It’s not completely unusual to hear stories of musicians leaving the road to pursue a career in the music business. Vijay Kumar, though, took a slightly unique path following his time as a musician. After playing with Bleeding Through in its early days, Kumar went on to form his own guitar company. Unlike other manufacturers, though, Artists Series Guitars produces guitars branded with bands’ logos and special art. ASG has worked with Bleeding Through, Demon Hunter, Parkway Drive, Bring Me The Horizon, Asking Alexandria, Sick Of It All and many others to release specially designed guitars to further connect the band with their hardcore fans. Kumar himself took a moment to talk with Metal Insider about his transition from musician to guitar producer, the artists he’d like to work with in the future, and the inspiration these guitars give to fans and aspiring musicians.
Fans probably know you best from your time in Bleeding Through and as a musician. How did you go from being a touring artist to forming your own guitar company?
Oh man, my story spans so many different moves that actually got me here. I’ve been playing guitar since I was fairly young. So I was a skateboarding teenager listening to Slayer, actually. I grew up in Chicago in the hardcore scene there, and then as I made my move to California, I fit into Orange County hardcore crowd pretty quickly. And that’s kind of the time when Bleeding Through formed, right when I moved out. Bleeding Through was part of what I consider my hardcore adolescence. It was a time where I never considered myself much of a professional touring artist, even though that’s kind of what it was. It was more to me and the rest of the guys in Bleeding Through as [a way] they could justify a group of friends going out and having the time of our lives. So that’s what it was, that’s what the beginning of Bleeding Through was. And as I grew up, as my mind started to mature and to think of thoughts rather than just hanging out with my friends on the road, I started poring [over] all these ideas of how I could continue doing what I do [playing guitar] with music and do something really cool.
So I left Bleeding Through after the second full length and started working on a lot of my personal guitar work. I studied classical guitar at college, I have my degree in music, in classical guitar. That really put me in touch with just the guitar as an instrument rather than the guitar as a tool to hanging out with your friends. From there it turned into me geeking out on solid body guitars and how they were built. So through this whole evolution of what I was doing, I came up with the idea of designing a line that not only allow kids to geek out on guitar like I was at that moment, but allow me to give fans of all these bands that we work with the same opportunity to go out and hang out with their friends and be on tour together. So ASG wasn’t just essentially a guitar line that I developed, it was a guitar line mixed with a lifestyle that I developed. It really did bleed out of the time that I had with my friends in Bleeding Through and it’s my solo guitar work and my passion for the actual guitar. So that’s kind of how it happened.
You mentioned about how you want to create more than just a guitar, but also combine the music’s lifestyle into the guitars. How did you actually come up with the idea to create guitars with bands incorporated in it?
Shoot, I don’t know. I don’t know if it was any one lightbulb. I’ve been prototyping products for about three years. Just prototyping, and I always thought a graphic application was pretty neat on guitars. There’s still to this day, besides what I feel ASG does, not really a line out there that really puts a decent graphic on a guitar. I guess it just one day hit me that it would be rad to get all these bands that all my friends are in, and instead of making a T-shirt, make a guitar that their fans could actually use to do what they do. Fans are always looking for a way to connect with their favorite bands, and I thought “How could you get any cooler of a connection than actually through the guitar?” It’s something that all these metal bands and hardcore bands are based around, it’s all guitar based music.
It sounds like its more than just connecting, but also taking inspiration further.
Oh yeah! I mean, I can’t/don’t have time to tell you how much these guitars have affected these fans. I get emails on a daily basis from new ASG owners that feel like they’ve just connected with a band even further and they just etched out the next 15 years of their life because this is what they want to do because of an ASG guitar. I mean it’s crazy. Demon Hunters is one of the bands on our roster, and it’s crazy how rabid Demon Hunter fans are for that band. I mean Ryan Clark, the singer for Demon Hunter and probably one of the biggest minds of the band, is so influential amongst his fans. And now that his fans can actually own a guitar that was designed and developed by him, it’s just leading onto new things that they never thought they could do. Just the other day I got an email from a kid, I believe it was from South Africa, ASG’s already shipped to 20 countries or more.
Oh really? I didn’t realize that shipped to that many countries.
Yeah, and we got an email from South Africa. A kid said he’s been having a lot of hard times. His family is really going through some rough shit right now, and he said he said “I just got my ASG and it’s the most stoked I’ve been in 6 months. Thank you so much ASG, this just made my year!”
Of course you’re helping musicians connect to fans, but to hear a fan being able to connect with a physical product is really remarkable. You don’t really hear about a connection like that anymore.
I think you’re totally right. I think it’s because of the type of medium, maybe it’s the fact that it’s a musical instrument. It’s so much more than a t-shirt, CD or poster.
Of course touring as a musician has just as many obstacles to it, but what would you say was the biggest challenge of transitioning into entering the business world?
You know what, I think it’s been just the idea that I can’t do what I used to be able to do. I started taking off all my summers and touring when I was a sophomore in high school. So I was 15 or 16 and I would be gone all summer [laughs]. And that freedom, that ability to just go wherever the hell I wanted with a bunch of friends is pretty enlightening. And all my friends that still tour to this day, and even if their bands aren’t at the pinicle of their career, they still tour for the same reason that they toured when they were 16. They do that because they want to be in Chicago on a freezing cold night in the Winter with a bunch of friends sharing hilarious stories. They just want that. And that was probably the biggest thing for me, to step outside of that and go “Well I need to form my professional life right now.” So that’s probably my greatest loss. It’s not necessarily the recording or anything like that because I could do that on my own. But it’s just the comradery that goes along with being in a touring band.
As ASG becomes more popular and creates more of a name for itself, do you think you’ll find time to go back into the touring aspect of music?
I don’t know. I’ve got one secret project that is showing to be pretty cool. It’s got some pretty rad names in it.
Could you share any of those names?
I can’t. I wish I could, but it’s still in the conception stages. I will when everything is good and we’ve got our first future tracks recorded. We’ve got one track recorded right now. It’s pretty rad.
Very cool. Well keep us in the loop, we’d love to hear it at some point.
I will, I will. As soon as we feel it’s something that we want to announce, we’ll let you know.
The music industry has been taking a big hit in sales, both because of illegal downloading and the current state of the economy. Would you say, though, that the instrument aspect of the business is taking a big hit as well?
The musical instrument industry is definitely taking a hit. It’s starting to roll back though. It’s starting to bounce back. They’re kind of 2 different beasts. The digital downloading, I don’t know if it really can affect musical instruments. I just think that the poor economy in general, it’s just kids aren’t buying, or parents aren’t buying their kids guitars as much. But it’s still doing well. We’ve got a pretty global outreach. I think it’s pretty obvious which places are earning the most because ASG weights differently in certain areas in the world, but yea it’s starting to bounce back. I almost think it was good for us to start in a rough time because I’d rather start at the bottom and work our way up, than be at the top and get the rug pulled out from underneath us in a big economic crash.
Well I also think that it helps that you have an additional niche/specialty with the instruments thanks to the connection with the actual artist themselves. It’s not just a regular Gibson with a cool color, but a guitar with the artists involved.
Yeah, I do agree with you. I think you hit the nail on the head as far as why certain companies can get half the sticking power. Why did OBEY clothing sell so well and has record years even in the lowest of the lows in the economy? Because they have this niche marketing with Shepard Fairey and all their social commentary clothing. People always want it even if they don’t have money.
So as we’ve been talking you’ve highlighted how ASG collaborates with a lot of artists like Parkway Drive, Demon Hunter, Asking Alexandria, and Sick Of It All (just to name a few). I was wondering if there were any bands or musicians you’d love to have ASG collaborate with in the future.
Well we’ve got the Bring Me The Horizon guitar coming out. We’ve got Pennywise, Agnostic Front, and we’ve got some rad street cred bands coming out on ASG, which I’m super stoked on. They’re not the new hot bands, but they’re bands I grew up on and I’ll be highly passionate about until the day I die. So I’m really stoked on those kinds of bands, the bands that I grew up on. Whether they translate well into the new class of kids coming out onto the scene, I don’t know. We still put out a few for all that like the new hot bands. Bring Me The Horizon is one of the biggest hardcore bands right now, and they do really well with the younger crowd. As far as bands that we don’t have that I’d love to have, I really want to do a Bad Religion guitar.
That would be cool!
It’s kind of like, when I tell you “Bad Religion guitar,” you know exactly what it would look like, right?
Oh absolutely! I picture a big black cross with a big “no symbol” over it (also known as the “Crossbuster”).
Yeah that’s exactly what it would be! It’s just so obvious! [laughs] I want that guitar and I love the band, but I think that’s down the road. But it would also be cool to get bands like the Circle Jerks, Black Flag would be amazing, the Misfits would be a rad guitar. So those are some of the guys I would be super stoked on getting.
Well I’m sure if things continue to go well for ASG then maybe one day you will release those guitars.
Yeah, I’m thinking we will. We work a lot with Epitaph Records. So I feel as though as our relationship grows with them maybe we’ll be able to parlay into a Bad Religion release.
Visit ASG’s official website to learn more about all of their upcoming releases.