(This interview was originally published in 2018)
How many band members are there and what are their stances in the band? (Please name each member and what they do?
My name is Tom and I write, record, and produce the songs as well a singing. Onstage I am joined by Paul Seegers on keyboards and Mike Jenney on drums.
The band has been around since 1988 right? This question is for Tom. When did the idea of starting “Assemblage 23” come to you? Did you have any other band names before you stuck to this one?
Technically speaking, I didn’t adopt the name Assemblage 23 until 1990, but I still consider the stuff I did in the previous years as basically an early extension of A23. In the very early (pre-1988) days of my music making, I did music under the name Residual Noise and Man on a Stage as well as a couple others I can’t remember that never really stuck.
What are band practices like? Do you have a set time each week?
I live in Seattle, WA, Paul lives in South Bend, IN, and Mike lives in Tucson, AZ, so we have literally never rehearsed together. Everyone rehearses their part on their own. Sometimes we’ll run through new tracks during soundcheck to make sure everything is on point, but other than that, we don’t rehearse together.
What has been your biggest challenge as a band through the years?
I think just adjusting to the drastic changes in the music industry over the past 15+ years. When the first record came out, MP3 was in its infancy and hadn’t really had an effect on record sales. Then file-sharing exploded and record sales took a hit. Then legit digital retailers like iTunes started popping up allowing people to buy their music legitimately and instantly. This saw sales of physical releases take a hit, but digital sales slowly but surely started to go up. Then streaming came onto the scene, causing both digital and physical sales to drop, but only offering the artist fractions of a cent per play, which doesn’t add up to much. So as a professional, it’s all about diversifying and finding new sources of income and new ways to market your music so people will want to buy it.
Out of all the venues you’ve played through the last 30 years, what are your top 3 favorites?
K17 in Berlin, which is unfortunately no longer there. The sound was great, the staff was really helpful, and there were sort of dorm rooms upstairs, so after your did, all you have to do is walk upstairs to your room. Moritzbastei in Lepzig is another great one. It was originally a fortification built in the mid-1500’s, so there is an awesome sense of history to it.And finally, although it’s not an amazing venue by any stretch, I have to mention the Phantasy in Cleveland, OH, as it was where we played a lot of our earliest shows and is an important part of the band’s history. Unfortunately, it is also set to close.
This is somewhat a similar question to the one above except we want to know what are your top 5 favorite locations (cities/countries) to play?
Sweden, Russia, and Mexico all have really energetic crowds, so those ones are especially fun for us. In the US, I’d say Orlando and Los Angeles have similarly great audiences to perform for.
Talking about playing music for the last three decades; has the music scene changed any? Do you have a favorite era?
It’s changed tremendously. The tools to make electronic are more widespread and affordable than ever, which is great for musicians. For consumers, you can now download or stream virtually any album in existence at 3AM in your underwear. Musically, speaking, I was especially fond of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It seemed like there was a lot more different things happening in the scene than there is these days.
If you guys could play at any venue anywhere, where would it be? Unless you’ve already played at ?
Even though it was a dump, I wish I had played CGBG’s while it was still around. Just so I could say I’d done it. I was into punk before I got into electronic stuff, so obviously that place is a bit of a holy site for me.
Do you have a new album coming out? In celebration of your band anniversary?
I hadn’t even considered we’re coming up on the anniversary of the first album. I do hope to have something out in late 2019. Working on it now. Just this week I am releasing an album by a new project of mine called Helix.
Advice for bands that are just starting out?
Don’t listen to critics. Most of them are just failed musicians. Do what you believe in and not what you think other people think you should do.Be true to yourself. Also, approach it with no other expectations than you’re going to have a great time making music. If success and other things come, that’s all the better, but if you love what you’re doing, you can never truly disappointed and it doesn’t matter whether there are 10 people listening to you or 100,000.
What is your writing process like? (Lyrically/music)
It varies, but for the most part these days I usually write the music first. I basically keep a folder of song ideas as they come to me and once I have enough of those, I sort through them to try and separate the wheat from the chaff. Once the music is close to being done, I sit down and work out the lyrics. This is the most difficult part for me, and probably the least fun part of the process, but the band is kind of known for the lyrics, so I can’t cop out there!
What are you guys looking forward to at playing Vampirefreaks “Darkside of the con III?”
We’ve never played a Con before, so that’ll be a new experience for us. The thing I am looking forward to most, though, is that we’ll get to see a lot of our other band friends who are also playing.
Any last words you want to leave us with?
Just a big thanks to everyone out there who support A23. It means more to me than you can imagine.
What was your very first show like? Were you nervous at all?
The first show was in 1996 in Indianapolis at an event called CircuitFest. The tickets had it misprinted as “CircusFest”, which may have actually been more appropriate. It was organized by a guy named Ken who ran a label called Arts Industria. It was comps on his label that were the first official releases of A23. So he organized a sort of festival for bands on the comp. I was extremely nervous at the time and I’m pretty sure I botched about half the lyrics, but it was fun and was the start of it all for us.
Hey old fan here, what was it like recording “Addendum?”
It was an interesting time for me because I had just moved to Seattle. “Failure” unexpectedly became a big hit, so our German label thought we should keep the momentum up with a remix album with some bonus tracks. So I reached out to friends for remixes and began writing the bonus tracks in my little 12-floor apartment I had just moved into. If I recall correctly, some of the tracks, such as Let Me Be Your Armor, were already ideas floating around from the time I was writing Failure, which is why it made sense to call it Addendum.
<u>I just started listening to you guys. Do you have any recommendations on how I can start my own band ?</u>
If you’ve got a decent computer, you’ve got most of what you need already. There is a ton of shareware and freeware DAWs and plug-ins that are more than enough to get started. Keep it simple when you start, or you run the risk of being overwhelmed by how much new stuff you have to learn. Once you get comfortable with it, you can start investigating commercial DAWs, softsynths, and plug-ins as your budget allows. It’s also worth spending a little extra money on your studio monitors, too. You will get much better mixes, the better you can hear what you’re doing.
Links for Assemblage 23: