Thursday, December 23, 2010

Review Magazine: Musical Lions of Judah, The PROCESS Celebrate 20 Years

Musical Lions of Judah:
The PROCESS Celebrate 20 Years of Groundbreaking Music & Social Conviction with 20th Anniversary Show on January 15th
By Robert E. Martin

Read the article at Review Magazine Online here.

Few musical groups performing in the Tri-Cities over the past 20 years have remained intact and consistently evolved to create a defining musical legacy; but true to form, the Vassar-based reggae/rock warriors known as The Process are the exception to that rule.

Consisting of songwriter, vocalist, and visionary spiritualist David Asher, guitarist Garrick Owen, bassist/arranger Bill Heffelfinger, and ex-P-Funk drummer Gabe Gonzales on the pagan skins, The Process have not only survived but more important, flourished as an all-original group, writing and performing their own material while pursuing a very defined musical and cultural vision that truly places them in a league of their own.

To celebrate 20 years as a vital, creative, and ground-breaking musical & social force in the mid-Michigan area, The Process will be staging their 20th Anniversary Show on Saturday, January 15th at 9:00 PM in their hometown of Vassar at the Vassar Bar, 122 Huron Avenue. Special guests will include Neighborhood Muscle and Thick as Thieves, which offer fans and newcomers a rare and intimate concert experience.

When I first met David Asher back in 1989, we ended staying up until the wee hours of the morning as he explained to me the power, basics, and history of Rastafarianism – a Jamaican ‘way of life’, more so than a religion; which I found to be fascinating, as the stereotype of most Rastas is that of a dread-locked, dark skinned, bone-smoking shaman.

Rastafarianism is much about recasting society. When the grid and the iron and the bars closed in on societies everywhere, the Rastafarians loosened themselves from it by refusing to work for Babylon, which is the equivalent of being taken into slavery. Basically, they cast themselves as the Lost Tribe of Judah and their deity exists in the form of the Emperor Haile Selassie.

Beginning in 1991 with Mystery Babylon and leading through Weapons of Mass Percussion, released in 1996, The Process have released ten stunning albums that mix rock, reggae, wisdom, and insight into a blender that seeks to break down barriers and claim fresh territory.

So on the eve of their 20th Anniversary gig, it seems fitting to sit down with Asher to discuss the trials, tribulations, in-roads, and landmarks of this vital musical force on the verge, as I was soon to learn, of breaking in a very big way internationally.

Review: You’ve been carrying the torch and walking the gauntlet against global totalitarianism and the New World Order for two decades now. From Nixon to Noriega and now with the mess in Afghanistan, do you have a sense of foreboding about the state of world affairs?

Asher: Actually, my mood is optimistic. We’ve kicked against the darkness and tried to shed a little light on things; but yes, a lot of the leaders you reference are like a gallery of evil masks, but they all fail. I’m always hopeful and optimistic. Humanity is ultimately flawed, but ultimately we also have the potential to be divine, in spite of our human nature.

Review: Have your objectives for The Process changed since when you first started the band 20 years ago?

Asher: The basic inspiration has not changed, nor our desire to express our need to communicate truth, human rights, justice and equality. Our message in the beginning is still our message now. What has changed is the ways to say it.

Review: If the message hasn’t changed, is it harder to restate it?

Asher: I don’t think so. Rastafari inspired a lot of the music to me and it’s like an unending stream that keeps flowing and refreshing one creatively, so you don’t get stale. I get frustrated that we don’t have the money constantly coming in to record new material, but people I’ve admired for years share that frustration. We keep writing new material, though.

Review: A lot of sacrifice is involved with any type of art and The Process has definitely sacrificed; yet remained steadfast with your message. You’ve kept at it and have developed an impressive legacy over two decades and are still based in the mid-Michigan area. Plus you get feedback from all over the world. How have your audiences expanded?

Asher: Thank God for the Internet, you know! In terms of units we sell more online and the same amount at live shows as we ever did. What I’ve noticed is that five people want to buy a disc at a show, 10 more will follow suit. It’s human nature. In terms of our fan base, the USA is still our biggest country and Michigan our biggest state. The second is the United Kingdom.

Review: What’s going on with your latest project? I understand you have some heavy hitters involved.

Asher: It’s very exciting and started three years ago when I was visiting my parents in Florida. While I was on mySpace, I wrote the guy handling the Tackhead page, and he introduced himself as David Hogarty, a publicist and writer from Florida, who worked with both Tackhead and Living Color. We got to be friends and he’s worked with Al Dimeola and wrote for a Jazz magazine and gets very excited about art.

Through him I was introduced to Micki, this Brazilian girl that works with legendary Dub Producer Adrian Sherwood, who’s worked with artists as diverse as Lee Scratch Perry, Primal Scream, Nine Inch Nails, and Sinead O’Connor. He is also the founding father of legendary dub label On-U-Sound.

I admire that label the most because it was pivotal in fusing reggae with punk rock, which kind of formed the template for The Process sound. From that point things snowballed. That same weekend I met Ghetto Priest – this amazing singer from London who possesses an amazing palate of sound. He has a voice like Nat King Cole that is amazing. So I wrote to him and he wrote back and we both admired each other’s work.

Micki works with Skip MacDonald, from the original Sugarhill gang and before I knew it, Ghetto Priest sent an email to me saying, I’m feeling a collaboration coming on. What can I do?’

I started getting brain block and then he sent me an MP3 the next day inspired by this video about Rastafarians living in a Roman town during Mussolini’s reign that were in exile from the Italians entitled Footsteps of the Emperor. He sent me the phrase, ‘The lion of Judah Shall Prevail’ and then sent me a bridge to the song the next day. From that I pieced a song together and wrote the third through fifth verses, which I sent to London, and they sat there for a while.

We couldn’t figure where to record, so he fished around and finally spoke to Adrian, who agreed to record the tracks at On-U-Sound. Micki got Skip MacDonald involved with production, who did a mix with Bernard Terry over the summer. Meanwhile Micki and Skip did backing vocals on some tracks, which was amazing, because those guys played with Mick Jagger and Jeff Beck. Skip did the whole mix and then finally, David Harrow from the On-U-Sound collective hit me up and said he wanted to mix our tracks.

Harrow was one of the busier and more elusive figures in techno, often shrouding his activities under a variety of aliases. Among Harrow’s earliest projects was a remix of Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence; and he later collaborated with artists ranging from African Head Charge to Psychic TV. When Harrow visits Germany today, he is hailed as ‘The Godfather of Techno’.

So throughout this amazing network, we’ve got some collaborators on our new tracks and all of this should blow up shortly. We’re in negotiations with a German label and hope to have the new disc released before the spring.
The title will be The Lion of Judah Shall Prevail.

Review: Let’s talk about the rest of the members in The Process. Garrick Owen and Bill Heffelfinger have been with you since the beginning. Can you share some impressions about working with these guys in terms of ways they surprised you with their contributions?

Asher: They constantly surprise me because they’re such great musicians they make it look easy, even when it isn’t. They both know their theory and there isn’t a lot of ego, even though they are both flamboyant characters and unique in their own way. They’re both Leos, which I know how to deal with. My parents are Leos. Garrick and Bill are like two towering lions roaring away, so I let them rip. But I’m a Rastaman, so I like to be around lions.

What gave us a second life was getting Gabe Gonzalez. His history with P-Funk is legendary, but he’s a rock drummer fundamentally. I was watching him play with Funkadelic on youtube the other day, doing Maggot Brain. He’s an amazing rock drummer and there’s not a lot that he can’t do.

Review: If you were going to rank your top three gigs over the past 20 years, what would they be?

Asher: That’s a tough one. I’ve enjoyed a lot of them. I really enjoyed the Rainbow Farms gig, which wasn’t our best, but because of the significance of what it represented. (Editor’s Note: Rainbow Farms was a collective that was raided by the DEA and ended in violence, with the owners of the collective murdered during the height of the Drug War).

Hearing the crowd sing to Craven Dog and that sound coming back to us was amazing. I didn’t know most of these people, but they knew our music. Plus there are dozens of little gigs that were great. We’re really blessed. A lot of the musicians from the days that we started are still around, but not a lot of groups have lasted this long. Why we have I really don’t know. I guess it’s the grace of God and the message we try to put forward.

Review: Let’s talk a bit about the Rastafari religion. What has it brought to The Process?

Asher: Well, I don’t consider it a religion but more a way of life. It’s not like Christianity. It wakes me up and activates my mind and puts me into action in the NOW. It’s like a direct connection to the creator without edicts. I’m like a gentile among the Rastafari, but there are many mansions in the house. I’m not so strict about certain edicts, but some I am. Basically, it’s allowed me the freedom to find my own spirituality. It offers a freedom that orthodox religions don’t afford. At times I’ve succeeded at times I’ve failed, but being flawed is human. It continually fascinates me and I’m always finding new things about it, or pictures and stories that I’ve heard.

When I was working at an eyeglass place a few years ago, this guy came in who was a friend of Peter Lawford – his drive back in the sixties. He would drive with the Kennedys. Anyway, he got to drive Haile Selassie one day back in 1963 and he said that he was a ‘little man but bearing a presence on him like no other man’. He also told me Selassie had this little dog and the two of them spoke in a language – an animal tongue – which I think is amazing.

Every time I speak with someone that met Selassie, they tell me similar things – that he was ‘more than a man’. I think it’s a focused radiance. You see it in photos of him. You can’t hold your gaze on those eyes.

Review: How about outrageous rock ‘n roll moments? Do you have any memories of things that stood out over the past 20 years of performing with The Process?

Asher: I remember this naked hippie slide at Rainbow Farms and this gigantic fat woman sliding down an oily slide while we were performing, which was pretty outrageous.

Review: You mentioned the Rainbow Farms gig, but what about other shows that stand out?

Asher: The Rock a Rolla Benefit was important. (Editor’s Note: Rock-a-Rolla Records was a music store chain that sold paraphernalia and in the early 1990s was closed down and raided by Saginaw County law enforcement. This was one of the first ‘seizure’ cases prosecuted in the area and the case wound up in Judge William Crane’s court.)

It made me angry that our Process tapes and CD’s were seized by law enforcement from Rock-a-Rolla. Basically, they seized our property and never gave it back. How many people those tactics have injured is disheartening.

Review: You also pioneered a lot of local approaches when it came to promotion back in the early 90s by putting together shows featuring three or four bands, as opposed to a night with one act at the clubs.

Asher: Yeah, the scene was different back then and we sponsored a lot of groups. Not a lot of clubs allowed us to bring in original music, so we were one of the pioneers. We didn’t change the scene single handedly in the tri-cities, but we had a lot to do with it. And a lot of bands started up because of our example. Many have told me so.

Review: Any other thoughts you’d like to share on the eve of this momentous 20th Anniversary gig?

Asher: Yes, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Seth Payton, who’s our unofficial fifth member and a versatile musician, whether playing keyboards, percussion, horn, or bass.

Apart from that, I’m excited for the future, more so not than when we started. The walls are starting to come down. England will be our next frontier. We’ll be jumping the pond. We’ve performed in L.A. and New York City, so it’s the next move.