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Friday, November 20, 2015

Take A Plunge Into Them Are Us Too's Synthy "Noise Bath" This Saturday

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2015 at 1:39 PM

click to enlarge The ladies of Them Are Us Too - KRISTIN COFER
  • Kristin Cofer
  • The ladies of Them Are Us Too

On a red-lit stage inside a hip, suburban Los Angeles venue, Them Are Us Too concludes the final stretch of its three-part tour. Over the past month, the Bay Area alt-rock duo traveled from San Diego to Texas with Dais Records labelmates Drab Majesty, crossed the Rockies back west, then journeyed across the country and back again with dark rock purveyors Wax Idols.

"I kind of like the brutality of it," says singer/synthmaster Kennedy Ashlyn, 22, of the touring life. "I feel like I'm being stripped to my core, and all of a sudden, this raw energy kind of comes out in a way that I kind of dig."

Though the road takes its toll — Ashlyn says she wakes up with new bruises every day — there is no sign of weariness as Them Are Us Too hit the stage tonight. Best described as a minimalist shoegaze band, the duo sounds like a mix between experimental artists like Godspeed You Black Emperor and the dramatic pop of Kate Bush. Ashlyn hits high notes one after the other, as her eyes roll into the back of her shaved head. At one point, she shifts to guttural screams before banging the shit out of the small drum kit next to her. Cash Askew, 21, is no less visceral when she doubles over her guitar, wavy locks veiling her face as the sequined trim of her jacket glitters under the stage light. On stage, the girls take what Askew calls “a noise bath,” their guitar-synth sounds washing over the crowd, and, on Saturday, Nov. 21, they'll be bringing that same "bath" to Oakland's Good Mother Gallery.

Ashlyn, who is from Davis, possesses a choir-perfect voice that is ecstatically sorrowful and cathartic at the same time. "What I get a lot is [my voice] is really beautiful," she says, "and what I hear sometimes is that people identify with the pain that is behind it." She sings about heartbreak and frustration, as well as the frustrations and angst that come with being a young person taking on new, adult responsibilities. Occasionally, Ashlyn can tell when the fans understand what she is singing about by making eye contact with them from the stage. In fact, the "eye connection," as she calls it, is what helps make the shows worthwhile for her. "I didn't just go pour my heart out for nothing," she says.

It's been less than three years since Ashlyn and Askew met at UC Santa Cruz and started making their special blend of nouveau shoegaze music. Askew, then a freshman living on campus, decided to throw a goth-themed 19th birthday party for herself at an off-campus residence where Ashlyn, a sophomore at the time, lived. They had previously met at Ashlyn's Halloween fête, but didn't bond until this particularly night, when Ashlyn became intrigued by the birthday party soundtrack of moody '80s alternative and contemporary synth bands.

That night, Askew crashed at the house and the following day, Ashlyn invited her new pal to check out a show from her solo project, Them Are Us Too, which she’d been working on since high school. On the night of the show, the musicians mused about working together. "I hung out at that show and we decided during the course of that show that I should join the band," says Askew. A few days later, practices began, but they weren't quite sure what instrument Askew should play.

Askew, who was raised in San Francisco, had been messing around with Garage Band since her early teens and was well versed in synths, but Ashlyn already had the electronic elements covered. Askew needed to contribute something different. She asked herself, "What can we add to this handful of songs that will make things more interesting?” Her answer: guitar.

When we speak by phone, a few days after their Los Angeles show, the pair is still in Southern California, decompressing at Askew's dad's house. The conversation jumps between post-tour giddiness and intellectual thoughtfulness. Offhand quips, like Ashlyn's admission that she may not need massive cold brews to get through the day now that the tour is done, are juxtaposed with periods of silence that proceed heavier subjects, like feminism and gender politics.

Ashlyn, who majored in feminist studies, discusses how feminism impacts their work. "I think that the lens through which I've learned to see through…kind of affects my entire way of being all the time," she says. But that doesn't mean that she's writing obvious feminist anthems. "I'm never going to write a song that's like, ‘Girl Power! Vote for Hilary!’ " she says. "For many reasons, I'm not going to do that, but I think it comes through in a more nuanced way."

Askew adds that the influence of "queer and femme and women artists" has helped inform their decisions as a band, from the artists they choose as tour mates and collaborators to the spaces they choose to play. Askew, herself, identifies as transgender and non-binary, and admits that she’s still learning “how to explain to people” exactly what the latter term means. "I guess I don't feel like any traditional binary gender concept is entirely accurate or applicable to the way that I see myself,” she says. “In a lot of ways, I wish I could do without it at all."

She adds that, as a performer, people make assumptions about her identity. "You kind of have to present yourself without any commentary or explanation," she says, mentioning a recent Facebook post she wrote to address an instance where a concert attendee insisted on misgendering her as male. But being on the road has also introduced Askew to people who have been supportive. "I think being in this band and traveling through artistic communities has helped expose me to a lot of people who are really wonderful and have helped me sort of frame my identity or understand it in different ways," she says.

For some time now, Ashlyn and Askew have been living a semi-nomadic life. They started touring shortly after they began playing live in the Bay Area and spent many weekends road-tripping from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles while recording Remain, their debut album, which was released earlier this year.

The duo's most recent tour was their second nationwide haul in 2015. In a matter of a few weeks, they played everything from cool kid clubs in Los Angeles and New York to a basement in Wichita. But they aren't quite ready to take a break. The trip home comes with a scheduled show in Oakland. For Ashlyn and Askew, it will be time for another noise bath.

Them Are Us Too play at Good Mother Gallery in Oakland on Nov. 21. 

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Liz Ohanesian


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