husiasts: To sit up and take notice of the Lawrence band, Ad Astra Per Aspera, is probably a really smart thing right about now.
The experimental rock group has paid their dues and is now reaping the rewards. These include several shows a week at various watering holes and all-ages venues around the Lawrence and Kansas City area and a much-anticipated trip down south, where the band will perform at the reputable South by Southwest Music Festival, held in Austin, Texas every March. Independent bands and musicians from all over the world are chosen to play at SXSW and former bands have included Death Cab For Cutie, Sonic Youth and Interpol.
“We’re definitely merging toward the first part of the translation [of our name],” said Kurt Lane, drummer.
The name, Ad Astra Per Aspera, is found on the Kansas flag and means, “To The Stars Through Difficulty.” Lane speaks of the stars as being representative of those better times ahead, that sense of fulfillment that comes from finding a bit of success at the end of the proverbial wormhole. The name isn’t meant to be taken too literally however. Members of Ad Astra don’t remember their early years as being too difficult to begin with.
“It’s always a struggle when you’re doing something worth doing and you’re not sure if anyone will listen the way you want them to,” said Keyboardist Julie Noyce. “But we haven’t had it any harder than any other band.”
Ad Astra’s story began in 2001 when four of the current five members began practicing as a group several times a week. Noyce, Lane, Mike Tuley, vocalist, and Bassist Scott Edwards, who either knew each other from high school or from being in other bands, got together with the idea of maintaining a clear distance from the status quo of the local music scene.
“I think I’m right in saying we wanted to do something different,” said Noyce.
The word “different,” though appropriate, doesn’t seem to begin to define what came out of those first months of rehearsals. The music, which the band remembers as evolving from rehearsal to rehearsal, developed into quite a combination of train wreck dynamics, vocals that are strangely melodic even when screamed into the microphone, as they often are, and the kind of noise that makes one thank their lucky stars there is such a thing as disorder in the world. Songs are animated, with percussion effects that often sound cartoon-inspired, and seem to switch gears from moment to moment. It is this unique blend of art and noise that has not only garnered quite a bit of local attraction for the band, but respect for them as well.
“I think what they are doing is fantastic,” said Chris Cosgrove, audio engineer at Black Lodge Recording in Eudora, Kan. “I think the songs are above and beyond what most people are capable of writing. They’re all great musicians.”
They are also hardworking ones who recall spending a year in rehearsals before feeling ready enough to do their first show, at The Rainbow House in Kansas City, in October of 2002. Through tenacious self-promotion, the band has always been its own booking agent, more shows soon followed and Ad Astra released an EP, titled “An Introduction To…,” in 2003. Friend Brooke Hunt also joined that year as percussionist and guitarist.
Ad Astra is now coming off of a string of shows and tours and a second EP, “Cubic Zirconia,” which was released in 2004. They are currently working with Cosgrove at Black Lodge on a full-length project. The anticipated release date is scheduled for sometime in June of 2006.
Now that Ad Astra Per Aspera has become somewhat of a household name around these parts, and success is starting to loom on the horizon, one might expect something of the ego about its members. They are surprisingly approachable however and, through talking with them, one gets the sense that they are relatively humble young musicians, all are in their 20s, who are just trying to soak up all they can from this experience.
Each member has a college degree, with the exception of Hunt who is currently working on a degree in elementary education at Johnson County Community College, but it’s clear that playing music is what they really want to be doing.
“I’ve got a degree in English and Sociology from KU and I recently got a degree in cosmetology,” said Noyce. “But I’d be happy to forego all that to do just this if it was feasible because you only live once.”
As with any band, the feasibility of Ad Astra creating a career out of this is questionable at best. Even with their full-length album and the SXSW performance coming up, one can never tell.
“There’s a healthy amount of luck involved to make it to the national level,” said Cosgrove, “but who knows? As far as having everything in line in terms of sound and stage performance it’s all right there. Whether or not they’ll be at the right place at the right time? Well, let’s cross our fingers.”
Copies of “Cubic Zirconia” are available at Blue Collar Distro in Lawrence and can be purchased online at www.bluecollardistro.com for $5. Catch Ad Astra Per Aspera live, for the same amount of money, at The Granada Theater Saturday, February 18. The Granada is at 1020 Massachusetts St. in Lawrence.