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“Ten melodic, lo-fi, psychedelic rock n’ roll songs. The album was recorded over the last few years in Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, PA on a Tascam Portastudio 488 MKII cassette recorder.”

Astrology Now is the moniker of Pittsburgh songwriter Greg Mastrean. Gathering together some friends, who happen to be in some of the best indie bands in town, Greg has created a stunning DIY debut entitled Semi-Hollow Review. As with the changing times, you can snag a physical copy on a limited edition cassette along with the standard digital download. I want to thank Greg (Guitar/Vocals) for taking the time to participate in this edition of First/Last.

The first album you ever bought?

I grew up listening to a lot of my parents tunes, but the first album I remember having that was mine alone and certainly wouldn’t have been bought or listened to by my parents was Ego Trip, by Kurtis Blow; one of the earliest hip-hop artists. It had absolutely nothing to do with a really, young white kid from the suburbs having any sort of tangible connection to hip-hop culture, it was purely based off of a cut from that record named, “Basketball”. I loved basketball as a little kid and Kurtis Blow name-checked a bunch of NBA stars and referenced alley-oops and slam-dunks, so this obviously was my jam. “Basketball is my favorite sport/I like the way they dribble up and down the court.” Indeed.

Your last album bought?

The last album I purchased was OBN III’s – Live in San Francisco. “Live in San Francisco” is a multi-release set from Castleface Records in LA. Essentially, Castleface records live shows of killer bands and presses them to vinyl… sometimes it’s that easy. They completely RIP!!!! Previous iterations include sets from Thee Oh Sees, White Fence and Destruction Unit. But this one is from rock n’ roll savages OBN III’s. When considering how to transition Astrology Now tunes from a lo-fi, bedroom project to a full-band playing live shows, the Casteface “Live in San Francisco” albums were very inspiring.

Favorite album of all time?

This is tough, but I think I’m going to go with The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Dylan was a big part of my Dad’s vinyl collection, so this was a discovery I made through him. Being one of Dylan’s earlier releases, its sparser, more acoustic and folkier than some of his work that came soon after, but this LP forced me to consider lyrics in a way I hadn’t previously. “Girl From the North Country”, my favorite track, gets me every time.

Least favorite/most disappointing album?

When listening to music, I’ve always been more of an “album” listener than a “song” listener. I enjoy watching bands grow, change and evolve, and I think it’s easier to notice when you digest full albums. Having said that, when trying to get into something I haven’t heard before, I tend to start with early recordings, then work may way towards newer recordings. Unfortunately, with Iron & Wine, I didn’t do that. I was aware of the early Iron & Wine stuff when it came out, but was late to the party in terms of actually listening. I ended up picking up a record that came out maybe five or more years ago and to say that it didn’t click with me, is an understatement. I think it had a dog on the cover… just not for me, man.

First concert attended?

I forget the name, but I attended a radio sponsored music festival here in Pittsburgh years ago and it was terrible. I don’t remember who the headliner was because I was out of there way early, but I do seem to remember the band Everclear taking part. I recall looking around realizing that hardly anyone was paying attention to the bands or music. Generally, bummer festival crowds like that can bring me down, but it was a no-win situation for all parties involved.

Last concert?

Local show at the Rock Room in Polish Hill. One of my favorite local acts is Bat Zuppel and I really lucked out because somehow I fooled two of them into playing in Astrology Now, too. The full line-up of the show was Zuppel, the Gotobeds (awesome) and B Boys (from NYC).

Favorite concert ever?

At the risk of not being specific enough, how about any Guided by Voices show I’ve ever seen? Great tunes, great stage presence, great crowd and all around great vibes. To merely say Robert Pollard and GBV were an influence on Astrology Now would also be an understatement. After all, our debut release Semi-Hollow Review was recorded on an old eight track cassette recorder, a decision some of my friends never understood. But they never got into GBV, so I just ignored them.

Least favorite concert?

There was a period in the late 90’s when the Fugees, Wyclef Jean and Lauren Hill were doing some interesting stuff. In particular, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was stellar. Anyway, at some point I attended a solo Wyclef Jean show and it was a mess from the start. He would basically start a song, stop halfway through, pick up a guitar, rip a misplaced solo, start freestyle rapping, then cut the song short. I left early.

Favorite thoughts, experiences about Pittsburgh?

As a native Pittsburgher, the growth and changes that are happening in many neighborhoods is very clear. I can completely relate to the apprehensions that come with these type of changes, but I view this evolution positively because of our city’s fierce sense of unpretentiousness. Which I love. I expect that the unpretentiousness with which Pittsburghers carry ourselves will never be overshadowed by the negative aspects of gentrification and corporate encroachment.

Thanks, Greg. This is some killer music, man. Congrats on getting it out!