In Conversation with Ashley McBryde
Annette Gibbons and Patti McClintic
CRS 2018 brought a lot of country artists to our Think Country interview table. In fact, it was a revolving door of really talented people. Veterans that have been doing this music thing forever and names you’ve probably never even heard of yet, but we hope you will very soon. I have to tell you, one of the most anticipated for me personally at least, was the one I’m ready to write about. Our interview with Ashley McBryde was one for the books.
I need to stop for a minute and explain my method for transcribing these interviews. Each interview was recorded. We (meaning Annette Gibbons and myself) informed every artist that we were only recording for our own purposes and they were able to speak freely, that none of the recordings would ever be sent out to the world for anyone to hear, and that’s 100% true. I transcribe and delete them. What I am doing, however, is a random back and forth of Q&A style vs. written style. Annette sends me the recordings via e-mail and I just transcribe them in whatever order she sends them. The last one was Q&A style, so this one becomes written out. I must admit, I’m kind of glad that’s the case, as I really wanted to add a few of my own “things” to this one. Had it not gone that way, I wouldn’t have. It was a crap shoot. I won for a change. I apologize for this jump off the track, but I felt it necessary to point out the reason why some interviews are done one way and others another. It isn’t favoritism. It’s who comes up next on the list and I promise you, I never waver. On with the show.
Ashley McBryde first hit my radar much like she did many of yours, on the radio. Her single, “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” was one of those songs that took me about 40 seconds to love.
I heard it and I was downloading it at the next red light. I had no idea where Dahlonega was. It may have been fictional. I didn’t care. Naturally, I started hearing her name a lot more after that. Several months down the road, I heard her name again. This time, it was on a much more personal basis. It was in a conversation with a pretty good songwriter. You may have heard of him. His name is Travis Meadows. We were talking about him possibly co-writing with a friend of mine in the future. He was saying he has a hard time trusting people when it comes to co-writers, but guess what name came up as one of the ones he does trust? Yes. Ashley McBryde. Well, now I knew I had to like this woman, because I really like Travis Meadows. I loved her music so far. She had a mutual friend. You can see why I was looking forward to meeting her.
You have my backstory. How about I get into the actual interview? You’ve endured my chatter thus far, I owe you that. Let’s go.
(Ashley McBryde enters the room)
If you’ve not ever seen Ashley McBryde, let me paint you a picture. She looks like she belongs in a biker bar. Plain and simple. She looks like she could kick my ass. She’s pretty and she reminds me of my old dear friend from high school (who is pretty and could kick my ass). We told her she could speak freely because the recording would not be publicized. She then puts us at ease by saying, “Then I don’t have to use Mom vocabulary.” (Now she REALLY reminds me of my old high school friend Joanne, because she SOUNDS like her too, and her mannerisms are the same. This is getting scary.) Annette mentions that she saw McBryde at “CMT’s Next Women of Country” and I recall Annette raving about McBryde as a standout at that show. McBryde’s response to this? “Hmmm…and you thought, ‘She’s loud.’” I immediately thought to myself, I love her. She’s quick. She’s witty. Can we bring her home?
Annette couldn’t wait to talk to her about London. McBryde is on the bill for London’s biggest country music festival, C2C (Country 2 Country). If Annette Gibbons and the country music fans think they are excited about that (and they are), McBryde is too. “I’m so excited about that. I’ve never been on a plane that long before.” Annette explained to her that when she asks fans in the UK who they’re going to C2C to see, so many of them are saying “Ashley McBryde, they’re going crazy.” “God, I just can’t wait. I just wanna hug everybody. I mean, I do it at every show, but as many hugs as I can give, I’m gonna give ‘em.” I threw in that I was jealous and to give some hugs for me because I wanted to go too, to which this woman that I now decided I loved, said, “Well, come on, go!” I’m laughing to myself as I type this. Should the winning lottery ticket fall from the sky, you can bet I’ll be there!
It’s apparent that things are going really, really well right now in the world of Ashley McBryde. Signed to Warner Nashville with her album, “Girl Going Nowhere” set to release March 30th, we asked how she got to this point.
Her answer was quick. “I’m an 11 year overnight success. Or sometimes I say, ‘I arrived yesterday, on a bus, I showed up and they handed me a record deal.’” We acknowledged that fans often think just because they hear an artist’s name on the radio that they’ve never heard before, and their single takes off like a rocket, they must be an overnight success, but that’s almost never the case. McBryde elaborated. “This has happened really quickly since things started to take off, but 11 years of dive bars and biker bars and trucker bars, which I love, it’s a compliment coming from me, but when things started taking off, they happened so fast. It was like trying to put out a fuse with a match.”
If there’s one thing we at Think Country get asked often, it’s to listen to music and see what we think. Annette was saying she had been pestered for a while to listen to someone named Ashley McBryde for a while and just hadn’t got around to it, when finally, she was nailed to the wall during a phone call. Having no way out because the caller on the other end was determined to stay on the line until she listened to the song, she did. Sometimes, the person pestering you is right. “So, you like it? It’s good then?” McBryde questioned. Annette said, “Of course!” “Well, alright, thanks!” McBryde was so genuine and so appreciative.
Asked what’s going on in the United States now, McBryde said they had just finished up their third night with Luke Combs, including two nights at The Ryman. All of February on the road with Combs, March overseas and back home to hit the road again with Miranda Lambert and Jon Pardi, then right back out with Luke Combs. She added that she and Combs make for a great combination.
How do Miranda Lambert and McBryde get along? Well, they wrote together a while back, and McBryde thought they’d do alright, and they did. In her words, “I knew that I would like writing together, I thought that we would probably get along, and we did, as quick as a house fire, but I didn’t realize how brilliant, I mean, I knew she was a great songwriter, I didn’t know she was going to be one of the most brilliant songwriters I’ve ever sat across the table from. It was me and her and Gwen Sebastian, and we were throwing out ideas so fast that we couldn’t nail one down. It was hard. It was like baptizing cats. She was like, ‘You’re making me angry.’ Then I was like, ‘You’re making me angry.’ Then we were both angry at Gwen, and it was just one of the coolest experiences of all the time I’ve been writing songs and co-writing. I’ve never sat down with anybody that brilliant.”
McBryde hails from the Northeast part of Arkansas, or the Ozark Mountain region, even though she’s been a Nashville resident for the last 11 years (remember an 11 year overnight success story?), and she says she loves it.
That led us into me revealing that we had a mutual friend in Travis Meadows (you see, I did have a reason for mentioning him in the beginning of this thing, not that he doesn’t deserve mentioning anywhere and everywhere just because he’s amazing anyway), and the second I said his name, McBryde leaned back a bit in her chair and said, “I love Travis Meadows.” I replied with, “Travis told me you’re the best.” With complete conviction in her voice, “Travis changed my life”, McBryde replied. “He said you are one of the people he totally trusts and loves to write with.” “Absolutely, he has changed my ability to write. I had no idea who he was when Cheley Tackett played me ‘Minefield’ off the ‘Killing Uncle Buzzy’ record.” (I knew at this point I related to this artist even more because “Minefield” is still my very favorite Travis Meadows song, and I request he play it at every show if given the chance, and I told her that during the interview) It changed what kind of honesty I was willing to accept out of my own songwriting, because he’s just willing to rip his ribcage open and show you all the little gears and whistles. I was like, it’s okay, it’s okay to show the dark parts. It’s okay to show the good parts too. So, he changed my songwriting with that record and he has saved my life several times, he doesn’t know that, but his songs have, I mean, they’ll pull you out. I responded by saying, “Oh yeah, his songs, they’ll put brush burns on your heart.” “Oh, yeah, absolutely.” (When I said what I said, I meant that in the most complimentary way. His writing is as deep and real as it gets, and McBryde’s is bound to only get better and better by collaborating with someone like him).
When approached with the idea that country radio is now playing her songs, all McBryde could say at first was, “Yeah! Weird!” and then we all had a laugh. Annette mentioned when she first met her, she felt like she was just talking with one of her friends, and honestly, I felt that way too. This was no prima donna country artist. Being accepted in the mainstream without having changed her style is probably more surprising to McBryde than anyone. Is she grateful? You’d better believe it. “I love to hang out. When I found out that part of my job would be just to come hang out like this with all kinds of new people like this, what better job in the whole world is there? To be accepted on country radio is still weird to me. When I hear myself on the radio, whether it’s XM or Terrestrial radio, it’s still strange. Like I’ll hear Chris Harris that sings harmony on the entire record, he’s in my band. I’ll hear his voice on one of the tracks on the radio, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I love that guy, I love his voice, who is that guy? Oh, wait, that’s US! That’s my band!’ It’s really weird. I say the word “weird” a lot these days because it’s kind of strange. I got to meet Lorrie Morgan when we played Opry at The Ryman and for her to say she was a fan, that was really strange because I looked up to her growing up.
How do you conduct an interview with Ashley McBryde and not go down the road to Dahlonega? I mentioned it was my first introduction to her music, as it was for so many people. I’m sure she’s told the story a million times, but I wasn’t letting her get away without telling it once more, and you know what? She didn’t even mind. In fact, she didn’t even mind giving us a crash course in how to pronounce it properly. “Say it three times. ‘Da-la-na-gah. Da-la-na-gah. Da-la-na-gah.” We repeated it back. We passed that class with flying colors and we learned it’s in Georgia, it’s where the North Georgia Mountains start and where the very first American goldrush began, and you can still try your hand at panning for gold there. So, that covered our geography and history lessons for the day, never let it be said that Ashley McBryde is a dummy, she has a lot of information to share, which I also enjoy. She claims she grabbed all this off Wikipedia, but hey, who doesn’t use that internet wonder? Who cares if it might not all be accurate, people are way too concerned with details these days, live a little. Dahlonega is where fellow country artist Zac Brown is from and Annette also got to mention that her daughter is named Georgia after that lovely state. Bases covered on the song title. Now we needed the story behind the song itself. Is it a true story? This part, my friends, she did not find on Wikipedia.
“The Crimson Moon. It’s in the town square in Dahlonega, Georgia. It’s a true story. I wrote it with Nicolette Hayford and Jesse Rice. We had each had really awful days on the day this song was written, but that chorus is the true story of how Jesse met Kendra, his wife. His car had broken down and he took the next available exit, so he took the Dahlonega, Georgia exit and parked at The Crimson Moon, went inside and Shawn Mullins was inside playing a show…” I interjected here, “Shawn Mullins who sings ‘Lullabye’?” (McBryde starts to sing the song, acknowledging that, yes, it was that very Shawn Mullins) “So he stayed there that night, had a burger and a beer, caught the eye of this little blonde girl, and they’ve been married for two and a half years now.”
As good as “Dahlonega” is though, it doesn’t stop there, the newest single, “American Scandal” is out now and it’s really something. I thanked her for writing that song because it’s just… oh, don’t listen to me, go listen to the song! “Oh man, and I love singin’ it too! It’s a LUNG BUSTER!” It feels so good. It’s so cleansing to sing those notes.”
Annette asked if she had a favorite cover to sing, and unlike some artists, who tend to think that covers are, well, shall we say, “beneath” them, McBryde proved why she’s really grounded, immediately responded with, “Oh, I LOVE covers. If we had a guitar right now, we could play ‘Stump Me’. Anne Murray, Paul Simon, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, I love covers.” “Do you have a favorite cover that you do on tour?” “The band does ‘Heartache Tonight’ because when you have that many people that can sing harmonies, you really should use that, even though we don’t get to do that at every show. I don’t know, maybe at C2C, because I love Kathy Mattea, I love Lorrie Morgan, really you can shout it out. My only rule is, if I don’t know it, I can’t play it, but if I do know it, AT ALL, I have to try it.”
Will she be doing any other shows around C2C for those lucky folks in the London area? “They just added one, it’s me and Ryan Kinder. That should be a fun show. I didn’t even see what the theatre was, I just saw it pop up today on the calendar.”
I asked if she was going to be doing any “touristy things” while she was in the UK (I think I’m attempting to live vicariously through Ashley McBryde as I’ll be here in the States holding down the Nashville end of Think Country while C2C and all the madness is going on over there). “Whatever I need to do, whatever it is, that’s what I want to do. Whatever the food, whatever I have to eat, whatever I have to have, I want that. Real fish and chips. Real beer, in a real pub. Never had it served properly. Here, I’m a whiskey drinker anyway, but I want a real beer in a real pub. I’d just like to bring my gig bag everywhere we go and just break it out and play my guitar wherever we go. Is it legal? Can you busk?” Annette said, “You can busk, (forthose that are unfamiliar, “busking” is street performing), she continued by saying, “Kip Moore finished his shows, and apparently he wasn’t finished playing, so he grabbed his guitar and carried on. There were crowds of people everywhere. I don’t think security liked him very much, but yeah, people loved him. Especially if you’re around C2C though, you don’t want to start a…” McBryde jumped in, “A crowd of 30 or 40 folks…” Annette laughed and said, “30 or 40! This is our only big country music festival. People come to London for a week for this. For some people this is their only vacation for the year. There’s a Facebook page and people are so excited, they’re talking about who they’re going to see, who will be coming and all of that. You will blow everyone away.” McBryde was astonished by this information. “Wow! I can’t wait!”
We learned that there are more singles to be had from the upcoming album, and I guess one of the possibilities is a tune called “Radioland”. Of course, she had just heard that herself via a rumor heard from her lead guitar player. It’s always nice when the artist is the last to know (via Nashville’s ever churning rumor mill). Let’s all just keep our ears to the ground, because no matter what it is, I’m sure it’s going to be good.
As it always does, Father Time reared his ugly head and we had to speed things up. We got into our more crazy questions. Celebrity bars. If there were to be an Ashley McBryde celebrity bar, what would it be all about. “It would be called ‘The Southern Babylon’ which is a song on this record, based on a friend of mine and I wrote a song about where we thought musicians go when we die. We don’t go to a normal Heaven or a normal Hell. You don’t go to a really great bar or a really terrible bar, right? This isn’t a really terrible bar. In that song, she ends up in a bar in Atlanta called ‘The Southern Babylon’, where your cigarette’s already lit, your tab’s already open, you don’t understand why you’re there, but some lady hands you a guitar and says, “Get up on stage”, and that’s where you spend eternity, playing in a cover band in ‘The Southern Babylon’. So, I would name my bar ‘The Southern Babylon’”. (Annette and I just turned to each other with our mouths hanging open in awe. This is brilliant, is it not?)
The signature drink? “Everything is whiskey based. Of course, being in Nashville, everything is triple smoke, the really good bourbon that is super, super smoky. You can actually take applewood and smoke it into a bottle and pour that on top of whatever liquor you’ve got. I would do, probably not grenadine, not something super, super sweet, something kind of smoky, with a little swirl of smoke over the top.” We asked when this genius establishment was going to break ground. “Tomorrow.” We volunteered to manage it, to which McBryde said, with a bit of seriousness in her tone, “It’s not really fair, because it’s a goal of mine, to open a bar.” Apparently, she’s even given some thought to the menu, because we didn’t ask, she just threw it out there. “Monday, meatloaf, Tuesday, tacos, Wednesday, wings, Thirsty Thursday, Fried Stuff Friday, very limited menu.”
Very last thing, since we are Think Country, what makes Ashley McBryde Think Country? “Where I’m from, the wildflowers are a protected species. My Mom used to call my sister and I ‘wildflowers’, because wildflowers don’t care where they grow, they just grow. Doesn’t matter what situation you’re in, you just kind of thrive, that’s country to me. Two lane highways, pick up trucks that don’t run right, guitars that don’t stay in tune and boots that stink when you take ‘em off. That’s country to me.”
That ended our interview, but I just need to sum up my thoughts on Ashley McBryde as person. From my initial impression of her when she walked through the door to where she sits in my mind and heart, probably forever. I can do it in one sentence. She’s the only tough soft person I have ever met. If that’s an oxymoron, so be it. That’s what she is to me. I’ve said it before. She hooked me with her music, she’s welcome in my home anytime because of who she IS.
With that we thanked her and Annette complimented her “tats”. “Even with my accent, I said ‘tats’”. “I completely understood it. It was very clear.” I can’t love this woman and her music enough. I think I speak for Annette Gibbons as well.
The interview was officially over, however, in print, we can’t do outtakes, which is unfortunate, but I can do my best to explain what happened after. We did an interview earlier in the day with another amazing country artist, Mr. Aaron Tippin, who also has his own line of FABULOUS wine. He brought in a bottle for us to sample. We sampled, and apparently, we liked it a lot because there was barely a shot left in the bottle. That bottle remained on the table during the Ashley McBryde interview.
I guess post-interview, we must have got into a quick discussion of not wanting to waste life’s treasures (grapes, Aaron Tippin’s hard work) and obviously Annette and I weren’t exactly subscribing to this train of thought as fully as we should have been. Thank GOD Ashley McBryde was there to save us from our wasteful selves and she killed off that last swig of wine. You want to know what? I have the empty bottle in my office/music memorabilia room (yes, I did wash it out) because I am not one to clog up any landfills with broken glass and I don’t trust those recycling places. I’m going to keep it safe until they can find a way to repurpose it FOR SURE. Thank you Aaron Tippin. Thank you Ashley McBryde. That was one of the best days ever!
You can find Ashley McBryde: