosophy, the occult, weird politics, etc. Also you know they were coming out with these radical new electronic sounds - sounds that no one had ever heard before - and re-defining the whole concept of what constitutes music and you can’t do that without a lot of courage and not worrying too much if some people don’t get it or think your “Satanic.” A lot of contemporary industrial/EBM tends to stick to the secular, atheistic/agnostic cantre, which is fine but for me tends to lack passion and sincerity. It’s really passion that drives music, and just yelling really loud about wanting to abuse someone or being abused starts to wear thin for me after a while. Part of Asmodeus X’s mission is to inject a little more passion for mystery and sense of wonder back into things. That’s really what the darkness represents after all - the great unknown of man’s inner psyche. I actually explore a lot of these themes in my book The Erbeth Transmissions which chronicles the adventures of Lucifer’s tribe of fallen angel’s in space. In it they eventually discover the power of sound vibrations created from music to cause huge cosmic waves that help save the planet Earth from destruction. Yes, all that and I still don’t think anyone has labelled us as “Satanic.” Now that I think about it, I’d really probably get all giddy if that happened!

Ines: You wrote a book as well? You artistic nature surely does have a wide array and you know what, we'll definitely get back to that. But now that we're talking about all these different themes in music - what are the themes Asmodeus X wanted to - and achieved to - explore, present and talk about?
Paul: Looking back, our earliest stuff was very much in the vein of “Satanic Futurism”. In fact our first attempt at an album release was called Nova Futura but it got tied up in B.S. with an unscrupulous independent record label and never made it out of the studio. The next release Wolf Age was thus somewhat reactive, combative and earthy, dealing with themes of struggle. When we got around to Morningstar, a lot of the more lasting and significant themes begin to emerge: Individualism, Independence, Inspiration, Innovation; the Luciferian Exodus pattern of having the courage to walk away from that crowd and set your own pace. The courage to express yourself regardless of popular sentiment, to follow your own inspired vision into the unknown despite the crowd’s warnings. Space migration themes start to emerge with Sanctuary. I look at companies out in the ‘real’ world like S.E.T.I. - a non-profit dedicated to the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, or Space X with it’s long-term goal of Mars colonization, and feel our work is in alignment.
Ines: Oh yes, I remember S.E.T.I.! I was a kid when I discovered it, still remember how excited I was about it. But now, that isn’t the topic here. Now that our readers got an insight of what Asmodeus X is and its history, let’s move into the present. Your latest album, The Bright Ones, was released in 2011 and unfortunately, when I was browsing around, trying to explore the world of it, I realized it didn’t get much media coverage, though there is a mass of people out there in the world who would probably gasp it in a second. What do you think was the reason for this?
Paul: Yes, I think The Bright Ones was our finest to date, both compositionally and production wise. Also it is true it didn’t really get the exposure it deserved and a lot of that has to do the fact that we were going through a lot of transitions as a band at that time. Next thing you know 3 years has gone by and as I’m sure you know the music industry moves at its own pace, chaotic and unpredictable as that case may be.
Ines: As I am in touch with many underground musicians nowadays, a lot has said to me it’s really, extremely hard to make a break out there, with so many issues coming along the way. What’s your own personal look on that?
Paul: Yes it’s true. But if you get too obsessed with getting the breaks it can really ruin the experience for you. I continue to do this stuff because I need to – because it is somehow therapeutic, maybe even transformational – to articulate your vision in such away. I think you get to caught up with the idea of how to get the breaks and it can really ruin that aspect for you, and I’ve seen just that happen to a lot of fellow musicians.
Ines: What is going on in Asmodeus X camp at the moment? Any new material in the process?
Paul: Last year Joel and Vasquez and I started getting together and jamming again. Originally it was because we got asked to play Texas Industrial Fest in Austin, but eventually that whole event kind of fell apart or something but we decided it felt pretty damn good to be jamming again so we just kept with it. Unfortunately my home-boy Marshal had moved out of Houston to pursue other opportunities so he hasn’t been around for it, but we try to keep him in the loop as much as we can. Joel had found us a studio on Houston’s South Side, where hip-hop legend DJ Screw used to hang out, so maybe we’ll pick up a little mojo from that. But we’ve been coming up with new stuff like made for the last year. The sound is pretty unique; a lot of it seems to be picking up a lot of the more gothic/post-punk/electro type vibe that is so close to our roots. A lot of it strikes me as soulful in an Ian Curtis kind of way. Also with all this happening Latex Records – instrumental in our 2004 release Morningstar – is experiencing their own parallel resurrection and developing a sub-label called Venus Aeon which we’ve been working with will likely play a strong part in the new release. No release date yet, but the working title is “Triadic”.
Ines: As a big fan of live performances I can’t help but wonder how your live shows look like? Is there anything special going on the stage, do you have visual effects to enhance your performance or anything that makes you unique?
Paul: There’s been some stuff going on over the year. We’ve always had a big banner with the gothic seal of Asmodeus that we like to put up behind us. Then Joel made these big light boxes with the Asmo shield logo that flashed with different colours. All of our lights are always the result of Joel’s expertise. Back in the Wolf Age era (circa 2002) it was a little more militant – jack boots, open flame source, S.S. daggers, and so forth. But that sort of look kind evolved out with our sound and focus in general on something a little higher.
Ines: Do you remember or could you state which your favourite Asmo live show was so far and why?
Paul: I can’t really pick a single show but I can say the time period 2004-2007 we were gigging so much in Texas and so I have a lot of really good memories there. I can’t really call it a tour in there but the thing you have to understand about Texas is that you can play spend time playing different cities all over it and never leave the state. Joel had the official big green “Asmo Van’ which took us all over, and even occasionally up into Oklahoma, Louisiana, and even California a couple of times. There’s all kinds of classic road stories in here, perhaps one day I’ll write a book.
Ines: So far you have done many gigs in the USA, what about outside of it – have you had any shows in Europe?
Paul: Unfortunately no as I would love to be able to play more in places like Estonia, Czech Republic, Germany, and such. Asmo has played outside of the continental US as far as the Caribbean Sea with one of the Gothic Cruise events, and played a stage in Moscow with Red Flag during my days doing live percussions with them.
Ines: But as someone who has been involved in the scene on both continents: would you say you notice any difference between the fans of the dark electronic scene in USA and Europe?
Paul: Well, I have been able to attend a lot of those places in other moments when the band was not there and I got to do stuff like go to Paris, Dublin, or attend Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig with my wife and hang out with my friend Stephen Rodolph who used to join us for road gigs back in Texas. I have to say I think people in Europe especially Germany, Ireland and Prague are very cool and friendly and are riding a really strong energy current as well as in Texas and other parts of the U.S. Getting to connect with people that are on a comparable wave length is always a wonderful experience.
Ines: What kind of audience would you say you usually attract; more darkwave enthusiasts or fans of dark electronic music?
Paul: I’d have to say a mix of both. I think we pick up a lot of old-school industrial and gothic folk as well.
Ines: You mentioned before the bands you were personally into and what impacted you as a musician, which also poured into the influences of Asmodeus X and as you mentioned Laibach – you know I really can’t go pass that, as they’re also from Slovenia, such as myself. How did you come across them and what appealed you to their art?
Paul: Wow, well I first started listening to Laibach it was the early nineties and stuff like Sympathy For The Devil, Nova Akropola, Opus Dei, Let It Be. I think their album N.A.T.O. is really one of the best electronic albums of all time. I can’t think of many other albums in this whole genre that you can put it in and every single song grabs your attention with engaging beats and sequences and totally transcendental vocals and orchestral sounds. So that’s the thing about Laibach is their themes and sounds are always about transcendence, man deified to an idea state, struggling to overcome collectivism. Out of all the bands in the early industrial scene they were born in they are the only ones who not only stayed together but have continued to evolve.
Ines: Well, I can’t disagree with that. Anyway Paul, it has been great to talk to you and thank you so much for presenting yourself and Asmodeus X to our readers and of course to me. But before I finish, a few words on your book, of which we talked about earlier?
Paul: I published a book called The Erbeth Transmission under the pen name Fritz Fredric. It's a work of fiction, that is sort of re-telling of the creation of the universe and the beings, who were involved with it – angels, demons and various other cosmic species and all the adventures they have along the way. Much of it centres on my personal rejection of authoritarianism and the need for man to live in freedom and independence in order to be able to move toward unlocking his full potential of godhood. A lot of it was written during the time we were writing and recording Morningstar, Sanctuary and The Bright Ones and so there is a lot of crossover of ideas; like Morningstar is of course Lucifer who is the fallen angel, Astaroth, and so forth. Many characters in the book do also appear in our songs. Maybe one day I'll learn to write about the easy stuff.

Asmodeus X links: Official website, Facebook