MUSIC IN HER BLOOD, SONGS FROM HER HEART
There’s no doubt that her surname will attract attention in the early days of her solo career, but when you’re continuing the bloodline of as great a showman and country artist as Glen Campbell, it’s something you probably come to expect.
Ashley, daughter of the late ‘Wichita Lineman’ singer, has just released her debut album, a glorious collection called ‘The Lonely One.’ It’s so good, in fact, that’ll I’ll nail my colours to the mast right here and now: this is going to be one of the albums of the year as far as I’m concerned. Glen Campbell was a unique individual, of that there’s no doubt. And in the same way that he was very much his own man, Ashley is already very much her own woman. They share a name, and Ashley has definitely inherited the seeds of a magnificent talent, but she’s nurturing it into bloom in her own time and style. There’s music in her blood, but the songs are coming from her own heart.
When we spoke it was just a couple of days before the March 9th release of Ashley‘s debut album, ‘The Lonely One’, in Ireland and the U.K. Having been lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy in preparation for our chat, I also have the privilege of being – as you’ll have gathered already – among the first to fall in love with this album. And many more surely will. But how was Ashley herself feeling as the days ticked down to release?
“Oh, I’m so excited for people to finally hear it! Ya know, I recorded the album last year, in November, so I’ve heard the songs….A LOT! [laughs], so it’s gonna be nice to hear from people who will have a fresh take on it all, ya know. Yeah, I’m really excited to hear what people think. And it’s worked out perfectly that I’ll be over here when it comes out, I’m so excited about that, too.”
Two of my favourite songs on ‘The Lonely One’ are ‘Looks Like Time’ and ‘Nothing Day.’ The former because of the lyric, ‘God gave you the perfect face, I guess he took it back / Looks like time has kicked your ass’! Brilliant, biting, and witty! And the latter because of the lyric, ‘Of all the things I could do / Nothing beats a nothing day with you.’ As a songwriter, how does it feel when Ashley comes up with lines that cool?
“Yeah, it does feel good. ‘Nothing Day’ is actually one of my favourite songs that I’ve ever written because it kind of encapsulates that ‘at peace’ feeling you have when you’re with someone that you love. And that’s all you need, ya know. You realise that you don’t need anything else. So that line, ‘Nothing beats a nothing day with you…’, it just kind of happened really organically, and I’m really proud of that song.”
Was ‘Nothing Day’ written from personal experience?
“I was definitely channeling a specific moment in my life where you just kind of….you stop, and you look at the moment as it’s happening, and you go, ‘Wow, this is really special.’ So I was trying to capture that feeling that I had.”
Would many of Ashley‘s songs come to life in that kind of way, I wondered?
“It’s different every time. I would love it if every time I sat down to write that it just happened, and I was done in an hour or so! [laughs]. But sometimes songs, for me, I can start it and not finish it until a year later. It just depends. Sometimes I start a song, but I won’t be able to finish it, so I just listen to it every once in a while, as much of it as I already have. And then maybe one day, I finally just break through that wall.”
Ashley commented in a recent interview I happened to read, that, ‘The best songwriting happens when you’re not writing for radio’, something I totally agree with. For people who might not fully grasp that particular distinction, how would Ashley describe it to them?
“Well, I guess I didn’t really start songwriting full-time until I moved to Nashville. And there, there’s all this pressure with publishing companies and record labels, of ‘What’s the next single?!’, and ‘We have to get it to radio at number 1!’ And for me, that just killed the whole joy of writing songs. Even though you want that all to happen, ya know. So I guess it would be like you’re thinkin’, ‘Well, would radio play this?’ It’s like you’re writing a song with the thought in mind of what’s radio actually playing right now? Cos’ we need to write this song to sound like what radio’s playing, ya know, like what’s the subject matter radio is picking up right now, stuff like that. But I think that’s the wrong way to approach art [laughs].”
Does it ever feel like it’s more of a risk, commercially speaking, to write more ‘from the heart’, as opposed to for radio?
“Well I tried for a long time focusing on what would be good for radio and I just ended up making myself miserable! [laughs]. So I just stopped caring about that aspect of songwriting, and decided that I was going to write songs for me, myself and I! And hopefully other people will relate to them, too, ya know. I want to just write about MY experiences, and in whatever style, and with whatever kinda lyrics I want.”
When we spoke Ashley was preparing to perform at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters’ Festival, and at the C2C Festival in London and Glasgow (no Dublin date, sadly). But while Ashley is on the road, that means her beloved – and very seriously cute (see Ashley‘s Instagram for evidence!) – little dog, Frodo, is at home! How much does Ashley miss Frodo when she’s away?
“Oh my gosh! I miss Frodo so much! You don’t even know! My mom watches him while I’m gone, so I get updates every day. And he plays with her giant Schnauser named Darth Vader [laughs]. Two cool literary characters! And they’re best friends [laughs]. It’s so funny when I finally get home, Frodo just goes nuts. He can’t vocally contain himself, so he’s kinda like making this exhausted panting sound, then this weird, high-pitched roar. It’s so funny! His tail wags so hard that his entire back-end wags! [laughs] I’ll do an Instagram story of it when I get back home later this month, you’ll see what I mean!”
With those Belfast, London, and Glasgow dates still to come when he spoke, and having been around the world with her dad before he passed away, I wondered if Ashley felt that international country audiences respond any differently than audiences back home in the States?
“I definitely feel like UK and Irish country audiences are more of a listening crowd, they really give you a lot of respect when you’re on stage. They want to listen to the lyrics and they want to hear the songs. So it’s a really nice place to be when you’re performing. There’s nothing on the books for Dublin right now, but I sure hope that changes because I absolutely love coming to Dublin.”
Whenever I buy an album – before I buy it really – I always read the song titles and the lyrics. But then the thank-yous as well, because they’ll tell you a lot about an artist too. With Ashley, we learn that she’s got to be a really genuine and big-hearted person, because she doesn’t just list off a whole load of names, but takes the opportunity to make almost every one individual and unique. For example, producer and musician Will Carter who always wore flip-flops, no matter what! Or Ashley‘s agent, Curt Motley, who is thanked for ‘being a bulldog when needed.’ How important is the support of such a close team to Ashley?
“Oh, it’s 100% important! I couldn’t do anything I do without all of them. Everyone that’s helping me out. There’s my label here in the UK, my management, my agent, my friends, my band members. There’s just no way I could do what I do without all of them. I’m just so grateful every single day for all of the help that I get and the people that believe in me.”
During the making of ‘The Lonely One’, were there ever any doubts that crept in at any stage?
“There were definitely moments where I couldn’t see the whole picture of a song yet, that I was worrying thinking, ‘Oh my God, is this all wrong!?’, ya know. So I definitely went through some highs-and-lows making it [laughs]. But I never doubted that the music was good, I always believed in it. It was just a matter of making it sound the way I wanted it, too.”
Did Ashley pay any particular attention to the tracklisting? So that the album as a whole would be heard and experienced in a certain way?
“Yes, definitely. I’ve listened to the album….countless times now! And I would try it in all of these different playlists and try it in so many different orders. And I eventually got a sense of which songs I wanted to hear next after another song. Or where the mood takes you. It starts off kind of high-energy. But I didn’t want it to be like a high-energy song, then a low-energy song, then a high-energy song….! Ya know [laughs]. So yeah, I built it up to the way it is finally after lots of tears and sweat! [laughs].”
Something not a lot of people might know, is that Ashley actually has a degree in theatre. Given the ever tightening constraints on her time these days, I wondered if she missed it much?
“Yeah, I definitely miss theatre and acting, and even just being in a theatre. So when I come to London especially, and I see all the West End billboards, it makes me a little bittersweet, a little sad, because I just want to go see all the shows. And I definitely miss doing improv. That’s one of the downsides of Nashville, that there’s not a big acting and improv scene there. It was just so much fun in L.A. to go let loose and do a comedy show. I was always a huge fan of Monty Pyton and Saturday Night Live, so I looked into it when I got to college in L.A. And improv was the thing that everyone started with, so that’s what I did.”
We ended with a nice easy question. Well, not really! Does Ashley have a favourite country song, one that every time she hears it makes her go, ‘Wow!’?
“Oh, that’s tough. It’s so hard to choose just one. Can I just say which song is like that for me lately? My favourite song that I’ve been listening to non-stop lately is Johnny Cash’s version of ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’, which was written by Kris Kristofferson. Oh, it’s such a heartbreaking song. But I listen to everything all across the board. I was listening to Sufjan Stevens last night. And when I’m relaxing I like to listen to older music like Astrud Gilberto, and I love French music like Francoise Hardy. And I’ve been listening to St. Vincent a lot lately. So, ya know, I’m kind of all over the place as far as musical taste goes [laughs].”