Astro James: Meet the Dallas Artist Bringing Life to "The Dead"
The Grateful Dead, or "The Dead", is known as one of the most influential American rock bands in history. Since their formation in 1965, the group quickly gained a cult following that remains true to this day. Tyler Novak, otherwise known as Astro James, is a local artist who knows a thing or two about the band, so we sat down with him to discuss everything from their influence on his personal life and music to the meaning of being a part of a tight-knit community like the “Deadheads”. Check out our interview with him below!
Q: How did you get into The Grateful Dead? How old were you?
Astro James: I can’t remember the exact year, but I was already a casual fan of the Dead’s studio recordings. When I saw an advertisement for Dead & Company (which is the surviving band members playing alongside John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge), I bought a ticket, and I went! The atmosphere of the show was unlike any other show I had ever been to. The band was so loose and the crowd hung on every note. After that, I dove into the Dead’s live catalog and have been obsessed ever since.
Q: What drew you into them? What is it about them that has led you to become a devoted, die-hard fan?
Astro James: The fact that I can listen to them for hours upon hours on a weekly basis and still be constantly hearing new material I have never heard before is unheard of with any other band. They make music that soothes the soul; it is so raw, free, and authentic.
Q: How have they inspired you in both your personal life, as well as your career in music?
Astro James: It has made me a more adventurous and free-spirited person for sure. The music changes you on a deeper level. Also, nobody in the band had an ego, everyone worked together to make something beautiful. That's inspiring as an artist and is a constant reminder to stay humble. There's always room to improve your craft, and we will never have “made it” no matter how successful we are by this world’s standards.
Q: If you could only go to dinner with one member of the band, who would it be and why? Is this the member that has inspired you the most?
Astro James: I think most people, myself included, would say, Jerry Garcia. The way that man plays guitar moves me in a way no other musician ever could; it takes you on an otherworldly journey. He is the greatest guitarist I have ever heard hands-down, a true master of his craft.
Q: How many Grateful Dead shows have you been to? Do you have a favorite one?
Astro James: Honestly I have lost count at this point, but the last show I went to was San Francisco for New Year's Eve. It was the last concert I went to with my brother Kohl who passed away this year. That show will always hold a special place in my heart because it will forever remind me of the good times I was able to spend with him.
Q: The band is known for generating a cult-following and large community of supporters. What is the best part of being a member and active participant in this community?
Astro James: It’s a beautiful community. Deadheads are kind, adventurous, music appreciating, and fun people. If you had to sum up the Grateful Dead with one word it would honestly be fun. It's just all about fun.
Q: What is your most memorable moment of being a part of the community?
Astro James: Boulder, Colorado last summer. During “Cold Rain and Snow” it started hailing on the crowd. They stopped for a few hours and came back out and played all night. It was a magical evening, to say the least.
Q: Why do you think they were able to create such a massive following? Why would people devote their lives to following them around the country?
Astro James: No two shows are alike. Since 1965, the Dead has been playing a different setlist every night that has never repeated. Not only that but every time, they improvise every song and create something new with it. You’ll have their entire catalog of hundreds of songs memorized and you’ll still be shocked on a nightly basis. It never gets redundant.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone looking to join the Deadhead Community?
Astro James: Watch a show in its entirety, focus on it. Don’t allow any other distractions. That's the only way you’ll understand. Even then you should definitely attend a show to get the full picture.