Sara Grays and Astra Elane talk Duranis, the Partridge family and ‘90s baby-makin music in your montly dose of girl on girl record collecting action.
Astra Elane, guitarist and frontwoman of psych-rock three-piece the Gods Themselves, graciously invites me into her lush top-floor Ballard apartment to check out her record collection. It’s a modern nod to mod in here; one whole wall is covered with a blown-up gig poster from Astra’s former band, Atomic Bride, featuring robots a la a ‘60s sci-fi B-movie poster. A recording of the Ventures doing creepy surf-psych plays in the background as Omar, Astra’s Royal Cavalier/French bulldog mix, hops up and down in greeting, chew toy in his mouth. Carefully sorting through the records I set aside Chuck Brown, Link Wray and the Shangri-Las. Astra pulls out the Tom Tom Club, which plays in the background as our interview begins.
What is the first record you ever owned?
The first record I ever received? I was 8 and it was “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” soundtrack.
I was in that.
Were you Columbia?
No, I was Magenta, and a tranny, and I also did a burlesque show during the intro credits.
I always wanted to be Columbia but I never got it together.
That was the most coveted role, but I can’t really dance. What did you think about it?
I loved it. I asked for it for Christmas because my dad took me to see the movie when I was really young. I was a kid, but here was this movie with all these freaky people in costumes singing and dancing. To me it was like a Disney thing. It was just as good as any cartoon. I learned every song, always wanted to go to the midnight movie and requested [the soundtrack] for Christmas and I got it.
What was the first record you bought for yourself?
When I was a kid, before I really had enough money to buy records, my dad would send me records in the mail. Actually, they were cassettes. He sent me the B-52s album, he sent me all the DEVO records that were out at the time, The Police, Blondie…and then I was really into New Wave stuff. I think maybe the first record that I purchased was a Duran Duran record. Probably a Duran Duran record. I love Duran Duran. I think they’re an amazing band. I was a huge Durani.
Is that a thing? “Duranis”?
I don’t know. I think among the Duranis it is? If you’re not down, then you probably don’t know it, but you know…I was big time. I had the specific band member that I was gonna marry and had his pictures all over my wall. That was, like, age 12, and at 13 that’s when I discovered punk rock and got out of that- Quickly.
That’s fair. I feel like I’ve listened to a lot of embarrassing music over the years, so to follow that up…what’s the most embarrassing record you own?
I have a lot of stuff that I should be embarrassed about, but am not really embarrassed about. I’ve always gotten teased for my love of The Partridge Family – Huge Partridge Family fan. I don’t know if you saw all of the Partridge Family records in my collection over there…
I did. I saw them. It’s kitschy and awesome.
I’ve been listening to them…I listened to them as a kid and rediscovered them in the late ‘80s. So I’ve been a fan for a long time. But um, I’m listening to a lot more new jack swing these days. I’m rediscovering that. I feel like I should be embarrassed about that but I really like it, so I’m not that embarrassed. Like Al B. Shure! and really you know, :sexy, oooh baby”…like Color Me Badd “I Wanna Sexx You Up.” (sings) You know that Boyz II Men that’s like, “Uhh, aaah, whooooah ahhh”
Yes! I love that stuff!
It’s baby-makin music, man!
It’s really good!
This is the Tom Tom Club. You know this song? (“Genius of Love” plays)
I do, I could probably sing the entire song from memory, but I didn’t know who sang it. I’m getting educated. Next question: What’s your most valuable or rarest or most unusual record?
I think this Shangri-Las is pretty rare. It’s a double album and it’s a compilation. There’s a lot of B-sides on here and that’s gotta be one (pulls out Pop Yeh Yeh: Psychedelic Rock from Singapore and Malaysia). This is weird ‘60s psychedelic pop music from Malaysia. It’s a cool compilation.
(editor’s note: I look this up later on Amazon and there is one copy available for sale on vinyl for $300).
I was actually reading about Cambodian pop music from the Khmer Rouge era and a lot of those artists just disappeared. That’s really dark, I know, but some incredible music came out of that. It’s amazing the art that comes out from under a repressive government.
That happens when the economy is bad too. When there’s a shit economy, music and art thrives big time.
I know this question sucks, but I have to ask: What are your top 3 records that you own?
NWA – Straight Outta Compton, mAKEUP – Sound Verite …and probably that Chuck Brown – Bustin’ Loose.
We should definitely listen to a few songs from that one. Did you find the Lulu?
I must not have it. I wish I did. You know what, I’m going to make a note that I need to get that on vinyl. I have it on CD, that’s why I don’t have it on vinyl.
Sometimes I don’t buy things that I already have on CD or mp3 because I have it already, but I’m trying to fill those gaps.
The ones that are important to you, it’s ok to have in multiple formats. We have a rhapsody subscription. I worked at RealNetworks, so I got a subscription for free. Then I got laid off, but I really liked the subscription, so I kept it and started paying for it. After having it for so many years I realized, “wow, I haven’t been buying music because I have whatever I want at my fingertips at a moment’s notice.” As a result, it’s 9 years later and I haven’t purchased a lot of music because I had this subscription. Now I’m not going to cancel my subscription EVER because I’m so reliant on this service. They kind of reel you in that way, you know what I mean? ‘We’re going to give you everything you need at your fingertips so you don’t build up your collection, so you have to come back to us.” It’s a sneaky ingenious thing.
That’s why they’re rolling in it! I’ve noticed that for most people who are not really into music, they basically only use Pandora and Spotify for music. They still discover new bands, but it’s whatever comes up in the algorithm. I have creepy, half-serious conspiracy theories about that.
Yeah, it’s all payola. It’s all pre-selected.
It poses a bit of a challenge. But you have a lot of the Intelligence records from the show you played with them!
I was lucky to get those. He just handed those to me! I was like, “Thanks man!” I was so psyched to get them up here for that show.
I would jump at the chance if I ever got an opportunity to play with them.
It took a lot. I had to give them a huge ass guarantee to get them up here, but it was our album release show, you know? I wanted to get someone big on there and um, we came close. We didn’t really make any money that night, but you know, they did. That was fine. That was how I expected it to be. I’d play a show with them for free if I could, you know?
You got paid in records!
My band has a show coming up that I doubt we’ll make money on, but it’s at a venue that is sort of important to play. That’s how it goes sometimes.
Even if there’s no one there, just having to adapt to the different venue, the different sound system, you’re acclimating your practice set up to a new location. It’s really good for you to become versatile like that because that’s what makes your performance better. When I was in Atomic Bride, that’s how we started. We just started playing and then it was just one thing after the other.
Was that your first band?
It was my first band in Seattle. I’ve moved around so much in my life that I’ve had a lot of bands, but I haven’t really been anywhere for longer than a year and the band never really had a chance to develop or do too much. Atomic Bride was really the band that I learned about, you know, developing a band.
When did the Gods start playing?
We started in March of this year.
It was crazy. Atomic Bride was I don’t know – Altair (SP?) and Chris had started a new band and things had started thinning out a little bit. I was like, “shit man, I should do something too” so I hit up my friend Damion, who was in Autolite Strike, who AB played with a lot back in the day and I was like, “hey dude, what are you doing? Are you playing music? Do you want to start a project?” He said, “Yeah, I’m not doing anything right now, let’s get together.”
I said, “Ok, I’ve got a couple people I could ask to hit the drums with us while we check things out.” So I called up my friend Colin, who actually the first drummer of Atomic Bride. The 3 of us got into the room and it was real quick magic. It just happened very fast.
At first it was – I thought that the configuration was going to be me on baritone and Damion on guitar, so that’s what we tried at first. It sounded ok – it was bluesy, kinda boppy, and then I said, let’s see how it sounds if we switch.
So I gave him the baritone and I took the guitar and it was a completely different sound. It was spot on the way that we knew it was going to be. It was like, “Whoa, this is fucking it, man. This is how we’re playing.” We just really clicked really early on, so we were able to move fast and write a bunch of songs and play a bunch of shows and record… it wasn’t a chore at all. It happened really quickly and organically. We were all really psyched about it.
You’ve been really on it regarding promotion. Mamma Casserole books great shows. I’m excited about your Lo-fi psych show.
That one will be fun! I mean, the reason why the booking has been so good for TGT is because of all the work I put in booking for Atomic Bride over the past 8 years.
That was 8 years of band? That’s a long time.
Chris and I started it in 2006. We played our first show in 2007 and um, yeah just from there…it’s a long time. That’s where I learned, and sometimes the hard way, all about the ins and outs of booking in Seattle. I’m lucky that I’m able to apply all that to my band now to know what shows are good, what nights are good, what venues are good and on what nights…
I used to have this crippling fear about playing music in public. I’m over that now, which is nice.
Did you have, like, stage fright?
Horrible stage fright. It was just some kind of psychological block and I never met anybody I really clicked or felt comfortable playing music with until a few years ago.
I had that too. I was the same way, for years. I would just play guitar and like sing to myself. It’s a really personal thing to sing in front of someone and show that side of you. You’re becoming so vulnerable in front of someone and it’s like…anything can happen. They can laugh at you, they can judge you, they can roll their eyes at you and you’re putting yourself in that position where you’re, you know, you’re under the microscope and it’s not an easy thing to do at all. I don’t know how I got over that either. I just kind of stopped. I get a little nervous sometimes before shows, but nothing like how I used to. I was nervous for that Intelligence show.
It went well!
It was a good show. One tactic I’ve used when I start to get nervous is like, I think to myself, like, this could be – it’s very true, too – this could very well be my last show of my life ever. I could die when I leave this club. I could get into a car accident or something could happen to my hand. You know what I mean? I need to play this show like it’s going to be my last and that really helps to get over the fear, the stupid, trivial stage fright bullshit and it also helps me to really put my all into the show too. I try and remember that any time I play a show. “This is what you love to do, Astra. Do it well, because it might be your last time.”