Thirty-four year-old Ashley McBryde is finally getting her due in the country music world. As she should. This woman has been making outstanding music in Nashville since 2007, writing and playing in dive bars and honkytonks – anywhere to get her music heard.
Her music is this amazing combination of grit and beauty. To me, if Miranda Lambert, Gretchen Wilson and Trisha Yearwood had a baby, Ashley McBryde would be it.
"A Little Dive Bar in Dahlongea," the first single from her first studio album, "Girl Going Nowhere," has made tidal waves everywhere. Reaching number seven on the U.S. Country Chart, it’s been named to Rolling Stone’s "25 Best Songs," The New York Times "54 Best Songs" and N.P.R.’s "35 Favorite Songs of 2018 (So Far)."
She’s had a long road to achieve the musical recognition she rightfully deserves, a journey she's described as one of "guerilla warfare." One of the best things about her is that she doesn’t fit the 2018 mold of what a female country star should be. And frankly, I’m happy for it. She’s super smart, full of sauce and wit and funny as hell. She’s not standing on a pedestal, nor does she seem to want to.
I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with McBryde before her Country Thunder set to ask her a few questions about where she’s been and where’s she’s going.
OnMilwaukee: You grew up on some serious rock music with mom and dad listening to artists like Van Zandt and The Police. How did you swing into country?
Ashley McBryde: I actually grew up playing bluegrass and listening to country music, and was really lucky that there was an oldies station – I talk about it in the song "Radioland" – that we could get in the next town over. And I just thought it was just regular rock music; of course, now it’s considered oldies. But it was everything. It was The Beatles. It was Springsteen. It was Joplin. It was Hendrix. And so, from a very early age, bluegrass, country and rock were all equal.
What are the two most important things you want people to know about you?
Wow. Well, every time I leave a place, I want people to say that my crew is a group of nice people that work really hard and we’re easy to work with. You know, I want them to know that all my tattoos have stories. I didn’t just randomly spin a wheel and get tattoos. I’m being told now – you know the comments sections and everything – that "that’s way too many tattoos for country music." And I think that’s hilarious. So, yeah, you can be country and have tattoos.
It’s safe to say you’re not a girl going nowhere any longer, but it’s also safe to say that women in country music are still suffering the effects of Keith Hill’s Saladgate comments …
And that you’ve heard a fair number of no’s. What’s been your toughest rejection, and what did you learn from it?
There was a writer in town. I was playing a writer’s night that was his. He was opening a publishing company. He came up and stood right next to me as I’m watching this other songwriter and said, "What do you want to be?" And I said, "I want to be a songwriter." He said, "I’m opening a publishing company. I need a girl writer." I said, "OK." He said, "You want to be an artist or you want to be a writer?" I said, "I want to be both. I want to be Lucinda Williams." And he looked at me and he goes, "Mmmm, I can’t make you into what I need you to be" and passed on the deal. And thank God! Because I didn’t have to sacrifice anything about myself to be able to write songs. That was a tough one. And it was a writer I really respected. We’ve made amends since then.
What do you say to people who think that country music is dying or needs saving?
It’s kind of silly. Country music has always been there, and it’s always going to be there. And we’re ... we change a little bit what we look like. We change a little bit what we sound like. We’re kind of becoming this blurred genre of sub-genres. For awhile, we all resisted it. I resisted it too as a songwriter, being like, "I don’t want to write truck songs." Well, you don’t have to. We build a bigger table. We make room for everybody. Because even though we’re considered on the rock side of things, the way we do country music wouldn’t have as much impact if there wasn’t pop country and if there wasn’t bare bones roots country, too. So, it’s all really important. It’s not dying. It’s not going to go anywhere. It’s just going to change what it looks like and sounds like.
Who makes you fan girl and who are your influences?
Ohhh. Influences is really, really hard because every artist is just an amalgamation of every song they’ve ever heard. But I always reach for things like ... I grew up listening to Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood, Mark Chestnutt, Alan Jackson. That was a really good time in country music. But then also, like, Bruce Springsteen and Lucinda Williams is a huge influence. Wynonna Judd.
Who makes me fan girl? I cried in April when I got to meet Reba McEntire. And I fan girl out every time I see Wynonna, too. Even though she is so approachable and so sweet. And Reba was, too. And I shook her hand and I was all shaky. And she said, "Well, I was wonderin’ when I was gonna meet you." And I said, "Don’t you dare introduce yourself right now." And so I stood there.
I always say the most awkward things when I get nervous. We were at dinner and we were a couple tables over. The words came out of my mouth: "I don’t mean to bother you while your snout’s in the trough, I just wanted to say hello." And then I was like, "Did I just say that? It was the most Arkansasan thing I could have possibly done!" She took it really well. She was really nice.
Your first headlining tour starts in September – congratulations. What are your goals beyond the tour? What’s next for you?
During the tour, I have one goal: I get an opener – his name is Dee White – and I get to be good to him the way so many artists were good to me on club tours. And I’m so excited about that.
Beyond that, it’s almost time to start working on the second record, which we’ve already got a ton of songs picked out. And that’s the hardest part: watching these songs duke it out with each other. Even just picking a single, like "Radioland" was duking it out with "American Scandal." No matter what song wins, you know, we’re gonna be excited about it. But it’s a painful and really beautiful process. I’m ready to get back in the studio with Jay. We cut this record in two days ... two nights.
Yeah, two full nights from about 6 p.m. to about 4 a.m. both times. And so I’m excited. Let’s try seven days and see what happens when you make a record that way.
In all of her experiences, time was focused on writing which has been a passion since junior high school. A series of food service industry jobs both before and after law school taught her that bringing out the human side in any story is key to great storytelling and good writing.
A die-hard east side girl, you'll usually find Lora down by the lake or on the Oakleaf. She's an avid photographer, and sometimes storm chaser.
Hobbies include biking, gardening, cross country skiing, swimming, blogging, and of course working on her fictionalized autobiography--fictionalized, because whose life is really interesting enough to fill 400 pages?
She's in IMDb. Look her up.