Ups and downs, twists and turns; this is an appropriate way to describe the path long traveled by The Asteroid No.4 since the latter half of the 1990's. Originally forming as a quartet in Philadelphia, they’ve since become a permanent five piece and now call Northern California their home.
Over the last decade and a half they've built a trove of eight full length albums, well over a dozen compilation appearances, digital-only rarity releases and multiple singles; a feat that many modern bands would certainly find daunting. They've impressively managed to grow this lengthy body of work while tenuously fostering a family of A4 alumni. What's even more impressive is that they've kept moving while remaining solidly underground, never garnering the more above-ground momentum from which a select few of their "psych" contemporaries have been fortunate enough to benefit.
For The Asteroid No.4, success has never been measured by on-line social media "likes" or "going viral", but rather the music in which they write. That, and of course, how history will retrospectively view their completed body of work, similar to the vast unearthing of obscure artists the band themselves cite as their greatest influences.
Clearly, the A4 sound is a hypnotic hybrid of several different genres filtered through the kaleidoscope of all things psychedelic, "Krautrock", "Shoegaze", folk and even 70s "Cosmic" country rock and despite never shying away from wearing their influences squarely on their sleeves, it’s their longevity that has matured them to the point of originality rather than simply homage. It is that same longevity that has enabled them to do whatever they want, when they want, allowing them the freedom to experiment, which certainly makes up the foundation for anything truly "psychedelic".
Supposedly named after Vesta, the brightest asteroid in our solar system, the moniker is an obvious nod to Spacemen 3, the classic UK band which The Asteroid No.4 repeatedly drops as an influence. In fact, one of the group's earliest recorded offerings was an even spacier, if that's possible, version of "Losing Touch with My Mind". Released in 1998 on UK label, Rocket Girl's tribute compilation to the 80's legends, Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember himself, named the song as a stand-out track in an interview with Magnet Magazine.
Later that same year the group's debut record, "Introducing" was released to critical acclaim and branded as an “uncommonly original and innovative space-rock album for the latter 1990s”. Considered a pylon of the "Psychadelphia" scene that also included luminaries Bardo Pond and Azusa Plane, reviews consistently cited Syd-era Floyd, The 13th Floor Elevators, Hawkwind and early-Verve as the inspirations heard on the album and the A4 wholeheartedly agreed. Following the debut’s release on the band's in-house label Lounge Records; they quickly began touring with the likes of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Philly brethren, The Lilys, the latter having a profound impact on where the band’s sound was headed next.
Feeling as though their first record was somewhat lacking in the songwriting department, the band invited Lily's frontman, Kurt Heasley, into the studio to help arrange and later produce the songs that would become their second full-length, "King Richard's Collectibles". Similar to The Lilys, the A4 looked to the mid-60's or more specifically, the British Invasion as a springboard into a different writing approach. The result? Well, the band would say they had failed miserably and consider the record to be their least accomplished. Additionally, due to the turbulent nature created during the writing and recording of this set, the "King Richard's" sessions also sparked the beginning of several line-up changes that winded up lasting throughout most of the early 2000's. The silver lining however, was that is was the first record to be released on the Rainbow Quartz label out of New York, spawning a relationship that would end up lasting the next six years.
Still left searching, and while on tour in California listening to nothing but Gram Parsons, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, the group decided to try their hand at country rock. The result was their third long-player, "Honeyspot". Although still attempting to maintain an underlying psychedelic vibe, the record was a complete departure from what any listener would recognize as The Asteroid No.4. Laden with pedal steel guitar played heroically by the then A4 guitarist, Jamie Scythes, banjo and the requisite guttural honkey tonk vocal style, the record was flat out snubbed by most music rags and blogs alike as “contrived” and “boring”, and admittedly, the band agreed. On the flipside however, and unlike "King Richard's Collectibles", "Honeyspot" was a success in regards to how the band forever approach their songwriting process.
Despite alienating themselves from their "psych" rooted fan-base; most notably during a long US tour with friends, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Dead Meadow, where the A4 opted to play nothing but their new country set and Merle Haggard covers, they somehow managed to nurture a new one. Touring incessantly throughout New England and Canada in support of "Honeyspot", The Asteroid No.4 suddenly had a loyal group of new followers that knew them only for their rootsier sound. Unfortunately for these fans, this incarnation of the group also didn't last long as they decided to call it quits by early 2004. Not before, however, a small Canadian label called Music For Cats reissued "Honeyspot" as a double LP with the second disc consisting of unreleased songs that the band felt more accurately exemplified the country-pysch hybrid they intended the original record to be.
Following a long hiatus and a few side-projects for much of 2004 and 2005, the group's longstanding core, Scott Vitt (lead vocals/guitarist), Eric Harms (guitarist) and Adam Weaver (drummer) reunited and demoed the material for a prospective new album. Even though they felt they’d spent the first half of their existence searching for their musical selves and sound, the situation became clearer to them during the recording sessions for their soon to be realized fourth album.
In 2006 "An Amazing Dream" was released and once again on the Rainbow Quartz imprint. Many of the songs, written during and intended for "Honeyspot", were reworked and approached differently than anything they'd done up to that point. Effected guitars and over-saturated reverbed vocals back in the mix, this was clearly the sound The Asteroid No.4 have become known for ever since. Many fans, and critics alike, later cited "An Amazing Dream" as the first real A4 record, or the one that first revealed a sound all their own.
Within months of the new record's release and once again in California, the band played in San Francisco, as fate would have it, where they'd meet guitarist Ryan Carlson van Kriedt. Making an immediate friendship and musical bond, Ryan decided to make the long move to Philadelphia within two months of meeting, actually playing a show in New York the night after arriving on the east coast. From that moment he had quickly become a primary songwriter and engineer for all of the band's recorded material since his joining. Although still grappling with a revolving cast on bass guitar, two years of touring the US, UK and Europe ensued in support of “An Amazing Dream”.
Upon their return the band signed to The Committee to Keep Music Evil, a label started in part by Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Now 2008, with their new label as a vessel, the band released "These Flowers of Ours: A Treasury of Witchcraft and Devilry". Bolstered by the success and momentum of "An Amazing Dream", "These Flowers" was again critically acclaimed worldwide as potentially the band’s “masterpiece”. They had finally, as one review would state, "honed their sound, creating a self assured and richly textured album that transcends its influences, although echoes of The Rain Parade and Spacemen 3, can still be heard."
Touring in support of "These Flowers" continued into 2010, with one European tour in particular beginning with a long weekend and show in Iceland. It was during these few days that the band had met visual artist, Jón Sæmundur. Coincidentally, Jón and Ryan spent the down time in Reykjavik collaborating on a song that would ultimately end up becoming the genesis of what is now the Dead Skeletons.
Upon returning to Philadelphia, The Asteroid No.4 again entered the studio for what was the winter of 2010. Perhaps it was the weather's influence, but their new material evoked an almost darker vibe than what was heard on previous releases. As the snow fell and the wind chilled, the band locked themselves away to write and record the songs that would make up their sixth record, "Hail to the Clear Figurines"; a record that once again hit the reset button on the band's aesthetic. The songs paid special attention to detail using accents of instrumentation ranging from harps to horn sections. One could also hear an almost Baroque sensibility reminiscent of 60's luminaries, Love, the Left Banke, the Bee Gees and UK psych legends, Kaleidoscope, which appropriately enough brings us to Peter Daltrey.
While still wrapping up the recording for "Hail", the A4 decided to play a one-off show in a small coal-mining town located in central Pennsylvania. The location; a supposedly haunted nineteenth century hotel called the Grand Midway. Invited by Damien Youth, the only other act performing that night, another twist of fate was unknowingly about to occur. Following the A4's performance, Damien approached the band to ask if they were familiar with the 1960's UK psych legends, Kaleidoscope; of which The Asteroid No.4 indeed was. Damien had informed the band of his working relationship with Kaleidoscope/Fairfield Parlour's singer and lyricist, Peter Daltrey, and explained that he was interested in collaborating with a younger American band. Damien, feeling that The Asteroid No.4 were the right fit, quickly made the introduction and destiny was again set, but not without first sorting out a bassist.
As previously mentioned, the bass player role was a revolving cast since even before Ryan's arrival into the band. A longtime friend, Damien C. Taylor, had joined the group in 2008 and remained dedicated for several tours and the recording sessions for both "These Flowers" and "Hail to the Clear Figurines". However, following his departure from the band, someone was again needed on bass guitar. Luckily the position was permanently filled in 2011, when Matthew Rhodes joined the group rounding out the five-piece that still exists today. In a band with this many years in, Matthew brought a much needed fresh perspective but with the same influences and musical vocabulary in which the A4 speaks.
Soon after Matthew's joining, the A4 and Peter Daltrey began the Trans-Atlantic songwriting process for what would become "The Journey" LP. Driven by Peter wanting to approach the record like The Byrd’s, "Younger Than Yesterday", the A4 incorporated the 12-string jangle, eastern tinged drone and countrified sound that they are known for. Meeting Peter in Los Angeles, again in California, to record vocals, the band would finalize the album in Philadelphia with Ryan's final mix. The result was released on co-founder of Creation Records, Joe Foster's Poppy Records and received critical accolades by notable magazines including Mojo and Shin-Dig as a true collaboration of psych acts spanning two generations.
Later in 2011 and following the release of a newly recorded six song EP called "The Windmill of the Autumn Sky" on Dock Ellis Records, the band began working on their newest effort, but not without first deciding that something else needed to change. This time however, it was a change of scenery and the inspiration from it that was desperately needed. Slowly, the band left Philadelphia and relocated to where they had longed to be since first touring the west coast in 2001. This place, of course, was California.
Ryan, returning back to his home state, was the first in a chain reaction of which all four other members were soon to follow. Upon arriving to the pastoral landscape over the Golden Gate Bridge located north of San Francisco, the band finalized the writing, recording and mixing of their latest offering; their self-titled eighth record aptly named "The Asteroid No.4". Again employing sitars, eastern tinged sparsity, space-rock fueled anthems and pastoral folk instrumentals, The Asteroid No.4 have seemed to hit upon the magic first heard on their debut, but with the mature songwriting that could have only been learned over a journey of this many years.
Recently returning from another tour of Europe at the end of 2013, the band has joined forces with Bad Vibrations Records. They are ecstatic to have a new label partner, record and surroundings that will surely inspire them to continue to write and record for the foreseeable future as The Asteroid No.4's story continues to unfold...
-Chief Joseph von Winklepicker, Feb. '14