On stage, Asher Preston becomes CC Honeymoon. A noir antihero within a neon-lit, permaheatwave city of femme fatales, sexual tension and menace. His is a world so fully realised that the scent of hot tarmac, perfume and perspiration practically drifts from the speakers.
Combining a Maus/Jarre/Vega synth palette with the type of unnerving imagery straight out of the Nicolas Winding Refn playbook, Preston’s moniker manifests. Bordering on an out-of-body experience, it’s within this intense climate that the musician is able to fully let go: you see it in his eyes; distant, glazed with latent tears; his movements; wild jolts and jerks that verge on violent intent; and in the potency – and tension – of his croons and groans that chisel at the borders of love, lust and loss.
CC Honeymoon steps off stage and Asher Preston returns, craving more.
Alex James Taylor: Having previously been in guitar bands, what was it about electronic, synth music that appealed to you for this project?
Asher Preston: As much as I love the camaraderie and support you get in bands, I always wanted something for myself and a project I could focus on in my own time, without the restriction of other people. I’ve always been a massive fan of hip hop, r’n’b and the path of the solo artist, that’s always been in the back of my head. Seeing John Maus about four years ago was a massive turning point for me. He literally just pressed a button and he was off, running around the stage, smacking himself in the face, doing his thing. It was like a religious experience. Seeing that really got me going and kickstarted the initial impulse to create on my own.
AJT: It’s interesting that even though you’d been in DIY garage bands, you found a further level to strip things back.
AP: Virgin Kids [Preston’s previous band] started as a solo project, just me writing songs on guitar. When I created that I thought it was going to be me with a tape deck and a drum machine, but then quite quickly I realised that the music needed more, it needed live drums. Again, that’s why electronic music appealed to me so much. For me, if you see a keyboardist play, it’s ok, but you could just have a sample of that. Whereas with a drummer, you want to see it and feel it and hear it in the venue. I feel that electronic music isn’t as precious on being played specifically there and then.
AJT: Do you find that electronic music allows you to let go more? Watching you live, the music becomes this all-encompassing entity that you’re able to lose yourself in.
AP: The first gig I did as CC Honeymoon, I had two synths on stage and I felt really restricted because I had to stay by these two keyboards and a mic stand. Most of the gig I was just looking down at the keyboard. I did one show like that and said to myself that I never wanted to do that again. I felt that everything I wanted to make through electronic music – that freedom – I’d actually just created a new barrier. The nice thing about having the samples and being free to walk around, as I am now, is that I can thoroughly engage with the audience.
AJT: That’s what’s so powerful about your performances, it’s high-energy, high drama. It borders on performance art. And the synth only adds to the drama, evoking 80s horror movies and sci-fi games.
AP: I really wanted to not just create catchy songs, but also a feeling, an energy and a consistent aesthetic. For me, there’s that sound of 80s nostalgia in there, going from Tron to Kavinsky, and the sounds on my recordings are all analogue synths, so they have that real gaming energy. When I’m starting to write a song I often picture a scenario, whether that’s someone driving, running, dancing… Always in the city, I love the idea of going to the countryside and writing music, but for me CC Honeymoon is city – it’s nightlife, it’s bright lights, it’s neon.
AJT: That sense of being in a city comes from the pace of the music, it swells into this deep, layered atmosphere.
AP: Being in bands, you’re restricted by how well you can play your instruments and how many of you are in the band. So if there are four of you, you’re only going to have four instruments playing at once, whereas when I’m writing and producing at home, I can have twenty synths going at one time.
AJT: How do you deal with that infinite choice?
AP: With my newer material, I’m trying to do less is more. Rather than overcompensate with twenty lead lines at once, just have one strong lead. But in my head I still structure it around… Being a drummer, for me drums are the most important thing. If the drumbeat is good, you can build on that with a bassline and some ambient sounds around it.
AJT: Initially, how did you find stepping out on stage on your own? You must feel quite vulnerabile having all eyes focused on you.
AP: When I play live, because I don’t have other people to bounce off before a show… I don’t really get nervous anymore but I definitely do need my own space. I like to lock myself in a room for at least five minutes before I go on, slap myself in the face.
AJT: I saw you pacing a lot before your gig.
AP: I think it’s about getting in the right mindset. When I play live I want it to be an experience for the audience. Straight off the bat, I want them to know that for all the time I’m on stage, they’re going to be in this. So it’s important for me to start at the right pace. Some acts gradually build as the set grows because they get more comfortable, but for me, if I can get in the right headspace before I go on stage, then I’m able to kick off at 100 percent and stay at that level.
AJT: What was your first gig like?
AP: Terrible [laughs]. My friends were there and it was nice but…
AP: Yeah, exactly. When I first started I gigged a lot, I did like 30 or 40 shows in the first six months because I wanted to learn, and you do that through performing. So it took a while to get to where I am now, being comfortable on stage and knowing what I want to achieve. Off-stage I’m completely different, so for me it’s easier… I don’t want it to be Asher Preston, it’s CC Honeymoon, this super non-binary, sexual character that’s grinding, taking their clothes off. That’s me on stage, then when I step off I’m not that person anymore.
AJT: Having a moniker facilitates a change in character and allows you to step away from yourself.
AP: It’s more forgiving. When I’ve been in bands, what you do on stage, the jokes you tell or whatever, that’s still you. Whereas when you have an alter-ego, which I guess is what CC Honeymoon is, I become that person for about 40 minutes and then afterwards I’m me again.
“I like to lock myself in a room for at least five minutes before I go on, slap myself in the face.”
AJT: When you first performed as CC, did you know you had that side to you?
AP: Erm, I think so. If I’m in a big group of people, I’m not the loudest one. But I do love performing. I’d much rather be on a stage performing than be telling a story in a pub in front of twenty people. I feel more natural on stage, giving it everything.
AJT: It’s an opportunity for you to totally express yourself – there’s raw emotion in your music.
AP: Definitely. It’s all from my perspective, so the songs are really personal. I like that. For me, the best shows or musicians, you see the vulnerability and emotion. You can cry on stage, you can scream, you can go through a whole spectrum of emotions. You could say that it’s self-indulgent, but art is.
AJT: I feel like so many bands and musicians bypass that, they go on stage and perform with limited thought or emotion and they’ve just wasted an opportunity to change someone’s life. It’s a big responsibility performing music for people.
AP: You just see someone going through the motions, totally. I know that I’m very privileged to do this, so I make the most of it every time. The best way I can describe it is that I’m possessed by the CC Honeymoon character and it takes over my body – without getting too wanky about it [laughs]. So I write the music and I’m attached to that, but in terms of the performance, it’s not me. But the vulnerability is that fine line between the character and myself.
AJT: It’s almost like a fight between your ego and your superego, the side of you that wants to shy away from your emotions and the side that just wants to scream them as loud as possible – a battle between not conciously wanting to be centre of attention, but also fucking loving it.
AP: [laughs] Oh yeah, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it. But at the same time I’m happy for that attention to be focused on my performance…
AJT: And that’s why people write music, or novels, or whatever, if you’re a reserved person it provides this outlet where you can release all worries, anxieties, pressures.
AP: I’d say I’m a pretty placid person, I don’t have aggression in me – I’ve never wanted to fight anyone – but on stage I’m fucking rowdy. It’s definitely an outlet, but it also means that when I come off stage I’m drained.
AJT: Do you crave it afterwards?
AP: Yeah, you ride high after a show and I love that feeling. But even when I’m playing I’m thinking, “Fuck, I don’t want this to end.” It’s like a drug, it’s endorphins running through your body. After performing, I’m wiped out. Not only physically from running around and dancing, but also mentally, just putting that much energy into something is exhausting. As I said before, it is self-indulgent, to go up on stage and have people watch you and listen to your stories. The way I counter that in my head is that if I’m lucky enough to have this platform, I’m going to make whoever is in the audience feel. Some of the best people I’ve seen live or taken inspiration from, it’s like seeing a horror movie, you don’t wanna watch it but you also can’t pull your eyes away.
“…even when I’m playing I’m thinking, “Fuck, I don’t want this to end.” It’s like a drug, it’s endorphins running through your body.”
AJT: What really struck me about your performance was your movement, it reminds me of the first time I saw a video of Ian Curtis performing – totally lost in the music and utterly unique.
AP: Yeah, being moved by it, enjoying it, but also tortured by it. It’s not natural that you’d necessarily move that way, but it feels good. I’ve always loved dancing, whether I’m good or not, I don’t know. I have no problems dancing in front of people, whether I’m at a club or party or whatever, but to talk to them is a different issue [laughs]. Again, listening to hip hop and growing up on r’n’b and UK garage, I always wanted to make music that made me move. With guitar music, you’re sort of thrashing about and banging your head, but there’s no consideration for the moves…
“Some of the best people I’ve seen live or taken inspiration from, it’s like seeing a horror movie, you don’t wanna watch it but you also can’t pull your eyes away.”
AJT: You aren’t totally in the music as you’re aware of other people around you, with dance music it’s like you’re the only person in the room.
AP: I’ve never been a big raver or particularly into house music, but when you go to a rave and you see that one guy in the corner with his eyes closed, in his own world, dancing away, that’s magic.
AJT: CC Honeymoon is deeply personal, did you always want that?
AP: I’ve always written love songs and break-up songs and, for me, if it wasn’t personal it’d be pointless.
“…sometimes it’s easier to look at a room as one person because then it’s just two bodies together.”
AJT: I think the ultimate goal in music is to write a truly great love song. I feel like not enough musicians try to achieve that anymore.
AP: I totally agree. Although for some reason I find it easier to write about heartache, I mean, there is the excitement of love and meeting someone, but I tend to feel drawn towards the distress. A majority of people have been in love or know that feeling of love, but everyone knows the feeling of heartache, even if you’ve never had a relationship, you know that feeling of looking at someone, admiring them and wanting to be with them but not being able to have that.
AJT: And even if you have the most amazing love ever, the heartache always delivers ten times the impact. Synth music does tend to cater to heartache.
AP: Absolutely, you look at Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, it’s the English culture of that sad boy music that I just love. Everyone can relate to that, often when you’re sad or feeling down, the best thing to listen to is a heartbreak song. For me, it makes me feel uplifted through the other person’s pain.
AJT: It’s cathartic. It’s like when you go through a break-up and you watch an incredibly sad movie…
AP: You want to cry.
AJT: Everyone is so reserved, emotions build and you need a release – and you might as well be entertained when you do it [both laugh]. Do you ever look at the audience when you play?
AP: I do, but it’s through glazed vision. I like to see people’s reactions and I’ll occasionally make eye contact, but sometimes it’s easier to look at a room as one person because then it’s just two bodies together.
AJT: It must be exciting to see people go on this journey during your performance, from, “OK, I’ll watch this guy,” to being totally absorbed in the show.
AP: Winning people over is the most satisfying thing. Because this music is a bit different and I’m playing in venues that usually have guitar bands or punk gigs, for people to come in and see one guy on his own on stage, I’ve been in that situation where I’m like, “Oh fuck this, is he some crooner who’s going to play soppy love songs?” I know that’s the norm, so my favourite thing is converting those people. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and that’s fine, but when I’m on stage there is a need, and I suppose it’s selfish, but there’s a need like, “You are going to experience CC Honeymoon. You are going to experience something.”
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Feature originally published in HERO 22.