If you live in Greensboro, NC, you know about Ashrae Fax, who achieved legendary status as a standout darkwave-synth singularity in the turn-of-the-century Triad area. Sadly, they stopped playing together in 2003 before I had the chance to see them perform.
Soon after moving here in 2008, I became friends with Alex Chesney and have been to countless Faster Detail shows (Alex's solo project). When Alex gave me a cassette copy of Ashrae Fax's one and only album, Static Crash, it immediately engaged me as saturated, oblique, dark ethereal pop at it's best. Coveted copies of the band's cassette-only release circulated across several state lines and sealed their reputation as the Greensboro band who captured an authentic 4AD sound. The band became something of an enigma to me with one twenty-two second clip being virtually all you could find online.
It's been a great pleasure to make friends with Alex Chesney, Renee Mendoza Haran, and Mike Soter over recent years and I'm thrilled that they have gotten back together to make music again. Static Crash has been re-issued by Mexican Summer and the band are due to play live together in August and September.
Recently I was able to catch up with Renee and Alex to talk music and the future of Ashrae Fax.
What initially inspired you to make music?
Alex: Cocteau Twins' "Ice Blink Luck", off of a Birdhouse Project skateboard video.
How did Ashrae Fax form?
Renee: Ashrae Fax formed a few years after Alex and I met. I was a rising freshman in high school and Alex was in summer school before his sophomore year. We met in the stairwell one morning. Neither of us were supposed to be there. I was singing and listening to the natural reverb of the room and he was in the cafeteria avoiding class. He heard me singing Cocteau Twins and that was it. He decided to start playing music about a year later. He got a guitar and learned a Cars song that I helped him get down. We started making music together after that. That was 1993/1994.
What is the story behind the band's break-up and reformation?
Then Alex came to see me in 2002, I think, and said we needed to make a record. He had added two players, Robert and Mike, and the four of us just sort of exploded with creativity and made Static Crash. Robert took off for Rhode Island before we finished the record, and Mike and Alex and I went on two tours, which were insane and awesome but also super trying. We got back from tour and there was a lot of dysfunction on all of our parts. Things came to a head, and I decided I needed a healthier way of creating in my life and so I started Filthybird.
Since then, we've all had plenty of time to live and grow and I think now just makes sense to do something together again, especially because we have so much support from Mexican Summer. It's not easy coming back from that long of a break, but it helps when you have so much help and encouragement. And the musical landscape has changed, so I think we can find our way back to our fans and hopefully put a little more love out into the world.
Alex: I never saw it as a breakup, everybody just left and did their own thing. As far as reformation, I have always been down and will always be down for Ashrae Fax.
Did you ever feel that ‘Static Crash’ was overlooked when it was originally released?
Renee: Well, we didn't have the Internet like we do now. It would be a terrible dishonor to the fans we had then and who discovered and loved the music since then to say it was completely overlooked. We had a solid NC and east coast following. It was small but energetic and emphatic. I will say we were definitely an underground band and the things that happen now that make bedroom artists huge stars overnight were not happening like they are now. Fans had to find their favorite bands by word of mouth, which just happened to travel much more slowly back then. Sadly, we sort of stopped right as the momentum for us started to pick up.
Also, the acceptance of unusual band formations like duos, electronic backing tracks, pre-recorded tracks, computers, loops stations…all of these things were pretty obscure back then and not very widely accepted. Although I will say we always played instruments live on top of drum machine beats, which I am still very happy about.
Does it feel like ten years since you played music together?
Alex: No way, it's just like yesterday!
Renee, when I spoke with Alex recently he told me that he’s had to re-learn how to play guitar for the Ashrae Fax shows. Are you having to re-learn how to sing these songs?
How did the Mexican Summer release come about?
What are you looking forward to most about the upcoming shows?
Renee: Just being with my friends again and hopefully making a few people happy for an hour or so.
Are you working on any new material?
Renee: I wouldn't call it completely new, but we are taking old tracks that we never finished and we are finishing them for a newish record of sorts called Never Really Been Into It. The songs will definitely be new to the world, that's for sure.
What's next for Ashrae Fax?
Alex: That's up to others as well, so I don't know. I would like to see myself in the studio working on new songs after the tour.
What other projects are you working on?
Renee: My husband and I have a 3-piece called Ama Divers… pretty ambient, experimental, minimalist music. And I am making a solo record with Brad Cook from Megafaun that I'm super excited about! I'm really stoked because we're making an electronic R&B record without any pre-made sounds or loops. Actually, everything in both bands comes from instruments that are played live, and then we take those sounds and manipulate them.
What are you currently obsessed with?
Renee: Honestly, I don't have time for anything other than the music I am making right now. However, I am obsessed with my dogs Alice and Larry, and with my town (Durham) and my new friends, who all rule in so many ways. I can't begin to tell you how obsessed I am with this place.
You can find more information on Ashrae Fax website HERE