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Interview: Kassi Ashton opens up about her artistic approach and new single Hopeless

The breakout star chatted to us earlier this week.

Kassi Ashton
Credit: MCA Nashville

Kassi Ashton has been making a name for herself the past couple of years with her attention-grabbing songs such as Taxidermy and Pretty Shiny Things.

She was due to perform at C2C: Country to Country earlier this month but sadly couldn’t after the festival was postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. With new single Hopeless gaining traction, Kassi is pushing ahead and continuing building a strong fanbase.

I caught up with Kassi on the phone earlier this week to talk about her approach to releasing and making music, discuss new single Hopeless and find out the meaning behind the powerful Pretty Shiny Things…

Hi Kassi. How are you?

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I’m great How are you?

I’m good but I am gutted I didn’t get to see you at C2C…

I know, me too! Literally so sad. After C2C I was flying to Australia for CMC and I literally would have just been getting home today. I am very, very sad.

And now here we are, all at home self-isolating…

Here we are (laughs). We haven’t changed from pyjamas in 3 days. We’re all in it together.

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But at least we can still chat so they can’t take that away from us…

Thank goodness!

I’m so sad I haven’t got to see you live yet. I would call you an event artist – I’ll explain what I mean by that. Every time you do something I need to know about it, I need to go and see it, I need to hear it because everything that you do is such an event and you always bring the whole package. Every one of these singles that we’ve heard from you so far has come packaged completely differently and shows off a different aspect of your artistic approach. How do you manage to pull that off?

First of all, thank you so much. That means so much to me. I really strive to make something an entire experience versus just singing a song because how boring is that? (laughs) Anyone’s voice is entertaining enough for one song, but you get into more than that and you’re like, ‘OK, whatever?’ I have always been a creative person and anytime I ever saw someone doing a skill where they could communicate clearly what’s in their brain, to something out in front of them physically that others could see, I’ve wanted to know how to do that. I think if you’re artistic in one thing in that way, you can sort of apply it to everything else. I’ve always been creative in that way and for me now, as an artist, it’s an absolute priceless thing because my fans know that what they’re seeing, what they’re consuming, what they’re listening to, and what they’re watching is all me. It’s not a bunch of people in a boardroom around the table coming up with what is me or scheming about what will sell. They know that it’s me as a human and it came straight from my brain, so that it’s honest and real. I want the full spectrum of everything to be cohesive and so I do all of it.

This approach is definitely working. There are so many videos out there that are just so boring but yours always blow me away. I remember seeing the Pretty Shiny Things video and my jaw-dropping because it’s so stunning. I mean, the song stunning anyway…

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I think if you’re gonna do a video, which you should, it should add to a song. It should explain further how you felt in that song so that other people can connect even deeper than just the lyrics and the melody give. That’s what I strive for in my videos. I don’t want to put out a video just to put out a video because somebody said I had to or that’s how the system works. I want to add to this emotion with further connection, human-to-human.

Kassi Ashton

Credit: Snakefarm Records

Your current single Hopeless is showing yet another side to you. Where did the inspiration for that song come from?

I was in the writers’ room with Jason Saenz and Josh Kerr, who are some of my great friends and we collaborate a lot, and we just happened to get on the topic of stupid relationships that we were in when we were younger, where we were naive and didn’t really know what love was but thought we did and made poor decisions and how if that sort of treatment would come to us now we would handle it differently because we’re older and wiser and and know what we deserve and just silly things. We were kind of laughing about stupid, stupid things that we put up with.

Jason was like, ‘we should write a song called Hopeless’ and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a cool title. It’s kind of straight to the point’. But he hadn’t framed it as Hope Less, separating the two words. Josh played the exact guitar riff that you hear in the song and I was obsessed with it right away. I literally just sang, ‘baby I should hope less’ and then Josh looked at me and said, ‘maybe I should care less’. We looked at each other like, ‘Oh, that’s good’ and Josh and I literally stared at each other for five minutes, trading lines back and forth and the chorus was done. We were like, ‘Oh, yes. Well, that was that was easy (laughs). That was perfect to describe what we just talked about’.

It had been so fresh in our minds. We wrote the verses, and I just wanted to follow a rhythmic feel, that’s where the verse melody came from. It was spoken poetry so that people focused on the actual words. When we got done Josh was like, ‘I just wish I could hear your voice. I just want you to show off sometime in this melody’ and I was like, ‘no, I like the melody how it is and the focus on the words’. They were like, ‘what if you sung the last chorus up an octave?’ I was like, ‘what? I’m sick today. I’m not singing it, it is so high (laughs)’. They begged me so I did it and they were like, ‘if you don’t keep that in the song, we’re gonna be so mad’.

I sang it a couple times at writer’s rounds afterwards after we wrote it and some people recorded it. The video got around and then DMs were like, ‘where’s Hopeless? Where’s Hopeless?’ I decided to play it on the Maren Morris GIRL World Tour and every night my DMs would just be like, ‘what is that song Hopeless? I need that song Hopeless’ so then we decided to put it out.

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What excites me so much about you is that I have no idea what you’re going to do next. I can’t even begin to think what an EP or an album is going to sound like. Are you working on releasing a body of music in some form?

Thank you. That means a lot. I’ve tried so far to show off different sides of myself because it’s easy these days to get bored, it’s so easy because we’re just constantly being shoved new content and new flashes in your brain every two seconds. I try to show off different sides of myself to really build a base so people get a full understanding. I’m an album girl through-and-through. That’s literally how I consume music, is listening to whole albums at a time. I don’t really listen to individuals songs and I always listen to them in their intended order because I see albums like whole pieces of work. You can’t just look at one picture, you have to look at the whole book. That’s where I’m headed. I’ve always wanted to head there, I just wanted to build a base first. Our next step is picking a radio single, my very first radio single. Then there might be, I don’t know, however many singles deep you go and then an album and we’ll just see what it looks like (laughs).

I’d normally ask at this point what you’ve got coming up this year but it’s hard to know what any of us will be doing given we’re all on lockdown…

Who knows what we’re doing? (laughs).

Does this situation benefit you as an artist because it gives you some time to breathe and to be creative or does it stifle you because you’re forced to stay in one place?

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I think it’s a mix for different artists. If they were busy, busy, busy, they might love this breather but for me, I don’t really love it. It’s nice to have some space to be creative and build your creative brain and psyche backup but at some point I’m going to be dying to get out of here and see you all again and actually make what’s in my brain come to fruition because an idea is only as good as the product that comes out of it, for me.

Hopefully when we do get out of this situation, you can get back to the UK?

Oh, I would love that. I love the UK. I’ve been obsessed ever since I came over there for the CMA Songwriter Series. I watch Love Island religiously (laughs). I love the UK and cannot wait to come back over there. I’m so bummed that we had to leave.

I have to ask you about Pretty Shiny Things. That came out as EF Country’s top song of 2019 and I absolutely adore the song. Can you tell me the background of that track?

Yeah, of course. By the way, I think two days ago was my one year anniversary of putting that song out. It’s crazy because it feels like it’s been longer than a year but it also feels like it hasn’t been a year. It’s just very strange. That song, as you can infer from listening to it, I was a senior in college at the time – I went to Belmont University here in Nashville – and I was going through a really difficult family issue as you can tell from the lyrics. It was at the point where I was at a crossroads and needed to make a decision, ‘am I going to deal with this unhealthy thing that sort of runs a lot of my life and takes up a lot of my emotional space? Or am I going to cut this completely out of my life?’ which sounds a lot easier than it was. It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make and it was stressing me out and keeping me up at night.

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I was up at 3am in the middle of the night, and I had this cheap piano at the end of my bed, and I wrote half of the song, basically all the negative parts. My best friend at the time was a songwriting major at Belmont as well, and I sent it to her as a voicemail and I was like, ‘hey, I’m in my feelings. It’s 3am, should this see the light of day? Is it too personal? Should I pitch it? Like, is this just too much for people and what should I do?’ The next day she sent it back to me finished. She finished the second verse and wrote the entire positive last chorus. I called her and cried was like, ‘thank you so much’. I was just professing my love to her and we both paused for a minute and we were like, ‘shit. We’re songwriters’.

We were writing drinking songs or heartbreak songs about boys, not surface level but definitely not as deep as the personal matter in Pretty Shiny Things. We both were kind of like, ‘OK, lesson learned. Honesty is the best policy, and write about real life shit, no matter how hard you think it is’ and I held on to it for a while because I wasn’t quite ready to let it go. I was terrified, quite honestly terrified of what people might say about me airing my closet out so easily. Then I finally thought I can’t be selfish anymore, people need to hear this. What if they’re in the same situation I was and they really need clarity, maybe this will help? We put it out. Nothing is better than standing on stage during a live show and you see people during that song, literally take a breath. You see them physically relax. That’s our entire goal as artists is to get people out of their life troubles or to make them forget or to give them something that makes them feel like they’re not alone. To physically see that from stage is just the best.

Kassi Ashton’s new single Hopeless is available to stream and download now. Watch the video below:

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