Speaking with August Skipper of Ascetic

The things that you learn when you are searching so hard like that for personal meaning on a very human scale, there's a threshold you get through where there is this sort of "ah huh!" moment.

While at WGT 2014 FractureZine were lucky enough to catch up with August Skipper the singer of new wave experimental band Ascetic. The band hail from Melbourne, Australia but relocated to Berlin, Germany after their first European tour a little over a year ago. They describe themselves as drawing from a collective obsession with fringe philosophy and post new-age consciousness. Seeing the band in action on stage provides glimpses of The Birthday Party and Swans while on the musical front, a strong gothic experimental thread. Ascetic are without a doubt a great modern interpretation of the new wave sound.

Being the second time for Ascetic in Europe, can you describe how your first experience was?

The tour was a blast, we hadn't been over to Europe before but I felt like the tour was aimed at the wrong audience. It was really strange, we were playing in this post rock scene on tour with Heirs, another Australian band that Saxon and I both played in, it was their tour and Ascetic just tagged along. Heirs were transitioning from some sort of post rock thing to a gothic electronic sound but we still ended up playing to a predominately post rock crowd. Every show since that tour has been really nice because we've played small nights with an audience that is there to check out what's on that night.

What scene do you feel the band fits into?

I don't know really. I generally like music that is a bit darker than the norm. I would describe the music as kind of gothic to give people an indication of what we sound like.

I understand that the band is now semi resident in Berlin. When did this happen?

I've been here for just over a year on a working holiday visa. I actually have my arts visa application in 5 days. I'm a bit terrified, feeling confident but terrified [laughs].

Can you describe how the move from Australia to Germany has been?

We relocated to Berlin and just shot out a bunch of emails to whoever we could to see who was interested in having us. I was managing the bookings, managing them very poorly [laughs].

Life has been tough in Berlin. I've always been a bit low on funds but I must admit this is the deepest poverty that I've ever been swimming in. It's a tough existence, the pay is bad for shitty work. The more you work, the more you want to destroy yourself and the more you destroy yourself the less time you have but it's coming together slowly. I didn't quite realise the direct affect that living here would have on me, on us, Ascetic. Living here and taking in the music. It's a completely different culture. The hyper culture of nonstop twenty four seven, something to do, listen to, distract you, destroy you. It's all here. It doesn't take much, you can just open a door and you'll be taking a lot in. Coming from Australia where everything is 10 hours away it's incomparable. Everything is so close. Obviously I love it enough to continue here.

Ascetic have a great album out, Self Initiation. Was there any particular reason for releasing Self Initiation on vinyl?

Because we could [laughs]. I just like that it's an artefact like a stone or something. Saxon loves to say that his vision of a CD is something stomped on in the back seat of some ones car smashed into a million pieces [laughs].

There seems to be strong themes of self medication in the lyrics. Can you talk to us a bit about what is behind them?

In the last three years before I left Australia I went through a very intense time, I was very isolated. I guess it was a spiritual path in a sense. I was vegan and I was meditating a lot. I was sober but, experimenting with psychedelics as some sort of spiritual tool. It revealed a lot to me. The things that you learn when you are searching so hard like that for personal meaning on a very human scale, there's a threshold you get through where there's this sort of "ah huh!" moment. Things can fall into alignment and things seem to make sense. You see this beautiful vision of the structure of human culture in the scale of the universe. Then this threshold that you cross, you can see that and feel this moment of clarity and perfection. Then there is another pocket of information that comes after that which is utterly beguiling and overwhelming. Suddenly that clarity you had is shattered because this extra information makes everything confusing.

I guess with the notion of medication, it easy to see it just as a drug reference. It's not really what I intended it to be. It's more this notion of medicine, medication as a source of physical healing verses something beyond that. Whether it is learning a clearer way to see and live verses trying to build something physical that gives meaning to your life. Some sort of evolution of the mind.

How would you describe the purpose of Ascetic?

I've always liked the idea of transcendence, of music allowing you to escape your own personal boundaries even if it's just for a moment. It's certainly something that I've always been attracted to. Whether you achieve it or not is quite another question. I always want to lose myself on stage.

So what's next?

Just writing slowly. Gradually getting new songs into the set. We played a few new songs tonight. I can put a pitch out here. Basically if anyone is interested in putting out an album of ours, it would not take us long to put it together [laughs]. We've got songs ready, there's also a lot of ideas.

Written by William Riever, 2014-07-20