About The Asteroid No.4
The Asteroid No.4 are an American psychedelic band based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Originating from Philadelphia in the latter half of the 1990s, the band began their relocation to the west coast in 2011.
Since forming, the band has endured several lineup changes. Over the last ten years, however, they have consistently included Scott Vitt (vocals, guitar), Eric Harms (guitar), Matty Rhodes (bass, vocals). Most recently the band has added Mark Tarlton (drums) and Camilla Saufley (keys, guitar, vocals)
The band is known for their dynamic live act, integrating multi-textured guitars and reverb-drenched vocal harmonies over an unwavering rhythm section. However, it’s been their prolific recording output, including what will soon be their ninth full-length album, that’s helped build their dedicated fan base within the flourishing underground psychedelic scene. With well over a dozen compilation appearances, digital-only rarity releases, and multiple singles and EPs, the band is said to improve with each release.
The Asteroid No.4’s sound has been called a “hypnotic hybrid of several different genres filtered through the kaleidoscope of all things psychedelic.” Whether it be “Krautrock”, “shoegaze”, folkrock, or even the occasional dabbling in “Cosmic” countryrock, the band have never shied away from wearing their influences squarely on their sleeves.
The original lineup was formed in the suburbs of Philadelphia by childhood friends, Scott Vitt and Eric Harms, after years of playing in various punk, hardcore, and even a Smith’s cover band together. Throughout their high school and college years, the future bandmates submerged themselves in the “shoegaze” scene coming out of the UK in the late 80’s and early 90’s. After many months of the obligatory “mom’s basement” rehearsals, the group began to take permanent shape during the second half of the 1990s. The newly formed quartet, which also included original bassist, Gregg Weiss, and drummer, Bill Reim, began writing the songs that would become their first recorded offering. The “Mellow Beach b/w CIA Took My Dog Away” 7” single was released on their newly formed in-house label, Lounge Records.
Named after Vesta, the brightest asteroid in our solar system, their moniker is an obvious nod to Spacemen 3, the legendary UK psychedelic band, which the Asteroid No.4 repeatedly cite as a main influence. In fact, one of the group’s earliest recorded offerings was a faithful cover of the Rugby band’s, “Losing Touch with My Mind”. Released in 1998 on UK label, Rocket Girl’s tribute compilation to the 80’s legends, Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember himself, named the song as a stand-out track in an interview with Magnet Magazine.
Later that same year the group’s debut record, “Introducing”, was released to critical acclaim and branded as an “uncommonly original and innovative space-rock album for the latter 1990s”. Considered a pylon of the “Psychedelphia” scene that also included luminaries Bardo Pond and Azusa Plane, reviews consistently cited Syd-era Pink Floyd, The 13th Floor Elevators, Hawkwind and early-Verve as the inspirations heard on the album and the A4 wholeheartedly accepted. Following the debut’s release, they quickly began touring with the likes of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Philly brethren, The Lilys, the latter having a profound impact on where the band’s sound was headed next.
“King Richard’s Collectibles” (Rainbow Quartz, 2001)
Feeling as though their first record was somewhat lacking in songwriting, the band invited Lily’s frontman, Kurt Heasley, into the studio to help arrange and later produce the songs that would become their second full-length, “King Richard’s Collectibles”. Similar to The Lilys, the A4 shifted to the mid-60’s or more specifically, the British Invasion as a springboard into a different writing approach. The result? Well, the band consider the record to be their least accomplished and un-representative record. The silver lining however, was that it was their first record to be released on the Rainbow Quartz label out of New York, spawning a relationship that would end up lasting the next six years.
Still willing and wanting to develop their sound, and coincidentally while on a 2001 tour of California listening to nothing but Gram Parsons, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, the group decided to pursue a more country-rock approach to their sound. The result was their third long-player, “Honeyspot”. Although still attempting to maintain an underlying psychedelic vibe, the record was a complete departure from what their listeners would recognize as The Asteroid No.4. Laden with pedal steel guitar, banjo, harmonica, and the requisite guttural honkey tonk vocal style, the record was flat out snubbed by most music rags and blogs as “contrived” and “boring”, and admittedly, the band agreed. On the flipside however, and unlike “King Richard’s Collectibles”, “Honeyspot” was a success in regards to how the band would forever approach their songwriting process.
Despite alienating themselves from their “psych” rooted fan-base, (most notably when on a long US tour with friends, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Dead Meadow, the A4 opted to play nothing but their new country set and Merle Haggard covers) they somehow managed to nurture a new one. Touring incessantly throughout the US Northeast and Canada in support of “Honeyspot”, the Asteroid No.4 suddenly had a loyal group of new followers who grew to know them for only their “rootsier” sound. Unfortunately for these fans, this incarnation of the group also didn’t last long as they decided to call it quits by early 2004.
Following a long hiatus and a few side-projects for much of 2004 and 2005, the group’s longstanding core, Scott Vitt, Eric Harms, and Adam Weaver reunited and demoed the material for their soon to be realized fourth album. In 2006, “An Amazing Dream” was released and once again on the Rainbow Quartz imprint. Many of the songs, written during and intended for “Honeyspot”, were reworked and approached differently than anything they’d done up to that point. Effected guitars and oversaturated reverbed vocals back in the mix, this was clearly the sound The Asteroid No.4 have become known for ever since. Many fans, and critics alike, later cited “An Amazing Dream” as the first real A4 record, meaning the one that first revealed a sound of all their own.
Within months of the new record’s release and once again in California, the band played in San Francisco, as fate would have it, where they’d meet future guitarist Ryan Carlson van Kriedt. Making an immediate friendship and musical bond, Ryan decided to make the long move to Philadelphia. Although still grappling with a revolving cast on bass guitar, two years of touring the US, UK and Europe ensued in support of “An Amazing Dream”.
“These Flowers of Ours: A Treasury of Witchcraft & Devilry” (The Committee to Keep Music Evil, 2008)
Upon returning from a UK tour, the band joined the Committee to Keep Music Evil, a label started in-part by Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Now 2008, with their new label as a vehicle, the band released “These Flowers of Ours: A Treasury of Witchcraft and Devilry”. “These Flowers” was again critically acclaimed worldwide as potentially the band’s “masterpiece”. They had finally, as one review would state, “honed their sound, creating a self assured and richly textured album that transcends its influences, although echoes of The Rain Parade and Spacemen 3, can still be heard.”
Touring in support of “These Flowers” continued into 2010, with one European tour in particular beginning with a long weekend and show in Iceland. It was during these few days that the band had met visual artist, Jón Sæmundur. Coincidentally, Jón and Ryan spent the down time in Reykjavik collaborating on a song that would ultimately end up becoming the Dead Skeletons.
Upon returning to the US, the Asteroid No.4 again entered the studio during the winter of 2010/2011. Perhaps it was the weather’s influence, but their new material evoked an almost darker vibe than previous material. Their sixth record, “Hail to the Clear Figurines”, once again hit the reset button on the band’s aesthetic. The songs paid special attention to detail using accents of instrumentation ranging from harps to horn sections. One could hear an almost Baroque sensibility reminiscent of 60’s bands Love, the Left Banke, the Bee Gees and UK psych legends, Kaleidoscope, which appropriately enough brings us to Peter Daltrey.
While still wrapping up the recording for “Hail”, the A4 decided to play a one-off show in a small coal-mining town located in central Pennsylvania. The location; a supposedly haunted nineteenth century hotel called the Grand Midway. Invited by Damien Youth, the only other act performing that night, another twist of fate was unknowingly about to occur. Damien had informed the band of his working relationship with Kaleidoscope/Fairfield Parlour’s singer and lyricist, Peter Daltrey, and explained that he was interested in collaborating with a current American psychedelic band. Damien, feeling that the Asteroid No.4 were the perfect fit, quickly made the introduction and destiny was again set, but not without first sorting out a bassist.
Also a Philadelphia suburb native, Matthew Rhodes joined the group in 2011 rounding out the five-piece that still exists today. In a band with this many years in, Matthew brought a much needed fresh perspective, while seamlessly communicating through the same influences and musical vocabulary.
Soon after Matthew’s joining, the A4 and Peter Daltrey began the Trans-Atlantic songwriting process for what would become “The Journey” LP. Driven by Peter wanting to approach the record like The Byrd’s, “Younger Than Yesterday”, the A4 incorporated the 12-string jangle, eastern tinged drone and countrified sound that they are known for. Meeting Peter in Los Angeles, again in California, to record vocals, the band would finalize the album in Philadelphia with Ryan’s final mix. The result was released on co-founder of Creation Records, Joe Foster’s Poppydisc/Rev-Ola Records, and received critical accolades by notable magazines including Mojo and Shin-Dig as a true collaboration of psych acts spanning two generations.
It was by 2012 that the entire band finally said farewell to Philadelphia and relocated to where they had longed to be since first touring the west coast in 2001. That place, of course, was northern California.
Ryan, returning back to his home state in 2011, was the first in a chain reaction of which all four other members were soon to follow. Once relocated, the band finalized the writing, recording and mixing of their self-titled eighth record aptly named “The Asteroid No.4”. Again employing sitars, eastern tinged sparsity, space-rock fueled anthems and pastoral folk instrumentals, the Asteroid No.4 had found the chemistry first heard on their debut, but with a maturer songwriting process that could have only been learned over a journey of this many years.
Upon returning from another UK tour at the tail-end of 2013, the band agreed to release their self-titled LP on London-based, Bad Vibrations Records. The record, unfortunately never getting the support and promotion it deserved, quickly became a rarity and pricey import for A4 fans outside of the UK. On a positive note, the band was able to support it on the road during the autumn of 2014 that included critically acclaimed, stand-out live performances at both Levitation France and Liverpool Psychfest.
Now a few years on and roots deeply settled in and around San Francisco, the Asteroid No.4 have been consistently playing shows along the west coast and cementing their position as a local, Bay Area band. The quintet has released 9th studio LP titled, “Collide” on Austin’s 13 O’clock Records. Comprised of eight new tracks, this is the first of the group’s discography completely written and recorded in California. It also the first of the band’s work, since their 1998 debut, that’s been recorded completely analogue on to 2” tape. It’s sound is described as a return back to both their “Introducing” and “These Flowers” records in that it draws from the band’s 90’s British Indie or “Shoegaze” influences.
'Northern Songs' is the band's tenth full length record, following up the 'Collide' LP in 2018. Here, the 12-string folk-rock jangle of the mid-60's Byrds is overlaid with the washed-out vocal harmonies of Ride and topped off with psychedelic drones familiar to Spacemen 3. This is a hypnotic hybrid of several different genres filtered through the kaleidoscope of all things psychedelic.
From the cosmic riffage of album opener ‘Emma’, to the chugging, psychedelic noise rumblings of album title track ‘Tones of the Sparrow’ and shimmering new single ‘Set You Sights’, The Asteroid No.4 tap into a sound that sound-tracked their youth. “The last two years have not been easy for any of us, so to go back to the specific sound that connects us to a better, easier moment in life seems like a pretty normal thing to do at times like this. For us, a band that started in the 90s and who were teenagers at the height of the time of the shoegaze scene, that's what our roots are.”
Elsewhere, there’s a dark, intense aesthetic to the melancholic ‘Chameleon’ while ‘I'm Not The Enemy’ and ‘A Castle Built For Two’ meld '60s psychedelia and catchy dreampop before the deeply melodic ‘Somewhere in the Middle’ and ethereal ‘Transmission’ close an impressive collection of songs from one of the psych scenes’ best loved bands.