FANTASY TO REALITY
by DJ Mätthew Griffin
Boston singer/songwriter and jet-setting “hyper-mod-pop band” Pills’ member, Corin Ashley, has jumped across the pond to record his second solo album, New Lion Terraces, at the famed Beatles’ Abbey Road Studios. With a circus of the stars line-up performing on the album, Corin breaks the bank to fulfill his 40th birthday fantasy.
Noise: Recall your first musical inspirations as a child.
Corin: I suppose, like a lot of people my age, the first big thing was Kiss. That was my first concert and, obviously, as a seven-year-old I was more interested in the comic book aspect of the band than the music—which I can actually appreciate more now. I was also crazy about the Monkees’ TV show, which was on after-school reruns. And, naturally, the Beatles were just always there. I grew up outside Philadelphia and it was really the heyday of AM radio gold and the radio was always on in my mom’s Opal Kaddett station wagon, so there are so many Philly soul records that are deep in my consciousness.
Noise: Tell me a bit about some of the bands that you were in, earlier in your musical career.
Corin: I grew up playing in cover bands in rural Pennsylvania and there were never any bass players available. Once I picked up the bass and because my best friend was a total prodigy on guitar (future Poison/Mr. Big guitarist Richie Kotzen), we ended up playing with older guys. When I was 16, I was playing in grown-up bars three or four nights a week. We played everything—I couldn’t even begin to list the hundreds of songs we played at one time or another.
Noise: When did you join the Pills?
Corin: The Pills were active from 1995 to 2006, did three albums on a local label, and toured all over creation. I’m really proud of that experience and still close with the guys in the band. The thing that kind of ended the Pills was just that the other main songwriter moved to Seattle with his family. His wife is from that area. I still love those guys, though, and drummer Matty B and Dave Aaronoff played on both of my solo albums. Those guys are like my brothers. Dave is busy with his own band and plays in Muck & the Mires—not to mention the many hours of tantric sex he’s involved in—mostly for charity—he studied that with Sting—but I have a bash with me whenever I can.
Noise: Tell me an exciting tour story.
Corin: An exciting Pills tour story? One time we drove eight hours to sit in some horrible, dank back room waiting to play. Then we jumped around like maniacs for 25 people somewhere in Cleveland, sold 10 T-shirts and some CDs, but didn’t get paid our $50 guarantee. Now, just repeat that in different cities all over the U.S. for 10 years.
Noise: The Pills shared stages with such acts as the B-52’s, the Libertines, Supergrass, and Reverend Horton Heat. Which artist was the most exciting for you?
Corin: I’ve had the pleasure of playing a few shows with Robyn Hitchcock and that’s always been a bit of a treasure to me. Not only is one aware that there’s a master songwriter in the room, but he’s such a kind, generous person who always has a nice word for you. I always feel like I’m entering Robyn’s psychedelic romper room when I see him play. The only tricky bit is that, when opening for him, one must yield to his sartorial magnificence and allow him gig shirt supremacy. There’s no point in competing, he has the very best gig shirts.
Noise: Your second solo CD New Lion Terraces was recorded in London at Abbey Road Studios. Please tell us about the CD and it’s recording?
Corin: This one started off with a 40th birthday fantasy, camp thing of “just imagine if I could record at Abbey Road.” It really seemed so far out of the realm of possibility and it wasn’t easy to put together. It’s a frightfully expensive place and they normally don’t do single-day sessions, it’s all a three-day minimum, which was just too rich for my blood. Through a friend who had worked there, I struck a deal with the studio managers that if any down time popped up around my birthday, they’d give me a call. They called me nine days before my birthday and said there was a day between sessions and would I like it? I just said yes before I could even consider everything I’d have to do to pull it off. I wrote all about it on my website (www.corinashley.com), but it was a mad scramble for sure.
Those sessions came out great—better than I could have ever hoped, really—but it did create a sonic problem for me. I cut three songs there and I definitely heard them as the start of my next album, but being as they were recorded on a two-inch 8-track head-stack on a Studer in the finest studio in the world with the same mics used on Beatles records, it wouldn’t really cut it to record the rest of it on my laptop in my bedroom. They still haven’t come up with a plug-in for “awesome,” I’m afraid. I ended up buying an old one-inch 8-track reel-to-reel that used to be at WGBH and assembling a team of audio sherpas to restore it. We moved it into the B room at Q Division and brave Jon Lupfer wrestled with it to record the rest of the album. I mixed it—actually, I didn’t mix it at all—I let Ducky Carlisle do what he’s awesome at doing.
Noise: You had some cool collaborators on this album, how did that come about?
Corin: Mostly very naturally. For the Abbey Road sessions, I had some fabulous people who volunteered—a couple of Liverpudlians so I could even have the correct accents around me for my Beatles fantasy! In fact, there seem to be quite a few British people on my album—even an Australian.
It is my instinct, that when someone interests me musically, I just want to get in the sandbox and play a little bit. I guess it can come off a little name-droppy, but I am blessed to know some really talented people. One of the big things for me was meeting Dave Mattacks. That’s someone whose drumming I have loved on records by XTC, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Paul McCartney, Richard Thompson, and loads of others. We met at a Neil Finn show at the Somerville Theatre and he turned out to be a supremely lovely person. Having him on drums with the old 8-track cranking and some nice old ribbon mics getting it all down, I kind of thought “we’re making some classy music today, I think.”
The other big thing was having my friend Kay Hanley there to help my really nail the vocals. I’ve always been pretty pleased with the sound of my voice, but a little shy about really, really singing. You know, I’ve just always been “three takes, we’ll comp it, good enough,” but Kay contributed so much to me getting the most out of my voice on this album. And she’s someone who I just adore in every way—especially as a singer—so, if she’d hit the talkback and say “one more, you’re almost there,” it wasn’t a drag. I was definitely trying hard to please her with the vocals. If you get a thumbs up through the glass from Kay, you know you’ve actually done something.
Also, I really enjoyed having Paul Ahstrand work on the string and horn arrangements. He did such a fabulous job creating the perfect Van Dyke Parks/ early Nilsson sound I was going for. Even the artwork—Liz Linder did the photos on a lunch date in Brookline with me one day, it wasn’t even planned—and Aaron Belyea who I used to play music with, came up with this fantastic artwork. If you need an album cover, call my boy Aaron at Alphabet Arm.
Noise: Where is you music available? You did a crowd sourcing program with this, right?
Corin: You can just get it on iTunes or Amazon or for free on Spotify (I don’t mind, have a listen). You know, everything went so well on this album that my last little dream was to do a small vinyl run. I paid for all the recording and mastering and all that, but I was just tapped out as far as pressing vinyl. You don’t even want to know how much I spent making this album, and neither does my wife. I worked with Jayce at Pledge Music—a great local company—to channel the CD and download orders into funding for the vinyl, and with a percentage going to Boston Children’s Hospital. It met the fundraising goal, so I just got the vinyl test pressings
Noise: What are your plans for the future?
Corin: I don’t mind doing solo acoustic shows, but I’ve got a really cool band together with Davina Yanetty and Fran Betlyon singing, Chris Gorham from MARS on guitar and either Matt B or Josh Pickering (Pods, Varsity Drag) on drums—you always have to keep a spare drummer. They always go squirrelly on you. Also, we are doing a really cool video shoot at Redtar Union in Cambridge on May 9 with Parks- open to the public like a club show, but with a video aspect—filiming and multitrack recording.