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Interview: Kassi Ashton on CMA Songwriters Series, UK fans and working with Keith Urban

We spoke to the rising country star as she toured the UK with the CMA Songwriters Series.

Kassi Ashton
Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

Kassi Ashton is one of the most unique and exciting new country artists around.

Originally from California, Missouri – the title of her debut single – Ashton has been winning over fans with her songwriting talents and soulful vocals, as well as her mix of musical influences. She’s been named as one of US country radio DJ Bobby Bones’ Class of 2018 and also duetted with Keith Urban on Drop Top, which appeared on his recent album Graffiti U.

I caught up with Kassi whilst she’s over in the UK for the CMA Songwriters Series. Read on to find out more about the shows, her experiences with UK fans and what it was like to work with Keith.

Hi Kassi! How are you?

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Good! I’m in the Sprinter on our way to Manchester.

How would you describe your music?

Ooh, that’s always a tough question. The best way I can describe it is that it’s always totally me, and authentic stories about my life and everyday things. Lyrically charged, as far as the lyrics go. But I really try to come across as authentic as possible. I was raised on vinyl and classic country music, but other influences happened along the way like Adele and Amy Winehouse and sort of urban beats that you can dance to. So it’s a wide array of things.

This is your first visit to the UK – how’s it been going so far?

Yes, it’s been great. I love it. I wish I had more time to do touristy things, but I’ve been looking at the great views out the window as we drive by. [laughs]

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Is there anywhere you’ve particularly enjoyed visiting so far? Or anywhere you’re looking forward to?

I am looking forward to Manchester and London, because everyone tells me that I’m gonna love it. We have two days each in those cities so maybe I can get around to doing some extra things.

Do you find UK audiences react differently or to different songs compared to those in the US?

I’ve found them to be a bit more open. Like when we do meet and greets after the show they’re just so happy and excited and they’re very complementary, and saying ‘please come back, please come back!’ And I just hug them all [laughs] and I take a picture and I promise to be back. So I think it’s awesome because they say ‘you sound like some of our artists, you would do well over here’. It’s comforting.

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Your current single is Taxidermy – can you tell us a bit more about the song?

Yeah, so that’s the only song I’ve recorded so far that I haven’t written myself. One of my very good friends, Natalie Hemby, wrote it for me along with Luke Dick and Rosi Goslan. When she wrote it she called me and she was like, “I wrote a song for you today!” and I was thinking, ‘it’s Natalie Hemby, I’ll sing whatever she sends!’ [laughs] And when she told me that it was called Taxidermy I was like, “Whaaat?!” [laughs]

It’s kind of a weird title which is why I ended up loving it in the end and deciding to record it, because it perfectly embodies the two different worlds that I grew up in. Like a farm and deer season on my dad’s side, very rural, and then on my mom’s side it was more ballet and beauty pageants and yada, yada, yada. So it was the perfect way to follow up my first song I ever put out called California, Missouri, about my home town.

Do you have a typical writing process?

Yeah, so usually in Nashville when you write it’s with two other people, sometimes one other person. So most of the time there’s a track guy in the room – one of the writers who’ll build the track and the musical elements of the song.

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I’m inspired by anything from a melody idea that I’ll record on my phone at home or wherever, or just honestly living life and going through the experiences that we do as humans. Those really kind of shape the songwriting process. And sometimes if you don’t have a particular thing in mind, it’s just kind of like ‘what mood is everyone in?’

Do you ever get writer’s block? And if so how do you deal with that?

Oh, for sure. I think everyone does. But there’ll be days or even weeks at a time where you’re not coming up with many fresh ideas, and I find that trying to surround yourself with things that inspire you. I don’t know if you guys have Pinterest over here, but I’m a big Pinterest person so I’m always looking for things that inspire me and evoke emotion, as well as reading and trying to see into other people’s lives and try to connect with them. And that usually helps the writer’s block. Or just watch a really great film that kind of moves you in a way.

The CMA Songwriters Series shows are quite intimate – do you prefer those to a full band show? Or are you a fan of both?

I would say I love them both equally in their own respects. Just because when you do a songwriting round you really get to talk about the stories and connect with the audience, and I like to make them laugh and talk with the other writers. It’s more so of a conversation than a display of artistry. But I also love full band shows because of course you get the full effect and you get to dance around and people get to lose themselves in whatever you’re giving them. But either way on both parts you get to connect, and that’s why we do what we do.

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You’re very into fashion and make a lot of your own clothes. Where do you get your inspiration from for your outfits?

So I started making clothes probably in middle school, and I’m sure they were horrible back then! [laughs] What really inspires me is I live by a mantra of ‘if it doesn’t exist, create it’. Or make it. So most of the time random things just pop into my head and if I can’t find them, I am forced to make them. I get really inspired by high fashion – every Fashion Week I’m always trying to follow – but also staying true to the basic things that I love and that are the main points of my style.

You worked with Keith Urban on his last album and performed with him in Nashville recently – what was he like to work with?

Oh, he was amazing. He’s like the kindest, most talented human being ever. When he asked me to sing that song with him I literally couldn’t believe it. And he’s been so supportive ever since. I just love when he plays that song on tour and I get videos from fans in the audience. They send them and they’re screaming the song [laughs]. It’s really special.

What got you into music and made you decide to pursue it as a career?

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I always say that I started singing before I could read. My mom used to sneak me into karaoke bars and I would sing My Heart Will Go On from Titanic, and I couldn’t read the prompter yet so she would stand behind me and read me the words. And I was so little that if the audience clapped a lot I would cry, because the noise scared me. And pretty much since I was old enough to know that I would have a career one day, it’s been singing.

If you had a bucket list for your music career, what would be on that?

I want to play at the Superbowl. I wanna do Superbowl half-time – that would be a big thing for me, for sure. The list of people I’d love to work with is endless. I’d love to do something at some point with John Mayer. I think that would be crazy, because he’s just so talented. I love everything he does.

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?

Oh, that is so hard! Ummm…. wow. Oh my goodness! That is so hard. What came to mind as soon as you said that was Someone Like You by Adele. Because I think that song is so powerful and I love the piano part, and I love the lyrics. I remember the first time I heard that song, I knew that so many people were going to feel like it was written for them.

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What do the next few months look like for you? Is there more writing, touring, new music maybe?

Yeah, so two weeks after I get back it’ll be awards week in Nashville so I’ll be playing a show at the Budweiser Country Club. It’s an official CMA event for the CMA Awards, and then I’ll of course be attending the awards and writing more. But then as soon as Thanksgiving and Christmas I will be stuffing my face fully with food. [laughs]

Are there any plans to come back to the UK any time soon?

Oh, I hope so! I literally hope so. I love it here.

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