ASTR got started a little late at the Speakeasy Cabaret in Austin, but were determined to bring the straggling individuals together into a crowd—not always easy after midnight at South By Southwest. The Cabaret is a funky venue—way Brooklyn, with a couple of actual bowling lanes upstairs, plus foosball, natch—and the bands play on a small stage wedged behind one end of the bar, visible from right-up-front or the overlooking balcony.
They started strong, with vocalist Zoe ASTR (nee Zoe Silverman) coming on heavy and emotive. They certainly brought a few fans of their spage-age R&B (their megafan had flown in) and early into the set the crowd was trying to move; by the fourth song there was definite swaying and sashaying, and when Zoe offered to buy the whole crowd tequila shots, none of the front line moved. She was just busting chops anyway.
Zoe, in over-the-knee socks and a loose hoodie, bare legs in between, brought out the bros with phones. She has “it,” always moving or posing, grinding into the music or raising her arms to fill the space, pulling the mic away from her striking face, her long Annie Lennox-orange hair pulled back in a tight pony tail. Adam ASTR (nee Adam Pallin)’s production moves from trance elements to more deadspin beats, and he keeps playing on top of the click track, forever tweaking, adding, pounding buttons and banging drum pads with aggressive sticks—not the head-down, comatose dial turner that can be so off-putting at electronic-based shows.
The week before SXSW, I got on the phone with Zoe and Adam to talk about the sweatiness they love, the biscuits they can’t wait to eat, and the mysterious teen pop music that Zoe won’t let us hear.
Zoe: This tour was really fun, we started the tour not really knowing Ryn, and I can say she’s one of my best friends now. It’s really cool to meet some women who are radical and killing it onstage, and I feel like we have a lot to talk about so it’s awesome. But I feel like the shows in general, it was a different pace for us, kind of a younger crowd, more pop-oriented. Our shows usually are more late-night, dark and dingy and stuff. But this was a whole different demographic, so it was interesting, it was new.
Adam: The younger side is great, the younger fans. But a little more tame than some of the stuff we’ve done before. We played in LA, we played at like 7 or 7:30 p.m. It’s definitely an adjustment to get fired up at that hour.
Zoe: I think some of our fans were a little pissed off, too. We definitely got some flashback, of, “What? We’re not even out of work yet, how are you guys doing this right now?” So I think we need to come back with a vengeance on a late-night tour.
Adam: But one thing we should talk about, when we hit the East Coast, we had fans who came to every show on the East Coast, and that was pretty dope. And ended up with one of our mega fans getting a patch with an ASTR logo tattooed on her wrist. And that was, I think, the last show of the tour. So it kind of ended in a bang, with all of us sitting in a tattoo shop watching this girl get a massive ASTR logo on her wrist.
Zoe: I actually didn’t love Webster [Hall], honestly. I liked Brooklyn more than Webster—the Warsaw show. It felt so far away from everyone in Webster. You’re so right, the sweatiness, all the places we started at… the places we got to really show up at. They’re all gone now. And we’ve been going to LA more—it’s not the scene. Even my block in the city, by the summer, is gonna be too popping. It’s not fair for the artists. Yeah, it changes things. Hopefully some more venues will open—maybe this is the natural evolution, you can’t really fight against it. But it’s definitely sad to see these places go, and it’s less excitement for us to play in New York. We’re like, ok, a lot of these things feel bougie now. We like the seedy stuff way more where you can actually dance with the people.
You told the Village Voice that you didn’t want to be on a reality show for a million dollars, but now your songs have been used on a couple of them. What’s the deal?
Zoe: [laughs] Our songs—I don’t mind—any way to get the music out, that’s cool. But as far as me and Adam having our own reality show is what I meant—because we definitely did have [offers]. I’ve been approached about reality shows for a really long time now, and it was that generation of it [where] all reality TV was not docu-series, it was all very vain, chaotic, and dramatic. And I think we want our art to actually be the center of attention and not the drama in our own life. But if the music gets to be the center of attention, on lovin’ hip-hop, I’m ok with that.
Adam: TV and film is such a thick part of the story for music right now. Whereas I think artists say in the ‘60s or ‘70s, that was maybe a part of selling out, or having a song used in a commercial, was something that was the opposite of having your artistic integrity. And now it’s a big part of the story. So as much as I fucking hate reality TV, that’s just somebody else’s reality, and it’s not even reality, most of it’s staged. I think people should get the fuck out of the house and live their own reality. But if you’re gonna use our song, and like Zoe, said the exposure is great, and any way the people can hear the music is great. It’s just the level of the game where we’re at at this point.
And you don’t have a choice, either. Your publisher might [say], ‘If there’s no money, don’t do it,’ but most of the time, there’s always value, whether it’s a corny movie or a reality TV show. We got approached for some black dating commercial for black singles, and we were like, that would be awesome—fans could be won over. Especially if you’re the new song for the 1-800 number for the website for falling in love, or potentially falling in love, or just finding a fuckbuddy.
Adam, what’s happening with Little Jackie, the band you had with Imani Coppola? Or are you too busy with ASTR?
Adam: That doesn’t really exist anymore. You want to talk about TV and film, we had a very short run together, and then we did a bunch of music for TV and film, and I was able to pay my rent for a couple of years doing that. So that was cool. [But] no real existence of that anymore. Which was always the weird dynamic between the two of us. I’m very thankful for licensing songs and making money during that. When things dried up, that kept going. That was awesome. A fun little part of my past.
The highlight of that was when we got to play on British TV [on Jools Holland’s show] with Boy George. Looks like he was cracked the fuck up and he [played] gospel music and everyone was like what the fuck is going on? What happened to this guy?
But enough about the past, let’s talk about now.
But I have to ask one other question about the past. Zoe, I know you’ve gotten trolled about who your father is [Tom Silverman, CEO of Tommy Boy records –Ed.], and I don’t want to go there, but I saw this line a few places, that you were signed to a teen pop act right out of high school. But I can’t find any evidence as to what it was.
Zoe: [sings] “You will never know.” You will never know. I was, though– I was signed to Mercury Records right out of high school. But it was like a MySpace thing, that was the deal back then, when MySpace was relevant. Yeah, it happened, it was a real thing, I think everyone does a lot of things they’re embarrassed of to figure out what’s good. You gotta make bad shit, to make some good shit. You gotta carve out what’s not working. But that wasn’t working for sure, for me. I wasn’t feeling that from the beginning. We did write a lot, and I’m very happy that nothing came out.
But that had nothing to do with my dad, either, I actually got that deal through MySpace. So, to touch on that point– yeah, I didn’t even grow up with my dad, I love him, he’s dope, and we ask him for advice sometimes. But everything we’ve done we’ve done ourselves and I’m very proud of that. I don’t think in this time and era you can fake talent at all. It’s very transparent. You get on Snapchat and you can just tell in two seconds someone’s character.
Adam: I will say, when Zoe and I started working together, I think I heard one or two songs from this mysterious girl group. And I know that the material is somewhere in Zoe’s personal archives. I’m hoping one day we get to revisit it. I wanna hear this.
Zoe: One day, I might map a few seconds of it to let people know what it was. It was hysterical, it was funny. It was like a TLC vibe. It was cute.
Zoe: Yo—I’m excited for those biscuits. [Last time] We lived near a biscuit truck [Biscuits and Groovy] and we’re gonna get the same house as last time. We got biscuits and gravy like every morning. It was kind of disgusting but in an amazing way. I think I’m gonna just go crazy with the biscuits again.
This interview has been edited and condensed.