Interview With Them Are Us Too’s Cash Askew, Who Died in the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire
This past fall, I was lucky enough to interview Cash Askew and Kennedy Ashlyn of Them Are Us Too, an emerging goth duo with a romantic, ethereal sound, for an article in Bitch. Unfortunately, it looks like Cash was present at the Ghost Ship party in Oakland, California, on Friday night, and that she didn’t survive the fire.
Numerous artists and musicians were lost in the fire; as of this writing, the Oakland Fire Department says they have found 24 dead, and expect to find more as they search the building. Each one has a story of a life on the margins, of the things that inspired them and got them through the day, and of the people who were buoyed by their work in turn.
I was only able to include a few lines from my interview with Them Are Us Too in my article. I’m publishing in full now, in the hope of sharing what a thoughtful, bright and special musician Cash was.
Please support the families of the fire victims, including Cash’s family and loved ones, by donating here. You can also support them through a fundraiser run by the Oakland A’s and Raiders, or by attending this event with musician Kimya Dawson on Wednesday, Dec. 7.
Beth Winegarner: Who are some of your biggest music influences, both generally and within goth music?
Cash Askew: We’ve never really had it in mind to try to get a certain sound or imitate specific artists, which seems to be something a lot of people do — at least early on. So that can make it tricky to pinpoint specific influences. The Knife and Slowdive are very important bands to both of us, especially during the time we were starting out.
Beth: What goth musicians do you most often get compared to — and do you think those comparisons are fair?
Cash: People bring up Cocteau Twins constantly, and have since the very beginning. It definitely makes sense as a point of reference, but too often people try and make us out to be like “the new Cocteau Twins,” which is actually really frustrating because the similarities are pretty superficial, and saying that glosses over all the musical work we do that is very personal. We’re definitely not trying to replicate or rehash existing music, and people often seem to put too much emphasis on that impression.
Beth: What elements of the original goth movement do you think you’ve incorporated into your own work, and why have those elements appealed to you?
Cash: I think that the way we focus on atmosphere in our songwriting and creating depth in the sonic textures has parallels in some older goth music, and is probably informed to some extent by that. Like [The Cure’s] Pornography and Disintegration are both important touchstones to me in that respect, among many others. More specifically, the ways I go about that in my guitar playing involve a lot of layering of delays and pitch modulation to get that kind of unstable, woozy, smeared-out feeling that really gets to me emotionally, and I think that approach draws a lot on the gothy music that I heard a kid.
Beth: One of the notable elements of early goth culture was its focus on gender play and androgyny; it seemed to make room for women and femininity in a way that other scenes didn’t. Do you feel like that’s still the case, and/or do you feel like that’s in any way made it easier for you to make the music you make?
Kennedy: I think that it is still acceptable in a lot of goth scenes but not really the norm. The experience of being a cis woman wouldn’t be all that different in many other music scenes. It seems like there’s maybe more romanticization of femininity, but that doesn’t make misogyny any better. Also I think there are tons of different musical genres right now where there are prominent artists kinda turning gender on its head.
Cash: As a young teenager, I was definitely attracted to goth and new wave in part because of the androgyny, and that aesthetic gave me a way to explore my gender expression before I could even come to terms with being transgender. But that was just a personal relationship with images in my head, ‘cause I wasn’t a part of any scene, I was just walking around on my own looking like a freak.
Now that I’m and adult and I’m out in the world playing music, most of what I see is just clean-cut straight dudes in black jeans. It’s almost as much of a bro scene as anything else. I think these guys like to think of themselves as more progressive than others, but the accuracy of that is often questionable. As trans girl, too, the way I’m perceived doesn’t feel much different — like, people don’t think I’m a freak for looking the way I do, but they still see me as a man most of the time and it’s really frustrating. Maybe because there is historically that precedent for men dressing femme, it’s even easier than usual for people to dismiss my transness.