It only took one night for Kennedy Ashlyn and Cash Askew, both students at UC Santa Cruz, to become friends. Askew was hosting a goth-themed birthday party at Ashlyn’s house when the two met and bonded over art, music, and “other darker, weirder things.”
The following day, they went to party at a commune and each tried moonshine and absinthe for the first time. After getting what Ashlyn calls “pretty twisted,” the pair started talking about forming a band. Ashlyn already had a side project called Them Are Us Too, and suggested that Askew join as a guitarist. She was game.
Over the next few years, Them Are Us Too went on multiple tours across the U.S. with bands like Wax Idols and Drab Majesty. In 2015, using demos they’d recorded while at school in Santa Cruz, the musicians released Remain, their industrial, synth-slathered New Wave debut. Filled with droning, murky tracks about ex-lovers and nostalgia, the album perfectly encapsulated the musicians’ shared sense of humor and penchant for languid, moody melodies.
But a few weeks before the band’s South American tour, tragedy struck in the form of the Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire. Askew, 22, was one of the 36 people who died in the deadly fire, which President Obama called “one of the worst” in California’s history.
Four months have since passed, and we caught up with Ashlyn at her Dallas home to talk about the future of the band, and coping with the loss of Askew.
SF Weekly: How would you describe Askew? What was your relationship with her like?
Kennedy Ashlyn: Cash was much more careful, while I would be more impulsive. So where I would maybe want to just jump into something that sounded good, she would want to do the research and the due diligence. She was definitely more chill and calm.
We had a very intense relationship. I’m a super-emotional person and we were super close. We lived together, and we toured together. Even when we were touring with other bands, we’d just take our own car and go by ourselves. Even if you’re the best of friends and have the most perfect relationship ever, spending four weeks two feet away from each other in a cramped car — when you’re tired and hungry and far away from home — will obviously put some strain on stuff. I feel like we had a really strong friendship because of how much of that we overcame.
SFW: Do you miss Askew?
KA: Oh, God, of course. And I already missed her before she died, because we didn’t live near each other anymore. But this is just like nothing I could fathom.
SFW: How many years did you live together?
KA: Three, and then another year we lived close by and would see each other all the time. And even when I lived here, we would still text every day and talk on the phone a lot.
SFW: Do you still have urges to text or call her?
KA: That’s gone away at this point. There’s definitely still some kinds of things where like the bottom, deepest parts of my mind are still assuming that she’s alive, though. It’s not so much me wanting to text or make calls, but it’s just like when I’m thinking about something, I might think, “Oh, I’ll bounce this off Cash later.”
SFW: When was the last time you saw Askew before her death?
KA: I dropped her off at her house in West Oakland after our last tour and just said a quick goodbye. That was in August. We actually got in a car accident on the freeway on the way to our S.F. show. Our car was totaled, completely crunched. So we finished out the tour in a rental. Over the course of our friendship, we have been in, like, maybe four accidents. Most of them were pretty minor, but it became a joke because it happened so much. I was one of the people who taught her to drive, so maybe it’s my fault.
SFW: Where were you and what did you do when you found out about the fire?
KA: I was in Dallas, Texas, where I live with my girlfriend. We left here the next morning at about 8 a.m. Texas time, so 6 a.m. California time. The fire started at 11:30 p.m., but by the time we got there, the fire was pretty much out, I think, and they were just searching for people.
SFW: Had you ever been to the Ghost Ship warehouse?
KA: No, I hadn’t. She’d told me about it, though. The first time she went a couple years ago, she said to me, “We have to go. It’s crazy.” She was even like, “Dude, the staircase is fucking insane. Like, I don’t know how they get away with this shit.”
SFW: Did you have any future Them Are Us Too shows planned at the time?
KA: Yeah, we actually had a five-day South American tour planned for January, through this label in South America called Casa del Puente Discos that had re-released Remain in CD format down there. We were going to go out with The Stargazer Lilies and go to Peru, Chile, and I don’t remember where else. I kind of blocked it out of my memory.
SFW: What’s the plan for Them Are Us Too now?
KA: I can’t use that name anymore. If I had, like, four other bandmates and I lost one, then maybe that would be different. But it just wouldn’t feel right to me to do that, especially because her input is part of what made Them Are Us Too. She’d think about the construction of a piece and some of the details that I would just gloss over. That’s something that I can’t replicate, so I don’t want to use that name and not have her in it. I don’t think it would be respectful to her.
Although, honestly, I don’t know what she would have wanted. She probably would have been like, “I don’t care, I’m dead.” She had an absolute idea about death. As far as I remember, when she’d talk about death, she’d say stuff like, “When you’re dead, you’re gone, so I wouldn’t give a fuck. Use the name, don’t use the name. Whatever.”
SFW: If you could have told Askew one last thing, what would it have been?
KA: Not to go to that show! But also, I’d tell her again that I love and appreciate her. But I know she knows it.