ASHE: "Music always has a way of being therapy. If I experience something in my life, I've got to grab it and write about it"
Alice Gee | 06/06/2021
In a world, still, dominated by Zoom calls we spend a few moments wondering who’s internet has a personal vendetta, frankly, I’m glad I’m not the only one who is revaluating their broadband provider this year. Ashe joins me on a gloomy LA morning and as we talk about the City of Stars it seems only right to dive into her latest single at the time “Till Forever Falls Apart”, a track with a sweeping cinematic tone oozing old Hollywood romance. Just not romance as we know it.
“Some people thought it was a love song.” She said “But really it’s about the love between you and your best friend, you and your mother, you and yourself. A more cemented deeper love. It was a less fragile love that I wanted to talk about. First and foremost, it feels like a friendship record and I hadn’t heard one that I really loved since Carole King, “You’ve Got A Friend”. And I was like, Okay, I got it. Right here.”
As I ponder how long it’s been since I’ve heard a song that tackles such an idea Ashe takes out a handwritten note from King herself. “It’s like my shrine to Carole.” And for a brief moment as a big fan of King, I die a little. “I think that the relationship that we have with ourselves is always deeply complicated, you’ve got yourself till, till you don’t. So it’s the deepest, closest relationship you will ever have. So I think that’s a really good observation, that you and others are finding about the track.”
If you’ve watched the music video to Ashe and Finneas’ duet you may recognise the references to the legendary friendship of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers as the pair dance apart, and together in a mix of tap, ballroom and ballet across the Californian desert. I was intrigued to know whether the video took some real training or if it was all spontaneity.
“We were such idiots! I texted Finneas, and was like ‘Hey, is it cheesy to dance together? in the music video, and he text back and he was like, “No, I think it’s adorable” in all caps. And I was like, cuz I secretly (not so secretly), really wanted to dance with him. Can you imagine how much fun that would be? It ended up being really fun. The original video treatment for the video was indoors. We were going to walk around this sort of soundstage. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Singin’ In The Rain with Gene Kelly. But there’s a moment when they’re in the soundstage and they walk around and they step on the ladder, and he’s singing to her and I wanted it to be that, that was like the original inspiration. And then, you know, we were in COVID and I didn’t know if it was safe enough to do it indoors, so we thought let’s do it outside since we have a crew. I felt like Finneas and myself, that we were already in each other’s quarantine pod, but the crew weren’t, so we ended up doing it outside. And because we didn’t have stage props in the whole soundstage design, the whole video relied on the dance. So the video went from only having a proportion of a dance to the entire video being a dance. So at the time, we bit off a lot more than we could chew.
He zoomed in to the rehearsal. I was there with a choreographer and he zoomed in like a crazy person. I was doing multiple tests before she and I met up to learn the routine. I was just like, I need her I can’t do this on over zoom I’m not as talented as you. We didn’t dance together until five days later, the day we shot the video. So it was crazy. I feel like it ended up being the entire day of us shooting being our rehearsal as we essentially did it in one take. I’m so proud of that video. And I think you can tell, you can see how much we love each other and how fun it was to dance with each other.”
Ashlyn is a real tribute to Ashe’s talent, power and versatility as a songwriter and performer. An album that is difficult to compare to anything stylistically, as she flirts with references ever so slightly she expertly manages to do something most debut artists struggle to. Authentically find their own sound. Each track is unabashedly vulnerable, whether it be telling the tale of a messy divorce or paying tribute to a brother sadly missed, they show a woman in the process of bouncing back from a broken heart. Listeners get the chance to not only understand Ashe a little better but also themselves.
“I think there’s a little bit of an underlying style to my writing that is always just a bit vulnerable. I think it’s the only way I know how to communicate. I expect that in return from my friends when I talk to them, there’s sort of understanding that if I’m going to be vulnerable with you, then I expect it back. That’s what I want from other people. So I think it has always been an underlying theme to my music. I think “Moral Of The Story” really hammered that home initially, I wanted to play with a call and response thing, but I also wanted that to make up the chorus and I wanted it to be the whole melody. I felt like again I’d bit off more than I could chew. We painted with so many fun colours in that song that there was an interesting contrast so I could get really real and vulnerable in the lyrics.”
While I too believe in the power of embracing vulnerability, I can often be all mouth and no trousers. It’s an endless struggle to be so open in a world that scrutinises so closely and shamelessly, every slight weakness. It’s a testament to Ashe authenticity and character that letting my guard down with her felt the easiest it’s ever been. Within moments I feel safe in her company, while she praises my candour, it’s because of the safe space she created with me, just like the one she created with her fans.
“I think it’s very rare to be so openly vulnerable, so I can appreciate that you have been that with me. It’s tough because not everyone is safe, but you are in control and you get to decide who you feel is safe. And if it’s not safe, at the end of the day, you tried. Even if I share my story with someone who I feel might take advantage of it or twist it or not believe me it’s still on you, how you respond to their reaction. So if you feel like you’re in a place that is emotionally tough to handle whatever they’re going to come back with and still keep it vulnerable. I think that’s very admirable.”
The global pandemic was catastrophic for many industries but especially live music and events. We’ve all been longing for gigs and tours to return and stages to be lit up again. In the second UK lockdown, we got as close as we could for quite some time when Niall Horan played a virtual concert for #WENEEDCREW at the Royal Albert Hall. The gig itself was reviewed in our second issue which you can read online now, but the undeniable highlight of the night was Ashe’s surprise appearance as she and Horan delivered a lovely intimate performance of their emotional ballad.
“It was the first time I actually got to sing it live” as she shows me a poster Niall gifted her on the day, another musical memento I’m incredibly jealous of. “Isn’t this really cute. I haven’t hung it yet. I just still can’t believe me, this little Californian got to perform there. It’s like, only UK royalty should be allowed in. I was like, Adele, she can go in there, maybe if you’re gonna let an American in it would be like Barbra Streisand. I was very humbled by the experience, it was such an empty room, but it was magical. I was very much in two minds about it because it would have been so fun to sing to a Royal Albert Hall full of people, but it was also really beautiful and eerie to be singing to an empty hall. It was really magical. The last song I think he played was “Flicker’” and I was sitting on the side watching as there were 360-degree cameras and I was like hiding in a corner so it wouldn’t see just sobbing. I was so moved and humbled by the whole experience it was so cool. Even if there wasn’t anyone there I don’t think you should rule that out in the future. You’ve done it once, you can do it twice. That’s my attitude.”
The current global situation is surely not an ideal one for an artist about to drop their debut album. There’s no press junkets, world tour and late-night talk show performances to create big buzz. I wondered if COVID had dampened her release spirits. “I wanted more time. I feel as though I’ve never felt this vulnerable. I’m already such a wearer of my heart on my sleeve with my writing, you know, I’ve always been that way. With every release, I’m typically like, go out into the world, my child, find who loves you, let them play you over and over and do your thing. I think I just have such high expectations. And maybe that’s my own thing that I probably need to work around. But I’ve never been this nervous or something.”
I ask if putting her work out into the world had brought her a sense of solace? “I think music always has a way of being therapy. If I experience something in my life, I’ve got to grab it and write about it. There’s this Joni Mitchell quote, which I’ve quoted so many times that people are gonna think I’m just like a stalker for hers. But she talks about herself like a Bee. She goes out into the world, and she collects stories like pollen, and goes home, and then writes a song like as if it’s honey, and she’s like, I just have to, that’s my own particular brand of honey, if that flavour doesn’t suit everyone, that’s not my responsibility, that’s out of my control. That’s exactly what I want to say. With this album and “Moral Of The Story” it was this way, you obviously hope that people are gonna like your flavour of honey, you want them to love it, but I’m not a fictitious writer, I write from my life, I write from my own experiences. So I think that’s what makes it even scarier because I’m not writing music get a high out of it, or writing from a formula to try and get the maximum amount of people to love the song. I’m just writing my life down.”
When “Moral ...” started to go out I was in an amazing place, I was really digging into the album. February, March, April, May, June, July, that was when we went hard with writing. The world was validating my truth, you know, the world was saying, ‘Hey, you got really vulnerable on a song and we want more of that’. So, I was in a place where I was like, let’s get vulnerable. Once the album was finished, and we were starting to promote it and slowly rolling out a couple of songs my mental health took a decline. I wasn’t paying much attention to it, I used to journal almost every morning but at this point, I wasn’t doing that. I was getting so sucked into how do I make this album? How do I give it what it deserves, pouring more energy into it? My mental health definitely took a decline, and it’s still not in a100% place right now. I don’t mean that to be like, ‘worry about me’. Not at all. I’m fine. But I just want to be completely transparent. It’s something I need to pay more attention to right now especially before the world really opens up and the tour begins. But I know, I know, the things that are good for me.
A priority lately has been thinking about the things that fill me up that don’t have to do with my career. Things that have nothing to do with music. Obviously, music is where so much of my joy and my identity comes from but when that’s wrapped up in your career, and what pays your rent, all of that gets very tricky. And I’ll say, the more fans, the tougher it gets because it feels there’s more pressure, and there are more eyes on you watching and waiting for you to slip up. It’s definitely confusing territory. I’ve really had to lean into people like Niall and Finneas and just people who have been through it.”
As we talk about the pressures of working so publically in this industry I can’t help but think about the idea of the struggling artists that gets pushed around and forced down rising stars throats so often. The idea that you have to struggle and suffer for your art, you have to be great or awful with no middle ground ignores the murky grey reality of being a musician just as we often ignore the murky grey reality of mental illness. I wondered whether Ashe felt the same and if pouring these extremes of emotions into her music may be causing harm.
“Honestly, it’s the truth. A lot of musicians say, ‘Oh, my God, you know, my therapy is music’ and I think that’s wonderful. But I do think when it’s also your job, you have to almost dissociate from that because you can’t constantly be in that space. That’s like staying in your office working 24 hours a day, every day of the year. It’s not healthy. It’s like if a banker was like, my therapy is banking. I mean, there’s an aspect of it right and the music is always pretty therapeutic but that is a piece of this massive puzzle that makes up Ashe. I’m basically one of my managers, it’s a joke between my managers that I’m the third manager because I am involved in every conversation from creative. Every artist should be involved in every ounce of the creative aspect and I think it’s part of the reason why I’ve taken a little bit of a nosedive, and I’m having to learn how to delegate and what to prioritise over other stuff. It was exhausting. I think it’s what keeps you with your feet on the ground. I think if you can remain grateful for the tough days and the good ones. I think that’s what keeps me from absolutely losing my mind.”
It’s a relief to see her feet are firmly on the ground and she is aware of the positive changes she needs to make in the future, will this mean a change in approach when making the next album?
“That’s such a good question. I think that honestly, I’m going to carry all the honesty into the next album because as exhausted as I am already, imagine if I was pretending to be somebody else, or not sharing my own stories, or not being me. How much more exhausting would that be. If the world expected me to be someone I’m not, or expected me to write songs that I don’t like I would be a shell. I’ve been talking to some other friends of mine that are artists and they’re asking me, ‘how do you did you develop your brand? Like, how did you get to this place where it feels so solidified? And I was like, I appreciate that you think it’s a brand, but I’m really just being me. This is the way I dress, this is what I like to wear. The photos I take are the photos I like to take. The way I talk is the way I’ve been talking since I was seven. My writing is very honest, it’s the way I’ve always been and I was this way before the “Moral Of The Story”
I’m just trying to keep to that and staying honest and staying real, you know, the second you see me in a bikini on Instagram - that’s not to say that people can’t take photos if that’s you, then own it, you’ll do it better than me because that’s not my vibe - but if you see me doing that, you know that I’ve hit the bottom, I’m no longer myself. Not to shame anyone. I mean Finneas’s girlfriend, Claudia Sulewski, every time she posts one I’m like, drooling. She’s being her. And it’s authentic. And that’s why it works. And that’s why it is so gorgeous. Imagine living in a world where you have to keep pretending every day. It’s just not me.”
As I sign off from our conversation the thing I take away is how throughout that entire interview Ashe was nothing but her authentic self and it was nothing short of beautiful. I feel I speak for us all when I say we wouldn’t want it any other way.