Every now and then there is sort of a fairytale moment that goes on at C2C Festival, an artist who just takes the entire audience by storm and so much so that they make the giant leap from small Spotlight stage to Main stage in one year. One of those artists is Ashley McBryde. A name few knew on her first visit to the UK to now an artist everyone wants to come back repeatedly.
Ashley McBryde made her UK debut during C2C Festival in 2018 and has since been back a couple of times including supporting Luke Combs. By popular demand she returned to C2C this year and went from Spotlight Stage at the back of arena with an acoustic set of three songs to a full band set on the main stage.
Ashley is now one of the most recognisable faces in country music. With a Grammy nomination under her belt for her debut album Girl Going Nowhere, Ashley is going places and we all wanna go there with her.
On the Thursday before C2C started, we caught up with Ashley for a little chat. We had chatted before but on the phone so this was actually my first time meeting her in person.
Now if you know Ashley, you know how she is and if you don’t her then I can imagine you can guess. When Ashley enters a room she brings life to it. She instantly puts you at ease and it is like you have known each other for years. It’s the way she treats people that strikes me. There is no ego with McBryde, just gratitude and respect for anyone she encounters.
Stretching out her hand for a hello shake, Ashley quickly makes you feel you can ask her anything. If we had all day, imagine the things we would learn as she is full of stories but we had a job to do with certain points we had to address. Telling her first that my three year old son took my phone earlier and found a photo of Ashley rubbed it and said “Cute” I explained how he wanted to meet her. Ashley immediately looks for him for a hug. “He is actually at the cinema now” I said regrettably. “Tell him thank you and give him a hug” Ashley beams.
Welcoming her back to the UK and asking about her first time here and whether she expected the fans to be so dedicated and that it would bring her back so many times she says;
“No I did not. I was told way before I got here the first time that the fans were going to be incredible so I knew it was going to be a lot of fun. What I didn’t realise was what the reaction was going to be. My first day here we played at The Indigo and I think we took four or five pictures that day no more than ten with people stopping us and walking through the hallways and then the second day was about 200 which was just amazing. It seems like an overnight success thing and it really was. I feel like I was relatively unknown and then I got here and people already knew the words to the songs.”
Now that she has been here a few times, I wanted to know if she has picked up any favourites here: food, drink?
“There is actually a hamburger here in the O2 Arena that has Halloumi cheese on it that I was hoping to get. The other thing is I like to go to a bar over near the hotel that we stay at which is called The Albany because it was the first place I walked in to the last time I was here. I got lost after I left and so that’s the one place I know I can find so I at least like to go there and have a few drinks.”
Congratulating her on her Grammy Nomination to which she was nominated for Country Album of The Year I first asked if she had any inclination of the nomination?
“No, no. I didn’t even know that the nominations were going to be read. We were on tour so I was just in work mode and then I woke up to a nomination.”
Asking about the moment she found out about it Ashley laughs and says:
“My phone blew up. My phone was actually dead from the night before so I plugged it in and after it came on it just started dinging time after time which I just found really abnoxious so I just turned the ding off and went about my business. When I came back to my phone I had 49 text messages and they were from interesting people too, like Terri Clark, Cam, Brothers Osborne and other artists that were saying congrats on the Grammy nomination.”
I had to ask how she prepared for the Grammys – what did she wear?
“I have a really good team: Dana who does hair and make up and Blakely Collier that dresses me for everything. The grammys is the biggest thing you can do in music so I just wanted to be respectful and so I did all black. I took my sister as my date because we rarely get to spend this much time together. We have never had a weekend just she and I. Never at a hotel, even at our house. There are always other people there so it was really nice to just have her there and basically play dressup with my sister in a hotel and go to the Grammys together.”
As you can imagine, the Grammys is full of the industry’s biggest names and as this was her first time (definitely not last) time attending, did she get starstruck by anybody?
“We sat behind Quincy Jones. He turned around and my eyes just got big and he said “Hi, Im Quincy” I said I know exactly who you are haha. Shortly after Brandi Carlile’s performance, she was like five rows ahead and one section over so I jumped up and went and hugged her. That record of course is awesome but that performance that night stole the entire show. That song (The Joke) is wonderful anyway but that particular performance of it was just steller.”
Ashley lost out on the Grammy to Kacey Musgraves with her album Golden Hour. I was certain that Ashley would have been fine with this, proud for Kacey in fact as it was important in many ways for Kacey to sweep at The Grammys whether you agree on the album choice or not.
“I think it is really her time. Just to have a grammy nomination period, especially with a debut album I am flattered and honoured and I felt like Kacey was going to sweep at the grammys and she did and she performed well and I felt like she has earned this.”
That just goes to show the level of support women in country music have for each other and that there is no competition. Women in country music rarely get played on the radio for whatever silly reason they say (it changes a lot). One of those reasons is women sing sad songs, that is ridiculous. Women are great at expressing emotions and that is why they write some of the best songs out there. Asking Ashley about those emotions and experiences I ask how she determines what experiences to put to songs?
“It depends on what sticks in my brain. Today I have a song stuck in my head and at some point today I will sit with a guitar and write that song and get it out of my brain. Sometimes it is like a phrase that someone will say. It’s pretty easy to tell when something belongs in a song, if it doesn’t belong on the front of a tshirt it doesn’t belong on a song.”
On the same topic I ask how she stays so true to herself in a industry that may try to change her into something she is not or something that is in keeping with the current market?
“It is hard to stay in keeping with the current market because when I first starting trying to get a record deal and everything it was “Change this, change that: change the hair, the hair is too curly, we should brush it out and re curl it with a curling iron, lose 30 pounds. I got down so small that I just looked weird and it was a pace impossible for me to keep. Once I gave myself permission to just make the music we are gonna make and know that no one else is going to pick this for us I found less people care than what they would tell you. Are you wearing high heeled shoes? nobody cares. Are the songs good? Do people identify with them? Do we perform them well? That’s way more important to us. It’s hard to stay inkeeping with the main stream because of the refusal to compromise in that way.”
I told her that when speaking to Kendell Marvel a while back I said to him that his music is timeless as is Ashley’s: it can’t be shelved and chart music doesn’t always last, a lot of chart music is what I call bargain bin music. Laughing and agreeing with a nod, Ashley sits up even more and says:
“Right? I love a song that ten years from now you hear it again and say “I love that song” . Some songs will never get played again in ten years. That’s the death of it. A song in the charts can become a joke to people and that is just not our style”
With an album of no fillers just banging tracks with a lot depth I ask What what the last song to make the album?
“Home Sweet Highway was the one I had written right before we had got done with the record. When I wrote it I said “That has got to get on the record” and I played it for Jay Joyce and he said “absolutely”. We went in and cut it and that knoced The Jacket off the record. We got down to making the track listing and looked at it and there was another song that we could bump off and put the jacket back on.”
As we have had said, Ashley is great company and I can only imagine that being in the writing room with her is an absolute hoot. I asked if she had any stand out memories from any of the songs writing sessions?
“Yeah, there is always something hilarious going on when we sit down to write. Wow! Most of the time it is just me an Nicolette Heyford. We love to write with Connie Harrington and we have a rule: We don’t write anything down until somebody cries. Whether that is from laughter or from sadness or from stress. We bat ideas back and forth until we find something that makes somebody cringe a little bit so we can get on that nerve and then we dig on it, dig on it, dig on it until either we are laughing at it, in tears or in stitches.”
How do people back at home treat Ashley I wondered? With her somewhat overnight success (although she actually worked hard for years and years) I wanted to know if she got support?
“Actually back where I am from in my hometown, some of them I think are pretty supportive but as my grandfather would have said, those people wouldn’t say sooee if the hogs got em. So they really don’t care. There are a few people like my sister who lives there who is very supportive. I spent so much time in Memphis, I left to go to college and I was only an hour from Memphis so really when I first started playing bars and stuff that’s where it was. So when I think of doing a hometown show, a homecoming show, I choose to go back to Memphis. It’s where everything happened. I was 19 years old, not old enough to drink playing bars in Memphis. That’s where the hometown feeling comes in.”
That was it, time was up and I felt like we had only just got started. This is a woman that has so much to tell and I wish we had longer. If you asked me who I would like to have around a campfire to talk to all night, Ashley would be one of them. She is beautiful too and very real, this is what a role model should be like.
Ashley returns to the UK in September for a string of dates so make sure you go, it will be worth it.