Wonderfully Weird Wonderland: A Conversation with Ashe

Ashe © Nicole Almeida
Ashe © Nicole Almeida
Atwood Magazine falls into the rabbit hole with Ashe, who talks to us about her musical influences, debut EP, quirky sound, and how hard times influence her music.

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It’s early June in New York City and it feels like it’s about one million degrees outside. The light reflecting off the sidewalk outside Bowery Ballroom is almost blinding. A tour bus is parked on the street in front of the venue, and amongst all the men that move from tour bus to venue door carrying cases, out comes a smiling, energetic and blonde-haired woman – her name is Ashlyn Wilson, and she writes and performs music under the name Ashe. Seconds

Ashe - The Rabbit Hole EP
Ashe – The Rabbit Hole EP

into meeting Ashe, she goes in for a huge hug: “We’re going to hang out today!”. Even though she’s dressed in a teal blazer, white and blue striped shirt, a black tie, and light blue jeans, the weather doesn’t defeat her. In fact, nothing seems to defeat or shake her. Later that evening, she will take the stage at Bowery Ballroom to support Lewis Capaldi for one last time. At midnight, her debut EP The Rabbit Hole will drop, and Ashe will invite people into her own little world for the first time.

Being around Ashe is like being around your goofy, life-long best friend. She treats you with a comforting familiarity, paying attention to what you have to say and always contributing with some sort of joke or impression. With her, there’s no need to break the ice because there’s no ice to break. As funny as she is, Ashe is also compassionate, thoughtful, and attentive. She wants to be there for people, both in her music and in person, and make sure that everybody knows that no matter what’s happening, they have a friend in her. When she’s onstage, she’s barefoot, grounded, feeling the electricity of the performance organically rushing through her and stomping on all the people who stay female musicians should look a certain way during a show.

Her humorous and caring self is perfectly shown on debut EP The Rabbit Hole (released via Mom+Pop on 6/22), where she blends powerful, raw lyrics like “I just keep driving me crazy/Everyone’s trying to save me/They’re all on my side but/ I’m on the wrong side of myself” with Gatsby-like trumpets, whistles, and orchestra-like arrangements. The 7-track EP is a perfect introduction to this multi-faceted and Atwood Magazine had the pleasure of talking to Ashe about her career so far, debut EP, influences, and how hard moments influence her music. Fall into the rabbit hole with Ashe, you won’t regret it.

Listen: The Rabbit Hole EP – Ashe


Atwood Magazine: Hi Ashe! How’s tour been?

Ashe: Tour’s been great, tour’s been crazy. I was supposed to drive behind these guys (points at Lewis Capaldi’s tour bus) but my license expired, I got it renewed and then I got to the rental company and I was supposed to have my expired license with me too and they’re like “We can’t give you a car”. I was like “How the fuck am I gonna get to these shows?” and started to freak out, and I call these guys (points to Capaldi’s bus again) and am like “I need help! What do I do?” and they’re like “Bunk with us”. So I’ve been on the bus the last two nights, and I forgot how much I absolutely love being on a tour bus. I love my little bunk and it’s so cozy. So tour’s great, touring with them is great because Lewis Capaldi is incredible.

So you’ve toured with primarily EDM / electronic acts before, so how do these tours compare with Lewis Capaldi’s tour, given his style of music is very different from the ones you’re used to being on the road with?

Ashe: This tour I’m opening acoustically, so the last two nights it was just me and a piano, tonight and the first night of tour at The Troubador, I brought my guitarist out. I really love it. I love doing it acoustically, it’s a lot more “bare all” so if I fuck up, you’re going to know. Can I curse? I’m cursing a lot.

Of course! I love when people curse, I curse all the time.

Ashe: Fuck yeah! Yeah you do! So yeah, it’s a very different vibe, because making it acoustically is very different. The electronic tours are massive and the crowd is nutty, and this crowd is quiet and sweet and they listen. Not quiet in a bad way, but quiet as in they listen, they listen to every lyric, cheering me on when I hit a high note. It’s like electric, but in a different way.

You started out as a writer for other people, but then ended up realising you wanted to be an artist. Was there a moment that made you realise you wanted or needed to make that change?

Ashe: I mean, I still enjoy writing for other people but at some point I just realised I wanted to write about my own life and sing about it. I could continue writing for other people and that would be an adventure, but I don’t know… Halfway through living in Nashville, I lived in Nashville one year after I graduate college, and six months in I had this meeting with a publisher who had helped Taylor Swift be Taylor Swift. I showed her my demos and I was like “I want to be a songwriter! I want to make it as a songwriter” and she’s like “Well your songs are good but your voice is what’s really standing out to me right now”. And I was like (excitedly squeals) “Thanks!” You know, just hearing someone who’s not your mum or your boyfriend or your fucking friends at school, someone who had believed in someone who became who Taylor Swift is now… I don’t know, it just changed something inside of me.

Ashe © Nicole Almeida
Ashe © Nicole Almeida

“Girl Who Cried Wolf” is my favourite song of yours, it’s so bold and confident and a little darker. How did that song come about?

Ashe: I love that song too. That song, I was feeling like a lot of people in my life were telling me that I couldn’t be who I wanted to be, and I felt like “Fuck that, I can be exactly who I want to be”. It wasn’t just other people, it was also the voices inside of me that were like “You aren’t good enough”, and for a really long time I was telling myself I wasn’t good enough. And I still don’t fully know if I’m good enough! I have my days where I’m like “What am I doing? This is hard” but that song was my way of being like “No, I can do this. I’m not the girl who cried wolf, I can make it if I want to make it. I can make music I love and play and tour and do it if I want”.

You clearly are, you’re doing it!

Ashe: (in a childish voice) I’m doing it, Peter! You know that movie, “You’re doing it, Peter,” from Hook with Robin Williams. When he starts believing and he’s like “You’re doing it, Peter.”

Ha, I wish I’d caught that reference.

Ashe: It’s okay, it’s old.

But I was alive when it came out, like I could’ve watched it, I just don’t think I did. Anyways, if you compare your versions of “Used to It,” the studio recording and the stripped back version, they’re like completely different songs. And I want to know how you got to the final version?

Ashe: That song was so a product of the three of us in the room, the producer, the other writer, and me. I walked in that session and I said “Lets write something weird as fuck” and then he started playing this weird bassline and then hit this crazy synth pad and we’re like “That’s it, we’re writing to that”. I was going through a time, my first boyfriend who I’d been with for five years had just had a baby with his wife and I had a lot of feelings about it. I just thought like “What if we were strangers again? Before we were used to it, it was fresh and it was fun”. But it’s interesting, when we did the stripped version it felt like the song had a whole new meaning.

It does. But I thought you’d written it on piano as the stripped back version first, and then took it to the studio.

Ashe: Yeah, we actually did it the other way around.

That’s so surprising and really cool.

Ashe: Surprise! Trying to keep you on your toes.

Watch: “Used to It” – Ashe

So your EP is called Down the Rabbit Hole, which instantly has an Alice in Wonderland connection. So if you’re taking us down your rabbit hole, your EP is like your own little Wonderland?

Ashe: Ooo! I like that! I’m taking you into my wonderland. That kind of sounds sexual. But yeah, none of the songs are called “The Rabbit Hole”, there’s a line on the first song called “After Life” that starts “Curious girl down the rabbit hole/Tripping on dreams, never getting old” and from that we were like, this is the EP. But yeah, essentially it’s a totally weird world. The EP is weird, it’s weird as hell. Sonically it’s super psychedelic and trippy, my lyrics are kind of whack, but I don’t know. I call it The Rabbit Hole because it’s a whole other universe, and it’s not something I’ve heard other artists do. Not that I was trying to be like “I’m completely different from everybody else” but it made me feel like it was something fresh, something different.

So is that the journey you want to take people on when they listen to the EP? A journey into your own little world that you created?

Ashe: Yeah, to my little world. But also lyrically and the song messages, I just want people to feel like there’s someone who gets them. Like Carole King’s album Tapestry, she was the first person I felt like “Wow, there’s one person in this world who gets me, she gets me” and I just want people to feel like they have one more person on their side, one more person that gets them.

Ashe © Nicole Almeida
Ashe © Nicole Almeida

I watched your Billboard Live performance, and in it you said that the song “Real Love” is the centrepiece of the EP. Why that one?

Ashe: Well, kind of speaking on what I just said, life gets really lonely. Really we’re all going through a lot of the same shit. I can’t always understand myself or put myself in everyone’s shoes, but there’s that like that goes “We all go through the same shit luck, bad sex, no cash, fuck love, breakup, sad ex” and if we could all unify on the good moments and the shit moments then maybe we can have a little more compassion and less fake love and more real love. Wow, I sound ridiculous. (puts on southern accent jokingly) Less fake love and more real love, you know what I’m talking about?

Watch: “Real Love” – Ashe (Official Performance and Meaning)

“We Get High” doesn’t sound like you expect it to sound when you see the title of the song. I thought it was going to be darker and hazier. But it’s totally Gatsby and I love it. How did you decide to steer in that direction for the production of the song?

Ashe: Ella Fitzgerald is one of my favourite artists of all time, when I went to Berklee I fell in love with her, I fell in love with jazz. The way she sings, the place she sings from, I just want to be her. Her song is called “When I Get Low, I Get High”, so I actually took a sample from that song and used that big band production and built this beat around it.

Do you feel like this song is your tribute to her?
Ashe © Nicole Almeida
Ashe © Nicole Almeida

Ashe: Yeah, that’s definitely my tribute to her. And also, one of my other favourite songs is called “Smile”, it’s a really old song, it’s “Smile though your heart is aching/ Smile even though it’s breaking”. It’s that song when everything is totally shit, just smile. And I know that’s not always easy, but if you can do it, it’s going to be a new day, it’s going to get better. I’m going through a really shit time in my life right now and that song, “We Get High”, when I wrote it I wasn’t going through a shit time but right now I’m like “This song is so perfect”. And it’s not about getting actually high, but if you want to take it that way, you can.

There are a lot of fairytale references in your music - “Girl Who Cried Wolf”, Alice’s Rabbit Hole, and “Choirs” sounds like a modern version of what a Disney princess would sing -

Ashe: Ha! I like that!

It’s a really cool thing, you don’t hear it anywhere else. Are there any elements from these kinds of stories that you want to bring to your music?

Ashe: I think that’s that otherworldly element. When I was at Berklee I majored in composition and production, and the composition element was orchestral writing and big band writing, so the big band writing came in to “We Get High” which is that Gatsby-ish world, and then the orchestral stuff is coming through the other fairytale-like things, using a lot of melotron like The Beatles did, and using a lot of violin, these really cool orchestral moments that a lot of people don’t use and I don’t know why – it’s so cool!

I agree! Especially on their first release, people tend to be a little more conservative.

Ashe: We are not playing it safe.

But that’s the thing, why should you?

Ashe: Well, I just had a conversation with a friend about “Why should you”. They’re like “You give them the simple pop stuff out the gate and then you take them to a weird place”. But I’m not going to be anyone that I’m not going to be, I want to just do what I love.

And if people embrace you with this sound, they’ll stick with you forever.

Ashe: I hope so. And it’s authentic, it wouldn’t be authentic of me to write super plain pop stuff right now.

Ashe © Nicole Almeida
Ashe © Nicole Almeida

You talk about moments of self-doubt a lot, but I find your music and your overall presence so uplifting and you come across as just a happy, bubbly person who’s unapologetically herself. How do you cope with those harder times?

Ashe: That sort of bubbly, happy goofball, that’s just me. I definitely get tired and get exhausted, and like I said shit times come. I went onstage at The Troubadour a few weeks ago and I was like “Hey guys, I just had a really shitty day” and I cried for one minute onstage. I was really bad, my guitarist comes over, hugs me, the crowd is cheering me on, it’s a thing. But I guess I say that because yes I’m that bubbly frontperson, but that’s just a piece of it. All that self-doubt and hard stuff, it’s all a part of you. I’m definitely not trying to hide it. There’s a sense of “Hey, we’re in an interview right now, maybe crying right now isn’t the thing to do” but if you asked me a question and it made me really emotional I’d cry right in front of you, you know? Just trying to be your own, authentic self. It’s not always easy.

And do these moments help or inform your music at all?

Ashe: I love writing when I’m sad. That’s when the good shit comes out. I also love taking sad concepts and making them sound happy, you know? “Choirs”, it’s not like it’s a sad song, but it’s essentially about dealing with all the voices in your head, and the pressures from other people, anxiety from other people, anxiety you put on yourself, pressure you put on yourself. The song itself isn’t a super happy song, but it’s fun. I kind of like messing with people, you know? (laughs)

Watch: “Choirs” – Ashe

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Ashe - The Rabbit Hole EP

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