Justin Pearson interviews Jonas Rosen about Asterisk*

Out there is one of the best thrash-grindcore-technical metal albums that a lot of people have never heard of. Asterisk released “Dogma 1: Death of a Dromologist” many years ago, and you probably missed the memo. If you know what we are talking about here, then that’s fantastic. Either way, if you read on, you’ll get an insightful and candid interview with Justin Pearson (Retox, Dead Cross, Planet B) and Jonas Rosen (Asterisk*). The album is currently on sale in our web store as well, which is in conjunction with this interview in hopes to get a few new ears on this awesome album.

“I Hung Around in Your Soundtrack” Part 15 by Justin Pearson

Asterisk “Dogma 1: Death of a Dromologist” LP

I had been on an extremely long touring cycle with The Locust during one of the many points in the last decade or so. We had been making an effort to play Umea Sweden since we had a bunch of friends there and usually a decent response. One of the key people who was and still is from that city is a great friend and amazing person by the name of Jonas Rosen. At one particular juncture he had given me a CDR of a project he had been working on called, Asterisk. I recall being in the van heading out of town just after he gave it to me, blasting it for everyone as we hit the long snowy road out towards somewhere else. We all loved Jonas and instantly were interested in the sounds that he provided. It was part Discordance Axis, part Slayer, part artsy-fartsy noise… and it was perfect for Three One G. Of course, I was instantly down to have it be a Three One G release, and at that specific time, had no real concern about manufacturing and the cost of putting things out that might be a bit expensive in the responsible world of running a record label. Jonas and his two band mates signed me up for a rad die-cut cover, that was stylistically right up my alley. Only issue that I would later find out was, people would never see the band live, or more importantly, be willing to take a chance on buying the album. I have since cut my losses on this and just about everything else Three One G related by now, and still love the crap out of this record, and Jonas. So here is a glimpse at what is behind Asterisk, the band that you never heard of.

Interview with Jonas Rosen: February 2018

Justin Pearson: I think we must have met when The Locust first came to Umea, and perhaps the second time that we toured over there, you hit me up about releasing the Asterisk album, which blew me away. Can we dive into how that all came about, and maybe you can give a bit of back story on the band, its members, and whatever else you think might be relevant? Especially since most people have no idea what Asterisk is. I remember being in the van, leaving Sweden, and having Dave Astor, the original drummer of The Locust, telling me how Three One G needed to release it. I was already sold on the band and thought you ruled, so I didn’t really need that extra push. I think Dave just wanted to hear more metal stuff on the label since we had released the first two Cattle Decapitation albums. There was this sort of Discordance Axis vibe that you all had, which was exactly what I was into. But I really only knew you in the band, and later came to find out you all only played one show ever, which might be why I have a storage space full of your albums. So let’s give people a bit of the Asterisk background, please.

Jonas Rosen: Wow, oh I don’t think I remember too many details, so bear with me. A* must have came around in the fall of 98 or slightly afterwards (after the 98 tour with Jenny Piccolo / Locust). I guess the whole project was my idea? You may call me pretentious and egocentric but that’s how I usually think about my projects, I find competent musicians to realize an idea and a* was no different. Stefan (guitar) had played thrash-metal before I was born, and was really technical and skilled in Randy (where he played while in a*), and André pounded the drums for DS-13 so I knew he could be fast. Living in Sweden really limits the people you can work with and most bands have an incestuous relationship with other bands. Honestly, I think I’ve met 1-2 Swedes in my lifetime that were into the same stuff as me, and the odds being they could play instruments and live close by is not gonna happen. Working with Stefan and André was great, however. They had both the right attitude and skills as it turned out, not to mention we had a blast and were really good friends. They were also great at writing songs and I remember it was truly a democratic process, writing about 1/3 of the songs each, although I pretty much set the framework for our sound. We rarely played live because 1) Stefan and André was already in touring bands performing all over North America, Europe and Japan at the time, and 2) I don’t really like playing live. We did more than one show though, perhaps 2-3 in Umeå and 1 in Luleå (further up north). I didn’t mind touring so much, but I feel really uncomfortable being on stage. So much that my current band always performs behind a screen the few times we’ve played live. And I’m not really a concert going type either, I prefer listening to music in headphones- really picking it apart in my head. I’ve never seen any of my favorite bands play live, and I bought their records ’cause the music made such an impact on me. I’m sure it might help with sales, though, so I’m sad to hear we were such a flop moving units. I guess that means to some extent we failed really making the music be the selling point instead of a traveling freak show. Haha, I remember us being really glad about the numbers you sent us, because for us we sold more than we would ever had thought would be possible.

JP: Do you think that the band members’ collective influences are similar to each other? Or was the sound and direction of Asterisk your idea? There are some obvious similarities to brands like Discordance Axis and even Slayer. But as you said, not many people in Umea were into that stuff. Perhaps DS-13 was an odd band for Umea as well? The sort of sparseness of the band being active, or even vocal about it existing was a tough one for Three One G. Where I love the artistic direction of the band a lot, that in itself made it even harder to sell. The interesting thing is, it’s better than most of the existing aggressive and brutal type of stuff of the time, but nobody knew about it and it was extremely hard to get people to even check it out. Do you think that was part of the overall artistic idea you had for the band? You know, Asterisk was and still is a bit of a secret thing, even when it comes to Three One G. I think there are no promo photos of the band and only one live very low-resolution photo from a performance. People will just never know, huh?

JR: I think our influences were very different which I believe can be a strength when you have to work with whoever is around. André and Stefan had barely heard Discordance Axis before I played a record for them, and they weren’t really into that stuff at all. The sound and direction, artwork and esthetics were my idea for sure, but they made it special, bringing their own influences with them. I’m not an asshole, but they let me set the frames to fill, I think that is the real strenght of a*.
DS-13 was an odd band for Umeå as well, at least when they started out. André has never been scared of trying something new.
I think our idea of our band, not being very vocal about our existence is true for everything I’ve done in music. I just don’t really care, and it’s not really important to me. Making music is. And the Japanese stuff I was into at the time (Multiplex, Force, etc. – just as big of an influence as DA in my regard) no one really hyped or anything. If you were interested in listening to the stuff, you had to go find it yourself. Finding it, discovering stuff like that was half the fun, still is, post-internet. I would never take a promo photo in my life, what I look like has nothing to do with music and would only make me feel dumb. I really, truly believe that the artist as a person is so utterly uninteresting compared to the art. I really don’t want to know what people look like or what kind of personality they have as musicians or artists. I have friends and people in real life that fill that gap.

JP: Awe, lots of great points here. I get it, with you talking about promoting the band and why a promo photo doesn’t matter. I suppose for me, I see why it matters… and is bullshit, too. But the boxes of LPs and CDs that sit in a storage space for well over a decade is why I would opt for a band to take promo photos, or at least muster up something to use for marketing. I wish it was rad and weird and underground, but for me, even back when we released the Asterisk stuff, I was shelling out quite a bit of money for the packaging alone, which was all awesome, but again, it just sat in a storage space and never really sold. I grew up discovering weird, rad stuff pre-internet, like you referenced, but I think just about the time we started releasing Asterisk stuff was when things took a turn. The strange and frustrating thing is, if I could give those albums away to people who are into technical, abrasive music, they would love it. But even getting to the point of giving stuff away is hard to do. Even more so now than ever, if you want any sort of press, you need a band photo. So I guess it’s back to the drawing board for me to figure out how to give those albums away.
But let’s talk about your relationship with Jenny Piccolo. When we all met in Umea back when The Locust and Jenny Piccolo first toured there, about twenty years ago, we all instantly clicked. It was pretty amusing that soon after, both bands were doing a U.S. tour and Jenny Piccolo, being a three-piece band, decided to bring along two roadies. I guess that strengthened that bond with you and them, and led to the split release you did with Jenny Piccolo later on. Did you ever want to take Asterisk on tour in relation to going out with Jenny Piccolo, or was it still something you preferred to avoid?

JR: Man, I would do anything with Chris, James and especially Al (who I still consider my best friend). I even got up on stage with them on tour- remember?- and did True ‘Til Death in Swedish. Al can kinda make me do loads of stuff, like being best man at his wedding. Haha. I know me and Al talked about it back then, and I know you tried to get us over there, too.

JP: Those guys are pretty magical people. I suppose it all made sense as you, them, and us in The Locust were just weird-os in the world, which was a common bond for us all. Plus, I think we all collectively had interest in some of the more obscure bands out there. I do reminder the Chain of Strength cover and how terribly bad and terribly good it was. It also went over most people’s heads, given the fact that at the time, there were two stoners and a straight edge dude in Jenny Piccolo. Plus a guy singing it in Swedish! But, let’s get back to the aesthetics of Asterisk… Do you care to talk about the artistic direction you had with the layout’s minimalism, and sort of drab color scheme? Was this a direct influence of something you were into? Even down to the titles of the songs and so on. I mean, if I had no idea what Three One G was, and stumbled upon your LP at a store, I would have no clue as to what it is. Maybe that would get me to check it out. I do think that the look of the album matches the sounds, and song writing that went into it.

JR: Drab? Haha, yeah, I guess the main influence was techno or electronic music album covers. Usually they were pretty minimalistic, just a couple of numbers or so on a cover, or no cover at all, and you’ll have to look at the label to see what it is. That works fine within that scene, but not in this one (we learned). I used to do a lot of album covers for my bands back then but for a* we asked Tantan who is a friend of mine from China. He sent me a whole bunch of suggestions to pick from for each release. He also made the artwork for the first Cult of Luna albums, which came out on Earache. For the cd comp, we went full on mental and asked Jon Chang from Discordance to the artwork. It came out really well but I kinda regret that now. The lyrics are mainly centered on things I read or studied at the time, mainly linguistics, literature and sociology. Some more personal stuff in there as well, I suppose, but I can’t really remember. I thought, at the time it would be a good idea to write songs with lyrical content that no other grindcore, hardcore band would ever think about writing about. I’m still kinda pleased to have done that.

(I’m going to fuck shit up here by replying to an earlier statement from you, bear with me)

So yeah, maybe you shouldn’t try selling or giving them away. People have had two decades to discover this stuff and clearly they haven’t. It came out pretty much at the same time file sharing came about, and all record sales pretty much died. It’s all digitalized now for the rest of the world to find if they want to. I mean, having a label is such a Darwinist thing cos it’s mainly capitalism. Some things will sell, and some won’t. I say you could do one or two things. Pull the option to buy it and store them forever somewhere for archaeologists to find, or do a Fund Me, Kickstarter campaign to save them. Otherwise, recycle them. Get some roughneck San Diegans and do a YouTube clip at the recycling station where you check for options to recycle vinyl and cd’s. You used to be so good at stirring things up JP, you can do it and you have my blessing. Surely that material can be used for better purposes. I would love that idea. As far as the music goes, it is already out there. All we are talking about is physical, plastic versions that no one bought or cares about. I was really, really happy when you decided to put it out (still am), but that purpose is served long time ago, we released it in the wild and it didn’t survive. Let’s bury it!

JP: Oh, I don’t mean drab in a bad way. You should see my house. I have no color in my life. I really appreciate the minimalist ideas in art and design. But yeah, the idea you presented with the band is so rad, and I love it and was on board from the start. But outside of the people who are really down for Three One G, I think people were not willing to take a chance with something that wasn’t offering obvious cue to what it was.

As for the topic of capitalism, I get it. However, I do not look at Three One G as a capitalist venture in the slightest. I make no money from the label, as a matter of fact, I put in my own funds and rarely see them again. So there is that weird place, where you can look at a label as a negative thing, or you can be practical and see that people’s efforts that are put into what they create should be able to be shared to some level. I mean, is there a point of doing it if it falls on deaf ears? Sure, but that might be a class thing. You know, some people can’t just get a cool musical project and chalk it up to it being a hobby. If that was the case, the world would have missed out on a lot of really good stuff. Even some of the underground and avant-garde stuff that we are into. But it’s one thing to suggest that we recycle the albums, but that would essentially mean that I pissed away quite a bit of not just money, but my time and energy with the label, not to mention the band’s time and energy… and yes, money. Or I can stick to my guns and keep the opinion of the Asterisk album still being relevant, rad, and have certainty that there are still people out there who would appreciate having the physical album. I get the stance on the artifacts, but there are some people who might not be dialed in, like you and I are, or were, and completely missed this, or other great albums. And that exposure might be what this world needs to progress further in some way. With all that being said, there are quite a few releases from Three One G’s back catalog that I would gladly give away, but even that is not as simple as one would think. Giving it away means I have to ship it, or someone has to come to me and get it, which takes planning and time. So it’s a bit tricky, I suppose. Then we can just go forth with the existential argument of our own existence and wonder why does this matter, or who even cares? Or we can just know that our efforts were done for a reason as simple as us being honest about art and that people should still have access to what we have documented. So, where do we go from here now that we have derailed the conversation a bit?

JR: Haha, now we are truly getting somewhere… philosophy! I love this, but perhaps that’s something we could leave for a more private talk whenever we see each other next. If you have more questions about a* I’ll gladly answer them.

JP: Wait a second, we’re headed somewhere with all this. Let’s keep going. Both the philosophy and what we are doing and have done tie into each other. Don’t you think that your overall philosophy is apparent with the bands aesthetic? It had to have subconsciously seeped in there nonetheless. I certainly see it. For instance, with what we have already touched upon, but also with the song titles and lyrics as well. Am I correct?

JR: Indeed, I agree. Also, I guess it is worth mentioning that the whole project was inspired by Paul Virilio, whose work within philosophy (at least at that time) was focused on speed. I think most aspects of a* is a soundtrack to a book by him that I read before forming a*. Of course everyone gets the reference to speed with a grindcore band, but also his writing is like scattered bursts of references to personal stuff, literature, society, history etc. Perhaps the most challenging book I’ve ever read. I guess I wanted a* to evoke the feeling of reading him, not knowing if this was just ramblings of a madman or an act of brilliance.

JP: Now we are getting somewhere. It’s so fascinating to hear about what the real influences are behind a band or an album. Specifically when they are not necessarily musical. Gabe Serbian had said in an interview once, “I don’t listen to hardcore, I just play it”, when asked about his influences. I thought that was a great response. But what I think might be the most interesting is what it is that draws us to what we are even influenced by. Like, why did you take a liking to Paul Virilio? You know, what was it that drew you towards his work? That is where it starts to get fascinating. Perhaps circling back again to the philosophical side of things. And at the end of the day, what Asterisk has said, considering the obscure vibe of the band, easily says more than a band that takes the obvious approach.

JR: Well, it’s hard to remember, but it was the zeitgeist I suppose here in Umeå. To be well read and pseudo intellectual if you were into punk. My friend Erik lent me that book for sure cos he knew I was into really fast punk. He wanted to know what I thought about it. I should buy it and re-read it I suppose. Perhaps it has a different meaning today when I’m 42 rather than 22. a* was in a way a reference game, there are tons if stuff in there, links to all kind of stuff.

JP: If only we could say that about all punk and hardcore bands. Ha! I think there was an air of intellect in certain parts of the world when it came to punk. Do you have any comment on the differences with Sweden and creating music in comparison to your U.S. counterparts and what you know and have experienced overseas? I know when The Locust and Jenny Piccolo would be in Sweden hanging out with you, it might as well have been another planet for us.

JR: Well yeah, I haven’t had that much experience creating music in the states, but there is a huge difference. My current band, for instance, applied for grants from that state and got some money to record and play live. I bet that would never happen in that states. I guess that’s a really great thing cos it ensures really small niché things get released without the stress of it breaking even. It’s already paid for. Other than that, there are always differences between different scenes over time: San Diego was very different from the rest of the US in the 90’s don’t you think?

JP: Ok, first off, that is so “foreign” and just crazy that you can apply for grants to do anything related to playing in a band. I grew up with people having to steal, or steal something to sell and just to buy gear. Ha! So you are correct, that will never happen here. Perhaps that might be why there could be a sense of intellect in certain parts of the world with punk music and then in others, it’s just street smarts… or just street. As for the geographical aspect, San Diego was and still is different. I suppose there are a lot of reasons why; it’s a transient city which caters to tourism and not those who live here, especially when it comes to the arts. But it’s also in the shadows of Los Angeles, so there are pluses and negatives to that as well. Do you see Umea in a similar light, with other cities in Sweden?

JR: Yeah, the grants pretty much turn your band into a small business. You have to apply, then declare every cent of that money afterwards. You have to be real structured and disciplined to go through with it. This makes an interesting selection of who gets the money. I guess most punk bands don’t apply cos they can’t deal with that stuff. The artists that are good with accounting and writing good applications get the money, not necessarily the most interesting stuff.
Yes, Umeå is not in the shadow of Stockholm cos it is too far away, we pretty much had our own art and culture up here. Things have changed a lot during the last 20 years, though, and Stockholm is closer than before. It certainly feels like Umeå wants to be more like that than doing its own thing these days. It is sad, really.

JP: It’s fascinating how things work there. I suppose the grants there will weed out the nihilists of punk, which might be a good thing. Sid Vicious is dead, figuratively and literally. I suppose a lot of this conversation has pointed out how things are different around the world, how time changes the structure and way we all experience things, and ultimately what holds value in art and what the influence art has on people. For now, I suppose Three One G will hold onto those Asterisk albums and everything else that is obscure, and hope that people somehow stumble upon it all in due time. The landfills are full enough as it is. And I’m certain that the Asterisk album will spark something in someone somewhere, and birth relevance elsewhere. Regardless, thank you for being part of Three One G, and thank you for being who you are.

JR: Thank you JP. Parts of this interview could be published as a Hard Times article. “Grindcore frontman wants to recycle 20 years of unsold albums” -I mean that material could be a flower instead or heat in someone’s house.”

I’m off to Pottery Barn and maybe me and the wife will go totally crazy and hit Bead, bath & Beyond.