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Subterraneanly to the stars

Anna Wiegenstein - The Daily Iowan

Issue date: 3/1/07 Section: 80 Hours
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"It's been a really weird day so far."

Mike Tuley sounds a little winded as he prepares to hang up the phone, and not without reason. For the past hour, Tuley, along with his bandmates, has been dealing with a van's flat tire. On an interstate. In the snow.

It's escapades like these, he said, that give new meaning to the group's name, Ad Astra Per Aspera: To the stars through difficulties.

Originally taken from the state motto of Ad Astra's homeland of Kansas, Tuley acknowledged that, "It was sort of tongue-in-cheek at first."

Five years later, weathering the challenges of being a largely-unsupported, do-it-yourself band have given the pithy phrase new meaning for the quintet.

"We like the meaning, and it seems to capture our experience as a band," Tuley said, the chatter of the other members audible in the background as they discussed where to stop for dinner.

As the lead singer/guitarist is quick to point out, Ad Astra has no booking agent, no tour manager�no manager, period. Save for Canadian indie label Sonic Unyon releasing their d�but full-length release Catapult Calypso, the band themselves are completely self-sufficient. They like it that way.

Perhaps Ad Astra got this way through sheer isolation - not a lot of talent scouts head to Lawrence, Kan. Tuley remains defensive of his home state, while allowing that, yeah, it is kind of a boring place to drive through.

"I think the reputation Kansas has elsewhere is accurate to a degree, but there's really a lot of great underground music."

Ad Astra Per Aspera's sound is certainly subterranean - a collision of noise rock and tropical beats as hinted at by Catapult Calypso's raucous title. Tuley shares vocal duties with keyboardist Julie Lane, and the lineup is rounded out with Kurt Lane on drums, Scott Edwards on bass, and Brooke Hunt on guitar and percussion.

Tuley compared the Lawrence and Kansas City scenes to those of Iowa City and Des Moines, or, indeed, any aspiring Midwestern band's hometown. Attempting to compete with the markets of Los Angeles or New York City fosters a DIY spirit that Ad Astra is proud to possess.

"The media outlets aren't really there, and that's fine, really - that's not what we're shooting for," he said.

Specifically?

"I don't see us as the kind of band that cares if we get on a Pitchfork Media list or anything like that. That doesn't matter to me at all," Tuley continued.

Eschewing support from the be-all, end-all of indie tastemakers is a bold move indeed, but it's one that the earnest musician is prepared to back up (even despite having garnered a moderately positive Pitchfork review

for their track "Voodoo Economics").

"Most of the bands those places review, I don't listen to, and I've never bought a record from reading a record review."

Instead, Tuley talks about his local record store in Lawrence, the Love Garden. Here, he said, is where he truly got into "Ecuatorial funk," giving Ad Astra the bizarre world-beat sounds it currently displays, despite having roots in such straightforward hard-core as Minor Threat.

The band has garnered comparisons with The Blood Brothers and even epochal '90s act Sonic Youth - both juxtapositions Tuley can't quite fathom.

In addition to singing and strumming, he provides a majority of the music and lyrical compostions to Ad Astra's tracks, though he outspokenly prefers the former.

"I really don't like writing lyrics," he said. "I usually wait until it's necessary to have them. A lot of times I'll just sit down for six or seven hours with some books, drink a lot of coffee, and just flip through them.

"There's no consistency to where my ideas come from." The story behind one of his favorites, "A Fish Would Much Rather Swim," proves this point nicely - the title came to him from a film he watched in a high-school German class 11 years previously.

"I try to write songs that aren't specifically for or about me," he said, noting his habit of writing songs with many more we's than I's. His description of Ad Astra's setup as a "collective" isn't far off - he's been dating Hunt for four years, and the Lanes on drums and keyboard recently got hitched.

"Sort of like Fleetwood Mac but not so much tension," he said.

Tonight, the group will land at the Picador, stoked for its third IC show, if not so much for the weather.

"I don't think we'll be touring the Midwest in February anytime again soon," Tuley said, laughing.

E-mail DI reporter Anna Wiegenstein at:
anna-wiegenstein@uiowa.edu

Want to know more?

Skursula opens for Ad Astra Per Aspera - check out DI reporter Susan Elgin's recent story on the local all-female band[][]

See the band's official website

Buy the album or stream it live from the website of the band's label, Sonic Unyon
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