It’s impossible to put American Sunshine, Ashtar Command’s debut album in the same gimmicky box with most other collaboration albums. It’s so far away from the typical industry racket. Yes, the foundation for Ashtar Command is a joint effort. And it does feature a stunning group of artists. But it’s more than a contrived piece of work with multiple trendy people propping it up. The soul comes from the process in which it came together and how it plays out just like a storyline—life’s history. It’s a labor of love that Chris Holmes and Brian Liesegang have been slaving over for years and they’ve made special by never losing sight of the fact that to create a collaboration album with substance it needs to equal more than the sum of its parts. Mission accomplished.
It is a great time to be an independent artist. 10 years ago it would have been impossible to release this record because every single one of these artists would have been signed to a major label and they would have had clauses in the contract that would have made it impossible. –Chris Holmes
The idea behind Ashtar Command was originally sparked more than a decade ago while Chris Holmes and Brian Liesegang were attending the University of Chicago. Specifically around a UFO inspired college radio show Chris Holmes hosted for over 4 years. Holmes describes the show like an “academic Art Bell meets Ira Glass’ This American Life.” Which is to say that is was an objective platform for an exchange of ideas focused on interesting people—with a story to tell. Everyone from Bigfoot hunters, to members of Heavens Gate to Whitley Strieber, the dude that wrote “Communion,” were given time on the show. “I think that is what’s fascinating,” states Holmes about how the radio show was the impetus for the band. Just like the radio show, Ashtar Command isn’t trying to fit into a box. They don’t simplify things, justify or explain. The beauty comes from the process and intimacy. There is no conspiracy.
With degrees in hand, the two took separate paths. Chris signed with Atlantic Records, releasing the record "Dan Loves Patti" under his Yum Yum moniker, which Rolling Stone Magazine heralded as “more than hold its own in comparison with influences as the Beatles, and Beach Boys circa Pet Sounds”. He’s toured and recorded with the Smashing Pumpkins and Felix da Housecat. Has kept busy co-producing tracks for P. Diddy, working with Billy Corgan on his solo album and co-writing with Rachael Yamagata and Mandy Moore, in addition to producing Joshua Radin's successful We Were Here album, which received a four star review in Rolling Stone and hit #3 at Amazon. Holmes also enjoys success as a DJ. Look no further than the fact that Holmes was handpicked by Sir Paul McCartney to open for his much-hyped performance at the Coachella Festival. Being anointed by one of The Beatles is as high an honor that exists in the musical kingdom. If LA had an official “International Party Ambassador” Holmes would have the seat on lock.
It ends up kinda like this Lennon and McCartney balance—sunshine and darkness. It works out really nicely. We both have very similar taste in our aesthetics for how things should sound and we’re able to bring out these elements in our process. –Chris Holmes
Brian went on to join Nine Inch Nails, working on the multi-platinum and Grammy award winning albums Broken and The Downward Spiral. After that he cofounded the two-man band Filter with Richard Patrick and proceeded to sell millions of records and tour relentlessly with the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins, Ozzie Osbourne, White Zombie, Korn, and others and has garnered both critical and commercial success on the backs of singles like “Hey Man, Nice Shot,” “Jurrassitol,” and “Trip Like I Do” (with the Crystal Method). They were nominated for “Best New Band” on the MTV Music Awards. They also wrote songs and contributed the driving singles to various platinum soundtracks ranging from The X-Files, to Spawn, to The Cable Guy and many others. Brian then produced, wrote and performed on Veruca Salt's Resolver album. And most recently recorded and performed with Billy Corgan on his Future Embrace album and worldwide tour. He also recently contributed and performed with Filter for Sony’s upcoming 2012 movie, for which the song is the leadoff single.
While both were enjoying success in their individual careers, Ashtar Command never stopped making music. Requests would come in every now and then for an instrumental version of one of their songs. Before the band had an official release their music was featured in The OC, Ugly Betty, spots in feature films like Winged Creatures, Spread, The Avengers and ad campaigns for Nissan and Microsoft. With the money made from those deals they decided to take time and develop something on their own terms, with their own vision, exactly the way they wanted. Now a decade down the road they’ve written, produced, and engineered the entire box set of material featuring people that Chris and Brian have been producing, singing, working and just being friends with over the years—an organic off shoot of their life. “It is a great time to be an independent artist. 10 years ago it would have been impossible to release this record because every single one of these artists would have been signed to a major label and they would have had clauses in the contract that would have made it impossible,” states Holmes about how the record labels being in the tar pits have opened up their ability to work with the artists they have. Josh Radin sings lead on “Mark IV”, Sinead O’Conner does the same on “Summers End”, so does Alex Ebert on “Save Me”, Rachael Yamagata, Har Mar Superstar and Priscilla Ahn make more than a few appearances each. Other Guests Include: Matt Walker on drums (Filter, Smashing Pumpkins, Morrissey Drummer), Solomon Walker on bass (Morrissey), Mike Garson playing piano (David Bowie), Joey Waronker on drums (Beck, Rem, Thom Yorke, Smashing Pumpkins), Oliver Kraus on cello (Beth Orton, Sia, Josh Radin, Priscilla Ahn, Duffy) Stewart Cole, horns (Edward Sharpe) Stephen Fitzpatrick on guitar (Veruca Salt) and Johnny Radtke playing guitar (Kill Hannah). Chris and Brian work in identical studios on opposite ends of the country—Chris in LA, Brian in Chicago. They’ll send songs back and forth, each person tweaking it a little bit until they’ve fleshed out fleeting ideas into fully-fledged songs. “Over the course of 8 years these songs become these very elaborate. It’s a really beautiful, organic process,” states Holmes. Chris’ stuff tends to be very uplifting with a spiritual / salvation edge to it, while Brian tends to approach from an edgier and darker side.
We’re battling the forces or horribleness in the music world. We’re trying to create good music that isn’t being destroyed by the major labels or by pop culture or what ever. –Chris Holmes
Holmes continues about the process: “It ends up kinda like this Lennon and McCartney balance—sunshine and darkness. It works out really nicely. We both have very similar taste in our aesthetics for how things should sound and we’re able to bring out these elements in our process.” ”I think we are both writing about transcendence, although we sometimes follow different paths to get there…” adds Brian, “…and I think all my favorite bands have always had divergent means to achieving the goal. It’s far more interesting.”
Because Ashtar Command has always been its own thing, developing organically over time rather than following trends, the artistic vision has stayed pure. The result is an expansive and remarkably coherent album that refuses to be reduced to a single genre. Sure, there are definitely some reference points. Nick Drake comes to mind. So does the Chemical Brothers. Which is to say the music will seduce a mature audience, but will also tantalize the eclectic taste buds of the younger generation—beautiful songs and ones that rock.
Sci-Fi types might know “Ashtar Command” as an intergalactic U.N. with the specific mission of assisting the human race in a time of crisis. Think evolution by enlightenment, which makes the name an amazing metaphor for the band and what they’re trying to do with their music. No, they’re not at war against the Greys or Reptoids or anything but they are on a mission to battle the rampant artifice of the music industry. To these two music nerds that’s basically the soul of humanity. “We’re battling the forces or horribleness in the music world. We’re trying to create good music that isn’t being destroyed by the major labels or by pop culture or what ever.”
This doesn’t sound like delusions of grandeur to me; it feels and sounds like a direct reflection of the music industry, and a need for grandeur. “It is what it is,” states Holmes. Consider this a declaration of Ashtar Command’s arrival.