Autre Ne Veut's Arthur Ashin Can Detect Your Cynicism
When Arthur Ashin performs as Autre Ne Veut, he becomes a self-professed "freak," and not necessarily in the sexy way. Clutching a microphone for dear life with just a few people manning beats and background vocals behind him, he scrunches up his face and bawls like a newborn id into the personal space created by his torso, which by now has curled up in an upright fetal position (unless it's flung backwards in throat-popping ecstasy). Sometimes he falls to the floor for good measure, crawling to the lip of the stage as if to the edges of his own sanity. When Ashin's voice screeches into the curdling upper ranges of a desperate song called "Wake Up," it sounds like Cameron Diaz is trying to sing her way out of Chip Douglas' wildly gyrating body during the karaoke scene in The Cable Guy.
Photo by Jody Rogac
"The only way for me to get up there and stay up there is to kind of go into my weird little world. It's me, but it's the most unhinged part of myself. The part that cares less about consequences," Ashin tells me over the phone from his Brooklyn apartment. This kind of stage fright is related to the anxiety has always been a part of his work as Autre Ne Veut (French for "I think of none other"). It comes to a spectacular head on his fittingly titled sophomore LP and chandelier-shattering R&B opus, Anxiety. For the album cover, Ashin originally picked a photograph of The Scream by Edvard Munch at a Sotheby's auction. He explained, "I was trying to get at the modernist trope of anxiety. The Scream is the standard image of anxiety and it's being represented in this capitalist framework. Psychology is market-driven in a huge way."
He should know a thing or two about the field. After growing up in Connecticut with parents who had always been in therapy ("It's part of the Jewish tradition. You've got a little Woody Allen, you feel okay about going to psychoanalysis"), Ashin came back to psychology while studying philosophy and cultural theorists like Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Zizek at Hampshire College. Fortuitously, his roommate was Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never, Ford & Lopatin, and independent record label Software. The ambient experimentalist, who later signed Autre Ne Veut, was instrumental in "slutting out" his friend's early demos. Some caught the ear of Todd Ledford, who runs U.K. label Olde English Spelling Bee and liked what he heard. "So, if I were to take 10 songs out of these 40 demos to make a record," Ashin says, using the same husky, vaguely accented voice for everyone he quotes to me, "What would it look like?"