Ashland talk Rise Records debut: “It feels like it’s an important one”
Hailing from what they like to call the “middle of nowhere” Illinois, up-and-coming powerhouse Ashland are breathing new and unexpected air into the Rise Records roster. Sharing their own struggles with anxiety and mental health, the dynamic duo have taken personal experiences, pop and rock to create the perfect auditory cocktail with their latest full-length, Over The Moon.
From secret song binders to the passing of their good friend and producer Matt Amelung, vocalist Asia Marie and guitarist Aaron Wood have put over a year’s worth of work, emotion and experience into their Rise debut. Ashland sat down with AP to discuss the long, emotional journey behind Over The Moon and the process behind creating an album that can only be described as “a mood.”
You were just on your first full U.S. tour with Our Last Night, the Word Alive and I See Stars. Have you had a chance to recover yet?
ASIA MARIE: We'll probably be recovering for a little bit, but I guess it's good we have the holidays ’cause we're just instantly diving into family fun stuff, so we don't really have to go through the whole post-tour depression thing.
Your full-length album, Over The Moon, debuted via Rise Records this past Friday. Were there any nerves going into the release?
Marie: I’ve been waiting for this! I'm so excited and so nervous ’cause this record just felt different from all the other ones. It's the first full-length record that we're releasing on our new label, so it feels like it's an important one.
You’ve been sitting on some of these songs for a while now, correct? Even before your previous release?
AARON WOOD: Some of it was written a long, long time ago. Some of the material we’ve been sitting on since 2017.
That’s crazy! So are you excited to finally get it out there after all this time?
Marie: Oh yeah. It feels like it's been forever. We put something out last year. But like I said, this is our first full-length record with Rise, so it just feels a lot more important. And the whole writing cycle of this record was a lot different than anything we've done in the past. So we're excited to just see what the response is to it.
What did you do differently this time around?
Wood: With all the other records, really, most of the music itself was primarily written by me. Then, Asia would write lyrics on top of it. This time, we were talking, and Asia was like, “Oh, my gosh, I have all of these songs that are never going to see the light of day. What am I going to do?” And I was like, “Oh, let's hear some of these songs.” And it turns out she has this blue binder that is full of songs that she’s been sitting on for years and years. She was very self-conscious about them—is that what you would say?
Marie: Oh yeah.
Wood: She was just afraid to show them to anyone, and she showed a few to me, and I was like, “These are incredible. We have to work on these!” Even then she’s like, “No, you’re just telling me that. You’re lying to me.” It was just that self-confidence issue, so I’m super proud of her for this. Eight out of the 10 songs on this full-length are from that binder, and I’m so stoked for that change.
Marie: Yeah, it’s actually kind of cool that that’s how the record came about because the single “OMG” is about my struggle with insecurities and low self-esteem and it’s not just with my music. That goes into everything in my life with my art [and] my relationships. It has affected things for a long time. So I’m excited for people to just see [the music video] and hopefully connect with that.
I love the refreshing take you put on different topics whether you’re encouraging people to laugh at a bad dating experience or taking a different perspective on your own anxiety in a comical, “live-your-best-life” way. Was that your intention going into those tracks, or did that different viewpoint appear once you started creating the songs?
Marie: I think it came naturally because I tell people that writing songs, for me, is just what I do. It's like needing food and water throughout the day. It's how I express myself because I'm not very good in conversation. I started the song "OMG" in my car on the verge of a panic attack, which [is] something I deal with often. When I am trying to calm myself down, oftentimes I'll just jump into writing a song. The song came out that way, and the record just came out that way. The full process has just been awesome because even the tour that we just were on was the first time I've ever started speaking out about it. I've always been honest, but speaking out in front of the crowd has been a difficult thing for me to do in the past. On this tour, I broke out into that, and it's just really cool to see how this is all coming together naturally. None of it is really planned.
And you had three producers on this album?
Wood: Yeah. We always do like the first round of demos ourselves. Then we did the second round with our friend Matthew Amelung, who has done all of our previous records. But this time, we did all the primary demos and then also recorded the song “I Don’t Mind” with Matt. Then we did eight songs with Kris Crummett and then one song with Matt Squire. That was “No Place.” And that was definitely the most producers we’ve ever had. [Laughs.]
My favorite song from the album is “Think You Know Me.” It’s got this middle fingers up to the haters, power anthem-type vibe that I think a lot of people can really relate to. How did that song come to life?
Marie: That song has been through so much.
Wood: Yeah, that song has been to hell and back. It was the only song we’ve ever written with anyone else.
Marie: Matt Amelung, Aaron and I decided we wanted to sit down just for fun and write a song and see what we come up with. And that was the song we came up with.
Wood: We wrote that song in 2017, and we thought we were gonna put it out that year. But some weird stuff happened. All of our new songs just got put on the back burner, so we thought that was just going to get cut. We went into the new record and needed another song, so we were like, “Hey, what about this one? We love this song.” So we took that one to Kris Crummett, and we did that with him.
Marie: That was one of his favorites.
Wood: And yeah, it made it on the record, and we're so glad it did. We've been playing it live. It's so fun to play. It's one of my favorites.
Marie: It was also one of Matt Amelung’s favorite songs we’d ever done so it’s really cool to see it finally have its moment.
Were there any songs on the album that were particularly hard to write?
Marie: I wouldn’t say any of them were hard to write. I’d say the most shocking one was actually “OMG” because it was written almost entirely a cappella. We knew the song had potential because we heard it with these basic chords underneath it, and we’re like, “Oh, this sounds [like this] song’s gonna be huge!” But we didn’t really know what it needed as far as production. We took that song into [Kris Crummett], bare bones, and he sent us back the first mix. It was just phenomenal. It was instantly one of everybody’s favorite songs. So that one, it wasn’t hard, but we had some concerns about it, like how it would turn out. And it turned out to be amazing.
Wood: We had a hard time with the bridge, but I'd say that was the hardest one. In hindsight, there's definitely some hard ones to listen to, but it's more because of the Amelung situation. There's a lot of those songs that I don't know if we'll ever be able to listen to them without crying.
Marie: Yeah, [with the song] "I Don't Mind," I remember I wrote that song and instantly put it on my Instagram Story, but Matt sent me a message afterward like, “Oh, my gosh, we have to work on ASAP!” And that ended up being the last song we did with him, and unfortunately, it's the saddest song ever. But it's a really beautiful song, and I think Matt's work really shines through it.
Wood: That one is special to me too, because of that. But also in our back catalog, Matt and I would produce songs together in the sense that we would make sounds together in the studio. And that was the last one where we did that because all the other songs, I did not do that with any producer this time. But that one I did with Matt, and we made these sounds, and I'm just always gonna have really fond memories of creating that. So that was really special too.
Is there anything in particular you are hoping fans will take away from the album?
Marie: I think there are so many emotions on that album and different types of songs. I want people to enjoy it. But there's also songs on there that are really, really personal to me and my battle with mental health. For me personally, I want people to hear the lyrics and be encouraged. If somebody like me can do what I'm doing, then anybody can. And that's not just for music. If there's something that somebody wants to do in this life, I just want them to be encouraged that it doesn't matter where they came from, what they've been through or what they're going through. They can still do what they want to do. That's what I hope people take away from at least some of the songs.
You have had a busy 2019. You recorded the new album and had a run on Sad Summer. You also just finished up touring and have a New Year’s Eve show with Motion City Soundtrack. What’s 2020 looking like for Ashland?
Wood: Well, we hope it's busier. We hope it's more touring. Honestly, the album release process on this one was long, so we're hoping to start the next record next year. At least demoing it and getting it out ASAP because we want to start putting out more consistent content. But right now, we're trying to lock in as much as touring as possible.
Is there anything you want to say to your fans?
Marie: I just wanted to thank all the people that have given us the chance over the last couple of years. We know we're a little different, and there's a lot of talent in the world, and we just love what we do. If anybody gives us a chance, we're really grateful for it.
Wood: We're from the middle of nowhere, so it's awesome that we've been given a chance to do what we do. We definitely don't take it for granted. We're really excited about anyone that's taken the chance to listen to our music whether they liked it or not. It just means the world that people check it out. If they do like it and have stuck around with us for so long, it means the world to us.
The latest from Ashland, Over The Moon, is available now via Rise Records here. The band have one show remaining in 2019 in support of Motion City Soundtrack on their Don’t Call It A Comeback tour with more information here.