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CMA Songwriters Series, London – In conversation with Kassi Ashton

After I came back from Nashville in June where we got to see so many incredible artists for the first time there was one person I really could not stop telling people about and how much everyone in the UK would absolutely fall in love with everything about them.  Then to my delight as part of Country Music Week there was to be a CMA Songwriters series show at Shepherds Bush Empire in addition to shows in Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Gateshead where fans over here would get to see exactly what I was talking about and why Kassi Ashton is the absolute real deal.

In a very different setting to when we saw her back in June, I felt that the intimate songwriters round feel still allows for her personality to shine through so strongly and if anything allows people to connect with what she brings as an artist even more.  When we chatted before the show she asked which I preferred to see her and now having seen them both my feeling is pretty much how she answered herself.  “I love them both for different reasons.  I consider myself just as much a songwriter as I am a singer.  In a round you can sing all slow songs and nobody minds as you can really tell the stories and most fans want to hear them.”  Listening to her talk about songs there is this enigmatic and fun-loving persona that comes out very naturally in the round the same as when she is moving around and working the audience in her own shows.  “I love to dance, encourage other people to dance and get a little loose so they can lose their inhibitions and feel empowered.”

Her sound and her style is a long way from what many people not embracing the changes in modern country music would consider to be a quote unquote stereotypical country music artist but the UK fans really seemed to take to this style as much as we expected they would.  “Based on the history of music over here with everything from The Beatles to Adele to Amy Winehouse, I feel I incorporate that more into my voice and my style more than other country artists.  I looked up to singers like Adele and Amy growing up, playing their music nonstop and I still do so for people to appreciate the soulfulness that I have and I think people are just so much more open minded over here in general.”  The late Amy Winehouse is a great starting point to describe her vocal sound and style, I personally hear a lot of Lana Del Rey not just in her voice but also the way she delivers stories in her songwriting.  You couple this musical style with how sassy this girl is and how she has such an incredible sense of style there really is no surprise as to why the UK fans are already desperate to see her return to these shores which she hopes to be as soon as possible.

This was Kassi’s first ever trip to Great Britain and loved how tea is so readily available over here (this is becoming such a reoccurring sentiment that the girls that come over from Nashville seem to be saying) and apparently it’s way better too.  She got to experience the UK’s national dish for the first time when she went out for a “FULL INDIAN” and really liked all the little tricks and quirks that accompany a curry over here but was not fully convinced by baked beans on the breakfast menu.  “In my defence or your defence I don’t really like baked beans anyway” so I suppose we can forgive her on that one particularly due to her fascination with the architecture over here which as Brits is something we probably take for granted too much.  “I love how beautiful you make everything and you have a knack for preservation – you know in America we would have knocked everything over and rebuilt it.  It’s great to walk through a city and see a building that is too old to even name the date.  Everything is just so ornate and gorgeous.”

We talked about her expectations of visiting our country for the first time along with the perception of audiences over here and it is always nice to hear the age old myth that it always rains over here still runs true.  “It’s been better, the weather has been perfect!  I packed an umbrella and haven’t used it once.  It’s been sunny and beautiful.”  There is this general consensus that UK crowds are more attentive and pay more attention to the lyrics and all the songs due to limited access to radio and on this which she added “everyone is kind but at the same time they just seem like they are in their element when they are listening.”

During the show in London, Kassi performed five songs in the round including her most recent single Taxidermy and ending with a beautiful rendition of The Straw however the song that we spoke about at length when we chatted prior was the track she opened up with California, Missouri.  I am such a big fan of the idea behind this song and the way that it has been written to get this idea across.  The song is about the town where she grew up and was something “I knew I wanted to write my whole life” and what I love about this track that she wrote with Luke Laird and Shane McAnally is how it doesn’t romanticize the town where somebody grew up, it meets the middle ground “I love it but I love to leave it which is exactly what I wanted to get across.”

With the writing process she told me that she knew wanted to write the song, she knew she wanted to write it with Luke and “I knew I just wanted to call it the name of the town because nothing is more blunt but also quite confusing with the state called California so it would catch the eye.”  Talking about Luke Laird, Kassi describes working with him not just with him as her producer but “he understands me, he is like the other half of my creative brain rather than writing with another person.”  Then Shane came along to a write after being at home for a few days and it all fell together “He was like I’ve changed and none of that has, but do they appreciate that I’ve changed?  So I was like OK!!”

Hearing her talk about the song just conveys how it was almost a labour of love and how special the song is to her “I was nervous as hell to write it because I wanted to do it once and do it right.  In that moment I felt that those 2 men would become a part of me and we would just write it as one heart, one soul and one brain!”  She described running to Luke’s studio the next day and cried expressing to him “I am so happy you all did this with me, this will be so special for the rest of my life.”  The writing of the song just flowed, Kassi mentioned how they didn’t really try to rhyme in the lyrics and hence why the melody is very rhythmic because she was aiming for “a stream of consciousness sounding anxiety and pressure and love at the same time.”

The reaction that she has gained over here is fantastic and it is no surprise that the fans have been asking her at meet and greets when she is planning to return and it is something she really wants to do as soon as she possibly can.  The other burning question has revolved around her debut album which at present is “not finished yet, I’m a picky person so I want to get it right and I want it to accompany all the layers of myself.  Not just one side and hopefully the common thread between various flavours and labels will show it is 100% authentic and me!”  However given the scope of the songs that we have already heard is something that will be well worth the wait and she already has plenty in the pipeline with her being named on the new CMA KixStart Artist Scholarship programme along with Travis Denning and Jameson Rodgers in addition to being part of Budweiser’s CMA Awards showcase on November 11th along with Clare Dunn, The Sisterhood Band and Think Country favourite Lindsay Ell in Nashville.

Talking of Nashville, when we saw her earlier this year which was during CMA Fest, myself and my friends got to experience her set with her biggest supporter!  We watched her performance with her dad!  When I mentioned this she giggled and said “he told me about you guys, didn’t he get his ID out and be like I’m her dad!” which was really cool because he was rightfully so proud of her and this tour has proved what we said to him in how much the people over here would love her music and how she needed to make the trip over which I am sure will not be the last time we see her over here.



Annette Gibbons
Hi, I’m Annette, I have been a huge country music fan since the early 90s those were the days we were lucky enough to have CMT in the UK. I enjoy nothing more than listening to country music whilst having a cold beer (or a moonshine) with friends. I try to as many gigs as I can here in the UK and in the USA; I think of Nashville as my second home and I am lucky to have made some amazing friends in Tennessee. Think Country is something I am very proud of, I just want to share my love and passion of all things country music related with you all.
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