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Lupita Nyong'o Has Her Marilyn Moment In ELLE FranceOne of the year's best, most affecting records so far came to us via Brooklyn singer/songwriter Arthur Ashin — better known as Autre Ne Veut. His sophomore album Anxiety lives up to its title, chronicling Ashin's emotional trials and tribulations by way of haunting, beautifully arranged R&B. Tracks like "Counting," on which Ashin pleads with his dying grandmother to stay alive, and "Play By Play," a love song whose finale becomes a repetition distillation of pop euphoria, are just two of the record's amazing tracks. We caught up with Ashin before he plays this weekend's Downtown Music Festival to talk his recent European tour, playing in David Lynch's surreal Parisian club, and how meeting a fan is like reading their diary.
So, we heard you were on tour in Europe; how did the tour go?
"It was good. These tours that I'm on right now are so fast, and having to sing at such high pitches I can't get intoxicated, so they're a little dull [laughs]. I mean they're fun, but I'll be in Amsterdam for eight waking hours. Go to sleep, wake up, and head to whatever's next. They're super fun, but they're also whirlwinds. You don't really get to see much."
That sounds intense. Even so, was there a favorite place you played?
"I played at this place in Paris, Silencio. It's a bar designed to look like the Silencio bar, which I believe was in Mulholland Drive. David Lynch owns it and designed it. It was a kind of private members-only event with 20 Euro cocktails and a lot of suits. I felt like the dwarf in the Black Lodge or the and White Lodge or whatever [in Twin Peaks]."
If you're playing in David Lynch's club, it's probably good to feel as strange and awkward as possible.
"Totally. I mean, every surface was reflective — either gold or this weird, black glass. You could never tell if you were heading down a hallway or into a wall. It was really bizarre."
Now that the songs on Anxiety have had time to sink in with your audience, how has playing live changed?
"It's pretty wild, to be honest. I've been playing live with this project since 2005/2006, but it was mostly in a noise show context, so it would just be me doing burlesque in this kind of classical sense of the term. It was kind of this 'what the f**k' to the noise scene, to harsh noise, that I would do this song and dance routine. It's been interesting to go from an audience with tilted heads and a 'what the f**k' face on, to people recognizing the opening notes of a song and getting psyched. It's been cool. It's been good."
What's it like when a fan tries to connect with you in person? Have you had any weird moments?
"That is so weird. It's the weirdest feeling. Fandom is so disjointed from any human process. It's as if they're opening their journal and letting me read from it. It's cool; it's neat to have anything one does [recieved like that]. It's my private space. The music was conceived in this very closed environment. It was an intimate group [who recorded the record]. To send that out into the ether and have people consume it privately, and then for us to have this conversation, it's almost like having a conversation about masturbatory practice or something [laughs]."
With such intense songs — the record is even called Anxiety — how do you relax or blow off steam on tour?
"The actual show is the blowing off of steam in a lot ways. The show is the opportunity for me to reinterpret things from what I perceive to be subtle — I don't know if 'subtle' is the right word; it's kind of an aggressive record — but to create a more raw, open, cathartic experience for performing them to other people."
Considering how personal the record is, is it hard to re-experience the songs night after night?
"I don't know if 'hard' is the right word, but I do enjoy it. I have to get into an extremely exposed state in order to perform them well, but the songs take on a new meaning every time I sing them. It's not like I go back into the emotional state. They're not as evocative as, like, the smell of pine in December in New York City or something. It's not the type of thing that immediately evokes the same mental state. It's more like 'where is my emotion right now?' It's theater. It's about tapping into the right character, or a character that can interpret these songs in a different way. I almost feel like I'm covering my own songs most nights."
Last, is there anyone you're excited to see this weekend at Downtown?
"Yeah, definitely. It'll be really cool to play with Inc. I've never played with them. I remember when they were still called Teen Inc. and that 'Fountains' single first came out. I've never seen them or met them. I think it will be really neat to hear them live and see how they work in that context. They're so excellent and efficient in their interpretations of a really specific sound. I kind of wanted to catch Purity Ring, too."
What's next for you the rest of year?
"More touring and some collaborative projects that are in developmental stages. I'm playing some festivals in the U.S. and in Europe that I'm looking forward to. I've been writing for a new record, but I'm just in the early stages of that as well."
Photo: By Frank Sun via Interview Magazine