Tom Ashton of the March Violets on the goth and post-punk legacy behind SubVon Studio

Tom Ashton at SubVon Studio. Photo by Mike White

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.

The March Violets in 1983: Simon Denbigh (from left), Cleo Murray, Tom Ashton, Loz Elliott

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.

VISION VIDEO: Dusty Gannon (left) with Jason Fusco (drums) and Tom Ashton filling in playing guitar during Historic Athens Porchfest on October 10, 2021. Photo by Mike White

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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Vision Video: ‘Organized Murder’

Vision Video is back with a new video for “Organized Murder,” taken from the group’s debut album, Inked In Red.

This one ain’t for the faint of heart! “Organized Murder” is the fourth video released by Athens’ gothic rock luminaries, following videos for “Inked In Red,” “Comfort in the Grave,” and “Static Drone.” The song also bears the sharpest teeth when it comes to wrapping the group’s stylized mastery of darkness, light, and melodic hooks around a poignant statement. 

The song opens with a chilling bit of dialogue taken from make-up artist Tom Savini’s reimagining of the classic horror film Night of the Living Dead. Ben, a character played by actor Tony Todd, delivers these particularly chilling lines while coming to terms with the zombie apocalypse that’s unfolding around him: “This is something that nobody has ever heard about, and nobody has ever seen before. This is hell on Earth… This is pure hell on Earth.”

Set to director Erica Strout’s visual accompaniment, “Organized Murder” leaps into action as a fitting metaphor for what the group describes as America’s fetishization of “violence, force, and warfare on behalf of ‘the greater good.’”

A statement released with the video goes on to say that: “This is a representation of my experiences watching systematic violence used on behalf of morally bankrupt political ideologies to meet their ends and economic hegemony by military domination across the third world.”

Press play and let it sink in.

Read the Flagpole Magazine feature story, “Inked in Red: Vision Video Processes War, Trauma and Loss Through Goth Rock.”

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Vision Video: ‘Static Drone’

Vision Video’s singer, guitar player, and principal songwriter Dusty Gannon’s story follows a trajectory from listless teenager to Afghanistan War veteran to a firefighter and paramedic on the frontline of an ongoing pandemic. It’s an arc that’s perfectly illustrated by the euphoric pop and melancholy of the group’s latest single, “Static Drone.” 


Taken from the group’s forthcoming debut album, Inked In Red (out April 16), “Static Drone” carries an intense release of physical and emotional angst; a real-time experience of grappling with deteriorating mental health while adapting to life and confronting mortality while working at a Metro Atlanta fire department. “I wrote ‘Static Drone’ in the middle of some intense manic episodes where my mental health had completely unraveled,” Gannon says. “There was this peculiar month-long period of time at my fire station when we were dealing with a death almost every shift, and it was mirroring my internal sentiment that I was beginning to feel like everyone was tragically fated to die alone.”

In light of confronting such heavy existentialism, though, “Static Drone” also brings with it a sliver of hope, and an outlet for exorcising these personal demons. “It’s one of my favorite songs to play, because I still feel that dropping panic when we shift to the chorus,” Gannon says. “It’s an intense, but cathartic track for me, and I feel like it truly set the pace for this record.”

In May of 2020, Vision Video’s “In My Side” b/w “Inked In Red” 7-inch stirred up an ethereal post-punk exuberance, underscored by new wave and goth-tinged pop melodies. The lead single, “In My Side,” is a direct descendant of New Order’s “Age of Consent” from the 1983 album Power, Corruption & Lies. On the B-side, “Inked In Red” channels the baroque and romantic pop atmosphere of the Cure’s ‘89 album Disintegration. Singer and keyboard player Emily Fredock, drummer Jason Fusco, and bass player Dan Geller pushed their burgeoning sound to bold and stately places.

Soon after, a cover of British post-punk outfit Ski Patrol’s 1979 anti-war anthem “Agent Orange” followed, capturing Gannon’s most vexed performance yet—made poignant by rich sonic flourishes courtesy of producer Tom Ashton (The March Violets, Clan of Xymox).

“Static Drone” raises the bar on all fronts. The song pops with shimmering confidence, energy, and a dramatic vocal attack that borders on the sublime while ascending to an ecstatic state of a macabre inward journey, further cementing the group’s place as the most exciting dance-rock act to sprout from Athens’ storied musical landscape in quite some time.

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Faye Webster: ‘Better Distractions’

Faye Webster is back with a new single, titled “Better Distractions.” The song was recorded at Chase Park Transduction in Athens, and produced by long-time cohort and engineer Drew Vandenberg. It’s also Webster’s first offering since her 2019 album, Atlanta Millionaires Club (Secretly Canadian), and the single, titled “In A Good Way.”

The “Better Distractions” video is courtesy of Matt Swinsky and Eat Humans.

Drifting through lyrics such as: “Got two friends that I could see, but they got two jobs and a baby. I just want to see you,” the song builds on Webster’s signature lush and melancholy indie rock delivery.

“I wrote this song kinda without knowing I was writing it,” Webster said in a press release. “It’s a kind of free association, just thoughts running straight from my head onto paper untouched. I also think it’s [the] best my band has ever sounded on record.”

On Tuesday, October 6, Webster and her band , featuring pedal steel player Matt ‘Pistol’ Stoessel, drummer Harold Brown, bass player Bryan Howard, and keyboard player Nick Rosen are playing together for the first time in 2020 at Chase Park Transduction. The show is streaming live via Noonchorus, and will be rebroadcast for the following 48 hours.. $12 (+fees). 9 p.m.  Buy tickets.

‘The Lost Boys’ actor Tim Cappello is the real Sexy Sax Man

Tim Cappello still believes …. Photo by Steve Dolinsky.

For decades, Tim Cappello served as a sideman and multi-instrumentalist sharing stages, recording, and acting with a laundry list of celebrities, including Tina Turner, Ringo Starr, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Billy Crystal, Carly Simon, Gregory Hines, and more. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music with renowned improv jazz pianist and instructor Lennie Tristano. His early ’80s shock-rock band the Ken Dolls were banned from playing Manhattan’s famed CBGB punk dive due to the softcore porno flicks he created to accompany their live shows.

Cappello’s life and musical career are the stuff of legend, yet everything he’s accomplished pales in comparison to the notoriety he gained from the mere 12 seconds of screen time that he landed in director Joel Schumacher’s 1987 teen-angst vampire classic The Lost Boys. With his pro-wrestler physique, wailing saxophone and a pelvic thrust that registers on the Richter scale, Cappello is a pop culture icon known to most as the real Sexy Sax Man.

Since releasing his 2018 debut CD, Blood on the Reed, Cappello has been touring the country as a one-man act. At 64 years old, it’s his first real endeavor taking the stage as the star of the show. Along the way, he’s encountered an overwhelming response from audiences, surpassing anything he could have possibly anticipated.

“No one seemed to care about me when I was their age,” Cappello says. “Then, no one gave a shit about me when I was their father’s age. But now that I’m their grandfather’s age, I’m meeting all of these young people that have tattoos of me,” he laughs. “Since I’ve been out on the road, I must have met 150 people who have a tattoo of me on their bodies.” Continue reading at Flagpole.

Classic City Wax compilation captures a moment in Athens hip-hop

One of the more popular numbers from Athens rapper Squalle’s repertoire is a song called “Til We Fall.” For the artist born Torrance Wilcher, and raised in the Rolling Ridge and Pauldoe neighborhoods, the song is a hardcore statement of purpose.

“I’ve been on my mission from my birth,” Squalle rhymes. “My ambition I would like to give to the Earth/ And since you’re Mother Earth, you can share it with the world/ I wanna be the truth that our boys and our girls see/ I learned I was created from the dirt, so I gotta show these trees where they started from first.”

Squalle’s words are a community rallying cry—a decree to set an example by always remembering where you came from and never forgetting where you want to go. “Til We Fall” is one of 12 songs featured on a new compilation LP titled Classic City Wax, Vol. 1. The record is a survey of Athens’ brightest hip-hop artists, from Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Linqua Franqa to rising artists LG, Motorhead 2x, Son Zoo, LB, Kxng Blanco, DK, Cassie Chantel, The YOD, Caulfield and elder statesman Ishues. Continue reading at Flagpole Magazine.

Oh-OK, Love Tractor feature story in Flagpole Magazine

Oh-OK photo by Mike White

Love Tractor and Oh-OK are two bands inextricably linked by time and space—meaning, of course, that they both played hands-on roles in shaping Athens’ hallowed alternative rock scene at the dawn of the 1980s. Both groups shared practice spaces and stages and even brandished the mark of Atlanta’s DB Recs alongside the B-52s, Pylon and the Method Actors. But despite coming of age amid the same college town music scene, stylistically speaking, their sounds could not be more disparate.

Read the full feature story in this week’s edition of Flagpole Magazine.

‘Flagpole’ feature: Magnapop comes full circle with sixth LP

Magnapop photo courtesy Crashing Through Publicity.

Speaking over the phone, Magnapop’s Linda Hopper and Ruthie Morris sound remarkably crisp for our 9 a.m. interview. Oh yeah—they’re in South Holland, a full six hours ahead of Georgia time, waiting to soundcheck before the evening’s show at Bergen op Zoom’s famed music venue Popmonument.

Magnapop is in Europe playing shows and preparing for the arrival of the group’s sixth album, The Circle Is Round, out Sept. 27 via Athens’ HHBTM Records. Belgium, Holland and the rest of the Benelux region have been Magnapop’s home away from home since the early 1990s, when Hopper passed the group’s Michael Stipe-produced demo tape along to a pair of Dutch journalists at a New Music Seminar.

“None of us are good networkers,” Hopper says. “I had two tapes with me. I gave one to someone’s dad and the other to these two guys. After that, we started selling out shows over here, which is really kind of miraculous.” Read the full story at Flagpole.

‘Flagpole’ feature: First Tuesday connects homegrown Athens, Atlanta hip-hop

john.AVERAGE photo by Deseri Rice.

Tuesdays have always been hip-hop nights for Athens—at least where Montu Miller is concerned.

Miller is the COO leading the charge for local promotions company AthFactor Entertainment. Alongside DJ Chief Rocka, he hosts the First Tuesday hip-hop series at The World Famous. First Tuesday was built on a foundation Miller started circa 2005, when he launched Tasty Tuesdays at Tasty World. Over the years, the event has bounced around downtown venues such as Caledonia Lounge and Live Wire, until settling into its current digs at The World Famous. In September, organizers will celebrate the monthly gathering’s third anniversary there.

The aim for First Tuesday has always been to facilitate Athens’ hip-hop scene with an event that fosters creativity by strengthening the community through networking and friendly competition.

“For years, we’ve invited out artists from the Eastside, the Westside, the Stonehenge community—bringing everybody together, so we have a more cohesive scene,” Miller says. “There really is just one community with a few little satellites and branches, but it’s all moving together as one at this point.” Read the full story at Flagpole.