Asha Lakra: Portrait of a Sound Engineer

By: Unisa Asokan

Asha laughs at all my jokes. I can count on it. She also says the funniest things I’ve ever heard. We started this interview at 6 o’clock in the morning. She had just rolled back into town in a 26-foot box truck on a two-day journey back from a pop-country music festival in Wisconsin, the Country Thunder, after working sound at the Chicago Lollapalooza. I had a few minutes to chat with her before she went on tour with her band A Drug Called Tradition.

“Holy shit, Nisa” These two festivals changed my life.”

How so?

“The whole experience from start to finish. Loading all of the gear, setting up the PA system; dealing with how festivals work. Realizing I’m physically stronger than I thought.”

What do you mean by physically stronger?

“I held my own. I had to carry big road cases, unload semis. We had stagehands at Lollapalooza to do most of it, but Country Thunder..,”

What kind of work did you do?

Front of the house for the country festival, where they set up a big circus tent. I ran sound for the DJ set after till 3 am, thankfully the band who headlined brought their own guest engineer. These festivals got me working over 12 hour days. It wasn’t that complicated as a setup. I had to make sure nothing clipped too hard. There were more speakers than I was ever in control of. Subs as wide as the stage. Stage as wide as subs. I made sure the DJ was happy every night. I was thinking I did a terrible job then heard it was the best team ever doing these festivals over the years.

“I haven’t slept and I have to leave for tour in a few hours.” Changing modes from running sound to playing in a band. She references GO GO GADGET, a cartoon she watched growing up where the protagonist is a detective who solved a lot of cases, maybe one every episode. He could manifest mechanical devices from his body, such as extendable arms, helicopter blades, a toaster.

What’s your dream band?

“I’m happy with the band I have now. We’ve been together for 2 or 3 years. I think. We learned how to write together. I feel really comfortable with them. They feel like my brothers. Really excited about writing the next record.”

We just put out our new record, Medicine Music at the end of July, so we’re going to tour on it. Start writing gradually. We’re playing the Project Pabst Festival in October.”

 

asha at mammal gallery

Working sound at the BANE, Foundation, Give, Code Orange Kids show at Mammal Gallery, Atlanta. 2014

I caught up w/ Asha after her tour with A Drug Called Tradition She’s reluctant to talk, “I don’t want to accidentally bad mouth anyone,” she says. “Like who?” I await her response with a pen.

So, what clubs have you worked at in Atlanta and where you at now?

Main gig is at Star Bar. I might be working at Drunken Unicorn as my second gig. Might get some shows at the Earl.  I worked at 529 for 5 years. I trained with Wiggins at the Earl and worked a few shows there. He told me whenever a female recording engineer comes in, he listens because he knows she had to fight to get where she is. He’s been awesome. He’s been very supportive. I respect the hell out of him as an engineer and musician.

Asha Lakra: Working sound at the Earl 2017

Asha, The Earl, Atlanta. 2017

Did you enjoy the music at the country pop festival?

Ummmmmm. I respected the musicianship and the professionalism of everyone. Things were so on time. To the minute. To the second.

What got you to the point of where you are? And, where’d you go to school?

I was at Georgia Tech studying biology the first year. Then decided to make a change. I didn’t want a science degree from Tech. I used to skip calculus class to stay in my room to play music and record shit. Found a classical guitar player who was already in the music school at Georgia State and took some lessons from him for a year so I could audition to get into the music school.

Transferred. Practiced. Passed first audition. Got into music school.  My parents had just moved to India, so that was a big change, and I realized I could either spend my career making my parents happy or I could do something I’d be happy with. So I auditioned for classical guitar. Was a music major with a concentration in classical guitar. Finished up last year.

How did you learn how to play the guitar in a year?

I’d sneak into my brother’s room and play his guitar and took piano lessons when I was a kid. I played guitar in Tikka, play bass now.

Where do you see yourself in 10 to 15 years?

I never ever think that far ahead. I like haven’t even thought about it. I’m going on vacation in two weeks. Daytona Beach. Haven’t taken a vacation in so long. But, I’d hope to find myself touring or working with a big production company. Working clubs is brutal. It’s a brutal schedule.

I prefer to work with live music. Don’t think I have the patience to be a recording engineer. With live engineering, the shows done at the end of the night. I have a hate/love hate relationship with the adrenaline rush you have to go thru to get a show done, to mix a show on the spot. But 30 or 45 minutes later, it’ll be over. It’s not a mundane 9 to 5 office job. Every night is a completely different beast.

I tell Asha, she’s mixed some of the most challenging shows in the most impossible rooms and she always comes through. I remind her of the Bain, Foundation, Give and Code Orange Kids show she did for Tight Bros at Mammal Gallery. That was a tough ship to steer. Asha is a pro.

“I have gaps in my knowledge that I’m slowly filling. I think I’m getting slowly more confident in my abilities. Going to festivals.  Festivals were like a sound boot camp. I think mostly adverse to the stereotype of sound guys being assholes. And having huge egos. I always want to be as humble as I can. I don’t want to be like the guys I’ve had to work with.  Have to have a lot of patience to be a sound person. You have to make sure everyone is happy. The band. The audience. Your boss.”

“You mind if I smoke?” she asks me. We’re at El Myr.

“I’m hoping to work up to a place where I can do sound for a touring band, or for a local band on tour.”

Sometimes, I catch myself at shows wishing Asha was doing sound. I shared this thought with Atlanta musician, Aaron Smith. “She is better than everybody,” he agrees.

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1 Comment

  • Kahle Davis Posted October 25, 2017 1:42 am

    Asha is one of few sound engineers in this town who only gets complimented. Never heard a discouraging word said of her. Star Bar is lucky and proud to have her here.

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