In Conversation: Ashe

In Conversation: Ashe

"It’s really important for me to be in the driver’s seat..."

Having started her solo career properly in 2017, Ashe’s breakthrough moment came in 2019 when the single ‘Moral Of The Story’ became a global hit. This track continues to put her in the spotlight and propelling it further is a new version featuring pop star Niall Horan, formerly of One Direction. In the past year, she has emerged as a fresh and talented singer-songwriter who is having success on the pop, rock and alternative charts and has released two quality EPs ('Moral of the Story: Chapters 1 and 2') as well as her debut album ‘Ashlyn’.

Ashe (full name Ashlyn Rae Wilson) is no stranger to being candidly vulnerable and intimate through her storytelling. It is evidently something that she has built her career upon and continues to do so. By calling her debut album after her birth name, she strips away the barriers of separation that were up at the start of her career and is proudly open and honest in a raw and sometimes emotional way.

The 14 tracks are an accomplished collection of music full of honest truths and explore various hard-hitting topics. From addressing grief and toxic relationships to the breakdown of a marriage and finding herself again, Ashe doesn’t hold back about her experiences.

Through a Zoom chat, she shares more about her career, the creation of her album and her inspirations. “Someone’s mowing their lawn,” she says as she closes the window to give us her undivided attention. “It’s loud.”

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Hi, nice to meet you. How are things?

Hi, Shannon. I’m good thanks! I’m doing all right. Back in LA.

What’s it like back home?

Oh you know, classic, sunny and dry. It’s great.

Oh, I’m jealous. We’ve got nothing but grey skies over here.

You know what, it was actually pretty nice being in London when I was there a few weeks ago. It was such a nice weather shift. We’re (America) like going to start shifting into fall. I’m like forcing the weather to change here based on my outfit but it’s not really listening.

I bet it will come soon enough. Well, I am late to the party to say this as it’s been out for a few months now but congratulations on your debut album! Does it feel any different now that it’s been out for a while?

Yeah. Totally. I think that the fans have now had time to digest the music and sit with it. When we were playing those London shows, people knew every lyric to every song and you could tell that they had already attached their own stories. When an album first comes out, it still only belongs to you because you haven’t really given people a chance to attach their lives to it so yeah, it does feel different. Maybe just in the way that I know people have now absorbed those songs. Now it belongs to both of us.

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You just mentioned finally performing them live. Does that give any of the songs a different meaning or purpose? Do they come to life more?

I guess a different meaning is an interesting way to put it. I will say it gives it more meaning because it’s already meaningful as it’s special to write down your life and then have people appreciate it. But to perform it live and connect with people, you know, to cry and laugh together, having all of that stuff is so special. The connection between me and the audience, I think, is really rare so it just has a deeper, more intimate meaning, but not different.

How were the experiences in London? Were they your first proper show back because I saw that you also performed at Bottlerock with FINNEAS.

So I sang with Finneas at Bottlerock and then I had a set at Lollapalooza which was technically my very first show back and both of those are festivals. They’re such a different vibe. Festivals are great but you can only play the bangers. You can only play the upbeat sh*t that people are going to dance to because it’s a festival and everyone’s getting hammered. But my London shows, I had this mindset to take people on a journey and you can’t really do that at a festival. That’s why those shows were unique. I will say that headlining the London shows was when I really felt like it was the first time performing again. It just felt good.

I bet it felt really intimate as well because as you said, it felt like your first time performing again and people have finally got to attach themselves to your music.

It was overwhelming in the best way. It was sort of like the most stimulating experience you can ever be in. It’s like you’re a raw exposed nerve being forced to feel everything. When you’re in the middle of a tour, say 15 shows in, you start to just do it. You know, you have done it every night for weeks on end whereas the first few shows are like something you’ve never tasted before. It’s exhilarating and overwhelming.

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You worked with Finneas, Leroy Clampitt, Jason Evigan and Noah Conrad on the album. What was the creative process like for you? Did you have all these ideas coming from every corner of the room?

I’m pretty opinionated. I usually come in all guns blazing to a session. I know that not every artist works that way and it may not be the right way. Actually, I don’t know that there is a right or wrong way to make music but for me, I typically come in very loaded with ammunition and ideas. I tend to take the lead. I only pick people to work with me who are respectful, kind, incredibly talented and let me lead because you know, it’s my name on it. It’s literally my artists’ name and my given birth name. We just kind of foster each other’s creative urges and Leroy Clampett in particular, who's my co-executive producer on the album, can make any of my ideas come to life and won’t prioritise his own agenda. He’s just like “this is you, this is your baby and I’m here to make it happen.” Sorry, that was a really long-winded way of answering your question but ideas do come from everywhere, I just take the lead on it all.

You’re the one in control. It’s your work, you’re not doing anything that you don’t want to do. I like that attitude.

No, I’m not and that doesn’t work for everyone. Not every artist, songwriter or producer is going to want to work with me because of that which is okay. I haven’t had any negative sessions that went south because a producer wanted to go in a different direction than me. It’s really important for me to be in the driver’s seat because I’m the boss. It’s my name.

Do you feel powerful taking the reins and feeling like the boss?

It’s fully empowering. When you’re in that position you’re like I am the leader but you also empower the creatives around you to do what they do best. It’s more about pushing out other ideas and creating something I imagined rather than being too in control.

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With the people you work with, have any of those relationships stayed strictly professional or have you had any that have become proper friends?

I have a hard time not letting it become a friendship because I wouldn’t want to work with anyone if I wouldn’t be their friend. It’s never been something romantic, but I’ve always worked with people who I fall in love with friendship wise. Finneas and I are going to be best friends till we die, he’s just stuck with me and there’s no way out of that. Leroy Clampitt too! He’s just one of those people I greatly admire. I’d say most of the people I work with become friends and if I don’t work with them again, it’s probably because we didn’t become friends. I think friends are more important than any other relationship in your life because romantic love is great yet so fragile whereas friendship is so cemented. At least the people in my life are. I have very few friends. I keep my circle very small because I would die for those people and I wouldn’t die for everyone.

Keeping on the theme of friends and making music, how did the collaboration with Niall Horan come about? I feel like your styles are so similar in terms of music and that you both bounced off each other so well in the song.

Well ‘Moral Of The Story’ had been out for a while and when he jumped on it, we didn’t know each other personally. I’ve said this before but that could’ve gone horribly wrong and thank God we are very similar. For instance, Finneas and I are incredibly close and I love him dearly but we’re very different people. I’d say he’s so good with his words and can be more serious whereas I can be goofier. Niall and I are so similar in personality that way. We just got on like a house on fire. I was so grateful for him too. In that period of time (the pandemic), I kept waking up at five in the morning and because he was in London, he’d call me. We just worked on the song whilst getting to know each other better on FaceTime. The first time I met him was when I went to London to sing with him for his virtual show and I actually saw him again last week.

Oh my god, was I in London last week?

Quick little holiday.

I know, I totally got sick too. I don’t have COVID but travelling again gave me a little bug. It probably didn’t help that I also went out after both shows. But yeah, I got to see him last week because he surprised me at the end of my set. I was singing ‘Till Forever Falls Apart’ with my friend Sam Fisher, he was singing Finneas’ part, and after the song was over, Sam gave me a hug and whispered in my ear that Niall wanted to sing. I was so confused and then Niall ended up coming out and we played ‘Moral Of The Story’ together. It was really cute.

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That sounds like such an exclusive, intimate performance. Something to remember.

Yeah, it was special for me and the fans. It was so unexpected. Also, Niall has never sung to that small of a crowd before! You know, he went from being on TV to stadiums and once he started his solo career, there was no way he was going to play a 600 cap venue with his fanbase. When we got off stage I was asked if he’d ever performed to a crowd that small before and he was all pumped like “no, never in my life.” It’s cool for me to have that memory with him.

Your lyrical content is so raw. The entire album is unapologetically honest. Did you ever get nervous or think anything was a bit too honest when releasing them because of how open you’ve been?

I think the only times I’ve been nervous to put out a song is when the lyrics are too vague. I like being brutally honest and real. I would be more nervous to put out a song that wasn’t vulnerable than to put out an extremely vulnerable song. It’s just the way I work. It’s how I communicate, just open and honest. If I was releasing music that didn’t feel like that, it wouldn’t feel right. I do get nervous but ultimately, I know that people are going to connect to it and need it. People need honesty. They need someone to say the hard stuff.

I feel like a lot of people feel that way when listening to music. You know, being able to put yourself in that situation because you can relate. Having the song resonate with you makes you appreciate it more. It just hits a bit different.

I feel the same! There’s an artist for everyone’s mood. I can’t be everything to everyone and I don’t assume to be but I’m just trying to be me. Sometimes that’s exactly what someone needs and sometimes they’re going to put on another artist because that fits their mood or taste better. We can’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

You’ve spoken publicly about your love for Carole King, Brian Wilson and others in similar genres. I caught onto your caption from your Instagram with Finneas at Bottlerock. Are there any artists today that similarly influence you?

I definitely haven’t connected to as many contemporary artists but there’s a few that I feel like are doing something I really appreciate. Finneas is obviously one of those people. I think he and Billie are doing great. This kid called Role Model is making really sick music right now. Harry Styles is crushing it. I love him. I think he’s extremely talented and Miley Cyrus. She is crushing it too. She’s on her own sh*t right now and I really respect that. People can say what they want whether it be they don’t like her style or her music but you can’t argue that she’s doing her own thing. I love that she’s not trying to be anyone else. I think that’s really easy right now in contemporary pop music culture. It’s easy for us all to feel this pressure to be the same. There’s a lot of mixed messages because people will tell you to be different and stand out but then they’re like make music that sounds like someone else because it’s making hits. People need to be different. So yeah, I think Miley is doing something really important by being true to herself.

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The music industry is a difficult place for women to be in. I know a few artists have addressed gender equality and sexism within the music industry and as you mentioned before, there’s a lot of pressure. What are your thoughts on these topics?

That is a loaded one. I think that inevitably being a woman, period, makes life harder. The subliminal challenges are like these micro things we don’t even notice sometimes but they pile up until you notice that you’ve been treated differently your entire life. My mum always said this quote to me: “You have to teach people how to treat you and you’re constantly teaching people how to treat you.” I live by that. From my label to my management and the people I work with, I only expect people to treat me as the boss. I think that it takes us as women doing that to show how it’s going to be done and how things can change. We deserve respect and the same opportunities and have to demand that. We can’t just pretend it’s going to change on its own.

If you could tour with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

It would be cool to open for The Rolling Stones. I would also like to open for Adele. I don’t know in what universe I’m opening for Adele but I’m putting it out there. I’m saying it out loud. Come on Adele. I feel like they’re good ones. They couldn’t be more different but I bet they would be fun tours.

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Now that we’ve covered who you’d love to tour with, are you excited about your own tour? Do you have any big plans for your fans?

Well, I probably wouldn’t tell you if I have any big surprises but I couldn’t be more excited. I will say the entire time will be like a rise and fall. It will be like a rollercoaster journey with me whilst telling the stories. I’m very intentional with every moment of the set. From the intro to the little batter moments down to the final song, it’s all connected. I can’t say exactly what it will be but I can pretty much promise it’ll be fun. And if it’s their first live show back, it will be a pretty f*cking good one. I don’t want to toot my own horn or anything but I am tooting my own horn.

What’s next for you?

I am preparing for my tour next year and I'm writing again. What that amounts to, we’ll have to wait and see but I’m definitely writing again. It's my favourite part about being an artist. I'll be writing the whole rest of this year. So yeah, just getting ready for the new era.

Why is writing your favourite part of being an artist?

Oh, man, I don't know. Why do birds like to fly? It's like breathing for me. Everyone has that thing that makes them feel so intrinsically connected to themselves and that’s what writing is for me. Recording the song however, like actually singing the vocal into a microphone, is not my favourite bit. That’s my least favourite part about making music. Writing the song and performing it live. That’s the best sh*t.

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'Ashlyn' is out now.

Words: Shannon Garner
Photography: Rachel Lipsitz

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