Not long after Asher arrived in New York, he adopted his childhood nickname of Boots – on account of his garish basketball footwear – and quit playing in bands. “I couldn’t stand having bandmates anymore,” he says, plainly. “People kept injecting too much of themselves into a song, just for the sake of injecting themselves. It was all ‘my guitar’s not loud enough’ – and I’d be like, fuck off man, you’re not listening to the whole song. I mean, I’m a greater-good, best-for-the-song kind of person.”
Obviously, ego levels in any band are a subjective phenomenon, and there’s every chance that, given Asher’s bombproof self-belief, his stated desire of wanting the best for a song simply manifested itself in the elimination of musicians he perceived as less able. After all, here’s a man who exhibits a preternatural level of musical self-confidence: he recalls entirely unselfconsciously teaching himself to play the guitar in the space of a single morning, before school (“I just looked at it thinking, if you put your hands somewhere on this, it’s going to make a sound, and then it clicked and I thought ‘I can play this thing,’ immediately”), and says he mastered the programming of a Roland 808 drum machine, with a click of his fingers, “just like that”.
But whatever his reasons, striking out alone under a new name gave Asher a renewed lease of musical life. Free of imposed band roles, he felt for the first time that his complex ideas had time and space to breathe. “It was then that I started doing my best work,” he says, “and it was that work which eventually got me an email from the Beyoncé folks.”
As he says the B-word – the first time she’s arisen in conversation – Asher’s tone shifts. Up to now, he’s been cooperative but distant, a study in combined control freakery and social unease played out in streams of consciousness, or in tinkling at his piano. Now, however, Asher looks focussed, as if ready for battle. His eyes widen a touch, and he sits forward in anticipation of my next question.
“Since you bring it up,” I begin, “I see you’ve made the truth about exactly how your music got in front of Beyoncé into something of a $64,000 question. But…”
“$64,000!?” he corrects me. “It’s the million-dollar question, man!”
I smile, and press on. “But instead of that, what I’d actually like to know is…”
“You feel lucky right now, don’t you?” he interrupts again. “You’re rolling the dice!” We both laugh at the ridiculousness of his excitement, combined with the futility of any direct questioning.
“I know you’re not going to tell me who hooked you two up,” I admit. “But while we’re on the topic,” I ask, opportunistically, “am I right in thinking you’re old friends with a guy called Gambles?”
Matthew “Gambles” Siskin is a New York socialite, songwriter and web designer who has been cited in various profiles as belonging to Beyoncé’s inner circle. At the ‘Beyoncé’ launch party in December 2013, Siskin tweeted a picture of Asher with the caption, “Celebrating with my dear friend BOOTS who wrote and co produced 80% of the album.” (The tweet has subsequently been deleted, along with Siskin’s entire account.)
Asher doesn’t answer. “You knew Gambles before you got involved with Beyoncé, right?” I ask.
He shrugs coquettishly. “Did I?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m asking you.”
“You’re asking me,” he echoes, narrowing his eyes, “if I knew him beforehand.” A smirk crosses Asher’s face. “Maybe,” he says. “It’s possible. It’s quite possible.”
As far as revelations go, “quite possible” will do. (Later in our conversation, Asher inadvertently confirms that Siskin’s Upper East Side sofa was one of his regular crash pads after moving to the city, and that he did know him well before Beyoncé came calling. He declines to confirm anything more). It’s an enjoyable, light-hearted exchange, but while the identity of Asher’s matchmaker is an absorbing treasure hunt for both parties, it’s also a textbook McGuffin. Far more interesting is why Asher has made so much of the secrecy.
I suggest two possible options: that the Beyoncé connection is so embarrassingly dorky, or nepotistic, that it would strip Asher of his credibility, or that Asher’s whole rags to riches tale is bogus marketing fodder.
“Well the first one’s reasonable,” he concedes. “I’m sure there are people who are embarrassed that they met their significant other through Tinder or whatever. And like that, this is a story that I’m happy to tell only to my friends and family, but that’s all.
“Like, I wouldn’t tell you where or when the first time me and my girlfriend realised we were in love. I wouldn’t tell you where the first time we kissed was, or the first time we had sex, because you’re a stranger,” he continues. “We live in a day and age where everyone feels like they have to know everything. The idea that it’s possible to go from being a homeless street rat to working on a top-level thing is exactly the reason why people mustn’t know everything.”
I ask him to clarify that last sentence, but he declines. I suggest that it’s unusual to associate a big career break – normally an inescapably public thing – with something as intimate and private as falling in love.
“But they’re both things that you think about since being a kid,” he insists. “Falling in love versus the first time you have an opportunity and a chance to work on something that you want to work on. And I never thought that my world would cross with [Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s] world, so when it did, it hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Asher then drifts into the story of their first meeting – he was wearing his best suit, Blue Ivy’s playpen was in one corner of the studio, he decided just to be true to himself – but the ardency of his description of the moment doesn’t ring true. For one, he has been publicly ambivalent towards Beyoncé before and since working with her: he told Florida’s Palm Beach New Times in January 2012, while being interviewed about his short-lived Blonds project, that “singers like Beyoncé are good, but they’ve never impressed me because they don’t have too much character beyond just being able to sing their ass off”, and admits to me later that although he “liked a lot of [Beyoncé’s] singles, the albums never really hit me. I’ll go on record and say this and have every person in Beyoncé’s fan club want to fucking kill me.”