Fireworks Magazine Online 52 - Interview with Asia


Interview by Az Chaudry

In late 1981 the music press began to run full page posters for a new supergroup. As a fan of Yes, ELP and Roxy Music I was enticed by the thought of a new album by this new band (Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer and John Wetton) = ASIA. Their self-titled album was released in April 1982 and went stratospheric in the US, hitting top spot for nine weeks, helped by the top ten single ‘Heat Of The Moment’. Thirty years later they have recorded a new album aptly titled ‘XXX’ (think about it) and I had the chance to chat to keyboardist, and at times ‘sole survivor’, Geoff Downes.

Can you take us through the writing process for the new album, ‘XXX’?

Well I think it’s pretty much the same that John and myself have been through on previous projects and albums that we’ve done. Nothing has really changed since 1981 when we first started writing the first Asia album. It’s very much a case of sitting around a piano and that’s it.

So when did you actually start writing the album?

I think it was September last year, actually. Generally what we turn up with is a sort of bag of ideas each, then we put them together and see what comes up. So it’s very much a natural writing process.

They are all Wetton/Downes compositions except ‘No Religion’ and ‘Judas’, which you co-wrote with Steve. Is there any reason why he wasn’t involved more in the writing process?

Well, I think that Steve does his own bits and pieces and he put forward quite a few quality tunes for the album, and I think it’s very much down to the producer who decides what songs go on there, and we try and work on from there. But I think he has a significant writing credit on there, and also one of the bonus tracks he wrote, so I think he’s quite happy with that.

My favourite song from the album is the first single, ‘Face On The Bridge’. Who decided on this track to be the opening single?

I think it kind of swam to the top of the pile, in many ways. I think it was actually one of the last songs that John and myself put forward for the album, so it kind of had a freshness in that respect. I’m not saying that it’s going to sell as well as ‘Heat Of The Moment’ but it has a similar sort of application that that song had, which was the last song we wrote for the debut album. So it had a freshness for us, which was fairly infectious between all the members of the band. We thought that it was probably the song that would kick it all off.

How many songs did you actually record? Did everything make the final cut?

I think pretty much everything we did. Of course, you have these ‘bonus track’ ideas, and I think for those we’ll hold back a couple that maybe didn’t feel necessarily in keeping with the rest of the songs on the album, per se. But having said that, I think they were all pretty much evenly treated as we went through the album.

You’re going to be touring late this summer, starting in Japan?

Yeah, we’ve got a festival in the UK which is probably going to be more Greatest Hits orientated rather than playing the new album but once we’ve done that we’re going to go to Japan and really start airing some of the tracks from the new album. And I think the fans that we do have are very appreciative that we throw in some new stuff for them rather than playing the same set year after year. I think it keeps us fresh as well, keeps our interest up… and I think it’s important that people see that we are trying to move along as much as we are rather than just playing the hits or playing the first album in its entirety. People do see that we now have three recent albums that we can actually draw from, and in that respect I think it’s a healthy position for the band.

Have you decided how many songs you will play from the new album?

We’ll probably do three, or possibly four. As I said, we have three albums since the reformation and then we have the first few albums as well, so there’s quite a good amount of material to draw from, and obviously we have our past that haunts us from time to time [laughs], and there’s stuff there that’s kind of an untapped seam really.
We come to the UK in December, and by that time we’ll have done a six week tour of the States, and probably more stuff in south-east Asia as well. We’re really just taking the music of Asia right around the world... with it being the 30th anniversary I think it’s an opportunity to do that, and we’re very happy that we have got that opportunity.

Going back to ’82, how did you feel at the time when the album just took off and was very big? Were you surprised with the success?

I think we all were, yes. I don’t think there was any indication that it was going to be an enormous seller. We knew the idea was good, and we felt we had a strong album but I’m sure a lot of people have felt that along the way and it has never worked out in the way they hoped. But for us, we were lucky we had a good record label in Geffen Records who were really trying to stake a place in the market, and we had very good management at the time, and I think the bottom line of it was that we had good songs. And of course the pedigree of the band was very strong in what we had been involved with beforehand.

Did Geffen put pressure on you to rush back into the studio with ‘Alpha’ because of the success of the debut?

I think there was an expectancy certainly for the second album to live up to, in terms of commercial sales, what the first album had done. But I think it did put some pressure on myself and John from a writing standpoint… we had written ‘Heat Of The Moment’, ‘Only Time Will Tell’ and ‘Sole Survivor’ and they wanted more of that, and maybe it was unrealistic from their perspective that we would necessarily sell twice as many, or however many they were anticipating. But having said that I think ‘Alpha’ turned out a good album. As far as a follow up to a debut like that, it was a very commendable effort. It still sold over three million in America – if the debut had done that, they would all have been very happy. So it wasn’t a failure.

In the 90s with John Payne, for me you made some very good albums like ‘Aqua’ and ‘Silent Nation’. How was John Payne different to work with than John Wetton?

I think at times we had a good understanding and wrote some good songs in that period. There was quite a strong opinion that it shouldn’t have been called Asia because there was only me from the original line-up, which is a fair argument I suppose. But in terms of musical content, I think we came up with some pretty good stuff and I’m quite proud of some of the albums that we did, but as I say, it’s a matter of conjecture about whether it should have been called Asia or something else.

So how did John Payne feel when you were asked to reform the classic line-up?

Well I think it was something that was coming. It had been discussed quite a few years previously, and I think he suspected that it was going to happen at some stage. Obviously I don’t think he was too thrilled by it, but it was something that I wanted to do, we had the opportunity to do it, and the rest is history.

Read the full double page interview with Geoff, which also includes an sidebar interview with legendary Asia cover artist Roger Dean, in Fireworks #52!

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ASIA release their new album “XXX” on July 2nd courtesy of Frontiers Records. The band embarks on their 30th Anniversary UK Tour on December 15th at Tavistock The Wharf.

24 HR Ticket Hotline: 0844 478 0898,,

ASIA 30th Anniversary UK Tour Dates

Tavistock The Wharf (Dec 15)
Holmfirth Picturedrome (Dec 16)
Edinburgh Queen’s Hall (Dec 17)
Salisbury City Hall (Dec 19)
Birmingham Town Hall (Dec 20)
Manchester Royal Northern College of Music (Dec 21)
London o2 Shepherds Bush Empire (Dec 22)


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Comments (2)add comment

Art said:

JP sucks and should not even be mentioned in this article. Back to playing the rest room at the local K Mart.
June 17, 2012
Votes: -3

aorking said:

Come on, JP was a great singer, no need to cast a stur on this guy!! smilies/angry.gif
October 16, 2012
Votes: +2

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