Q&A with Gordon Ashworth (Olvido & Mississippi Records), keeps the beautiful music vital and accessible on quality albums

"Music is an incredibly powerful force, I think it is the most immediate vessel for expressing emotions, it is made entirely of vibrations and we are all standing bodies of water ready to receive those vibrations."

Gordon Ashworth: The Spirit of Music

Gordon Ashworth is an American musician and visual artist whose primary field is experimental composition for string instruments, field recordings and magnetic tape. He has been heavily involved in the experimental music underground since 2002, and has released dozens of drone, noise, folk and musique concrete recordings under the names Concern, Oscillating Innards, CAEN, Riverbed Mausoleum, and his given name. He was also a guitarist and vocalist in the extreme metal band Knelt Rote. Ashworth has performed in over 30 countries, often during extensive and self-organized tours. His tour of Europe in late 2015 included 47 solo performances, with the majority of travel done alone by public transportation. His live performances focus on tape and speaker manipulation of electro-acoustic drones, string instruments, and field recordings, creating rich textures from contrasting elements of intimate musical sounds and social environments. His debut full-length “S.T.L.A.” (Orindal Records) is a deep exploration of the fundamental elements of American folk music, musique concrete, modern classical and abstract noise.                                    (Photo: Gordon Ashworth)

He was the head of the archival record label Olvido Records (2015-2022), and has presented the work Greek guitarist Kostas Bezos (A. Kostis) in Athens and Thessaloniki. He has also run the cassette label Iatrogenesis since 2003, with over 70 releases focusing on underground noise and drone artists. He is a former host of "Africa O Ye" on KBOO community radio, and is the brother of musician Owen Ashworth (Advance Base, ex-Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Orindal Records). From 2019 to 2022, he helped run the Mississippi Records label, then based in Chicago, co-producing and designing several LP and cassette releases.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Roots music and Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

What I would refer to as folk music has always been appealing to me in ways that parallel punk, noise and "outsider art", in that anyone can access it and take part in it, you don't have to be educated or skilled. I've carried this ideology into running a reissue label. I certainly find more influence and understanding in the many purposes of folk musics (telling stories, helping to ease labor and journeys, expressing emotions, communicating with nature, or purely for aesthetic joy) rather than music intended for commercial purposes.

When did the idea of Olvido / Mississippi Records come about? How do you describe label's philosophy and mission?

The two labels are completely separate, although I have been co-owner of Mississippi for the past few years along with Cyrus Moussavi. Mississippi was founded in 2003 by Eric Isaacson, Alex Yusimov and Warren Hill; Olvido was founded by myself around 2014 when I had saved up enough money from driving a taxi to press the Kostis LP.  With Mississippi, the fundamental ideology has always been "Love Over Gold", meaning money should never ever be the foremost motivation, and love must always be the guide. It is generally opposed to the awful workings of "the music industry" and proudly stands outside of it. I founded Olvido to rejuvenate and celebrate music that had never been reissued, and to present it in a thorough and diligent manner. This comes from a passion to break-free and distribute songs, spirits and stories from being obscured away in private and academic collections. I'm not an academic or serious record collector, and am often reissuing music outside of my own context and culture, so this involves lots of global collaboration. In all Olvido projects, the main drive has been "how would the artist want this to happen?", and because I'm mostly working with music issued on 78 rpm, these are usually questions directed toward the deceased, so there's some kind of spirit communication throughout the process.

Why do you think that Rembetiko / Greek Pre-War music continues to generate such a devoted following?

I think it's just beautiful and intriguing music, no matter what else is happening in the world; great music lasts longer... As the divide between rich and poor grows deeper, I think the more and more people find comfort in musics of the downtrodden and oppressed, like Rembetiko, Blues, Country, etc, and Rebetiko is very much a music of the proud lower class, which is & was not ashamed of its unique culture.

"I want music to connect people to each other, to reveal more and more ways that we are all similar and intertwined, much more than our perceived differences. I would also hope that the music I've had a hand in reissuing would influence new generations of musicians and artists, and that the spirits stay among us."

Why was the Rembetiko never a part of the pop/popular music? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

I think because it was associated with criminality, hashish, prostitution, violence, as well as "Turkishness" which fueled xenophobia especially towards the musicians exiled from Constantinople and Smyrna, who carried many Turkish cultural and musical traditions that clashed with mainland Greek customs. Once the Metaxas dictatorship started censoring lyrics in 1936, Rebetiko started losing its teeth and softening up, and the lines between more "clean" European and Greek music and Rebetiko started blurring into something more boring, but more palatable to the upper classes. For your second question, I'm not sure how to answer, but I always will choose Soul over Technique, absolutely. I'd rather listen to a kid banging on a rock because it excites them, versus highly proficient power metal guitar shredding or something similarly technique-dependent. I tend to like unstable emotions which feels at odds with technique in a musical context.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I'm not sure what I miss, but surely there are (musical) cultures that have become extinct, and this is a tragic loss. I hope people recognize and embrace the unique musical cultures that exist everywhere, while also recognizing that at this point, every music, culture and person is "mixed" and there is already endless overlapping influences within and surrounding all of us. I don't fear the death of music, although AI generated music is saddening and feels mostly like a corporate tool to further screw musicians.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of American Roots Music (Blues, Folk, etc.) with Greek Rembetiko?

There are somewhat similar patterns of "othering" and exile in Rebetiko and Blues and other forms of American folk music, however each context is very complex and there is no comparing the experience of slavery of African Americans and endless war crimes against the Native American nations by European Americans and related musics; also incomparable is the Asia Minor Catastrophe and aftermath in mainland Greece. Typically being performed by string instruments and voice is a simple connection between Greek and American folk. I think a lot of it just comes down to the context of the musician - if they are suffering, if they are oppressed, if their heart is broken, we as humans will all connect with those expressions in some way, if we are experiencing those same feelings.

"I think it's just beautiful and intriguing music, no matter what else is happening in the world; great music lasts longer... As the divide between rich and poor grows deeper, I think the more and more people find comfort in musics of the downtrodden and oppressed, like Rembetiko, Blues, Country, etc, and Rebetiko is very much a music of the proud lower class, which is & was not ashamed of its unique culture." (Photos: Various albums produced by Gordon Ashworth of Olvido & Mississippi Records)

What touched you from the songs/music and life of Marika "Politissa", Bezos, Vamvakaris, Zoumbas, and Kostis?

I became obsessed with Kostas Bezos the moment I first heard his music (Kaike Ena Scholeo which appeared on The Secret Museum of Mankind volume 2), which became more and more intriguing as I started learning about White Birds and the Greek-Hawaiian music scene. I spent a few years thinking intensely about Kostas/Kostis, trying to find his grave in Athens, trying to learn to play his songs, wondering about his final weeks. The music is gorgeous and fascinating enough on its own, but combined with his personality and story, it really became about both for me.  Zoumbas also had a fascinating life and I've spent lots of time treading back and forth on South Halsted Street, where he used to live and perform, although now it's all been torn down for a university, still the street and maybe some spirits remain. Markos was an interesting character, which was the easiest for us to research because he's such a well known figure in Greek music. Marika Politssa was the most difficult to learn of her personal life, but to me her voice is one of the greatest of all time, so I was purely touched by her voice (and of course beautiful playing by Lambros Leontaridis and the other musicians), enough to compile the LP over years of collaborative work with Stavros Kourousis and Tony Klein.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Music is an incredibly powerful force, I think it is the most immediate vessel for expressing emotions, it is made entirely of vibrations and we are all standing bodies of water ready to receive those vibrations. I want music to connect people to each other, to reveal more and more ways that we are all similar and intertwined, much more than our perceived differences. I would also hope that the music I've had a hand in reissuing would influence new generations of musicians and artists, and that the spirits stay among us.

Mississippi Records - Home     Olvido Records - Home

(Photos: Gordon Ashworth & logos of Olvido Records & Mississippi Records)

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