ASG: Psycho Las Vegas Preview

If you’re a) Going to Psycho Las Vegas 2022; b) Wanna witness a guaranteed, badass rock and roll set; and c) Need to bathe yourself in melodious singing after too many hours of screaming vocals … well, make it a point to see ASG on Sunday (August 21).

Hailing from Wilmington, North Carolina, the lovable-but-lethal Psycho vets deliver about as reliably righteous a show as they come. Thanks to tautly written songs that drill into the brain like the Bugs in Starship Troopers, the Relapse Records band never disappoints.

That’s not to say ASG haven’t faced their fair share of hardships, however. The Bad Penny caught up with frontman Jason Shi on Thursday, and he opened up about some of them. Oh, and his love of Blind Melon, too.

How did Hellfest go last month? Did you play in front of your biggest crowd to date?

JASON SHI: Absolutely. We’ve played it three times now, and every time [we’ve played to our biggest crowd].

How does Hellfest compare to Psycho?

SHI: It’s a totally different animal in terms of scope and size. It’s the same principle, but in Europe, they just eat up [metal]. I get it: You can only fit so many people in Vegas. Both are good festivals, good concepts, diverse — and obviously both are successful.

Did you still get nervous playing in front of a crowd that large, even after two decades as a band?

SHI: I drank a Red Bull before we played, so I was like, “Am I nervous, or is it the Red Bull?” But no, it’s fun to still get nervous and have butterflies. It gets the blood flowing.

Are you focusing pretty heavily on your Pyramid Wheels EP at present?

SHI: No. We went to Psycho Las Vegas last year and then played two or three West Coast shows with The Sword and Sasquatch. We thought that, while we were out there, we’d record a handful of songs. Unlike a lot of bands that seemed to be really motivated during COVID, I was really unmotivated with songwriting.

Still, we went into the studio for two days and tried to knock out as much as we could. The second day, I wasn’t feeling right. [Drummer] Scott [Key] said, “I’m feeling off too.” And sure enough, we both got COVID. That kinda derailed our plans to record a lot of songs, but we did finish two [“Pyramid Wheels” and “Vitals”] and then released them as an EP.

“Melody over loud music, if it’s done right, that’s always what I aim for. It can be a cool aesthetic.”

-Jason Shi

So you initially intended to record a lot more songs during that session?

SHI: Yeah. But it might have worked in our favor. As it is, people’s attention spans seem to be so minimal these days. They have their phones at their fingertips. So we’ve thought about releasing two or three songs sporadically over the course of a year. It’s logistically easier for us, with everyone’s personal lives and jobs, so maybe we’ll focus on two or three songs versus 13, give that a try.

Seems like a pretty innovative strategy.

SHI: [Laughs.] I don’t know if it’s innovative or lazy — but it’s easier. The stress of 13 songs can be a little hectic, and you can overlook or miss things. Years later, you wind up saying, “Argh, I wish I hadn’t done that,” or, “I wish I had done that.”

Speaking of attention spans, what was it like playing the Rhythm and Riffs Lounge in 2021 versus the Psycho Swim stage in 2019? The Rhythm and Riffs Lounge was open to anybody who was in the casino, not just Psycho ticket holders.

SHI: It was kind of a tale of two cities. The outdoor stage was hot. It was nice play inside at the Rhythm and Riffs, ‘cause it had a/c. But we were the last band to play at the festival, at 2:30 in the morning or whatever it was. So it was like, “Is anybody left standing after three or four days in Vegas?” But naw, it was cool.

When we last spoke, Alice Cooper’s performance at Psycho in 2016 was the best one you’d seen at a Psycho event at that point. Has any other band at Psycho topped that performance since then?

SHI: Man, no show I’ve seen since then has topped that, honestly. I was shocked at how good it was. I was caught off-guard by how many songs of his that I knew. And the beers were flowing that night. That year was pretty tough to beat, as far as a lineup goes, if I remember correctly. We just sat in the Hard Rock for seven bands in a row and didn’t even leave! It was so great.

The night Alice Cooper played, Psycho also had Sleep, Baroness, Dead Meadow …

SHI: … Uncle Acid … it was like, “Holy moly, this is all right!” I remember the flight the next day was brutal. But it was worth it.

Is it safe to say you’re excited to see High on Fire play again this year?

SHI: Yeah, always. They played the day we played at Hellfest. We watched them.

High on Fire and Mastodon played in our town in like 2000 or 1999 in front of, like, just us. What would become our band. There were like six people in this tiny little dive bar in Wilmington. High on Fire was doing [The Art of Self Defense] and Mastodon was doing Remission. We bought those CDs and thought those guys were gnarly.

We hung out after they played — and never thought in our wildest imagination that we’d be playing the same festival as those bands. We totally fanned-out. They’ve been heroes ever since. That was the highlight of Hellfest, to watch Mastodon on the main stage after we were done playing.

What other bands are you most looking forward to seeing at Psycho this year?

SHI: I really want to see Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and some of the Wu-Tang guys. I like listening to new bands I haven’t heard of, too. There seems to be no shortage of those. Oh, and the Dwarves are one of my all-time favorite punk-rock bands.

What do you like most about them?

SHI: The juvenility. The violence. And they’re over the top. We actually did a tour with them about 15 years ago. They’re really nice guys. I wore out The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking [1997] and The Dwarves Come Clean [2000] records.

It’s unexpected, perhaps, but the majority of musicians I’ve talked to for this series are most excited to see Bone Thugs and the Wu-Tang members. What’s up with that?

SHI: Well, we’re in a scene where everyone’s exhausting the same thing, kinda. But all of us [musicians] listen to music that’s all over the place. I can listen to Blind Melon and Converge in the same sitting, as crazy as it sounds.

You guys have always stood out to me because of your masterful singing. There aren’t many bands of your ilk that feature singing as strong as yours.

SHI: Well, I appreciate that. I don’t think I’ll ever be a natural singer. It’s been a 20-year work in progress. When we started out, we had Cookie Monster vocals, and then I gradually learned more about singing, and my vocals got stronger over the years. In the jump between the Win Us Over [2007] record and Blood Drive [2013], I found a higher register to fool around with, and that was more interesting to me, because it was new.

Some people are born to sing. But when I tried after COVID, it was clear I couldn’t jump back into it. It was the first time we’d taken 18 months off.

How long did it take you guys to get back into the groove?

SHI: Muscle memory kicked back in after about four or five shows, but it’s harder as you get older to stay in touch with your 21-year-old, screaming self. I’ve admittedly had troubles with that. Blown some vocal cords out trying to do some early ASG stuff, where there’s more screaming. And if my voice gets shot, sometimes I have to pull some songs off the setlist. But melody over loud music, if it’s done right, that’s always what I aim for. It can be a cool aesthetic.

Did you ever take any singing lessons?

SHI: No, I didn’t. I probably should have. Matt Hyde, who records our records, he tells me if I’m sharp or flat. He has an incredible ear and has taught me so much.

Are you planning to hang out with some old friends at Psycho?

SHI: Yeah, some buddies from California, mostly. We’re planning to hang out by the pool like old farts.

You previously told me you crushed it at blackjack during Psycho in 2016. Did you score big again last year?

SHI: I think I was even-steven. It was more expensive to play at Mandalay Bay than when we were at the Hard Rock years before.

Well, if you’re any good at chess, you might wanna try Chessboxing With GZA.

SHI: No way! I’ll give that a look.

Any other plans for when you’re in Vegas?

SHI: My wife and I are really big into sushi, so we might venture out and try to find some good sushi restaurants. Otherwise, we’ll be relaxing at the pool!

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Psycho Las Vegas runs from August 19-21, with a kickoff pool party happening Thursday, August 18. Get your tickets here.

For other Psycho Las Vegas 2022 features, check out The Bad Penny’s new profiles with:

• Sidecar Tommy, co-founder and drummer for electronica/world-music/dubstep act Beats Antique
• Alky Dude, guitarist for Polish stoner-rock band Belzebong
• Brother Bill, frontman for British psychedelic-rock ensemble Church of the Cosmic Skull
• Jarvis Leatherby, manager/bassist for power-metal legends Cirith Ungol
Chad Green, frontman for old-school death-metal revivalists Frozen Soul
• Alternative hip-hop producer and DJ The Gaslamp Killer
• Kyle Juett, bassist/vocalist for “supersonic intergalactic heavy-rock trio” Mothership
• Nathan Carson, co-founder and drummer for Portland, Oregon’s original doom band, Witch Mountain
• Bruce Lamont, saxophone/singer for avant-garde jazz-metal fusion band Yakuza

For more features on bands playing Psycho this year, check out our interviews with:

• Colin H. Van Eeckhout, vocalist for Belgian post-metal purveyors Amenra
• Tomas Lindberg, vocalist for Swedish melodic death-metal pioneers At the Gates
• Alex Mass, frontman for Austin psych-rock princes the Black Angels
• Jeff Walker, vocalist/bassist for extreme-metal behemoths Carcass
• Scott Taysom, frontman for Atlanta black-metal band Cloak
• Greg Meleney, vocalist/guitarist for Portland psych-rock mainstays Danava
• Darkest Prince, lead guitarist for black-metal punks Devil Master
• Judas Priest worshipper and Psycho fest mainstay DJ Painkiller
• Mika Häkki, bassist for Gothenburg doom trio Monolord
• All-female Motörhead tribute band Motorbabe
• Ethan Lee McCarthy, frontman for blackened-doom trio Primitive Man
• Tobias Grave, frontman for shimmering post-rock trio Soft Kill
• Sean Killian, vocalist for cult-favorite Bay Area thrash band Vio-lence

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: