Today’s Featured Artist – INTERVIEW – Johnny Ashby

Tell us about:

Your latest single you have released:

I’ve written a lot of songs about running away from things. It seems to be an on going theme for me. Recently that’s started to change though. I feel like “Lucky” is one of the first songs where I’m just happy being where I’m at. The song was written in two parts, it’s like a before and after. So the first half is that “running away” feeling I used to get and the second half is this new “living in the moment” feeling I have now. We went through a number of rewrites and tweaks in production before we finished it. I wanted the song to support the lyrics instrumentally so there’s a definite shift in mood from how the song starts, to how it ends. So, that was a bit tricky to make work but I’m super happy with how it turned out!

Your first single and how you felt when it was released:

My first single was “1993”. I used to take these long roadtrips with my Dad as a kid. He’d make these mixtapes and we’d listen to them together. It’s how I discovered artists like David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Billy Bragg etc. Raiding my Dad’s music collection definitely played a huge part in sculpting my musical taste and helped me find some of the inspiration for the songs I like writing today. I wrote “1993” in a kind of, backwards way. It was the first proper song I’d written and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I started with the lyrics, which is rare, usually I feel like most songwriters start with the chords, then hum out a melody and then start writing the lyrics. But this one was back to front. I guess it made it more personal in a way and when I listen back now it seems more like a poem than a song. There’s been a few times since where I’ve written the lyrics first and often those songs feel the most personal to me. When they played it on the radio for the first time we had a big party at my folks place with all my mates!

Your favourite song that you have created that is an album track:

I haven’t released an album yet, but I have my debut coming this Summer! There’s a song called Time Of Our Live’s. My sound has changed a lot over the last 5 years and this song kind of ties it all together. I released a lot of new music last year during isolation and wrote Time Of Our Live’s around the same time. It was kind of a pre-emptive song about what it might feel like on the other side of all this, when everything opens back up and we’re able to experience life with loved ones again.

Your favourite song to play live:

It’s been a while. I can’t wait to play the new stuff. I’ve been rehearsing for when I get to play live again a lot recently and there’s a song called SOS that I’ve spun around. The recording is really upbeat and “feel good”. I’ve played a lot of shows with Sofar Sounds in the past and they’re always these really intimate shows. I was playing through SOS at home and it didn’t feel right playing it at full tempo on acoustic without the band, so I stripped it right back and it ended up giving the song this haunting quality which I hadn’t imagined on that song before. It was a happy accident and I think I’m going to love playing that version live.

Your most emotional track:

“Found You” probably. It’s a song about the imaginary friend I had as a kid. It’s kind of like a goodbye letter to him now I’m all grown up and don’t need him anymore (Laughs). When you lose a really close loved one, it still feels like they’re with you. They leave this long lasting impression on you because they played such an important role in your life. So while it sounds silly to say that it’s about “my imaginary friend”, I think it still feels emotional to me because it’s relatable to so many other relationships that I’ve had, and/or lost. I’ve had a couple of people reach out to me and message me about it connecting with them in that way too, which has been incredible to hear! I love hearing that it’s connected with other people on the same level too.

The best lyric you have ever written:

That’s a pretty tough question! There’s a couple of stand out songs for me that were really easy to write. I think those types of songs are the most genuine and heartfelt. It happened on 1993, Try To Believe and See You On The Otherside. I feel like songwriting is a bit like therapy. It’s using music as a creative outlet to express yourself. And sometimes that can be a struggle and sometimes it can come really easily.

The first song we wrote for the “In Bloom” EP was called Born Again. It was my first time in the room working with Seb, Fredrik and Bill from the band Grizfolk. There’s a line in Born Again that goes, “Do you feel defeated, Have you come undone, A world that’s reaching out for an invisible sun”. Weirdly for me, it’s kind of a stand alone line in those lyrics and it’s really resonated with me. I said songwriting is like therapy. I’ve battled with depression a lot and when you feel like that it’s so hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You can’t get out of a dark place if you’re not willing to accept that there’s light. Without meaning to that lyric kinda slipped in. It seemed out of context at first and I didn’t really know what it meant at the time, but listening back to it now, that “invisible sun” metaphor really sums up that feeling of being lost. It’s one of my favourite songs on the EP too.

Describe the feeling you get when you walk on stage to do a show:

It used to be bad. I struggled with stage fright for a while. I still get it on the smaller shows. The more intimate the show is, the more nervous I get. Especially if it’s a stripped back acoustic show! If I’m playing with a band I’m on cloud 9. I feel great all through soundcheck and then about 2 mins before stage time I start pacing in the green room (Laughs) but by the second song the nerves have left me and I’m in it! I mean, performing live is the reason I do what I do. I’ve always thought live music brings people together. That experience and buzz I get from playing a show, there’s nothing like it!

The hardest track to play live:

I think Never Let You Go. Singing and playing that riff at the same time is a bit like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time… which is something I’ve never been able to do without stopping to think about it first! (Laughs).

Essential items you always take on tour with you?

A guitar! (Laughs)… a disposable camera, deodorant and my lucky converse

Describe your fans in three words:

“Friends not fans”

A song by another artist or band you wish you had written:

Heroes by David Bowie. Followed a close second by Shelter From The Storm by Bob Dylan.

What we can look forward to from you this year:

I’ve got a couple more singles dropping over the next few months followed by my debut album coming out this Summer! It’s been a long time coming and I’m so excited, I never dreamt of releasing an album so it feels pretty surreal. I’d love to play some shows again too, we’ll see how that goes! If any dates come up I’ll share them on my socials!

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