Hyponik

AndrewAshong

Waxing Lyrical: Andrew Ashong

Following on from our debut Waxing Lyrical feature at The Vinyl Library with Ben UFO and Pearson Sound, we invited wax fiend Andrew Ashong to join for us a cup of tea and a chat about records.

We’ve been aware of the depth of Andrew’s crates since he recorded a mix for us last spring, a selection that was full of music we’d never heard and artists we’d yet to discover. We’ll bypass the obligatory mention of ‘Flowers’ and assume that by now you’ve most likely heard his superb follow up EP out this year, seen his dreadlocked head bobbing away in the  booth or watched him performing live with his band. Those yet to familiarize themselves with the South Londoner will have plenty of chances to do so over the coming summer months, with a slew of  gigs and DJ bookings around the UK and in Europe, as well as the possibility of fresh material. Arriving via bicycle a few weeks back at The Vinyl Library, Andrew was insatiably friendly, wearing his passion for records squarely on his sleeve. Bearing the expression of a kid in a sweet shop as soon as he saw the thousands of records on display, it took little encouragement to get him talking… 

Hyponik: When did you first get in to records?

Andrew: I first started buying records around twenty years ago. There’s been a lot of different stages to my interest in vinyl and music in general throughout this time. I guess I caught the tail end of when buying vinyl records was the primary format for consuming music. I have an older brother, who’s about seven or eight years older than me, so there were always records around my house.

The way you can interact with vinyl has always been quite fascinating to me. I always had raggedy old records lying around, I’m not exactly sure what year it was when I first started buying brand new records but I would have been about the age of thirteen and all I was interested in was Hip Hop. There was a record shop called Inner-Rhythm near where my mum used to work in Streatham. I remember seeing the first Nas album on the wall and being all wide-eyed just saying ‘what is that?’.

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Back in that time, you didn’t necessarily need to know the music to be captivated by it. Before you even heard any of it, the imagery might have already caught your attention. Hip Hop imports were very expensive so I very quickly gravitated towards salvaging and recycling things that had been knocking around in charity shops and boot fairs. Back then, every area had boot fairs, you would put a load of work into your digging, go through a load of shit and come out with something great. That was the first thing that really captivated me, that hard work and determination to find things. I had older friends who put me onto various different types of music. I remember being 16 and going through a charity shops together. I’d go through records with my older friend and he would be the one educating me and showing me people that I’d never heard of like Labi Siffre or Fela Kuti – the more interesting things really. He’d see something and be like “that’s good, but I’m taking it, so you better wait til next time!”

So I quickly learned it was about picking up all the stuff that fell between the cracks of people’s consciousness. You weave your own little tapestry of musical taste.

H: That’s a good point to bring us onto how that approach has affected the records you’ve just chosen to talk about with us…

A: Probably the best example in this pile about things that people don’t care for that much, but you can find some value in, is this Mick Fleetwood record. He’s obviously very famous and a prolific musician but I’m pretty sure that most Fleetwood Mac fans don’t have this album and that record stores don’t put a big price tag on it. I haven’t met anyone that’s that bothered about this record, it probably didn’t sell that much. In terms of the music, he went to Ghana, which is where I used to live, and he experimented with local musicians. Theres a lot of percussion and weird synth on there. There’s one track on there which is almost like a Broken Beat tune, it’s called ‘The Visitor’.

I love people taking chances, the stuff you find at charity shops is usually projects that didn’t work for one reason or another but there’s always something on there. This brings me on to…

Steely Dan – ‘Can’t Buy A Thrill’ (ABC Records)

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Steely Dan have loads of albums but I had no idea there was so much Jazz & amazing chord changes. So many good players like Bernard Perley, Steve Gadd, Chuck Rainey. They were the best players from all of the stuff that I already knew I liked in Funk, Soul and Jazz. I was like “wow they’re all using the same players”. This is the first album they did but I love everything. They even did a soundtrack for a low budget Richard Pryor film

Todd Rundgren – ‘Initiation’ (Bearsville)

This has a bit of a cult following. He started his own label and was one of the earliest people to have his own studio, which I believe was in his home. He was doing everything himself engineering, writing and recording in that little cottage industry, lock yourselves in a room style that people like Prince and Stevie Wonder are famous for. This record has actually been sampled by J Dilla. Todd has also also done stuff that’s really poppy like ‘Hello It’s Me’. When he wrote it he was in a psych-group called Nazz.

Mad House – ‘8’ (Paisley Park)

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This is a Prince record from a side project he had called ‘Madhouse’ on Paisley Park. It’s one of those where it’s so ‘cool’ it doesn’t even have his name on it. The tracks are untitled. It’s an 80’s Jazz album, a slightly funky Jazz side project. He’s got the attractive female vibe going on the cover.

Brand New Heavies – ‘Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol. 1’ (Delicious Vinyl)

This is a wicked album and one of my favourites when I was 12 years old. Rappers doing their thing over live beats. If anyone’s into The Pharcyde, this is the first record which they made an appearance on.

Arrested Development – ‘3 Years, 5 Months, 2 Days In The Life Of…’ (Chrysalis)

Everyone obviously knows ‘Everyday People’ but Arrested Development were so progressive, this is the sort of music I listened to when I was first getting into things – these guys were really thinking outside of the box.

De La Soul – ‘Stakes Is High’ (Tommy Boy)

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That’ s one of my favourite albums of all time. certainly one of my favourite Hip Hop albums. It’s just really mature. Albums like this make me really proud that Hip Hop exists as an art form. It’s not just a juvenile, party thing or a manic ego “look what I’ve got I’m the badman thing”, it’s not one-dimensional. It’s pure and intelligent, these are soulful guys putting their lives into a record. Even the front cover says a-lot, look at it, for a Hip Hop album to look like that as opposed to someone on a car or whatever was stereotypical of that era.

It means more to me than ‘3 Feet High & Rising’ and the reason is because I was about 15 or 16 when this came out, I was more mature and the music on it seemed to me a bit more mature than their earlier stuff. This is almost a bit more cynical, they were battling that whole Jiggy-era and I think they were one of the first to do that.

There’s a track on here called ‘The Bizness’ (with Common). There’s a lot of lyrics that have been sampled since because they’re anti-nonsense. Most of this album they’re against people lying. I think they’re ones that came up with the term R’n’B, meaning Rap ’n’ Bullshit.

Yesterday’s New Quintet/Breakestra/Mr Dibbs – ‘Suite For Weldon’ (Stones Throw) 

In terms of where Hip Hop went in a different direction, this is a great example. But it’s not just forward thinking, it’s quite retro and wigged out. This stuff really sounds stoned to me in the best kind of way. It’s quite flowery.

The Har-You Percussion Group – ‘The Har-You Percussion Group’ (ESP Disk)

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The cover is just beautiful. There was a Young Disciples record which Giles Peterson brought out in the 90s, and the single lifted this artwork. When I first saw this I learnt that these great artists from our time were looking towards great influences like these boys from back in the 60s. It’s percussive, Latino wickedness.

Caldera – ‘Sky Islands’ (Capitol Records)

Another Latin infuenced jazz album. They’re wicked, I only found out about them a few years ago.

Tania Maria – ‘Come With Me’ (Bellaphon)

This brings me onto Tania Maria, she’s a Brazilian, she has a wicked song called ‘Come With Me’, I learnt about that through a compilation. This woman was a Brazilian who made a really slick, big budget American sounding production. Not as Samba-ish as much of her contemporaries.

Judy Roberts – ‘Nights In Brazil’ (Inner City)

Not a million miles from that is an American lady, Judy Roberts, who shows her love for Brazilian music on this album for Inner city. I love it when people do off the cuff things like this.

Hubert Eaves – ‘Esoteric Funk’ (Inner City)

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This guy is on the same label as the artist mentioned previously-see the connections! I’d not actually heard it until I arrived at The Vinyl Library today and it was playing. I know all the session players listed on the record and if I saw it in a shop I would buy it with a quickness.

Letta Mbulu – ‘Naturally’ (Fantasy)

Great record from a South African lady. It was arranged by Wayne Henderson, one of my favourite producers and it’s got Cannonball Adderly and his brother Nat on there, two Jazz veterans.

H: Let’s talk a bit more about your approach to record shopping.

A: I started off with the charity shops, purely because I didn’t have the money. I go to places like Music & Video Exchange in Soho and see these records that looked tatty and all withered and they would be £30, I was like why would I spend that when there is a re-issue disk here for £7? I was like ‘why are you trying to make me think that the more expensive version is more desirable?’ That was my first experience with paying above the odds for originals.

H: You have an interesting outlook on collecting…

A: I could buy the whole Letta Mbulu catalogue on re-issue for the price somebody might be charging for just one original. Sometimes sound quality comes into play but if it’s a record from the digital era, I’m not going to be too fussed if I don’t have the original as it won’t sound any different.

I’m just really interested in music, I’ll hear something and be like, “that’s amazing, did they do any other albums?” and find out they only did one, then I’ll say “well who played on it or who wrote a particular song” and that will send me off on another tangent and it could get out of hand because there could be 20 different players on a Jazz record.

If I could just get a big fat hard drive off someone with all the music I’ve accumulated over the years, it might make all that time sent seem a bit silly, but it was a journey and sifting through all those racks and taking everything I learnt a-lot. If you’re listening to something on an mp3, you don’t get to see all the players listed or the lyric sheet, you don’t get to see the logo of the label and connect all the information.

It’s like shopping for clothes, does a girl want to go to a Topshop and buy the same thing as everyone else? Or does she want to go to a charity shop and buy a really enchanting scarf? If people like it she will grow attached to it and develop a sentimental vibe with it and it will become more than just a scarf. It’s the exact same with Djing – it’s about personality and individuality!

When I go record shopping I usually look in the bargain bins and for the stuff they reckon that I don’t want. I’ve had similar experiences with record labels when showcasing my music, they’re like “play me something that you don’t think is good”, or what’s not finished because there’s a chance that it will be most interesting.

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H: Are you adverse to buying things on the Internet?

A: I used to be, but there was this one record I wanted for years, it was the soundtrack to one of Robert De Niro’s first films, I looked for it in shops for years and couldn’t find it, I bit the bullet and went on e-Bay and found it immediately. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Today I use everything, record shops physical and online, Discogs, markets, record fairs, private dealers and even shops that don’t sell records. Sometime you go to a furniture shop and they have a random box of records which they’ll give you for £10. I’m insatiably attached to hunting for fresh sounds.

I’m not into the idea of pushing things, like Record Store Day for example. I’ve never gone record shopping on Record Store Day, but if it means re-kindiling people’s interest in vinyl I’ve got to support it. You can’t replicate the physicality of vinyl. You can digitise things but it’s not actually the same thing. It’s brilliant that you can get your music out to the world quite easily with digital technology, but I love music and I think vinyl is a great way to experience it…

Words: Josh Thomas

Photography: Conor McTernan