Asher in On U Sound's London Studio last summer with Ghetto Priest.
Asher recording with Dick Wagner, who makes on of his final appearances on THE PROCESS new CD, slated for release in the spring.
When considering the impact of legendary bands that have cut a definitive creative mark upon the Mid-Michigan region, it is impossible not to include the legacy of The Process – a Vassar-based group of innovative creative forces who pioneered a unique fusion between reggae & punk rock that continues to remain true to their musical vision.
Consisting of core members David Asher, Garrick Owen, Bill Heffelfinger, Gabe Gonzales, and Seth Payton, the group first exploded on the scene back in 1990 with the release of Mystery Babylon that hit audiences with a full body blast of sound and theatrical live shows that never strayed from their unique vision of reggae music melded with a molten embrace of social consciousness and spirituality; and it is through this deep connection to the legacy left by Jamaican Emperor Haile Selassie and the principles of Rastafarian religion that their music has always stood as more than just another silly diversion.
The Process have always created astonishingly intricate and beautiful music in meticulously crafted layers of sound and rhythm with a voice that speaks an uncompromising truth; and on Saturday, December 26th, they will be staging a special 25th Anniversary Show at Bemo’s in Bay City that will include a reunion of all present & past members of the group that is free to the public.
Few bands in the region have remained intact for 25-years with as many core members. And being essentially an all-original group pursuing their own musical vision from a very defined spiritual & political perspective, The Process is truly a band of brothers in a league of their own.
Asher says he attributes the group’s longevity to the fact he’s been too stubborn to give up on his dream. “Garrick and Bill have always contributed, but I’m the one that’s really hung on; and in the process (no pun intended) have sacrificed a lot of relationships, mostly with women. Music is my Mistress and women come second, which is kind of sad, but I have no regrets. I love what I do and am fortunate to still be creating.”
Indeed, that focus upon musical creation has now led the group to a career pinnacle, with the sessions now completed on their latest recordings, which are in the stages of final mixing for an anticipated Spring release. Consisting of 13-tracks and produced by The Process and Chris Lewis, when listening to the rough mixes alone it is safe to say that this next project could well be the one to catapult the group into the Major League. With some of the strongest melodic lines they have created to date, bathed and propelled by intricately constructed rhythms, each track builds upon the next into a breathtaking crescendo that is – hands down – some of the best new work I’ve heard all year.
When looking back at the arc of trials, tribulations, and creative accomplishments of The Process, has Asher’s musical vision for the band evolved or strayed much since their inception? “I would say its become more refined as the technology and musicianship of the group has improved over the years. We’re much better at what we do and our new recordings have really given me a chance to showcase my own abilities more than anything we’ve done in the past.”
“I don’t really about the length of time we’ve been working together, but I always figured one day we would work with bothAdrian Sherwood and maybe Lee Perry someday,” continues Dave. “And now with this latest project, we finally have achieved that goal.”
“I’ve been working on this new album for 5 years now, so the band has been relatively low-key. Bill recently moved out to Las Vegas, and I’m not rushing anything about it,” he continues. “We’ve been working with Chris Lewis – a young producer from Saginaw – who gave us affordable recording rates and over the last several years has become as good asGee Pierce and Bernard Terry or any producer we’ve ever worked with. Chris has an incredible set-up and an ear for the right things to do and its been exciting watching him grow. We developed together on this new album and helped keep the dream alive during some right stretches.”
Slated for a tentative Spring release, the new recordings also include one of the last performances by Saginaw’s own musical rock legend Dick Wagner, recorded shortly before his passing last year. Additional contributions are also made by the aforementioned legendary producer Adrian Sherwood, who produced the last Nine Inch Nails album, and is best known for his Industrial, Reggae & Dub mixes, along with appearances by Skip MacDonald, one of the original Sugar Hill Gang hip-hop pioneers.
While working with Wagner, Asher recalls the emotional drain and artistic power of those final sessions. “Dick and I became friends in the 1990s and he sent me a message saying how much he admired what we were doing and how he wanted to get us into the studio. That never happened and then he moved away to Phoenix and got sick, and then got better, and during this whole time I would get emails from him that were always encouraging.”
“Along the way I wrote this song Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde that I felt was made for Dick,” continues Asher, “so phoned and asked if he would contribute to the song. He said that he would be in Michigan to do some gigs in June and we worked out a reasonable rate for his services and then the day we were set to record he phoned to tell me that he wasn’t feeling very good, so wondered if he could just record his part in his own studio.”
“I simply told him, ‘Dick, we should record it now. We’re here, I have cash in hand, and I don’t want to put this off because I want the experience of working together with you.’ So he agreed and came up with his manager and looked a little tired at the session, but Dick was a strapping & strong guy. For about 3 hours we tried a bunch of ideas and he played his ass off on that track. Dick had a rock ‘n roll heart and his guitar playing was exquisitely beautiful. At the end of the session, he was drained, because he’d just finished two shows at Callahan Music hall. We embraced and and he said ‘Things are different, David, because this time I’m feeling really tired.’ Then he went and had his heart surgery and died. When I found out about his passing, it felt like I’d been punched in the heart.”
Equally distinct are the recollections Asher carries working with producer Adrian Sherwood – a longtime iconic hero of the group. “Back in 1991 he was a big inspiration for me,” recalls Asher, “because I saw how he was working with punk musicians and creating early mash collaborations between reggae & punk artists. Between the stuff Adrian was creating and Lee Perry’s work, I thought to myself, ‘I can do this’, so Adrian provided the raw inspiration for a lot of the Process’ early work.”
“When we finished our last album, I mailed it to him, but it got send back to me with a note that it had not bee requested. However, sometime later I got a message from Ghetto Priest, who we worked with on the Lion of Judah Hath Prevaileda couple years ago, who brought in David Harrow – this great electronic music producer, along with Skip MacDonald,co-founder of the legendary Sugarhill Gang. So I met all these like-minded people from different directions, and before I knew it, I was flying to London to record with Adrian and Skip at On U Sound Studios.”
“The first day I recorded with Adrian in London we did a 17-hour session and spent two days recording and one day of mixing,” continues Asher. “I wrote this song called Return the Treasures that is based upon Seymour McClain, this old Dread who had a mission to repatriate the crown jewels sitting in the British Museum that the British stole from Ethiopia after their invasion in the 1880s”
“The Emperor of Ethiopia kidnapped some envoys of Queen Victoria, so the British sent an envoy into Ethiopia and killed the Emperor and stole the jewels. The British even nailed his scalp to the doorway, so it was pretty barbarous. Seymour asked me to write a song about it, but he passed away, so I decided to write Return the Treasures as a tribute to Seymour. I finished it in one day and then Skip started adding midi stuff and guitar parts, the second day we slogged through more keyboards and midi in a 12-hour day, which again was very taxing. I’m used to spending five hours in a studio and even then I can get a bit fried. But during the mixing, we were able to get Lee Perry onto the track, so it was all an incredibly worthwhile experience.”
Insofar as the onus of the Rastafarian religion has remained at the spiritual core of The Process as an ever-present constant, as a result the entire litany of their catalog has retained its integrity, largely because it casts much of the band’s topical material as a battle between good and evil, and right versus wrong. When Asher looks at the social landscape over the past 25 years, does he view the group and their commitment to the political ethos of Rastafarianism as having made an impact on peoples’ lives?
“I think we have,” he reflects. “When we pushed hard for legalization of medical marijuana back in the 1990s, we were viewed as pariahs and became a lightning rod, especially after the prosecution by the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s office under then prosecutor Mike Thomas of Rock-a-Rolla Records entrepreneur Ed Dews, who’s stores were closed and assets seized under our Draconian Civil Forfeiture laws. But now we see the tide turning on that, and I think we helped lay a lot of the groundwork and raise consciousness about it. We have made a difference, but have a long way to go. When it comes to progress there is something wrong with human nature – its’ like we take one step forward and two back.”
How about high points in terms of live shows over the past 25 years? Are there any that stand out in Asher’s minds as career highpoints? “I love the shows we’ve done at The Machine Shop over the last four years, and will always remember the Rock-a-Rolla Rally down in Flint. We also did several memorable shows at the Vassar Theatre and I loved the live radio shows we did out in Los Angeles on air in the studio at WFBE.”
For their 25th Anniversary Show at Bemo’s all original members of The Process will be performing, along with anybody that’s ever played in the band.
“Just the fact we’re still together with our core members intact is amazing to me,” concludes Asher. “But I think the reason we are still around is that we aren’t out there revisiting the past or parading our oldies. We’re pushing new material and keeping things fresh, both for us and our audiences.”
“That fact alone makes a huge difference in the large scope of things.”
The Process 25th Anniversary Show will take place Saturday, December 26th at Bemo’s Bar, 701 S. Madison Ave., in Bay City. All past & current members of the band will be present, along with special guests The Mongrels, E.Z. Duzhit and The Soul Jar. The Process will perform at 10:30 PM and there is no cover for this special evening of entertainment.