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Interview: Ashland Craft opens up about the journey to releasing her debut album “Travelin’ Kind”

Singer-songwriter Ashland Craft has come a long way since appearing on ‘The Voice US’ in 2017 where she was chosen by Miley Cyrus following her Blind Audition.

In the years since then, Craft has been carving out a niche for herself and she came to wider attention when she featured on Hardy’s album track ‘So Close’. Now Craft is releasing her debut album “Travelin’ Kind” and it showcases a new artist that has found her voice.

I spoke with Ashland earlier this week about her journey to releasing the album, to find out when she first discovered she could sing, and to discuss being part of the female movement that is taking back Country music…

Your album “Travelin’ Kind” is out this week. What’s the journey been like to get to this point?

It’s been very interesting. It’s funny, I don’t feel like there was any really specific journey that I had in mind when working towards this album, I don’t think we ever really knew it was going to be an album until we had all the material together. It was something I was really passionate about, putting out a body of work. It just seemed like all the songs had this pattern of traveling or somebody leaving or you leaving, there’s some kind of motion throughout the entire album. It just all came together over the past couple of years and it only felt fitting that I named it “Travelin’ Kind” because I felt like it’s who I am now and it’s who I have been over the past couple years, playing in dive bars and getting to Nashville. I feel like it’s who I’m going to be hopefully for the next many, many years. I felt like “Travelin’ Kind” was the perfect little stamp to start us out on this very long, hopefully, exciting journey.

It feels like between competing on ‘The Voice US’ and making this album. You’ve really found your voice. When did you realise you had this epic voice?

Oh, thank you very much (laughs). I’ve always loved to sing. For as long as I can even consciously remember I’ve been singing, and nobody in my family really sang. I started out in church. I had the most encouragement and I have great supportive parents who’ve always tried to help me any way they possibly could to move forward towards this goal. I’ve always known that I love to sing but of course time was going to tell whether I was going to be any good at it or not (laughs). We all know how our voices change from childhood to adulthood so thank goodness, I’ve stuck with it. I’m just so passionate about it. It’s genuinely what I live for. It was important to me with this record that those vocals, and the integrity of it, weren’t over tuned or over automated. I didn’t want there to be a ton of effects. I wanted it to be very organic and it to genuinely reflect what I sound like live, and give that overall character of who I am throughout this record with all the dynamics in it.

I remember hearing you for the first time on the Hardy record and then I’ve spoken to your housemates Lainey Wilson and Kasey Tyndall, who both have nothing but good things to say about you. It’s nice to finally speak to you to complete the entire household…

We’re making stuff happen over here. It’s so funny we barely ever see each other as we’re always out doing something. It’s been a fun experience getting to live with these girls. I’m so thankful. I feel like it helps my whole process here in Nashville be a little bit smoother, for sure.

The three of you are all so talented. When the three of you do spend time together, do you find that it inspires your music and songwriting?

It’s definitely the biggest inspiration. We’re all around the same age and they’ve been here a lot longer than I have. I’ve only been in Nashville for about two and a half years, and I believe they’ve been here probably around six to nine years. It is insane to watch their work ethic. I see these girls grinding day in and day out and I didn’t really have that back home. It’s nice to have this whole new world where it’s just about music, it’s just about our livelihood, and we get to focus on that everyday and come home. If we need to talk about it, we have two other girls that are kind of going through the same thing. Mentally it’s really helpful and it’s just a big inspiration to watch them climb that ladder. Lainey’s crushing it right now and she’s hopefully about to go number one, and I’m going to jump for joy because that girl deserves it.

Women in Country music are finally getting back on the charts and being playlisted by radio after a long time of men being the default. Your name always comes up as one of the women who is part of that movement of female artists making a change and breaking through. What is it like to be part of that?

Oh, man, I could not have imagined a better time to move to Nashville. It’s been such an interesting thing to watch. When I was growing up, I heard a good mixture of men and women on radio, and it did seem like the more we got into it, the further down the line we got. You saw the women start dwindling off and the really cute muscular guys taking over the music industry. It’s nice to see that balance starting to become restored and I’m excited for all of us new ladies in town to bring something just completely different to the table. I feel like that’s the most exciting thing about it, you see all these different girls doing their own thing – group Meghan Patrick, Lainey (Wilson), Faren Rachels, Kasey (Tyndall) – we’re all in our own lane. It’s cool to see everybody taking control of their own little way of doing things and crushing it (laughs). It’s inspirational.

Ashland Craft - Travelin' Kind
Credit: Big Loud Records

This is what sets apart female artists from the male ones in Country for me. Like you referenced, you can turn on the radio and hear back-to-back male artists and wonder if it’s the same song on loop. You, and the women you mentioned, all have your own distinct sound and you don’t borrow elements of what’s working, you’re just doing your own thing…

That was the goal. I just hope that through this project, everybody could get a taste of my influences growing up. I do feel like this album is a story that starts back in South Carolina before I even moved to Nashville. I just really wanted to give everybody something that they could listen to no matter what kind of genre you like, or if you even like Country or not. I really hope that me pulling in all these outside influences, that aren’t just country, but wrapping it in a country bow, I really hope that everybody can get a little taste of every part of the music that I loved growing up and that I love now. I feel a little more included into that side of the world.

I definitely hear a little Janis Joplin in your voice and the album hints that you could move further into rock down the line if you wanted to…

I love me some rock music. My Dad always either had 80s rock on in the car when we were riding around, so 80s rock has been a huge inspiration. Janis Joplin, I mean that’s just one of the top females that comes to mind when you think of rock music and soul music. I’ve tried to keep that rock influence incorporated in my music, and I’m hoping there’s a good balance and a good dynamic with heavy versus more classical sounding Country on my record as well.

Hearing this album has made me desperate to see you live because I feel like that rock side of your voice will really come through in the live show. Are you planning to get over to the UK in 2022?

I’m keeping my fingers crossed, I’m hoping everything starts to loosen up a little bit to where I can travel a little bit more. Live performance, I’m willing to say, is one of my top aspects and one of the things that I really try to work on. These songs were definitely written to give a great performance live so I’m excited to get to perform the whole record live. We’ve been doing some live but not the whole thing. I’m definitely ready to go from top to bottom and sing this whole thing live.

The pandemic has been felt differently by everybody and I know for artists it’s been a really tough time as it’s stopped touring. What has it been like for you?

The pandemic was obviously a lot to get used to especially because in our profession we thrive on seeing each other in person for writing. A big part of writing is all about the feel in the room, the vibe as I like to say, so that was a hard hurdle to jump through as far as not getting to meet face-to-face for a year or so. We had to switch to Zoom and write on Zoom, and try to figure out how to make that work. I definitely feel like it gave us all a different perspective of what we were doing and a different way of looking at things in a positive way. I said from the very beginning, I can only hope that throughout this whole entire experience of the pandemic that there’s going to be a whole new wave of great music that comes out of it, and a lot of whole new inspirations that come out of it. It seems to be coming true at the current time. I’ve seen a lot of great music being released recently so I can only hope that it was a good little reset button for all of us to really get back to what matters, and back to writing the stuff that we genuinely enjoy writing.

Did you find time to pick up any new hobbies?

With some friends, we started some wine and painting series throughout the whole thing (laughs). I’m not an artist. My two brothers actually are great artists/drawers. I did not inherit that trait but you get a glass of wine, get you some paint, find a picture you really like and it’s very therapeutic. When I hit a wall with music and was not really able to write stuff as well as I felt like I could, I dove into that creative outlet and felt like it gave me a little bit of freedom in the same sense as songwriting. Again, not my strong point but it was something that helped me stay positive and gave me something to do throughout the whole time when I wasn’t writing.

It’s been so important to have something to keep busy and help us stay positive. In some ways this time has flown by but in others it’s felt like a life time…

I know, currently I don’t even know what year it is. It feels like the whole past year was just gone, you know? You try to think back, ‘what did I do last year?’ ‘Come Down’ on the record, we wrote that during the pandemic and I think that was one of the songs we were given a lot of inspiration from the current state of the world and what was going on. I love that song and it’s a little more poetic. It’s songs like that that come out of crappy situations that kind of make it all worth it, so to speak.

What else are you hoping to fit in this side of Christmas?

We’re going to push this record out. I’m very excited. I’m out on tour with Zac Brown Band right now and that has been a whole ‘nother light at the end of the tunnel, to say the least. I’m finally getting to perform these songs live and push them and see what everybody’s reacting to and gripping on to the best. After that it’s just gonna be playing live shows and trying to push this record as much as possible. Hopefully, there’s some headlining shows to to play these songs live. I think the next step is just figuring out where to go from here and how to make this the best transition possible, and just see what life has in store for the next half a year to the next year. I think that’s where all the inspiration for writing comes from and I’m excited to see this whole journey take place, and then see where it puts us as far as writing material and new music. That’s always a goal of mine, I’m always thinking ahead but also trying to find the time to enjoy the moment, and be here and try to enjoy what’s going on currently. I’m trying not to get too ahead of myself and trying to soak this all in because it’s my debut record. It’s something I’ve always dreamed about growing up. Obviously I didn’t know what it was gonna sound like or look like, or any of that stuff, but now with it being here, I’m just excited to really focus on it and show people who I am through this thing. I’m excited.

“Travelin’ Kind” is out now on Big Loud Records. Watch the video for ‘Make It Past Georgia’ below:

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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