Read an e-mail interview with Artist Series Guitar CEO Vijay Kumar below. We discuss the company, the current guitars, and the future. Demon Hunter followup interview coming soon!
A lot of people might remember you from your short stint playing bass for Bleeding Through. Fill us in on the time frame between the band and Artist Series Guitar (ASG).
After doing a couple records with BT, I went on a warpath to find a cool way to spend my life doing something that felt right – something with a good purpose. I left BT when I was still pretty young and not sure what purpose I was actually searching for, so I did everything from teach guitar to produce commercials and license music for films. For whatever reason it was, maybe the 9-5 mentality or lack of contemporaries that I truly connected with, I felt that all those professional outlets didn’t give the same spark I felt when touring and stage diving and moshing to my friends’ bands. ASG grew out of a need to connect with something like I did when I was 19. ASG grew out of a desire to give kids around the world the same opportunity that I had.
I read somewhere that you received a Bachelor’s Degree in Classical Guitar. Is that true? What led you to pursue that degree?
Yep. I did graduate college with a degree in Classical Guitar Performance. I chose that route simply because I had no idea what college could offer me. I spent so much time as an ‘undecided’ major. Seemed like a waste. So I came to a crossroad where I needed to decide to drop out or do something that I was crazy about doing. Once I auditioned and made it into the program, I quickly fell in love with classical music. I would practice 8 hours a day and perform any chance I could get. I can easily say I had an insatiable appetite for guitar. That college experience is what made me a ‘musician.’
The background in guitar clearly helps in the design and production of the ASG guitars. Were you involved in every aspect of the technical process of the creation of the guitar designs? Will each guitar have the same basic setup separated by design only?
Yes, I was involved in each step of development and production. I had a hand in everything that got this line to market. However, the bands we currently work with were integral in the development of their guitar. They headed up the design and I simply ensured that our production could handle it then gave the thumbs up. The bands we have on the roster have such great visual taste that I was positive I would not have to say much about their final designs. To say the least, I am so impressed with the guitars each band release. Every time I open a case, my mind is blown!
For future releases, we will be opening up the development to more specific hardware and electronics.
Where did the overall concept for ASG come from?
The overall concept, our mission, came from several different places. Primarily, it came from the desire to allow bands to connect with their fans in a way never accomplished before. The reason I play guitar is because I was a fan of Metallica, Slayer, Bad Religion, etc. So why not give all the millions of fans out there an easy reason to pick up a guitar and make some music. I can guarantee that someday an amazing band will emerge and fuel millions of kids with spirit and passion for music, and the first guitar that the guitarist in that band played was an ASG. Is there a better place for an idea to be conceived than that? Simply stated, I just want to aid the creation of music all around the world. And the friends I have, from the experiences I’ve had, can help me encourage kids to play guitar by simply getting their band to release an ASG.
Was it a slow process starting up the company, finding the perfect people to work within the company, and the right bands to launch with?
It was without a doubt a grueling and time consuming process. When I first started prototyping models for ASG, about three years ago, I imagined it would take two, three months to get things rocking. Man, was I wrong. Finding the right production format, getting all the distribution in place, getting all the agreements together with the bands, launching our site (and we still have our full international site yet to be released), took 100 times longer that I expected.
As far as finding the perfect people to work with, that was easy. I’ve got great friends, many of which are well steeped in the music industry. For example, a good friend and former singer of Adamantium, Aaron Stone is our custom builder and set-up expert. He is a Jackson and Fender trained luthier, and now a huge part of ASG. Every ASG owner will know that Aaron Stone put lots of love and hard work into each guitar that is shipped.
As far as the bands, they’re all friends from long ago to the present. A quick phone call got everyone on board. And it’s very easy to find an awesome band that is inspired by our mission.
The first 5 limited edition guitars are available now from Parkway Drive, Demon Hunter, Bleeding Through, Death By Stereo and Throwdown. How did you go about selecting the bands for this initial run?
As mentioned earlier, all five bands are close friends of ASG. So a phone call or quick lunch meeting is all it took to get the ball rolling. We are very proud of the diverse and immensely talented roster we have.
For future decisions, with bands that we may not have personal relationships with, we will choose the bands that make great music, have a great artwork, and have a passion and interest in realizing our mission as a company.
Were the bands directly involved in the design process or did they basically approve of the design once finished?
The bands created the designs themselves. In BT’s case, Ryan requested to have an Anti-Hero themed guitar. So our artists simply generated a mock from the artwork of BT’s latest self-title release on Rise Records. Once the artwork was complete, we sent it off to BT for the final approval.
Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter is an acclaimed graphic artist with Invisible Creature, so DH’s ASG design was a walk in the park. Ryan, a genius both musically and visually, finished the design himself using DH’s iconic logo. He made my job very, very easy!
The first shipments will have arrived in early December so what kind of feedback have you gotten so far from the customers?
So far the feedback has been great. People that bought an ASG during pre-sale seem to be the die hard fans, so they fell in love with the ASG just by seeing pics on our site. The real test will come when we decide to offer these guitars through retail outlets to everyday guitar players that may not have any idea who Parkway Drive or Throwdown is. But I am very confident that ASG will receive great acclaim from fans and critics alike. Bottom line, they are solid guitars, set-up to play really well. Moreover, they are a piece of a band that many people out there truly love.
How about ASG’s future? What are some of your main goals?
Ostensibly, our goal is to continue making rad guitars and getting them into the kids’ hands. That’s it.
On a more sappy, epic scale, our goal is to turn ASG into a movement that spawns creativity and passion for music. We want ASG to be a distraction from all the nonsense the world has to offer. We want ASG to be a symbol of youthful strength that walks a different path. We want ASG to empower fans to create a future that has no limits.
Do you have another lineup of bands planned or will it be more a one-by-one release from now on?
We do have some heavy hitters lining up for an ASG release. All I can say now is that you’re gonna be psyched!!!!!
Being a bass player yourself, do you have plans to also produce a selection of basses?
We will eventually release a bass and most likely some left handed models. However, right now we’re concentrating on getting the brand out there, which means producing the most played instrument, the right-handed electric guitar. Sorry bass players and lefties. Coming soon though, we promise!
The music industry has changed dramatically in the last decade, yet ASG seems to understand that many fans want to connect even further with a band than just buying albums and going to shows. Do you think this model of bands trying to connect more directly will grow over the next decade in various ways?
The music industry has changed, and with the global economy tanking, it is still changing. This affects every aspect of the industry, including merch companies. From a strong business analysis bias, maybe ASG is timed badly. But we can care less about running a business that will do well only because Forbes Magazine says so. We just want to do what we love.
Whether things will trend towards bands creating new ways to connect with fans, I think definitely. Bands must always be progressive and evolve their way of communicating with fans, or they will fail to make the most of playing music professionally.
Plus, we think bands will always want a cool way to connect with their fans. Without those connections musicians lose steam. It’s a hard life being a musician, and at times, the relationship with fans can be the only thing that keeps you motivated to continue writing.
What do you feel are the best and the worst things to happen to music in recent years?
Best thing: Digital distribution. Keeps the worthy musicians playing and gets rid of all the bands/artists jumping around stage for a buck. Although this is typically seen as a negative for the industry, I think it keeps the industry innovative and weeds out those unworthy of being at the forefront of our musical culture.
Worst thing: 360 Record Deals. Strips musicians of their ability to keep playing music. Thanks a lot Majors!
Anything else you would like to leave us with?
IVM: keep it up. You guys are part of it all. You keep our scene going strong, and you give kids a reason to believe. We hope that you can you continue to inject kids with the desire to play music. Whether you think you do or not, kids will pick up an instrument from reading IVM.
Our thanks go out to Vijay for filling us in on ASG. For all you IVMer’s go check out their site and pick yourself up a Demon Hunter (or other) guitar for Christmas!