The edgy and rockier vibe of Ashland Craft and her brand of country which is armed with her strikingly powerful vocals first hit many people’s radar back in 2017, when she chose Miley Cyrus over Blake Shelton and Adam Levine as her coach on season 13 of The Voice.
Her star is one that continues to rise in Music City and was named in this year’s CMT Next Women of Country class which also includes the likes of Tenille Arts, Priscilla Block and MacKenzie Porter. Craft has a really organic and raw sound voice which her forthcoming debut album will showcase even further. The album is about roaming free and easy with all songs intersecting, the anticipated project represents Craft’s one-way ticket to Nashville and all the tour stops, truck stops, and broken hearts in-between, after relocating from her hometown of Piedmont, South Carolina, in 2019. The Jonathan Singleton-produced collection features a heavy-hitting, GRAMMY-nominated songwriting crew including Singleton, Jessi Alexander, Jessie Jo Dillon, Rodney Clawson, and Wyatt Beasley Durrette, III, alongside her close friends and rising talents like Faren Rachels, Rob Snyder, Lee Starr, Willie Morrison, Reid Isbell, and Jenna LaMaster.
Ahead of this highly anticipated debut album “Travelin’ Kind” being released through Big Loud Records on September 3rd (Pre-save HERE) Jamie spent some time over Zoom getting to know Ashland and hearing all about this project and being able to bring out her debut release. “It honestly is an indescribable feeling. I look at this first record as my baby and I always dreamed about the day that I would get to release my first record. I had no clue what it was going to look like or what it was going to be about, I just knew I was excited to release one and after I moved to Nashville and got writing all these songs, it fell together beautifully and I was so excited because once we finally go to start working on this project the title felt evident for me. “Travellin’ Kind” has been it from day one and so just to see everything fall into place and piece together in such a cool way, again it’s so hard to explain that feeling. I think I’m just anxious in the best way to get it out there and show everybody the first little part of me.”
A debut record is your life’s work so far, it’s an introduction and a statement as to who you are and what you want to say. The world is more challenging than we have previously known so the last eighteen months have had a big impact on all of us so me and Ashland talked about the process of bringing this project to life: “The writing of the songs that are on the record has taken place over the last two years so some of them are super old, back from when I first moved to town and some are very recent so it’s been a pretty long process. I knew from day one that I wanted to do a record but of course that comes with time and growth. I think we recorded back in April of this year and fortunately it wasn’t too hard to put the songs together because I kind of already had the idea in my head to represent who I am right now and who I will probably be for a while which is a travellin’ kind. Thankfully all of the songs we had written just fit perfectly because the were all talking about leaving someone or somebody leaving you or you are leaving in general. It all had this sense of movement and travelling, so I was thankful how it came together in one cohesive project in a sense. Not necessarily the songs being one after the other with how they are written but with the flow to them.” Cohesive in the flow as Ashland put it, was something I definitely had picked up from the album and also, I just feel that it a great album to listen to in any situation which really spoke to you. This is something every artist wants to achieve with an extended project telling a story but I feel that “Travellin’ Kind” and that sense of movement across a variety of circumstances is something that we all relate to and go through. The album is perfect for a drive, sitting chilling on a lazy afternoon, getting ready to go out for the night or just when you want to spend some time to reflect. “I was definitely excited as we were tracking this whole record out and have one song compliment each other through dynamics and lyrics to tell a story in a sense. Maybe it’s not one cohesive giant story but I wanted them to be all these little parts and pieces of “Travellin’ Kind”. I feel like a lot of the songs are very different from each other. You have honky tonk songs and edgy rock songs that are in your face, it was important to me that it was exciting as you listen to it, it was something that took you on a journey. As a music lover myself, I have always been obsessed with listening to records and albums looking for those kinds of patterns and stories in those. I wanted to give people a fun, little dynamical record to listen to and hopefully there’s something for everybody, no matter what genre you listens to and appeal to everyone so I’m looking forward to seeing people’s opinions on the outcome and what they are digging the most.”
I tried to home in on this ethos of patterns and stories that she had heard through albums then tried to see if she could narrow it down on any specific influences on her own sound: “Nobody in my family is musical, I’ll just start by saying that so it’s crazy that here we are all these years later and we’re still doing this. I had parents that listened to awesome music and have great taste in music, where we always listened to a little bit of everything. I grew up on country music, Christian music, rock, eighties rock, R&B, soul and I love JoJo. Honestly, it’s just all over the place and I’ve never had just one specific thing that I liked, I was just genuinely interested in the composition of music, lyrical aspects of music but I always loved country. That’s where I came from and overall, of all the music it was what I could connect to the most and obviously I sound like it so it wasn’t too hard to get into that. All of those different pieces and parts of different music had its own hand in influencing who I am today. I have always loved music, I’ve always felt it was in my soul. I sang in church and I sang in day-care but obviously at that age you don’t know if anything is ever going to come of it as you’re just singing. I think the further I got into my teenage years, watching CMT and just getting into all those music videos, I don’t know it just felt right and I learnt to play guitar from watching CMT videos. It’s just crazy to see all of those influences and where it ended up. Hopefully it shows through all of the songs, a little bit of my influences but I’ve always loved music and always known that I wanted to make a career out of it but didn’t know how I was going to so I basically took every opportunity that I could to be in front of people and do music until I got to Nashville.” As the introduction will tell you, Ashland Craft got her big introduction when some chairs turned around for her on national television, but beyond the obvious exposure we talked about the other aspects of being on The Voice, what that brought to her musical education and whether that fast-tracked a potential move to Nashville? “Absolutely, I think The Voice was a huge part in me owning who I was, finding who I was and also gaining that fanbase that I couldn’t do back home. I’m from a town of five thousand people, it’s mostly manufacturing so there wasn’t that many gigs to do back home and I knew that was something I needed to do to take this next step to get my name, my face and my music out there. That was my biggest goal out of the whole process but I think it really helped me come into myself and become more confident in what I was trying to do because before then I was just a shy girl who really liked to sing but didn’t know what to do about it. I was definitely thankful for the experience, it gave me a lot of insight into how the industry is, how to navigate that and I made a lot of amazing friends so I’m very grateful for that experience.”
From here we discussed the move from a small town in South Carolina to the crazy world that is music city in Nashville, Tennessee. “It is its own world I will say that. I didn’t really know what to expect in moving to Nashville. For the longest time, I maybe fought it a little bit and really didn’t want to move here but I think I was just scared because everybody here is doing the same thing and what are the chances I would even have a shot at this? It’s crazy after you move here, I fell in love! Of course! Like everybody else does and I think it’s just the simple fact of being surrounded by people that are loving the same thing that you love and are motivated by the same things. You’re all working for one common goal here and it’s all for the love of music. It is its own big business world which is very interesting to navigate but at the end of the day, just being here, being able to write music with amazing people, getting to do what I love everyday and to wake up knowing that I’m getting the drive to better myself towards music and that’s what I’m getting to do here as a job. It’s been a blessing, I would not trade for the world and it’s taught me a lot about business and myself but I still have so much to learn so, thankfully I’ll be here for a while!”
Talking about somewhere that is very different to where she grew up in Piedmont, we talked about the prospect of (when things calm down a little bit in the world) jumping on a plane heading across the pond: “I would love that! Fun fact, I actually tried so hard to go to the UK instead of going to the beach on my senior trip in high school but that didn’t happen. I have been waiting very long and patiently to get out there so I promise you the first moment I get, I am jumping on it. I’m so obsessed with other culture and going to different places because you know I’m the travellin’ kind! I think it’s just naturally in me that I would love to explore places that are outside of my own and really get to know the culture of everyone there, just to learn because I’m a sponge right now, so to be able to soak in all of that and learn from country music over there seeing how it differentiates or how it is similar. I just love taking those pieces with me and I think what creates us as people is those cool, unique experiences that you don’t normally get to go through. I would love to visit, just see everything and meet everybody because it seems like such a cool place so I’m very excited and one of these days we’re getting out there!”
One of the real differences that you come across between the European perspective and what we are aware of that happens Stateside is the access and attitude towards female artists. Whilst this is well documented and completely unjust across the pond there are luckily some organisations like CMT with their Next Women of Country programme that are looking to help level this playing field. “CMT has been such a huge part in growing up with country music and being here. They have things like the equal play initiative which has been fantastic and them to have the CMT Next Women of Country has been very beneficial to us. It has given us the chance to put ourselves out there a little bit more, be surrounded by some badass women, talented women and we are all so diverse. That’s what makes it so fun with coming from all walks of life where we are all being appreciated in the same way, so it’s really cool and I’m so thankful that they created something like that because for whatever reason that it is, it’s a little bit more interesting to grab the fans when you’re coming from the female perspective. It’s a very meticulous process apparently, but we have programmes like this that help us out and put us in the forefront so I’m thankful and I hope they continue to do that for years to come because all artists are important but its just nice to see that initiative being put into play.” We finished up with me bringing up how she had just played at one of the worlds most iconic venues: Fenway Park which is the home of the Boston Red Sox whilst being on the road with Zac Brown Band and how that must have been such an incredible experience! “This whole tour has been insane! This has been our first major one, we were one before the pandemic but it got cut in half so it has been an amazing experience to be able to go out to giant venues like Fenway, historical venues at that and just put a performance on! It’s been very eye opening, a learning experience for all of us and it’s been a blessing because everyone on everybody’s team on the tour has been so helpful, so insightful and supportive from day one so I’m excited to see where the rest of it goes!”
“Travelin’ Kind” the debut album from Ashland Craft will be released on September 3rd via Big Loud Records which you can pre-save HERE. You can find out more about Ashland on her WEBSITE and keep up to date socially with her through INSTAGRAMTWITTERFACEBOOK & YOUTUBE.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks