Considering the soaring success of Ashe’s debut album Ashlyn—which dropped on May 7 via Mom + Pop—the 28-year-old singer, songwriter and producer is one of the fastest rising stars in the pop sphere.
Racking up hundreds of millions of streams already (in part thanks to its stellar singles), the album is an eclectic collection of thoughtful, melodic and refreshingly original songs. Inspired by everyone from Elton John to Queen to ABBA to her frequent-collaborator FINNEAS (who appears on the record’s opening track, “Till Forever Falls Apart”), Ashe used the sum of her influences to craft a cool new sound—one that features bold arrangements and chord progressions, almost in the tradition of the great songwriters of Tin Pan Alley or Broadway, while still being strikingly modern. The end result of the synthesis is a truly impressive feat… but Ashe had some help along the way.
To begin with, she attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, studying composition and production. Knowing this, her familiarity with music theory is palpable throughout Ashlyn, which is rich with jazz chords, clever cadences and irresistibly intelligent melodies. But beyond this, when she set out to start making Ashlyn, she knew that in order to make something truly innovative, she was going to have to bring some extra manpower into the writer’s room.
“Working on this album, there were a few writers who I picked specifically because they have more of a vintage or weird sensibility to their writing,” Ashe explained. For as innovative as pop music can be at times, a lot of the go-to writer’s in the scene usually stick to proven methods… which is something Ashe wanted to ditch in favor of something a little more creatively risky. And with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic coming right as the record-making process was beginning, she had to think outside of the box in order to get all of these moving pieces to align. So, she set up a workspace outside on a grassy lawn.
“We were writing so many songs out on the lawn,” she explained. “I only had a MIDI keyboard hooked up to a computer and an acoustic guitar. We were just outside, we didn’t have the whole studio set-up where we’d get to sit at the board and play with all of those little toys. So, a lot of the songs were written really getting the bones right, getting the story right first.”
And it was through this method that Ashe and her collaborators wrote one of the strongest songs on Ashlyn: “Love Is Not Enough,” an emotionally potent track that marks the first time Ashe got to collaborate with one of her friends, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes.
“Taylor is such a sweetheart, the best kind—we ran into each other at the pet store the other day,” she said with a smile. “I remember he came to a session a couple months into the pandemic—we were outside on the grass, six feet apart with masks on and all of that. He was playing some chords and singing some melodies that were very poppy, down the center pop. I said to him ‘C’mon, I know you want to go to a different chord there… dude, I know you wanna.’ He was like ‘Am I allowed to?’ I was like ‘Yeah! Do the thing you’re good at—let’s get weird.’”
Goldsmith’s hesitation wasn’t unique to him alone—Ashe found herself pushing several of her co-writers to follow their guts, regardless of where they took them. “All of these people have really cool sensibilities, but initially when they sat down with me, they avoided 7th chords or were like ‘Well, you’re not going to go to that iv or something,’” Ashe explained. “And I had to be like ‘No, no, no—that’s what I want! Let’s get weird, let’s embrace the weird. We can dial it back if we need to.’”
Among the other writers who came that day with Goldsmith were Sean Douglas (Lizzo, Selena Gomez, Kesha) and Leroy Clampitt (Justin Bieber, Madison Beer, Adam Lambert). With the four brains combined, the results were terrific—“Love Is Not Enough” doesn’t really resemble its peers in the pop world so much as it does a standard from the Great American Songbook. Between its flowing melodies and the blissful way the lyrics fall over the harmonic changes, it finds the perfect balance between arrangement, aesthetics and pure, old-fashioned songcraft.
“I really enjoyed creating on the lawn,” Ashe reflected. “I kind of prefer it now because once you get the story right and all of the lyrics and bones are there, you can pay attention to the production in a different way. We wrote ‘Love Is Not Enough’ out there together—we were playing around with so many beautiful chords, trying things. It ended up being one of my favorite songs on the album.”
And with that, Ashe proves the validity of an age-old lesson about songwriting: sometimes, taking a creative risk is the perfect way to write a magnificent song.
Ashe’s debut album Ashlyn is out now and available everywhere. Listen to “Love Is Not Enough” written by Ashe, Taylor Goldsmith, Leroy Clampitt and Sean Douglas below: