“Oh man, yeah, this past year has been pretty outrageous,” Ashe told American Songwriter. “A: There was a pandemic. B: I had a song out that was changing my life. C: My brother passed away. D: I was writing my first album during all of that nonsense. And now, I’m putting that album out. I have no words that quite explain what the whole experience was like for me.”
It’s true—after a crazy year of not one, but several life-changing moments, 28-year-old singer-songwriter Ashe released her first album, Ashlyn, on May 7 via Mom + Pop Music. With lush soundscapes, infectious melodies, delightfully unexpected chord changes and top-notch production provided by both Ashe and Leroy “Big Taste” Clampitt, the record is a bombastic debut, announcing the arrival of an artist who knows both her vision and exactly how to make it a reality.
“I’m really, really proud of what I made,” Ashe said. “I didn’t write from a place of ‘How can I get more people to like me?’ or ‘How can I write something that’ll get more play on the radio?’ I didn’t do any of that. I just wanted to write music I liked. So, I’m proud of that. Every song on the record is a song I would put on and listen to—that was important to me.”
And a lot of people agree with Ashe on the whole “I would listen to this song” thing—raking in over 10 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone, the San Jose-native is quickly becoming one of the most popular artists on the planet. Between thoughtful tracks like “When I’m Older” and the irresistibly catchy single “I’m Fine,” Ashlyn offers a full range of moods and energies, perfect for a wide variety of settings. But as with all wildly successful debuts, Ashe didn’t come to this moment overnight. Rather, this has been a feat years in the making.
Graduating from the Berklee College of Music in 2015 with a major in contemporary writing and production, Ashe first started putting out music in the mid-2010s. Rising to notoriety primarily through being featured on electronic tracks from DJs like Louis the Child, Whethan and more, by 2017 she was big enough to hit the road as the opening act for The Chainsmokers. Yet, as exciting as the success was, 2020 rolled around without her career growing much at all… which was beginning to make her feel antsy.
“I went through a real dry spell,” she explained. “I was doubting myself, I was feeling really insecure about my writing. At the time, I had just gotten off my first full, headlining tour. It was an amazing tour and all of the fans who showed up were just amazing… but I think I felt like I should’ve been further or something. I was feeling really underestimated, but I was also underestimating myself.”
But then, something miraculous happened—in February 2019, Ashe quietly dropped a single, “Moral of the Story;” a full year later in February 2020, the song was featured in the Netflix film To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. After that, the song blew up—to date, it’s brought in over 270 million streams on Spotify alone. But, coming in right at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning, Ashe didn’t get to enjoy that success in the way one ordinarily would.
“There was a rise happening with my career from ‘Moral of the Story,’ but all of it was so numeric,” she said. “The success was judged on numbers—I didn’t get to feel it or experience it tangibly. Now that we’re coming out of it, I’m about to announce my second headlining tour. So, I’m finally going to get to experience the success in a tangible, ‘real people with real faces’ way. Which is… not not anxiety-provoking.”
Perhaps a little odd typed-out in a web article, that double-negative there is actually pretty indicative of how Ashe communicates. With a bright mood, she speaks creatively and carefully, almost as if she’s freely searching around her mind for some kind of deeper truth while still tethered to the question at hand like an astronaut to a space station. In a lot of ways, that conversational style is mirrored by her songwriting style, which is a free-from process rich with introspection and collaboration.
“I’m the kind of artist where what I write about is my life,” she said. “So, if I’m going into a session with other writers ever, I don’t want to go in with no ammunition. I can’t really have someone sit down like ‘Hey, here’s my idea about your life.’ So, I’ll usually come up with an idea or a concept I want to dig into—maybe a lyric or a title. And I love to just sit down at the piano. If I’m feeling really good that day, I’ll sit down at the piano in the morning and get chords and gather my thoughts to bring into the session. But if not, I’ll at least have ideas to bring in and show to the other people. From there, I let things unfold.”
So after her career took off with “Moral of the Story”—which was re-released in June 2020 with a feature from One Direction’s Niall Horan—Ashe got busy letting her next batch of songs “unfold.” While the first few months of the process were a pretty fantastic time, everything changed after her brother passed away.
“There was a lot of juxtaposition going on in my life when I was writing the album,” she said. “When my brother passed, it glued my feet to the ground. When something tragic or traumatic happens in your life, it kinda jolts you into remembering what matters. It takes away all of the pressure, I think. It brought me back to Earth and reminded me where life really happens.”
From there, Ashe returned to writing with a newfound vigor and meaning.”I wouldn’t say that the album is a ‘concept record’—err, at least I wasn’t purposefully leaning into a concept when I started writing it,” she said. “But there’s a song called ‘Ryne’s Song’ which was about my brother’s passing… that was the final track and it showed me the ‘through line’ for the album. Once I finished that, I was like ‘Ah, this whole thing is about my life and it’s about time and how there’s not much of it.’”
While a grand theme like that could be easy to phone in, Ashlyn is a special kind of record. Maybe it’s because of all the ups and downs in her life that inspired it or maybe it’s just because she has such an authentic and infectious style, but the album truly comes across as a world unto itself, a vibrant and brilliant work from a musical auteur. For her part, when asked how she feels now that it’s finally coming out, she responded rather candidly.
“Hmm.. how do I feel?” she said. “I don’t know! You know… I feel a little nervous. I can’t help but feel a little nervous. I mean, I named it Ashlyn… it’s me! It’s a pretty risky record… it doesn’t feel safe. I could’ve made a way safer record, but I didn’t want to. I’m not here to make music to make anyone else happy or suit anyone’s tastes. I go out into the world to collect my stories and I come back to make some sort of song with those stories. That’s not going to suit everyone, but I’m okay with that. I wanted to make the exact album I wanted to make. I’m proud of it.”
And with television performances booked, tours being planned and the streaming numbers only rising, Ashlyn really does seem like just the beginning. While it certainly strays from the traditional norms of chart-topping pop music, the combination of Ashe’s inimitable writing and the record’s eclectic production results in something wildly exciting. It’s catchy, it’s personable, it’s energetic, it’s meaningful, it’s original—it’s Ashe.
Ashe’s debut album Ashlyn is out now and available everywhere. Watch the music video for the song “Me Without You” below: