I don’t think there’s much doubt in anyone’s mind that Ashley McBryde was one of, if not THE, most impressive “new” artists at this year’s Country to Country festival. Those already familiar with her music loved it even more after hearing it live ( accompanied by some hilarious stories about what inspired her writing ) and she no doubt won a whole load of new fans too with her many sets over the weekend. Even Rolling Stone’s listed her as one of their “10 best things we saw” at the festival.
I caught a couple of her performances which made me even more excited ( if that’s possible!) about her headline show at London’s Borderline (which I must say will stay in my mind for a very long time, if not for ever!) and having the opportunity to interview her beforehand was a dream come true! She really is one of the most approachable and genuine artists I’ve come across, and as well as being really quick witted has such a passion for her craft that is is a joy to behold, both on and off stage. Oh and we are both left-handed dog lovers it turns out!
I hope you enjoy our chat!
1. LH Thanks for agreeing to this interview after what was a really hectic weekend for you at C2C! Did playing in the UK for the first time live up to your expectations?
AM Oh no worries! And absolutely, in fact it surpassed them! I was told everyone here would be super receptive and they’d know all the songs and they did! But not only did they know them they reacted to them and sang them back to me…
LH Yeah i saw your little wry smile when we cheered in “ Girl Going Nowhere”….
AM Yes!! When I sang “ I hear the crowd….” It’s humbling when people sing back to you!
2. LH And have you sampled any of our food or beer while you’ve been here?
AM I had fish and chips in two different places, both were great, and I finally had a proper beer, a triple hop lager, in one place. Then we went to a Red Lion ( I know there’s several!) but this one the building has been standing since fourteen something, Dickens and Churchill used to drink there…..and I noticed there was a dog, a Yorkshire Terrier, in there and nobody cared! Even when he barked no one looked up!
3.LH You played such a variety of sets at the weekend, to thousands on the Arena’s spotlight stage, the Bluebird songwriter’s round, really intimate venues….is that the mix you’re playing back home right now?
AM Sort of, right now we’re on tour with Luke Combs so we’re playing arenas and civic centres to really big crowds, I really do love being on a big stage! Playing the spotlight to nineteen or twenty thousand people was amazing…..but then I really do love intimate sets! The NY-LON show was fun because everybody was shoulder to shoulder, right up against the stage and there was no elevation to the stage, i liked that! Indigo I think might be my favourite room that I’ve ever played…1800 people, I was singing to the lower level and then the lights came up and I saw everyone up top as well, it was just so cool! And then the ALL-Bar-One, what i noticed about that one was how people from the very first show came to that second one…..so I was looking at the set list from the first I thought “ I’m gonna change this! “ I love to think on my feet and I love to be able to feel from a close proximity how things are going. In an arena while it’s tons of fun to play it’s so loud that doesn’t happen. You should read a crowd like you read a magazine. I do sometimes miss playing in a bar for four hours by myself.
LH Come over here and do it!
AM I’d love to! And tonight i get to play in a club…..a club and an Arena in the same week, that’s so cool!
4.LH I’ve heard you joke about being an eleven year overnight success story..has all that hard work that you’ve put in to get to be where you are today made you a better artist?
AM Absolutely! I didn’t do it because i thought “ eleven years from now I’m going to have a record deal”, i was going to do it anyway because I loved doing it. I equate it to a college degree, after I’ve been out here doing it this long you can’t tell me I didn’t earn it! There’s not a lot of things i haven’t seen, I’ve had things thrown at me, dealt with hecklers…my sound developed as i got older, i went from being more classic country and bluegrass based and then lived in Memphis for so long that the blues and rock and roll, man they just latched onto me and I loved it! As soon as I accepted that into my bones what was going to end up being my sound showed itself.
5. LH I’ve been watching your video documentary “ Home Sweet Highway” , you genuinely seem to love being out on the road and travelling but what do you miss about home when you’re away?
AM My dog, Banjo! She’s a nine year old beagle, she stays with a friend in Memphis and I go and see her as soon as we get back. Plus i just got this little place just outside of Nashville, a log cabin, small and practical and it’s got a great front porch where I love to sit so i miss that as well. Oh and of course I can’t not say my mother, I have to put that in!! Even though she’s in Arkansas!
6. LH So you’re album’s out really soon, as a prolific songwriter how hard was it to chose just ten songs to include on it?
AM Impossible! There’s no way i could have done it without Jay Joyce, every step of the way helping me!
LH Did you consider making it a double album?
AM I would be down for it! One thing you have to be careful with if you release a double album is that you’ve got so much information coming at your listeners at one time. I feel like I could earn the right to release a double album ..
LH Like Miranda….
AM Exactly, but if i did it right now it’d be a little bit much to chew!
7 LH And you’ve got major label backing now and, as you just mentioned, the amazing “ mad professor” as you call him, Jay Joyce, producing….but ultimately it’s your album, did you get to have the final say in things?
AM Yeah, even though we’re all in the plane together it’s ultimately up to me to land it! In complete collaboration with Jay. There are songs we’ve been playing for years that we thought were pretty great, then we played them with Jay’s advice right there in our ear saying “ hey what if you played a little less on this song and we’d do that and it would make so much difference, a song you’re not really digesting but you like how it sounds turns into a song you are really taking in. And there are songs like “ Home Sweet Highway” that are new that we’d send him and say” hey this has GOT to go on the record” and it had never been arranged apart from my friends and me playing it into an iphone….so we’d sit down together and play it with Jay in the room and he’d say “ what if we did THIS, what if the beginning is nothing but drums and vocal because we don’t have that anywhere else on the record , let’s see if that’s powerful” . And it turned out it was!
8. LH A lot of your songs are inspired by your time growing up back in Arkansas, what do you think it is about small town living that inspires so many great country songs?
AM Mostly boredom! There’s not a lot to do…I say that and I mean it and I don’t! There’s not a lot to do in a small town but i grew up on a cattle farm …some people would say there’s nothing to do on a cattle farm but I’d say there’s everything to do. You can cut down a tree or build a ladder or go camping or chase a cow…whatever you want to do! But really distractions are limited, we did have a movie theatre but it was 45 minutes away easily and had only two screens. The distractions we did have was that there was a mandolin and a guitar in the house, and my mom had a friend who played upright bass and needed a place to store it when I was about twelve so she said “ Hey, Ashley could learn how to play bass!” . That’s also how I ended up playing trumpet and a couple of other instruments!
9. LH It seems like you’ve already ticked several things off your bucket list, including that incredibly emotional Opry debut which I can’t watch without welling up
AM No i can’t watch it either!
LH But is there anything else still on your wishlist?
AM Oh yeah! I missed out on one, Guy Clark passed away before I could sit in a room with him and share a cigarette….but recently I met Kris Kristofferson when I was in Maui ( so there’s two ticked off the list together!) . But there are still some things, some theatres in the US I’d love to play, artists I want to collaborate with. The great Emmylou Harris for example who was here at c2c and I didn’t even catch a glimpse of her, Willie Nelson who i’ve opened for and had a few conversations with,.
10. LH I just want to ask about your incredible tattoos
LH I know you’ve recently had one done of lipstick and aviator sunglasses as mentioned in the opening lines of “ American Scandal” but are they all music related?
AM Most of them are, there’s not anything that’s not either an event, a person or a song. Like this is my truck, my dad’s corvette is on the other arm. The very first one, I don’t even know if I can get my sleeve up to show you, my arms were bare til i met Nancy Miller who does all my work, and I told her the story about me moving to Nashville when I was in my early 20’s, and I didn’t know anybody. so I had to be very brave. it’s like letting someone shoot an apple off the top of your head, so this was the very first thing she did .
( sorry I forgot to get a photo but it’s a fantastic picture of a girl’s head, she has black wavy hair and red lipstick like Ashley, an apple on her head and the words “ Be Brave” )
LH Who’s design was it?
AM I gave her a point of reference, William Tell , and she drew it to look like me! Kind of narcissistic on my part…..!! My god children , my mom, my siblings are all represented too.
LH So everything means something, it’s not just a case of “ i want a pretty butterfly on my shoulder”!!
AM Yes! My brother Dan and I are incredibly close and he was a sailor for several year, and way back in the day when sailors had been so many miles they’d get a certain tattoo. And I thought what a great concept! So my tattoos are mile markers , and here i am with a record deal, about to be in this weird spot where I have to dress up for things, which I’m no good at. So I went to Nancy and said after all these milestones this past year have I earned anything that deserves to be on my chest? ‘Cos in a bar that’s the sailor you don’t mess with, the one with a pirate or whatever on his chest. She said I think after eleven years of fighting it out against the odds you’ve earned an eagle, so I got the eagle, it goes all the way across shoulder to shoulder. That was done nine days before the lipstick and aviators one.
11. LH When you go back home to play hometown shows, what reaction do you get?
AM Oh it’s good!
LH So are you like the Homecoming Queen? Treated with reverence?
AM No!! I don’t even get discount at the Dairy Queen! I was always terribly, terribly shy growing up, i really was the girl going nowhere, now people are more likely to say hello to me as I’m more in the public eye and I’m not going to run away crying or anything! There are some people who are not happy with my success back home but you’re going to have those, without challenge acceptance isn’t going to mean anything but most people are really proud. My drummer is from a different town in Arkansas and when we played there I think that was the warmest reception we’d ever had, they even brought the 5th grade choir in to sing a song with me. It was part of their Veterans Day celebration. They trusted us with children on stage!! Not that we are grievous people but we do come across that way, we’re all in black, covered in tattoos….!! In fact I got a text earlier that a magazine there just put us on the cover of a magazine that’s about chasing your dreams. If we’re making an impact on anybody, here or there, then we’re starting to get the job done.
LH But none of your band are here with you?
AM No, they’re all at home crying!
12. LH So my final question is when are you coming back?
AM I’m ready to come back next week! But I saw in my calendar that October is blocked off and i know there is country music week then over here…..I don’t have any confirmation of it but i know that Warner, my label, want me back really soon after the record comes out . I don’t know if that would be alone or with the band, I’m fine either way i love to play just me and the guitar but it brings this whole other element when you get what I call “ The Beardos “ up there. We call the band Deadhorse because we spent over a decade playing cover songs like we were beating a dead horse, we’re proud of that mile marker now and keep a horse skull on stage with us. But i’m ready to come back, I’m worse at the travel, the flying, i don’t care for airports its a hassle carrying a guitar……
LH You hadn’t even been out of the States before you flew to Amsterdam had you? Did you even have a passport?
AM No I had to get one a couple of months ago! It’s been a great experience, being HERE has been incredible, the travel is what really gets me.
LH The more often you come the better you’ll get!
AM And there’s about to be a direct flight….
LH That’s going to make such a difference to all you guys! Not wondering if your guitar is going to get stuck somewhere…
AM Yes, and today my manager suggested we buy duplicates everything I have here, the pedal, cables, guitar, gig bag and leave it over here. Same thing with hairdryers, curling irons!!
LH And are you possibly coming over to play with Luke Combs?
AM I hope so! He hasn’t said I am but then he didn’t text me about opening for him in the States ’til it was already in my calendar! He’s such a good guy, he really takes care of us on the road.
LH Finers crossed then! Thanks again for speaking to me!
AM Thanks SO much!
Then she gave me the best hug……..and went on to wow everyone at the Borderline with one of the best shows I’ve EVER seen .
I think I’ve just about come down to earth……
For further information and to pre-order Ashley’s album “ Girl Going Nowhere” which is released on March 30th) visit ashleymcbryde.com