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This Ascension Interview

This Ascension Interview
By: Rick Harper
With: Dru Allen of This Ascension

Interview Info
By: Rick Harper
With: Dru Allen of This Ascension

Rick:  The Band itself came together pretty quickly didn't they?  Tell us a little bit about meeting & rehearsing with the other TA members for the first time in the fall of 1988.

Dru:  Tim the keyboardist and Kevin Serra, the original guitarist had the concept the summer of 1988 and were practicing together, then met Terry the original bass player. He, unlike the other two guys had a lot of experience in other bands, so added an air of seriousness to the project. For instance, he brought Matt, our drummer on board, and that was the first time Tim and Kevin had practiced with a drummer besides a little box that said "Dr. Rhythm" on it. Matt and I were already friends. They tried a few different singers and then settled on me. I didn't have any band experience, but I had done choir while growing up. Once I got in the band, things started moving very fast. We had our first show after only a couple months of practicing, and started to record a 7-inch just after that. By February 1989, we had a whole album of material recorded, which ended up being our first release, Tears in Rain. It was all very pre-mature. So much so that people often mistake the sound of Tears in Rain as understated and charming, but it was really inexperience.

Rick:  This Ascension have been together for fourteen years (almost) what has kept this band together over the years while others have fallen by the wayside?

Dru:  Wow, 14 years-- scary thought! I don't know what is mainly responsible for its long life, or refusal to die. Personally, I am very driven so that helps. Our drummer Matt was always the band "daddy" business wise and personality-wise, always getting people together to practice, always making the phone calls, getting the shows, looking for opportunities. Getting all of the records re-issued (two were out of print) on Projekt was also a big help; it gave the band a big shot in the arm. I think people in the band have their own lives and goals that sustain them, and This Ascension in something that they can keep open and return to, so it's pretty flexible. A fun show will come along (like May 31st in Montreal, at the 8th annual Convergence festival-- shameless plug), and everyone will just be eager to go out and do something.

Rick:  When you think back to the first song written and recorded by This Ascension do you remember how you felt about it (the overall accomplishment)? (What was the first TA song?)

Dru:  The first two songs were Isabella and Just Assassin. We did these for the 7-inch I mentioned earlier. It was a great experience. I had never recorded in a studio and found it fascinating and a lot of fun. We were so young and eager, the whole world seemed full of opportunity. Not like now that we are old and cynical. These two songs I feel still stand on their own. I don't cringe or anything upon hearing them, or think "Oh god, what were we doing?" Isabella we inherited from Terry, as it was a song he did in his previous band. I ended up re-writing the lyrics to fit the title, which was kept as Isabella. But the music was basically the same. Just Assassin's lyrics were written by Matt, except for maybe a few lines that I filled in. At first it was nerve-racking to sing something written by someone else, as I was nervous to how I should interpret it. But it turned out to be fun, and I learned quickly that lyric writing wasn't a big priority to me. In all these years, only two song's lyrics have been penned by someone besides me, one being Just Assassin, the other Forever Shaken, a great song which Kevin wrote for Sever.

Rick:  Is the feeling the same in regard to the last song This Ascension have seen through to its completion?

Dru:  The last song we did was "Crucify," a song for the Tori Amos tribute album that came out last year on Cleopatra. This was a very unusual situation for us, as our drummer Matt couldn't come out from Houston for the recording session. So he and Chad Blinman-- our longtime engineer and often producer, met on the phone and online swapping ideas back'n'forth for drum programming. Chad ended up doing a great job on the programming, but everyone felt sort of weird, unsettled. Like it wasn't a real This Ascension song. Maybe that was because it wasn't. <g> But it definitely had a different feel. Also there is no guitar at all in the song. I guess it felt disjointed, doing something as This Ascension, but not all being in the same room.

Rick:  You recorded and released a single (Isabella) and then released Tears in the Rain shortly thereafter, how long did it take for you to see recognition for your initial work?

Dru:  It was very fast-- that's why we put Tears In Rain out so quickly and with little time between the two releases. We were playing a lot locally and got a manager after just a few shows. He took us on solely on the strength of the single, before even hearing the album material. We were so lucky to have him-- Jason. Not only was he a huge alternative music fan (especially industrial and gothic), but he was intently involved with the university radio station and wanted nothing more to get into the music business. He knew so much and had such good ideas for us, so we were really lucky.  When the first full record came out, he took it straight to a meeting with Rough Trade in San Francisco, which became our first distributor. He also submitted it to Rockpool; a company that services tons of college radio stations with play copies of records (heehee, and they were actual records, this was back when I owned maybe 3 cds, and the rest were tapes and vinyl). So we started getting college airplay and letters from all over the place, very, very prematurely. It was so surreal, because we were all pretty young. At the time Kevin, Tim, myself and even Jason were all under 21, so just about every time we went to play at a club it ended up being some ordeal being underage. Within half a year we recognized the niche in the gothic community and the acceptance was nice. There was always opportunity for us.

Rick:  This Ascension was more or less instantly accepted by the Gothic community, wasn't it? ...but This Ascension crossed musical boundaries and also attracted the metal crowd too... Why do you think This Ascension has such wide appeal? 

Dru:  Right we were. But I think we were always a bit on the fringe side of Goth, just like we were always on the fringe side of regular alternative. Our very first comparisons were equal parts gothic-- Area, X-mal Deutschland and college rock-- Natalie Merchant, The Cranberries, that sort of thing. When we'd play a more normal bar people would give us very strange looks. When we'd play a goth club, people would comment we weren't image-conscious enough. Our first review in Ben Is Dead-- a seminal L.A. based indie-music 'zine was by Tony Lestat, a long-time and well-respected fixture in the goth community, and he tagged us as folk-goth. It was a very positive review, but the label had us scratching our heads <g>.  We have always sort of flirted with other musical styles. We've had our share of member changes, and I think it comes out in our writing.  For example, our drummer Matt always had deep punk roots, but was never into metal. Ashkelon our second bass player looked at Rush, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, King Crimson and other more "prog rock" outfits to inspire his writing and playing. In the past few years, Charlie on bass and Giancarlo on guitar have shifted the mood of the band to a more heavy-oriented groove-- they both love Black Sabbath, Sleep, the Melvins, etc., as well as more standard goth fare like the Cure.  Non-goth fans I think take to us live because of our energy. We have a very rockin' live persona; that sort of belies our ethereal label. We have wooed over many a live-soundman during sound check, because he expects us to be all quiet and boring, like most goth he's heard <g>.  Then his ears prick up when he hears people doodling "NIB" or "Paranoid"

Rick:  Yourself and Kevin often get the majority of attention when it comes to reviews, what do the other members of This Ascension bring to the table musically and personally?

Dru:  I guess the singer always gets a lot of attention; it just comes with the territory. And Kevin's sound is very signature (just to make a note, he left the band at the end of 1997). His playing was always most influenced by U2, the Cure, and the Chameleons, with bits of Metallica and whatever else he was listening to at the time. How many times did we warm up with "Sanitarium," I cannot say-- many, many, many. But Matt's drumming has also been a signature to the band-- I think people just aren't used to thinking about drumming in that way. Matt's drums are extra large and deep, and he hits really hard. Goes thru sticks and drumheads like crazy. In fact, not to keep dwelling on Metallica, but he looks a lot like Lars when he drums. He plays his drums in a very musical way, always paying extra attention to their tunings. Drumming is never simple with Matt <g>. Tim's keyboards might be easy to overlook, but that is because he has always taken the role of having to fill in between what other people have already done. Tim and I almost always "go" last when it comes to putting our parts into a new song. But it's not always easy finding a place. It's a very important job to be able to compliment what's going on, but also Tim is an important writer to the band. He's always written a couple songs on each record that really stand out, such as my favorite track by far on Sever, "I Wish."  Paul our percussionist, you've only gotten the chance to hear on Sever, but his contribution to the band is huge, and you can especially sense it live. He adds such charisma and class to the band, and really increases our versatility to do a wider arrange of things. It's because of Paul we could do songs like "Columba Aspexit" on Sever that are so influenced by world music and early music. Whether he is playing with Matt and adding to the drums, or putting in his well-placed accents with any number of things from his arsenal of percussion toys, he is always a great enhancement to whatever we are doing. Charlie the bass player also has only appeared on Sever, but his contributions to the band are probably more important that anyone's, as he has been our principal songwriter for quite a while now. Not only is his writing strong, but he easily contributes to what others have written. His being fluent in both these areas has been a godsend. He wrote 1/3 to perhaps one 1/2 the material on Sever, which by far is our best album. He also is interested in widening the range of music we do, as you can see by his instrumental piece with Matt "Amapola." It's just drums and a baritone guitar, but there is such great depth in the song. We would never have done something like that before. 

Rick:  What non-musical factors contribute to the overall sound of This Ascension?

Dru:  People in the band, when it comes down to it, are all extra-sensitive types. They might not all come across that way, but inside there is a lot of intense feeling going on. I'd say the biggest factor is life-- living life…experiencing troubles and feeling the screwed up feelings that come with it.  What does it say in the Incubus song "Pardon Me?" The perils of being 3-D or something. That's so true.

Rick:  On your site, I read that your third release, Walk Softly a Dream Lies Here was - "a great collaboration between us and the minds of Tess" ...you go on to say "It was a pivotal release for us, as Tess opened it's international office in Germany".  How did Tess' folding affect This Ascension?

Dru:  Well the office in Germany petered out a while before Tess U.S., so it wasn't a very sudden thing. It was really great having that while it lasted though-- our presence in Europe was at a height that only now are we beginning to match. The end of Tess had long been eminent, it was so much work that no one wanted to do, even Matt who cared about it more than anyone. So it was sad in a nostalgic way, but it was a good move for This Ascension. Getting involved with a new label-- and one that was high profile, very professional and specialized in what we did was a great breath of fresh air. Now people are finding us for the first time when they go looking for other Projekt bands. It's been a lot of fun, almost like starting over. Many times in life people regret not having that chance-- they say, "I wish I could just start all over." In some ways though, that can happen.

Rick:  How hard on the band and yourself personally, was it when Kevin left the band after nine years?

Dru:  It absolutely was awful, but we made the best of it. Looking back it was better for everyone.  No one realized how unhappy he was personally, both in and out of the band. We are good friends now, much more so than when he was in the band, and he's in a much better state emotionally/spiritually. So it ended up being a blessing.

Rick:  Why did it take four years between the release of Walk softly... and Sever?

Dru:  Mostly money. That must sound so droll, but Tess signed Clan of Xymox and they became a priority. Our album would have come out earlier, but they had to push Hidden Faces for COX. Sever was done much earlier that's the for sure!

Rick:  Charlie and Paul both joined This Ascension after Walk Softly... was written and recorded. They were in the band for almost four years before Sever was released. Was the release of Sever a final validation for Charlie and Paul as members of This Ascension?

Dru:  This is without a doubt the case. I'm sure this is the most perceptive interview I have ever responded to. People were climbing the walls before Sever came out. Here it was done for ages, and we couldn't do anything. People were like, "I don't want to practice and organize shows until that album is out!" Not in a mean way, but I could totally see where they were coming from. It felt so good for the album to finally get released, because I felt that we had been on a plateau just sort of going along, and that Sever had brought us to a new level. I was really eager for people to see what we were doing, and how Paul and Charlie were integral in steering us in the new directions we took.

Rick:  You've said that you feel Sever is your most diverse and mature record to date. Why?

Dru:  I don't know. It'd take some small miracles to get everyone together. Plus I don't know how we'd release anything new-- on Projekt or what. I guess Projekt would have to hear it an then decide if they'd like to pick it up or not. Our idea last year was to put out an enhanced CD with some extra tracks-- I hope we still do that. But it wouldn't be a full-length album. 

Rick:  You have a degree in classic languages. How has your background in the classic languages influenced your lyrical content?

Dru:  I haven't actually done much related to my degree, but it does give me some extra perspective when deciding on reinterpreting an old Latin song. I've never composed in Latin, it's super hard <g>, but I'm always looking at classical pieces to reinvent. Again, not so much specifically related to writing music, but my background has given me a certain world view. I live in myths and stories; I see patterns in things like world events because history repeats itself. Previous TA albums aside from Sever (which was ultra-personal) have all reflected this in story-like lyrics, or allegorical lyrics that contain themes common throughout time. Like "Ill Met By Moonlight" is a song on Light & Shade about the fairies having a midnight dance. It was inspired by a Swedish folk song I sang in college choir, but it was of course inspired by Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which was inspired by folk tales from eons and eons past of mythical creatures scampering about through the night as we sleep.

Rick:  There is an unmistakable influence of Christianity in your music. Can you elaborate?

Dru:  I am very drawn to Christian imagery, just as I am to other aspects of our historical and spiritual development as human beings, but I don't look at it as "The Way." It's for sure one way, but not the only one. I mean this with all due respect to those of the Christian faith, although there are those among them who would say I'm pretty lost based on how much I've said already.  I grew up Christian and enjoyed it very much. Once I got older though, I started looking for other answers-- not because I was dissatisfied but because I was curious and broad-minded. What I found left more questions than got answered though. Not in a bad way, I think it's healthy to have questions about life, the universe, etc., and try answering them, looking at them from a different point of view. Now all I can say is that I might not know much, but I'm sure that there is more to life and spirituality than most people limit themselves to. And people have used organized religion-- especially recently-- to do some very fucked up shit. Anyone that misuses religious text to control or hurt people-- or manipulate others to do so, is committing a terrible sin. This coming from the not religious person.

Rick:  Please tell us about Mirabilis, and how and why you decided to do a side project? ... What can we, as DRU ALLEN fans expect in the near future?

Dru:  I started Mirabilis with Summer from the band the Machine In the Garden about a year ago to explore mostly a cappella music. We don't get to work on it much, since she lives in Austin and I in Flagstaff, but it's not really that far. Also she just finished up her most recent album with tMItG, so hopefully we can focus on Mirabilis again soon. So far we only have a couple songs out, one is up at mp3.com, the other came out on Projekt's "Excelsis v.3" holiday compilation. We have a couple of other songs finished, and more that are partly done. We hope to do a release this year or next. It's been so much fun for me and a great change of pace. Although I am at the front of the band, I'm used to taking a backseat in writing and arranging-- I'm pretty happy to add my parts last, and this doesn't allow me to do that. I'm very pro-active with it, and it's good to force me to make decisions and push myself vocally and musically. And Summer is super supportive and great to work with.  I also have sung on some pieces by Falling You, an electronic 'band' that combines, ambient, trip, folk, etc… You can find them at mp3.com as well. I've done two songs but more are coming up.

Rick:  How does it make you feel when you hear myself, and others refer to you as a Goddess?

Dru:  That's funny. I think you might be the only one that refers to me as that. Well I'm very glad that people like what I do. More than like, that it affects them, it strikes a chord in them, makes life a little less mundane. It's the highest compliment. But I'm just a person. Just a girl. I'm pretty self-effacing. I have my goddesses, Lisa Gerrard, etc.

Rick:  In an ideal world, Dru Allen and This Ascension would be ... (you finish the sentence)

Dru:  Playing a VERY well attended Convergence festival in Montreal, May 31 to be precise. That is actually a real plug, albeit a very shameless one. So everyone-- especially folks living in the Northeast, fill out that time-off request at work, and come join us!

Rick:  In your view, which one song represents This Ascension, and what the band stands for musically, the BEST?

Dru:  I just can't say. There have been so many phases and mini-phases of the band, I just can't pick. It's that whole thing with trying other styles. If every song sounded pretty much the same, maybe I could more easily pick. But I feel like if I pick a real ethereal song, then it doesn't represent the heavy, driving side. And vice-versa. Certainly Sever as an album collectively represents the band inside and out, but that's still like 13 songs.

Rick:  Which of your four (choosing only one) releases would YOU recommend to someone who is completely unfamiliar with This Ascension, and why?

Dru:  Again, not to sound like a broken record but Sever Sever Sever. You can always go backwards and see what we evolved from. It's the kind of thing where I wouldn't want someone to just have Tears in Rain, because it's almost unfair to us.  You're not getting a true sense of the band, and you're certainly not getting us at our musical best. I can say all that and not be slagging it; I still enjoy Tears.  But it has its place and time.

Sonic Cathedral sincerely appreciates the opportunity for this exclusive interview with This Ascension.  All This Ascension material is available in our store.  Thanks again, This Ascension!