Before the CMA Songwriters took to the stage I sat down with all four of the songwriters to find out more about their songwriting process. I’d heard two of Kassi’s songs before, Taxidermy and California, Missouri and knew a little bit about the team she had behind her and I was eager to find out more about her and her career. From the interview and from the set that followed on stage I was amazed and she had the audience in fits of laughter. By the end of the night I realised one thing, I wanted to be more like Kassi Ashton in every way, how can one be so cool and funny and talented all at the same time and be a really nice person? Well I’m still trying to figure out how that’s possible but whilst I ponder that here is the interview we did before the show!
First of all can you tell me about how you first got into music and decided that this is what you want to do with the rest of your life?
So I always tell the story when people ask “how long have you been singing?” I say, “I’ve been singing since before I could read. My Mom, when I was tiny and I hadn’t even been attending school yet, my Mom was sneaking me into Karaoke bars and I couldn’t read the prompter but I knew the Celine Dion song from Titanic and she would stand behind me and whisper the words in my ear before they came so I knew how it went and she said that I was so small that if the audience clapped too loudly I would cry because the noise scared me! So I think ever since I was old enough to know you could do something when you were older it’s always been singing for me.
You mentioned a little about Celine Dion there but what did your parents play to you when you were younger and what do you listen to now?
My parents are die hard classic Country fans, like really old school, Hank Senior for my Dad and Jamie Johnson and my Mom only likes females with an attitude so Loretta Lynn or Tammy Wynette or Reba coz she’s always snapping in someone’s face so you know I always went through stages, of course Classic Country is something I always go to and then I fell in love with Amy Winehouse and Adele when they kind of invaded America. Then I went into the full on Beyoncé phase which I think everybody has gone through that one. But I love all music, I grew up dancing ballet so I love classical music, I love Jazz, I listen to everything except Screamo and like elevator Jazz, that’s the worst kind. I love everything, whatever fits your mood.
That’s great. When it comes to your own songwriting, where do you draw inspiration from lyrically, is it personal experience or from all over?
It’s definitely personal experience because I consider myself a Songwriter just as much as a Singer and my main goal is to be as authentic as possible because how can I expect you to love something or buy into it or believe it when I haven’t actually lived it? So the cool thing about music is I can write about my personal story and it will connect to your personal story and then we’ll be best friends!
Haha yes! And talk me through your writing process, is it different every time or do you always start with a hook or a melody?
I get inspired by a lot of things, sometimes it’s a melody that gets stuck in my head and you hurry up and get your phone out to record it before you forget it or sometimes it’s everyday things that happen in your life, as monumental as break-ups or something really sad to just sitting in your kitchen tapping your nails on the table and drinking morning coffee and you just start writing. So there are crazy ways to go about it.
You’re a Creative Nation artist, so tell me a bit about that, does that mean you work with writers such as Barry Dean a lot?
Yes! Creative Nation is literally my family, I’ve never been closer to a group of people ever in my life! Right before I graduated what you guys call University, I was offered publishing deals and I had to pick a lawyer so that the deals could get under way and my lawyer is Creative Nation’s lawyer and that’s how I met them. And the second I met Luke Laird and Beth Laird who is like the boss woman and also his wife, I was set because they are literally the nicest, most heart warming and humble, I mean Luke has a Grammy, he doesn’t have to be humble! But he is and he’s incredible and he’s the other half of my creative brain like totally! And Barry Dean is the wisest most compassionate person you will ever meet, he always knows when something’s wrong with you like if you’re hiding it from everyone else and he looks at you for five seconds you just start crying, like “ok I want to pour my heart out to you!” And Lori McKenna, like come on she breathes and you know that she’s a masterpiece in her own right! I just walk around, even the staff there, it just flows so well, everyone loves everyone and everyone knows their job and what they’re good at and everyone supports each other! I go in there and take my shoes off and lay on the floor because it is home, I always say, “are you guys going to put a closet in here for me?” Haha!
Haha that’s brilliant! I had the pleasure of interviewing Barry at Tin pan South a couple of years back, I was doing my dissertation at University at the time and it was on Controversy in Country Music. So I went into Creative Nation and they kept coming in saying Barry you need to hurry up but he just kept saying ask me another question and we ended up talking for an hour!
Yes! He is just so amazing, I’m sure when you walked through that door you felt it, it’s a place of love and support and artistic vibes just flow through it. You honestly asked the best person you could’ve asked in the entire industry, I’m telling you right now, I have a bias but that is the best person you could ask! Some of the best pieces of knowledge I have in my head about being new in the industry and continuing forward came from him, I’d tattoo it on my body if somebody asked me too!
Haha that’s great! You talked about the Creative Nation family but who are your favourite writers to collaborate with?
Ooh Luke Laird is definitely number one because he’s my producer and we both love nineties Country and we both love the nineties hip hop so we feed off each other very well, we almost finish each other’s sentences if that makes any sense. I also love Natalie Hemby, Barry Dean, Lori McKenna of course, not just because they’re at my publishing company. Hillary Lindsey, she is my baby and Jesse Frasure, Ashley Gorley, Shane McAnally and I know these are all people with hits on hits on hits but there’s a reason those people have all those hits. They are incredible at going in a room with someone and actually becoming that person and speaking for them instead of being a separate kind of brain, they let you swallow them and they swallow you! You create together.
Brilliant! A few silly questions for you now, what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about?
Ok, it’s a cuss word is that ok?
Over here do you have the term f*** boy? It is a boy who’s kind of cheeky and sly and you don’t take them home to mom because they probably have multiple girlfriends and you just let them buy you a drink. In America you can tell a f*** boy from a mile away, you know because they all look the same, they’re all tanned and the pompadour haircut which there’s probably a different term for over here, so we wrote a song about that and we cried laughing writing it but obviously it will never hear the light of day. I played it at the Key West songwriters festival one time but only because the pool was filled with people that were just drunk beyond belief and they thought it was hilarious.
I’d like to hear that haha! When you’re on stage are you completely focused or do you let your mind wander, we call it your mid-gig thoughts?
I totally let my mind wander, not when I’m singing, when I’m singing my song I’m like all in, I try to put myself back to when I was feeling that emotion instead of just being who I am right now so people can get it as raw as possible because they deserve that. But in a round situation when other people are singing you are trying to listen but you also are looking at them and thinking about maybe dinner or what you’re going to say next or if someone in the audience makes a noise you think that was a weird sounding cough, you know what I’m saying haha! You try not to go too far down the rabbit hole but it’s hard, you need to stay up in the game so you can follow along!
What’s your favourite part of the industry, performing, recording or songwriting or do you like them all equally?
I think my favourite part is performing you know, because that’s why we do all the rest of it so you can get on stage and be with the people that support you and find comfort in your music and you give them all your love and you give them everything that you have to give and you guys are together in that moment and nothing else matters outside that room. You just connect that’s why I do it and I get to dance a little bit and everybody else gets to dance and it’s a great time!
I’m an aspiring songwriter as are a lot of the readers so what advice do you have to those people who dream of becoming a successful writer and/or performer?
Ok I’m going to give you some Barry Dean advice since I told you he was the best person! The first thing he ever said to me when we were writing the first ever song we wrote, I hadn’t graduated from university yet and he goes just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s not good which means you don’t have to struggle with an idea or a hook for three hours, if it doesn’t come honest or flow through you, don’t beat yourself up, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just embrace it and be honest. I think tagging along with that, the other thing is, don’t try to say things in a special or quirky way, just say them because a song is just talking to someone so just say it how you would say it to a friend and let the melody build around that because the words are what hit people on the inside. When we were writing California, Missouri the verses are very (hums the tune) jumbled and the rhythm is different but that’s because those were thoughts written down on paper and those had to be the phrases, we weren’t going to cut them to fit a particular melody we just wanted it to be the truth. So I think that’s the best thing you can do.
Great, thank you! Final question, what’s next for you?
Ooh well when I get back it will Be awards week so CMA and BMI and I love that because all my favourite people are in one room and then Thanksgiving and Christmas I will be stuffing my face in my stretchy pants I don’t know what you call them, not joggers because joggers are too tight but like big ones! Then come the new year I’ll be putting out a lot more music, sharing more of myself!
Check out Kassi’s singles Taxidermy and California, Missouri and we’ll bring you all the latest news as she releases more music in the new year!