Catch up on Part 1 here!
When you wander downstairs into Asha’s apartment, you’re surrounded by art on all sides—to the left, to the right—even the ceilings. Every square inch of her apartment is covered in art—most of it hers, some of it works in progress… Just as many musicians feed their brains with music almost every day—to grow their vocabulary, to remind them of their inspirations, to study the writing and production techniques of others—Asha’s visual surroundings are a constant reminder of yet another reason why she’s on this planet.
Ben: Let’s talk now about your art—you’re the only local artist whose work I know I would immediately recognize if I saw it on somebody’s wall.
Asha: Awesome. That’s good!
B: One of the things that I respond to a lot about your artwork is that there’s a certain pop art approach. There are a lot of repeated elements: the heart, the female form—it’s meaningful in a deeper way, but also lighthearted. Maybe that’s what makes it accessible for me. There’s the boombox that shows up a lot, and the record, you know, the recording medium. This could just be me looking for a deeper thing that maybe isn’t there, but to me it goes back to the rhythm thing, the groove thing, repetition—the drummer’s job is to hold it down, and be that pulse. Your art has the same kind of rhythm and repetition to it. Was there a point where you realized “Okay, this is my voice, this is my brand, this is what I want my art to look like?” Do you feel it evolving?
“NUN (Need U Now)” – The CooLots
A: It’s constantly evolving, because I’m evolving. A lot of my beginning work, yes, it was music. That’s what was happening in my life—
B: —You say your beginning work, like your beginning art?
A: Yeah, when I first started painting, which was in 2009.
B: You started painting in 2009?
B: So, also around about the time of the basketball injury. Was there always at least an interest in art?
A: Yeah, but I never thought that it would be what it is today. Like, you couldn’t have told me.
B: In terms of how important it is to you?
A: In terms of how people are actually buying it! —that I’m painting with a paintbrush—that was one of the areas that I didn’t even explore as a kid. I never studied art. I do my best to try and keep up with the history of it, but I didn’t know that was gonna be this. Anyway, it’s constantly evolving because of what’s happening in my life, so a lot of the music stuff you see, the boom boxes, the hearts—I mean, I am based on love. It’s important to me. But a lot the hearts that you see in the music pieces—I call them booty hearts—because you know, I cut off the bottom half of it, but it resembles the dancing aspect of music.
B: Yeah, the motion lines—
A: —Yeah, you know, being able to make people move with the beat. It’s just a little subtle awesomeness in those pieces. And then, I was in a relationship where I messed it up and my therapy was painting, so the artwork that you see of the female body, all those are plays on sex and love.
A: It’s been hard for me to journal, but easy for me to paint.
A: And really I gotta credit Instagram because I wouldn’t be selling my stuff if it wasn’t for Instagram.
B: Yeah, isn’t that cool?
A: It’s pretty amazing. Because I was just posting it, this is what I do, this is what it means, and people started asking for it, so that’s how my clothing line started. I painted a stickman on a shirt with headphones on his head, and my teammate—it was just supposed to be for me, just like my artwork! And my teammate was like “I’ll pay $20 for that shirt.” And you better believe the next week, my entire team had one of the shirts, and then it spread to their friends, and their friends, and fashion shows.
B: What a great story. This might seem like a subject change, but it’s not—it’s a reaction to what you said about being “based on love.” I read a Pete Seeger interview earlier this year, and there was one sentence in there that blew my mind. I think it can be extended to a lot of different art forms, but he said “All songs are love songs.” Initially my reaction was “Uhhh, I’ve heard some shit that’s not.”
A: [laughs] Right.
B: A good friend of mine, she and I have a lot of conversations about relationships, passion, etc., and she said that when a relationship ends, or when there’s strife in a relationship, the negative feelings that sometimes stretch into hate are really just an extension of love, it’s the inverse. So you know, a lot of the music that we hear, that we might term as “aggressive,” it’s still coming from that, either it’s coming from love, or from need or want for love, or love that’s not returned, it all comes back to that.
A: That’s the first thing, right when you said that sentence, the first thing I thought about was “Hmm, if you come from that point, then this hate song is a love song.”
B:So, Asha Santee is a graphic artist, which—Note2Self is a clothing line, but it’s also accessories, and—
A: —Well, Note2Self—
B: —Is that your entire artistic venture, you call it Note2Self?
A: Yes. Just recently it became that—because you know how it is, you start a bunch of things, and it’s like “Whoah! Scattered! Let’s bring it all together. So Note2Self, LLC is the umbrella. Under that, I have my music, my art, my clothes, my accessories, everything—
B: And you also teach drums, do you also teach piano?
A: Basic piano, yeah.
B: I found this book in New York recently, in a used book store—it’s a collection of Rolling Stone interviews from the late 60s, and Frank Zappa was one of the folks interviewed. One of the questions was “How do you view your catalog, how do you like to talk about your albums?” And he said “It’s all one album.” When you talk about all this different pieces, all these different passions that you have—even the sports thing—do you think of these things separately, do you think to yourself “This is me as a coach, or this is me as a drummer—certain things I can’t say, or certain ways I have to be in various situations, or is Asha… are you just ‘one album?’
A: If we look at it from a bird’s eye view, you could say one album. But if you listen to one album, it’s not all the same song, they don’t all have the same beat, there’s different things that make that album what it is. But I think about it as one album because it’s also my life, so all of this artwork has a meaning—what I’ve experienced in relationships, what I’ve experienced in music, what I’ve experienced just living and learning, you know what I’m saying? So it all applies to who Asha is. I would definitely say the first role I take in everything that I do is a leadership role.
B: Why do you think that is?
A: Because this is what I do! If I depend on somebody else to lead it, and leave my destiny in somebody else’s hands, it’s just as good as their feeling is that day, you know what I’m saying?
B: Sure! I guess I asked the “one album” question because I find that one really unique characteristic of most artists, whether they’re graphic artists, or musicians, or you name it—choreographers—is that it’s really impossible to separate the work from the life.
B: —Whereas a lot of folks work to live, you know? They go to a 9 to 5, and they make a paycheck so they can come home and have a life with their partner or with their family—or on their own—but the things that they do as a hobby or for fun are funded by that work, so the work and the life are separate. A lot of artists live to work, because it’s what we love.
B: How do you put a price on a piece of artwork?
A: A lot of my artwork is secrets, it’s therapy, it’s stuff that I would not say out loud—but you can definitely read it.
A: I don’t really tweet my life, or Instagram my life and personal things. I put it in my artwork. I factor in the time that it takes.
B: —Because that’s one thing you can’t make more of. Time.
A: Right! The time that it takes to put these in here, the brainstorming, it’s just like when people get logos, a lot of artists might charge you for drafts, because their time is going into that draft. You might not even walk away with a logo, but you’re paying for the draft!
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One of my goals with this interview series is to go “behind the curtain” and talk to the artist about what their average work week looks like, and how their lifestyles differ from their friends outside of the music scene. As in her art and her playing, Asha is open and honest.
Ben: What does a typical day look like for you?
B: IS there a typical day?
A: Umm… The typical day for me looks like waking up in the morning, taking a look at life, asking “Should I be here? Am I doing the right things?”
B: Oof, that’s heavy. That’s what you do in the morning?
A: [laughs] Not in that eerie kind of way—
B: I was gonna say, I don’t wanna have breakfast with you—
A: [laughs] No, it’s more like a brainstorming type thing, it’s like “Okay, what’s it gonna be today that’s gonna get us another step forward into making this life worthwhile? Can we make some music today? Can I paint today? Can I do that?” It’s really like, I can do whatever I want outside of planned rehearsals—
B: —Right, and that’s what I’m curious about, you’ve got how many shows, how many rehearsals, lessons—
A: There was a point this past year where my workweek was rehearsal almost every day, and a show almost every day, I was performing four to five times a week.
B: And how many students?
A: At one time I had maybe five or six students?
A: Right now I’m teaching special needs kids at—I don’t even remember the name of the school, I just started teaching there yesterday—but it’s like five special needs, maybe four or five year olds? That was really awesome, that experience.
B: Yeah, that sounds pretty amazing. How difficult is it to balance being a professional artist, and having a personal life, where you can develop relationships?
A: Umm, it can be difficult. [laughs]
A: Because the time that you put towards this—especially if there are deadlines, especially if there are five rehearsals in a week, you know, and shows during that week, and you know, when basketball season starts, you have practices and games. And you’re rushing from games to shows and back to practices, you know, it’s a lot of going back and forth. So it’s—for awhile I was like “Yo, a relationship’s just not gonna work.”
Check back next Tuesday for the next part of the interview with Asha…