When it comes to interviews, time constraints are so frustrating but of course totally understandable especially for an artist who has won a place in so many people’s hearts in a relatively short space of time.
Since I last spoke to Ashley McBryde around eighteen months ago (https://www.bellesandgals.com/2018/03/14/interview-with-ashley-mcbryde-conducted-by-lesley-hastings/) her career has sky rocketed, and in just under a year the “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” has gone from opening for Luke Combs at London’s O2 Shepherd’s Bush to selling out her own headline show there. Of course I bought my ticket as soon as they went on sale and I was fortunate enough to get to chat with her at the venue before soundcheck. But how do you cram everything you want to ask one of your favourite artists into just a few questions? I wrote and re-wrote what I wanted to ask, still ran out of time of course and forgot to take a photograph!
We sat down in a small, sparse room for the interview, no glitz or glamour, but it somehow seemed appropriate for an artist as honest and raw as Ashley. Tho’ maybe next time we can find a little dive bar somewhere… I hope you enjoy reading what I finally decided to ask and of course what she had to say.
1. LH Firstly, Ashley, welcome back to Europe and in particular to the UK for these headline shows with your amazing band Deadhorse. I caught your shows in Hamburg and Berlin and you all seem to have such a great rapport on stage …but who looks after who on tour? It looks like things could get a little messy!
AM (Laughs) Yes we can all sometimes be a bit of a mess! But when it comes to literal mess we try to keep our bus clean and our things where they belong! We kind of look after each other, if someone’s having a hard day then the others pick up the slack. Of course Dayna (Ashley’s amazing hair/makeup artist) and Chris (her tour manager) look after everyone all of the time!
LH So it’s a team effort then.
AM Yes! I had a hard day in Berlin and Quinn (her drummer of over seven years) and Dayna grabbed me and said “we should go for a walk“. It’s things like that which show how we support each other.
2. LH How mind-blowing was it for you to see the audiences in Germany singing along with you even though English isn’t their first language?
AM Yes and in a place we’d never even been ! I didn’t even know if there’d be anyone as the shows! They were there and they sang along, it was really really something!
3. LH Even at these full band shows you include an acoustic portion… after all, that’s how it was for a long time wasn’t it, just you and your guitar?
AM Yes! I try to as that’s my favourite way to perform. I love the power of a full band and the scope of it, but when it comes to really connecting with somebody else I prefer it to be just me and a guitar. And that’s what got me to where I am now. It’s given me the right to play with a band.
4. LH As a seasoned performer do you still get pre-show nerves? Do you have any rituals before going onstage?
AM I don’t think I get nervous, I have pretty bad anxiety, more like what a fighter would feel before a big fight…a “just let me out” kind of a feeling. And yes, we do have some rituals! You’ll see me do all kinds of hand signals and things like that, things that have developed over time that worked and then i don’t want to not do them!
LH So you’re pretty superstitious?
AM Yes! And each guy in the band has their own handshake that we’ve come up with and we each do to each other. And they’ve come up with one that they all do that i don’t do. And then bless Dayna’s heart she has to come to me and do everybody’s handshakes!
5. LH Since our last interview your career has gone crazy (in a good way!) But I guess that’s brought with it pressures of a different sort… people like me wanting to interview you, having to get what you hilariously call “all faked up”… has that side of it been a steep learning curve?
AM Yeah, figuring out what the pressures were going to be was a learning curve. Because I like to write! I need to write all the time or I’ll go crazy. I went from writing all the time to never getting to write, and being told “you can write this time of year and this time of year”. I was like “woah this isn’t going to work!”.
And all faked up happened organically, it’s often not glamorous at all as you’ve seen, especially if I have to get up early in the morning and all this “hair” is stuck in my hair and all this “face” is stuck to my face… and I’m not in a very good mood sometimes when I’ve just woken up! That was my way of coping with the way things were changing, and feeling the pressure of having to look perfect all the time …so maybe we should just shine a light on how imperfect the entire process is…” This is what I look like before I get painted then I get painted and hey it looks great!”. Cameras are very unforgiving and you want to put your best foot forward, or your best face forward as this would be! That’s one of the tools that helped me learn how to cope with the way things would change.
6. LH Your growing fanbase includes several established country artists who I assume you have looked up to over the years. For example you were involved in the Brooks and Dunn “Reboot” album and Trisha Yearwood covered “Bible And A.44” on her recent release. How does that make you feel?
AM It’s really been strange. A few weeks ago we’d just done two more shows with George Strait, and then we went on an hour tour and I played a show with Brooks and Dunn where I got to go up and sing with them, and I got on the bus that night and it was the night Trisha Yearwood’s version of “Bible And A .44” came out. I listened to it, it was Trisha Yearwood and Patty Loveless singing harmony… and we just started laughing! I said we’ve just played two shows with George Strait, just got off stage with Brooks and Dunn and now Trisha Yearwood and Patty Loveless are singing a song I wrote! It’s the most ’90s thing I could have ever done! But it also helped me kinda grasp for a second that those people are wanting to do things with me, do shows with me, do songs with me, it’s mind-blowing ! It’s still mind-blowing!
7. LH But you still manage to remain very grounded and you never forget those who have been with you and supported along your journey… for example you had your long time buddy and cowriter Cheley Tackett open for you on the continent just now… is that at least in part due to the fact that you had to put a lot of work in and weren’t an overnight success?
AM I used to open acoustic shows for Cheley so it made complete sense! She’s already got a good following over here anyway. And yes I feel that keeping both boots on the ground is a really necessary thing. And I think that another thing that’s helped me stay grounded and appreciate the fact that I wasn’t an overnight success was that during the time that I’ve lived in Nashville…eleven or twelve years now… I’ve met the overnight successes and they p*** me off! And I also feel really bad for them too, they’re being set up for failure, to be a flash in the pan. I never planned to have a short term career. I’ve got the comment before ” well you’ve been in town this long and it’s taken you this long to get a record deal… I’ve only been here three months, look where I’m at” . And I’m like man, bless your heart. And I actually had a player from another band say to one of my players “I don’t think that being in town for eleven years and finally getting a record deal is anything to brag about” and my player looked at him and said “We do”!
8. LH So, with your album ” Girl Goin’ Nowhere” being so well received (including a Grammy nomination of course) how do you, as an artist, approach it’s highly anticipated follow up?
AM I was really nervous at first because your second record has to prove that your first record wasn’t a fluke
LH Even though that wasn’t your first record …..
AM Right, my first major label record… anyway at first I felt really pressured and then I realised that even just admitting that there is that pressure is probably going to ruin the chances of making the right decisions! So we had a huge pile of songs and we just played them over and over and over in the same little space we’ve always rehearsed in, it’s not fancy, it’s not air conditioned, and that helps calm your nerves. The right songs are going to present themselves. I know I felt strongly about this group of songs that when we play them where they belong, and if they belong, is going to be really evident. And it broke my heart when it became evident I wasn’t going to be able to put certain songs on this record… like Rattlesnake… but I started building this record in my brain and it became a little bit less important when put with the entire record. That song is so important in our live show and we’re never going to let it lose its shine. So right now if you want to get that you’re going to have to come to a live show! So there was a little pressure at first but once we got into the groove like you do, and once we’re vibing all together and then add the ingredient of Jay Joyce… he comes in and shows you exactly where to drive it .
9. LH And I assume these days you also have to think that there has to be a few songs that could be potential singles ?
AM Right! But I don’t think that way, i’m not single minded, so I had to have a little help with it! I’d say “I think these songs are the most viable options for a single”… a couple of them I was right, and another one wasn’t so I had to let them pick another… I’m still learning thing like that, separate how much I love a song from how well I think another song will do.
10. LH Talking of singles, the lead single “One Night Standards” (which i love!) is going down a storm at shows but isn’t it a slightly risqué subject for conservative country music radio?
AM It is a slightly risqué subject…mbut not for country because men sing about it all the time but for a WOMAN to do it . I think we kind of had this notion that we’re not supposed to, and I don’t know who taught us that . Like I say sometimes on stage, if you’ve never has a one night stand you’re either lying or missing out! Do I think being that casual about something is healthy? No but we’ve all done it and we all will do it.
LH Yes, it’s an honest song which is what country music is all about.
AM Right… you’ve got a woman saying look, it’s not a big deal, it’s just a room key, you don’t have to buy me a car, pay my phone bill, nothing!
Remember when Patty Loveless sang ” e ain’t done nothing wrong, we’ve just been lonely too long”? (LH BY THE WAY ASHLEY ACTUALLY SANG THOSE LINES TO ME…WOW!!) It’s the same thing. Just said in a way that’s a little more edgier.
11. LH And that was written specially for the album wasn’t it?
AM It wound up being written specially for the album, yes. Nicolette Hayford and I had already started writing the song but something was missing. When we got with Shane ( McAnally) it really took legs.
12. LH So do you have some other songs on the album that have been around a while but just hadn’t found their “home” yet?
AM Yes, there’s another one i wrote with Jeremy Bussey shortly after we wrote Girl Goin’ Nowhere, probably in the same year……and there are a couple that I didn’t write!!
LH Wow some outside cuts?
AM Yes! One is a Nicolette Hayford cut..
LH And there’s some Brandy Clark?
AM Yes, Brandy’s on two songs!
13. LH Looks like i have to wind this up now sadly, so just very briefly then, the rest of the year looks very busy for you including going out on the road with Miranda Lambert which I’m sure will be a blast, all those girls together. I love that song you all recorded! When you do get some rare down time what do you like to do?
AM Manual labour! I work on a farm. I like to go kayaking, hiking, to be in the yard with the dog. If there’s a chain saw around or something needs tinkering with I like to find a project. Hang a porch swing, anything that’s outside.
LH That’s brilliant, thanks ever so much for your time, I can’t wait for 2020 and the new album and your next tour here in the UK. Oh and good luck with your CMA nomination!
AM Wonderful, thank you!