The Writer’s Block: Ashley Cooke on Finding Songwriting Inspiration

Ashley Cooke recently released her debut album, shot in the dark. The 24-track record is an ambitious project for any country singer, let alone one that is just starting to find her footing. Cooke worked with a number of hit songwriters throughout the project, including Emily Weisband, Jordan Minton, Corey Crowder, Colbie Caillat, and Nicolle Galyon.

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Though these songwriters are time-honed in the country scene and certainly worked their magic on shot in the dark, no one can overlook Cooke’s songwriting contributions to the project. Each of the songs is a deeply intimate vignette from her own life. Without Cooke holding the reins, this project would be far less impactful.

American Songwriter recently caught up with Cooke to discuss elements of shot in the dark and her personal songwriting journey. Check out our conversation with the up-and-comer below.

[RELATED: Ashley Cooke and Co-Writer Emily Weisband Talk ‘shot in the dark’: “I Want People to Get to Know Me”]

American Songwriter: What was the first song you ever wrote?

Ashley Cooke: I think I wrote a poem about Froot Loops. It was about being a Froot Loop in a world of Cheerios. It was definitely not very soulful.

AS: Where do you get your songwriting inspiration from?

AC: Real-life experience, which is hard because of how busy I’ve been – which is an amazing problem to have. I think [it comes from] pulling from toxic relationships that I’ve been through – falling in love and falling out of love. I have a song called “it’s been a year” and it’s all about my life and how things can change so quickly.

AS: I have to imagine that songwriting gives you a type of catharsis you can’t get anywhere else. Is it truly like therapy?

AC: In the Nashville community, the number of times I’ve gotten in the room and [just talked about] what’s happening for three hours before we even start to write anything. It’s like having therapy with your friends who are all very artistic people. [They are friends] that understand your situation and pull from certain things. It’s free therapy.

AS: What would be your advice for songwriters just starting out?

AC: I’d say be a good hang. I think that’s genuinely half the battle. I think there are some amazing writers that are trying too hard to climb to the top and so nobody wants to be around them. Go get drinks, hang out, and don’t force it down somebody’s throat that you want to write with them. It’s a dance between asking politely to write with somebody and figuring out the right avenues to do it.

And then also – this is kind of a new world version [of advice] – engage with social media. I know [everyone] is very opinionated in different ways but there are songs that I find via social media because my songwriter friends post them and then I think, ‘Oh, I want to cut that!'” The more you get yourself out there, the more chances you have for somebody to hear what you’re creating.

AS: What would you say is the most vulnerable song on your latest album shot in the dark? Can you talk about how you wrote it?

AC: Probably the song that I wrote by myself, it’s called “next to you.” I wrote it after my Opry debut. I sat on my kitchen table in a T-shirt that was from middle school and there were bouquets of flowers everywhere and champagne bottles that weren’t popped yet. I thought, ‘My debut was so much fun, but the reason it actually hit me so hard was because of the people around me.’ I wrote that song in about 15 minutes.

AS: You’ve said in the past that you are inspired by emotional hitmakers like Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts. Do you see that translated in your songwriting on this album?

AC: Oh man, I hope that you see some of them on this record. That’d be a huge honor. Growing up I was obsessed with Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift – all of these incredible songwriter/artists that have been able to take emotions that are so generic and make them sound so specific. I’ve always wanted to challenge myself to say things in different ways.

Photo credit: Robbie Klein / Oh Creative

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