Illustration by Samuel Nigrosh
This article originally appeared in AdHoc Issue 17.
On December 2, 2016, a fire broke out in Oakland live/work space the Ghost Ship, killing 36 people who had gathered there for an intimate house show. Cash Askew, a 22-year-old multi-instrumentalist and producer who played guitar in the sonically enveloping, consistently emotionally gutting rock band Them Are Us Too, was one of many musicians who passed over to the next realm that night. Here, her bandmate Kennedy Ashlyn remembers Askew’s life, music, and non-binary worldview. — Emilie Friedlander
Kennedy Ashlyn: I met Cash on her 19th birthday, when both of us were studying at UC Santa Cruz. She was living in the dorms, and my housemates, who she knew from the food co-op, offered to have her birthday at my house. It was jokingly called Cash’s Super Sweet Goth 19th Birthday Party, and everyone had to dress goth. Cash made a playlist that had Cocteau Twins, Depeche Mode, and Sisters of Mercy on it—and I kept being like, “Oh My God! You like this song? You like this song?” We weren’t goths—that was a joke—but no one in Santa Cruz really liked the same music that we did. And then she crashed at the house, and the next morning, there was an eviction notice on the door. We didn’t end up getting evicted, but that’s how crazy Cash’s 19th birthday party was.
The day after the party, I was playing one of the only three Them Are Us Too shows that I did without Cash, at this weird hippy commune. We were drinking moonshine, walking around arm in arm, and I was just like, “You should be in my band.” It was pretty immediate—day one: friends; day two: bandmates. We’d always call her birthday our “friendaversary,” and then the next day is our “bandaversary.”
The early sessions were awkward. At first, Cash tried to play synth, and I was like, “Why don’t you try to play guitar?” And she was like, “I don’t wanna play guitar.” She used the guitar in our band, but she wasn’t the guitarist. Rowland S. Howard was her inspiration, and she used it as a weird noise instrument. If I remember correctly, the first song that really clicked for us was “Us Now.” That song is about Cash, because when we met, I felt like it was just... us now. I finally felt like I had met my fucking person. In Santa Cruz, we had a good community of people, but no one was into the same shit as us, and we didn’t have a large queer community. She came out, and I came out, during our friendship; we came out together in ways.
I don’t even know how to describe her personality. She hated the word “goof”, but she was a fucking goof ball. Right now, you see all these glamor shots of her in the news. And yeah, she was definitely super classy and demure, and beautiful and angelic—but I’ll always remember her eating nutritional yeast with her fingers in a big T-shirt and underwear, making stupid jokes. She was fucking brilliant—a huge dork who was obsessed with history and Lord of the Rings when she was a kid. There’s this video online of Kris Jenner talking about this book she’s reading about some architect. And she’s like, “It’s so weird and boring, but I’m obsessed.” That’s exactly how Cash’s girlfriend Anya and I like to describe her—like, “Dude, Cash is weird and boring, but we’re obsessed.”
Cash was magnetic. Everywhere she went, everyone’s head turned when she walked in the room—but she hated that, because she didn’t like attention and she didn’t even like people that much. She had a couple close friends, but everyone was just addicted to talking to her and being around her. She was really kind—she didn’t want to start any fucking drama. But I guess towards the ends of her life, she was like, “I’m gonna fucking stand up for myself. I’m not just gonna stand there and nod and smile any more.”
After we made a demo and did a West Coast tour, we dropped out of school. We always just wanted to make music and tour, and we were really excited to be signed to Dais and to put out our first album, Remain . I didn’t live anywhere for a long time, and then I moved to Texas about a year ago, to be with my love-of-my-life person. Cash moved to Oakland, and had been living here, working for her mom and developing two solo projects: Prist, which was her techno project, and Heavenly, which was more “emotional noise.” For Prist, she made every single sound from shit she’d recorded out in the world—her own fucking drum kit. On tour, we’d hit a rest stop in the middle of fucking nowhere, and she’d go to the bathroom, then run back to the car and be like, “Hold on, I need to go record that toilet clunk.”
I think if Cash had to categorize herself, she would say she was an electronic musician—but she probably wouldn’t want to categorize herself at all. She just wanted to create soundscapes. Once, she heard this sound on a Godspeed You! Black Emperor record, and she did a ton of research, and found out that they used a screwdriver, kind of like a bow on a violin. So she did that, but she also took off the second-to-last string on her guitar, and used this weird tuning. I think she always knew that she was onto something, but not in a way that was pretentious, at all. She was always so unpretentious.
I’d known Cash for four years, but in the year before she died—since she started dating Anya—she seemed more vibrant than ever. Anya and Cash met at a show in Oakland, but they had been following each other on Tumblr for like six years. When they finally met, they just really saw each other. One thing about Cash is that she always described herself as “socially awkward,” but she actually really had an uncanny knack for seeing people—seeing through people’s bullshit facades, their defense mechanisms, their ways of socializing. Cash and Anya’s one-year anniversary was two days before she died. Obviously, her loss is a tragedy to everyone, but I think one of the biggest tragedies is that their love was cut so short.
I got a one-way ticket to Oakland the day of the fire, and I’ve just been at Anya’s house ever since, and we’ve been writing music together. Anya has been playing Cash’s guitar, which was a gift from her step-father. Cash designed it herself, and it has this beautiful blue pickguard, which is the same color as the cover of the record, and the color of the nail polish that she used to wear. We all have our nails painted that color now.
Anya keeps saying that me and her were Cash’s favorite singers and musicians, so we’re just channeling her. TAUT was going to call our next release “No Pure Stance,” because Cash and I both had a very post- structuralist view of the world. She saw all the nuance and the complexity and the paradox, which a lot of people gloss over. When you see those things, it’s fucking hard to survive, because the world doesn’t make any sense in the way that you’re taught to make sense of things. But she was always just like, “Fuck a binary.” That was one of our stupid jokes: “Fuck a binary tho.”
The thing about TAUT was that it was really naive. People are always saying there’s this “purity” to that record, but this project with Anya is gonna be not so vulnerable. We’ve literally been to hell and back; that vulnerability, that naiveté—that’s gone. I don’t want to give too much away, because I don’t want to jinx it, but honestly, I think we would have been Cash’s favorite band. We’re both feeling strong, and we didn’t feel strong before. She’s given us her strength and her skill. I don’t know how else to think about— why would I be strong after this? It’s because she’s in the air.
Download a PDF of the zine at this link, and look out for physical copies both at our shows and at record stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers throughout the city. (Those of you outside New York City can order a copy here as well.)