In December of 1981, guitarist Tom Ashton co-founded the gothic and post-punk outfit The March Violets while attending Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds, U.K. Throughout the ‘80s, the band landed several singles on the U.K. indie and club charts, including goth classics such as “Snake Dance,” “Walk Into the Sun,” “Crow Baby,” and “Turn to the Sky.” The latter number earned The March Violets a cameo appearance in the 1987 film “Some Kind of Wonderful,” written by John Hughes. Over the years Ashton has also done stints playing guitar with equally lauded acts Clan of Xymox and The Danse Society, and most recently filled in on bass with Athens’ rising goth luminaries Vision Video. Ashton has called Athens home since 2001. Recently, a new generation of post-punk, gothic, and otherwise darkwave bands have all released music bearing the mark of Ashton’s SubVon Studio, where he’s also found a niche composing scores for various independent films.
What brought you to Athens from the U.K.?
I met my wonderful wife of 29 years, Rachel, an Athens local, whilst touring the US, playing guitar with the Dutch gothic rock band Clan of Xymox — or Xymox as they were known at the time. We met when the band was prepping for our tour at The 40 Watt, supporting the album called Phoenix on Mercury Records. I originally came from Scotland, where I grew up in a small town called Alva in an area called the Hillfoots. From there I moved to Leeds to play music. Years later, I moved to London for nine years before making the move to Athens in 2001.
When did you start recording at SubVon Studio?
SubVon kinda started around 2012-2014. I was recording March Violets stuff and working on a bunch of film scores for people up in Michigan and in Los Angeles. I built a room in our basement purely as a production suite, but when we later finished building out the rest of the area I realized there was room to fit in a whole band with a full kit. After a month or so I started mentioning the space to anyone who might be interested in coming in and joining the experiment. It was christened on January 1, 2018. The name just kind of popped out from nowhere, although the word Von is a nickname for Andrew Eldritch from The Sisters of Mercy, so maybe it’s a play on that for some reason.
Andrew Eldritch’s Merciful Release label released The March Violets’ “Grooving in Green” and “Religious as Hell” 7-inches. Did you ever join The Sisters of Mercy?
At one point in ’81, Andrew did try to filch me from the Violets, and I did play one show with them playing guitar. It was a great time, and later he said, “If you want it, it’s yours.” I would have loved to do both but I felt I couldn’t do it under the circumstances. I had moved from Scotland to play music with my best mates, and I didn’t want to screw them over. At the time, we were all good mates — I was mates with Craig Adams and Gary Marx from the Sisters. We used to all hang out at Andrew’s house. He was the only person that any of us knew who had a VCR, so we’d all get high and watch “Alien” over and over again.
There is an identifiable scene emerging around your studio work. Bands like Tears for the Dying, Hip To Death, Entertainment, and Vision Video come to mind. What’s the underlying thread that connects them all?
This scene kind of reminds me of the special time back in Leeds and West Yorkshire in ‘81-’82. Bands like Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Sisters of Mercy, Danse Society, Southern Death Cult, Skeletal Family, and The March Violets all combined and developed our own take on punk, post-punk, and goth. Most importantly, we had our own way of doing it. I am lucky to be in the right place at the right time not only once but twice. And I would certainly add We Hunt Kings — Henry from Entertainment’s project — to that list. Pale Pose’s Doorways; The Exiter is another notable album which I mixed and mastered, definitely some dark and beautiful poetry there. And although not strictly gothic in nature, T.T. Mahony sometimes enters some very dark territory with his French People album which I mixed last year.
I think sometimes it all comes down to a quirk of timing and geographical location. The law of averages dictates that at one place and time a similarly minded group of people will cascade together and feed each other their energy and ideas. Once it’s realized it becomes acted upon and is further enhanced. Leeds circa 1982 felt like this, and to me, now Athens and Atlanta have a similar sense of purpose and amount of talent to throw it out to the rest of the world successfully.
Aesthetically speaking, I’d say there is a wide range of styles and influences in the mixing cauldron of these bands, and I see it as my job to capture and collate, collaborating in a way that enhances each individual voice.
Do you have creative input when it comes to the musical choices that these bands are making?
Yes, but it can vary quite a bit according to each individual track. Sometimes a reimagined backing vocal, or subtle orchestrations in the background. I’m very much an ears-and-mind-are-open kind of producer, and I’ll never get in the way of someone else’s vision. I’m just there to help it flow and wrap it in the sheen I always like to hear.
How did you start working with Vision Video?
Ashton: In pre-COVID days, Dusty Gannon ran — and will again no doubt — a fantastic night called Make America Goth Again. I was there one night when Dusty was DJing. We’d never met before. He played “Snake Dance,” and a mutual friend pulled us together and said, “This is the guy who plays guitar on this song!” We hit it off, and he sent me some music he was working on in 2018, I think. I loved it! Even back then it sounded like Vision Video. The track was called “Organized Murder.” Basically we just hit it off with too many similar interests to count and hung out a lot and got drunk!
Are you currently working on any projects with any of these groups?
Dusty from Vision Video is already sending me some wonderful sketches for the next album, and we are discussing ideas and approaches on how the progression will go. I’m still in the middle of mixing We Hunt Kings. Tears for the Dying has a new lineup and are sending me the demos for their next album which sounds fab too.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on various masters for a March Violets CD box set for release in the near future through the U.K. label Jungle Records. There will be never-before-heard material included, and some classic Violets tracks that never had a proper release. Vision Video will be in to record the next record in January or February, and Tears for the Dying start recording their next release with me in mid-December. Until recently I was working on a score for a film called Dwarfhammer by a Michigan-based director named Daniel E. Falicki. I also recently began mixing and remixing tracks for Tennessee-based band Palm Ghost. I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth into the future!
Read the print version of this story in the December issue of Record Plug Magazine.
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