Well for the past year and a half I have been trying to catch up with Ashley McBryde and never more so than after that C2C performance last year in the Indigo where she blew the crowd away and reduced us to tears with her powerful vocals and emotional story telling lyrics. Never before has a satellite stage performer returned to C2C the following year and played the second slot on the main stage but the UK crowd demanded Ashley's swift return and she did not disappoint! The highlight of Sunday for me was Ashley McBryde who had 20,000 people in the palm of her hand. Just a couple of days before I finally had the chance to catch up with her and hear the stories behind my favourite songs off Girl Going Nowhere and find out how she feels about the UK audience.
Can you tell me about the first moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician?
I know for sure I was five years old when I proclaimed to my family that I was going to be a singer and I was going to make up songs for the radio and my siblings didn’t pay any attention but my mum said ok, do whatever you want to do, I could have told her I wanted to be a purple gorilla when I grow up and she still would have said ok haha. I just knew it and it really never changed even though I loved education and I loved avionics and things like that it just never changed so the older I got, the better I got at it and that dream just kept getting bigger and bigger.
When you were growing up what did your parents play to you and what do you choose to listen to now?
I grew up playing bluegrass from the time I was really small, my Dad was into Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, John Denver so that was a rich soil to draw from and my mum listened to absolutely everything, Country music, what we would classify as classic country now, musicals, symphonic or classical music, Karen Carpenter there was an oldies station that played Rock n Roll it wasn’t considered oldies in my house but I had a big garden of music to choose from. What I didn’t have a lot of was Janis Joplin or a lot of the alternative rock from the late nineties and everything but I got that through my siblings and I started to find that on my own too.
You mentioned musicals there, I grew up with my parents playing the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber to me, what was your favourite musical?
My favourite musical as a child was Annie because Carol Burnett played the first Miss Hannigan on the the screen but the music man was one of my favourite musicals and that’s never really changed either because the way the dialogue moves and rhythmically it was so appealing to me, I still could do most of the monologues from that and nowadays it’s Wicked. The Greatest Showman, I thought they did a great job of that but yeah I freak out every time I get a chance to see Wicked, I was a huge Wizard of Oz fan growing up.
That’s one of my favourite’s too! When it comes to your own songwriting where do you draw lyrical inspiration from, is it mainly personal experience?
Yeah it’s often personal experience but not always my personal experience, like Living Next to Leroy, Leroy was a real person who lived in Stark Florida but he lived three doors down from Nicolette Hayford the person I wrote the song with, my buddy, but his problem, the addiction he had was much like the people where I grew up so I drew from that. The Jacket of course was a real jacket so it’s just everyday life, not always my life but someone close enough that I can relate to it.
One of my favourite songs off the record is actually Southern Babylon, can you tell me the story behind that?
Yeah, I was writing with a guy named Tommy Collier who was playing guitar for me at the time and we were talking about conspiracies and all kinds of weird talk like do aliens really exist and all this. He had these two words Southern Babylon and he says I don’t know what it is and I said it sounds like the name of a bar and so we created this story that what if when a musician dies they wake up in this bar, they either wake up in this bar or this other bar, in northern Babylon or southern Babylon. Initially we wrote it as a rock song and did it really guitar heavy and we went to do the song on the record and it wasn’t translating the way we wanted it to my drummer said we’re playing it as though this is a rock bar but what if it was a cocktail lounge what if we’re serving martini’s in the Southern Babylon? So we slowed it down and had brushes on the snare, the sparse picking and it really brought the lyrics out for us.
You mentioned a couple of your co-writers there so do you have favourite collaborators to work with?
Oh yeah and record two is going to be a lot of the same writers like Blue Foley, Jeremy Bussey, Nicolette Hayford, these are all people I can sit down with and produce something I like every time.
A few silly questions, what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about?
I love strange questions! I wrote a song about a tooth brush and I wrote one about cats and dogs.
Will they make the next record?
Definitely not! 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’m really bad about having thoughts in the middle, it might be something strange or I’ll be singing Eldoradoooooo are we out of eggs, I have to say get your brain back here. But being on stage is the only time my brain can be completely still, the closest I can get to meditating because there’s nothing I like more than that exchange between us and an audience so when I get one of those thoughts I have to tell it to get out of here because we only have 50 minutes together to have this exchange.
Tell me about your experience at C2C because last year you played the smaller pop up stages, the indigo, I was there and everyone around me was in tears it was absolutely phenomenal, you was the talk of the festival and now you’re playing the main stage and we haven’t seen that before, someone coming that fast from the smaller stages straight onto the main stage the following year, how does that feel?
Yeah I didn’t expect to come back this year, a lot of festivals will book this group of artists this year and then give them a break the next year and book a different group of artists but it’s not like that with C2C and I’m so happy because I really wanted to come back even if it was spotlight stage again and all the smaller rooms, I love doing that, the bluebird show and everything. So I was hoping to come back and then we heard that we did, we got the bid to come back and play the main stage it seemed like a giant leap but you know last year when I played right before Luke Combs and I wound up going on tour with him both here and in the US and he said to me that trip you’ll be where I was this year and he was right.
And do you notice any differences between the UK and US audiences?
It couldn’t be any more different! When I was back here in October and I played one of the Luke Combs shows there was a group of people at the back near the bar that were chatty and that doesn’t bother me at all in the US the entire crowd is chatty and here everyone stands still and they’re very engaged and listening to everything that comes out of your mouth. If someone talks during your song people will correct them, and they were like “remember how rude they were to you in October” and I said that’s not rude to me as long as they don’t throw a bottle at me. It can be nerve wracking when people pay such close attention to you but I love it, I love it here.
What advice do you have to aspiring songwriters?
There’s going to be times when you’re dry for ideas or your execution of those ideas is not sparking but give yourself a break in your heart, don’t be too hard on yourself. Songwriting’s a lot like push ups, the more you do, the easier it is to do them. Trust your instincts and if you get halfway through a song and you know it’s complete crap, go ahead and finish it anyway, chances are there’s something you can send to scrap yard and you can use those pieces later. If you don’t get those crap songs out the way, the good stuff has no room.
Finally what’s next for you?
We leave here, we go to Australia for CMC Rocks and then we’ll go back home and write a couple more songs in April and start the second record in May.