Greg Ashley Thinks That We Are Living in a "Bullshit Society"
The Oakland songwriter calls it as he sees it on his new album 'Pictures of Saint Paul Street'.
From Houston to Oakland, Greg Ashley has made a mark as a songwriter, singer, guitarist and sound engineer. His involvement in bands The Strate Coats, The Mirrors, Gris Gris, and as a solo performer has seen him cover music from psych to country rock and brooding pop. He remade Leonard Cohen's 1977 album Death of a Ladies Man.
His latest album Pictures of Saint Paul Street, released June 30 on Trouble In Mind Records, sees the accomplished musician move into more terse and angry territory. You could call it bitter if you want but it's more just honest observations from a guy who has walked a few blocks and sees the world becoming more and more busted.
Take the track "Bullshit Society". When he sings "I want to stick my head in a hole in the ground", it's more general despair than outright defeat.
Listen to the song and read a chat below.
Noisey: Where is Saint Paul Street?
Greg Ashley: It's what I call San Pablo Ave in Oakland, the the street I have lived on for 10 years. if I was singing in Spanish maybe I'd stick with the actual name. It gives it for me, that block that I live on, a specific location and scene. It's a seedy place full of pimps, junkies, dealers, hookers, and general debauchery. San Pablo Avenue runs from downtown Oakland, past Berkeley and a bunch of the towns north in the Bay Area. So that street is 20 or 30 miles long. Saint Paul Street gives it a specific local for me. and it works with the music better than singin' "Goodbye San Pablo Ave."
It has been said that these songs are your most angry, bitter and complicated to date. When did you write "Bullshit Society"?
I started writing it in probably 2014 and it went through a bunch of iterations before getting to the current form. It used to be more of a punk song and then I changed the arrangement a bit, but the lyrics were always the same. I've been living in a bullshit society my whole life, and it just keeps getting more fucked every year.
What is the consolation prize?
It's the scraps that the rich in power toss down to all the slaves in our society. "Here's a Budweiser, some McDonalds, a TV, some shit job, maybe a wife and some kids and a house in the suburbs." Just enough to keep America fat and stupid and lazy so they don't bother to try to do anything to improve our society.
You are from Houston and are now based in Oakland. Where is the most conducive for a musician or producer?
I think having a place in the country is the most conducive for musicians, I just haven't found my place in the sticks yet. And then how do you make a living in the middle of no-where? I guess there's the internet but I can barely work this shit. I'm still using hotmail for Christsakes. I got a smartphone finally a few days ago. Still can't figure out how to use the damn thing really. Man, I am sounding like a crotchety old man...
You remade Cohen's 1977 album Death of a Ladies Man. How did his death affect you? Are there any living songwriters as good as him?
I think Cohen died when he wanted to. He'd finished his life's work so I don't think there was much tragedy there. I was a little bummed, but I didn't know the guy or anything, but he appeared to be a good person and his music changed my life. Ray Davies from the Kinks is the greatest living songwriter.
'Pictures of Saint Paul Street' is available June 30 from Trouble In Mind Records.