This Wednesday night at 830pm, Sessions at South on Main continues, with August curated by Chef Matt Bell. For only $10, you can see local Renaissance man Joshua Asante play a solo set. Asante is known mostly for fronting Amasa Hines, who have just returned from a summer tour. For a relatively brief amount of time, Josh and I spoke on the phone about everything from life on the road to the definition of rock and roll. What follows has been edited as best as possible for comprehension and brevity. Enjoy and I’ll see you Wednesday night.
How long has the band been together?
We’re going into our fifth year. Longer than most marriages, definitely relationships in general.
When we made that record, we were working really hard on having a great live show. And as a reference for our live show, Judson [Spillyards, guitarist] and I watched [a lot] of My Morning Jacket performing. That and Radiohead. And a lot of times, we’ve gotten a couple bad reviews that I really feel like [the writer was] disappointed that it wasn’t what it looked like in the photograph. Because they didn’t listen to the [the music], saw a photo of us, made an assumption, and were like, “I’m about to get to write about this soul revival band,” and then the shit started going and they were like, “Now I have to actually think? Damn.”
How was the tour?
A learning experience. There were a lot of firsts. It’s the longest we’ve been out together. There were emotional ups and downs.
Maybe this is just because of the internet—the ubiquity of cameras, and the constant sharing of images—but it seems like black people are in more and greater danger for simply being alive. In light of that, are you scared when you go out on the road?
Before I left, the black women in my life were all like, “be careful,” and it wasn’t like, “don’t fall asleep at the wheel,” “don’t drink too much,” it’s like, “dude, don’t get murdered.” It was difficult, not even wanting to say to [my bandmates] why I don’t want to drive, or why I don’t want to stay out too late. I know my nature. I don’t tolerate disrespect well. And that doesn’t change because it’s an armed police officer. And there are people who don’t navigate the world with nearly as much contempt for the power structure that I have that are dead. They were just out here trying to be alive. I don’t operate in fear but with a very, very taxing awareness. It’s hard to be the only black person anywhere right now.
Is playing music what you thought you were going to be doing when you were a little kid?
Hell no. Not even kind of. I didn’t have any creative aspirations growing up. In my teen years, I played football and threw discus very well. I was all about the discus. I think it’s the only thing I would say I have a natural inclination for. I feel like I had a really odd awakening at some point, maybe a decade ago, and music just started making sense to me. I could play damn near anything, something just clicked. So, instead of half-assing that awakening, I try to take it seriously, so the instruments that I play I pursue. I’ve been [in Little Rock] eight years but I would say, creatively, I was born here.
How did you figure out the guitar?
A lot of it was being in college and being young and lazy as hell and not wanting to go to class. I met the guy I founded my first band with. It was crazy because he was a classical guitar, music major. So, he wasn’t missing class. He’d hang out with me and play guitar and he’d go to class and come back and we would play more guitar, and, in the meantime, I would never move from that spot.
Did you grow up in the church?
I wasn’t what you would [call] a “preacher’s kid.” A lot of musicians have that trajectory, where you sing and play in church. I didn’t even really sing in church. Me and my dad had a fight . . . and I wouldn’t sing out loud from the age of like, five or six, up until [when] I moved here.
You didn’t sing for how long?
A long-ass time. I wouldn’t sing through middle school, high school, I just stopped. And I didn’t start again here until I would go to this open mic they used to have over on Kavanaugh and recite poetry. It was around the same time I was skipping school. So, those poems kind of morphed into these really lame-ass songs that my friends celebrated, and lifted up. They encouraged me to keep writing.
I saw you open for Adia Victoria at White Water. When you play solo, do you usually loop and layer vocal elements, or is that a recent thing?
It’s like that now. It hadn’t been that way, where I’m in my loops and doing the shit that I do at home. So, I did a little screwing up. I don’t think I’ll do a lot of screwing up on Wednesday. I’m not a great guitarist . . . so I get bored with playing acoustically, and I know my lack of interest is related to my skill level, and I’m cool with that. Right now, I want to enjoy what I’m listening to as I’m playing it, and I don’t enjoy listening to just an hour-and-a-half of me playing guitar. I’m not into it. I’m actually playing with her again at Maxine’s in November.
Both of you guys were really good. It’s encouraging me to see the two of you doing your thing in the rock music realm, just because they don’t let black people play rock and roll.
I think black people don’t let black people play rock and roll.
There’s definitely that, too.
It was a really definitive era where that stopped, and I think Prince probably was the last of his kind. Right in the weird layover between his explosion and the explosion of hip-hop. And how [rock] just became uncool. And that’s why he was such a unicorn. He never listened to the people saying, “are you not paying attention? This [hip-hop] is what black people are supposed to be doing.” For me, as a listener, I don’t think it’s as much of a drought as mainstream media would have you believe. The bands that I really listen to in the rock world happen to at least have black members in them. Like, TV On The Radio, Alabama Shakes, Saul Williams. There’s a ton of shit to listen to. And I listen to myself.
What about Blood Orange?
I was really into the Lightspeed Champion shit but I haven’t really been checking for the more recent stuff. As his popularity has grown, my interest has waned. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with [it but] there’s a certain aesthetic that he’s reaching for that I’m not interested in very much. I have a great deal of respect for him as an artist in a really broad sense. Not just as a pop musician but as a composer; and as someone who really appreciates visual art, I got mad love for him.
Any future projects you’re excited about?
There are a few. One is recordings I made in bedroom just using my phone as the mic. I finished all of them and there are two different masters that I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet. And there are two other songs that I want to release on either 45rpm or 7” [vinyl]. Those two [songs] could be done in a couple weeks. Lastly, I want to do something similar to my solo shit as an EP but that will probably take a bit more time in the winter to actually [finish].