Ashleigh Ashton Interview
DK: Good evening Ashleigh and thank you for taking the time to talk with me this fine Christmas Eve!
AA: Merry Christmas, Dennis! So excited to be talking with you!
DK: As am I, thanks! We’ve known each other now for some time and I apologize it has taken this long to get you featured as Musician of the Month. You are certainly very gifted, driven and full of positive energy and I (for one) want to make sure more and more people learn more of all the great work you’re doing!
AA: I want to thank you for all you do to help promote musicians. It is people like you who help artists get their music out there and you also give a platform for people to get to know the story behind the music. Thank you for your kind words and thank you so much for this amazing opportunity to share with people. Chicago Music Guide has always been so supportive and good to me, thank you! I am so grateful.
DK: Thank you so much for saying that, Ashleigh, I sincerely appreciate it! I’ve been on the other end before; a drummer in a band what seems like eons ago now, but I know how important it is to get exposure at any point of your career and it was from there that the spark of Chicago Music Guide ignited. Now 10 years later, I am so happy to provide a much better platform for gifted performers like yourself to be seen and heard. So, you realized you wanted to be a recording artist when you were about 9 or 10, right?
AA: I wanted to be a recording artist at a very young age, maybe even younger than 9. I always loved performing. At 3 and 4 I used to do acting skits for my family and for my neighbors. My neighbor actually told my mom when I was 3 that someday we will be buying tickets to see her perform. I got very involved in community theater at around 5.
I did plays with The Drama Group in Chicago Heights and Curtain Call Theater and then began acting classes at Piven Theater and Second City. The acting really does tie into the singing, because I was 9 and singing about really adult types of things that I would need to put myself into the person’s experience in order to feel the song.
DK: How young were you when you started singing and started learning guitar?
AA: I was 5 when I started singing and 10 when I got my first guitar.
DK: Did you take any guitar or vocal lessons?
AA: Yes, both. I actually started taking voice lessons when I was 5 because I was involved with community theater. I stayed with my first teacher, Joy Richards, for over 5 years. My older and younger sister also began taking vocal lessons and many times we would perform together at recitals, incorporating dance moves into our songs. I also worked with Dawn DeVries and Dee Hamilton, who are both very well known and respected in the Chicago theater community. Because I became more interested in pop music, I then went from being “classically trained” to a total different type of vocal training called “throga”.
Throga is the work of Richard Fink, IV, out of New York (http://www.richardiv.com). I began working with Richard when I was 11. My lessons were done over Skype and consisted of mainly vocal exercises that help with range, pitch, intonation. He basically has an exercise for everything and he teaches a lot about the mechanics of singing, as well.
He can also teach you about nutrition and foods that are good for singing, as well as foods to avoid before a big show. Today, he works with singers all over the world, many of the popular TV shows, such as The Voice, X Factor and American Idol, as well as very well known artists already on tour. I teach voice lessons now and I incorporate many of the tools that I have learned from Richard.
DK: I am sorry to say that I hadn’t heard of him before, but I’ll definitely look into him and his teachings now, thanks! How many brothers and sisters do you have and how many of them are musically inclined?
AA: I have 2 brothers and 5 sisters. I am the second oldest. My older sister has played piano since she was 5 and almost majored in piano in college, but has since changed her major to pre -med. My younger sister Alexa, is a very good guitar player. She is a third year member of the guitar studio at her high school. She plays electric, acoustic and classical guitar.
All three of us took piano as kids, so we have some background. The younger 4 kids in our family enjoy sports with the exception of my 12 year old sister Kristen, who plays piano and is involved in her school choir.
DK: That is all very cool, I can’t imagine how much fun your household must be with all the music and sports activities going on all the time. Your dad has always said, “Show me the passion, and I will support you.” From your perspective, how has that helped you and your siblings?
AA: Showing him the passion means practicing, having your priorities right, talking about your dreams with enthusiasm and being willing to work for what you want to accomplish. My parents have given all of themselves to their children, driving all the time, sitting through rehearsals and lessons, helping in every way they possibly could. The biggest gift my parents have have given us is just allowing their children to dream.
Many parents teach their kids to play it safe, have a back up plan, do the “practical” thing, and then the kids end up pleasing their parents instead of following their own hearts. My parents are not afraid to let us be who we are. They see us each as unique individuals. We have been taught that anything is possible with putting discipline and heart into it. Having such a big family has taught us to dream together and to encourage, help and love each other. My family is a positive force and I know we are blessed to have each other.
DK: What other talents do your siblings have?
AA: My sister Laci, age 10, is a very good soccer player. In her very first tryout, she actually made the boys team. She ended up on the girl’s team that year when an opening came along. She has been involved in travel soccer for 5 years now and her goal is to play soccer in the olympics.
She did a Long John Silver’s commercial last year and has invested that money into her soccer, as travel is a very expensive thing. She practices a lot on her own and she is always trying to improve her skills and really works at it. My brother Jon plays high school soccer. My brother Connor plays baseball and my sister’s Kaleigh, Alexa and Kristen are into music.
DK: Are your parents also musically inclined?
AA: Not at all. They do love listening to music, though.
DK: Wow, that is surprising that they don’t have a musical background, but very cool how understanding and supportive that they are. Did you grow up with a lot of music being played in the house? If so, what kind of music?
AA: We listen to everything, all genres as well as musical sound tracks. We spent a lot of time in the car driving to acting classes in Evanston. If my Dad was driving, he would play country. If it was my Mom, she would listen to ’70’s and ’80’s music. I remember being in first grade and learning all the words to “American Pie” every morning before catching the school bus.
I also remember listening to Eminem about the same age and dancing on the couch with my sisters and my mom. One Mother’s Day, my mom passed out the lyrics to “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” and we sang it before dinner. Then there are road trips where my parents sing every word on MeatLoaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell”….lol. We actually tried to hide that cd on the trip to Florida.
DK: (laughing) That’s funny… it sounds like you all have a lot of fun with the music too, that’s good! Who were some of your earliest musical (and non-musical) inspirations?
AA: Musical: The Killers, Faith Hill, Michael Jackson, The Back Street Boys. Non musical: Oprah, Joanne Underwood & Donna Osowski, (my Piven acting coaches who taught me to let go and come out of my shell, and just to be “real”), Esther Hicks, author of “Ask And It Is Given” and especially, my Grandfather, Doug Lid, Jameel Harris, and Matt Ryd.
DK: How have those inspirations transformed your life?
AA: For my musical influences, it was the way the music made me feel when I listened to it that hit home with me. Our family took a trip to Gary, Indiana to see Michael’s childhood home. We sometimes feel like our house is small with 10 people living in it, but his house was incredibly tiny! I relate to him in the way he wrote is very similar to the way I write. Michael would have songs come to him. He also practiced a lot and had his family members involved and part of his dream. He was also very sensitive, as I am also a sensitive person.
The biggest influences on me as a person are those 4 special people listed at the end. I call them my “DreamTeam in Spirit” because all 4 died way too young, but had a huge impact on me and taught me so much about life.
My Grandpa died when I was 9. He had a huge heart and left a legacy of love that taught me how to love people and to be generous and to give to everyone who needs help, a hand or a hug. He used to take us down town to see Santa at Marshall Fields and he would always find homeless people and take them into restaurants and feed them. He did so many things and always made people laugh. He is my example. It was that exact moment of singing at his funeral when I was 9, where I felt that this was my gift.
Doug Lid was my biggest fan ever. I met him singing in LaGrange. He reminded me of my Grandpa so much by the way he acted and how he made everyone laugh. He also taught me so much about life. He had many friends with venues for me to sing at. When I was 15, because of his connections, I was playing out sometimes 4 times per week for 3 and 4 hours at a time. I was really lucky to have these experiences, especially being that young. He would always be cheering me on. Most importantly, his huge heart showed me such a beautiful example of how to live, treat others and to follow your dreams.
Jameel Harris was my producer. He believed in me so much that he offered his services for what I could afford. It wasn’t about money for him, it was because he wanted to help me. Jameel had a six figure income when he left TMobile to follow his dreams of being a music producer. He understood how strongly I feel about following your dreams, no matter what. He said that “if you don’t have a dream, you will work for someone who does”…. He was killed by a drunk driver on the way home from the studio, probably less than 2 weeks before our song was to be completed.
He was an example of a person following his purpose and because of him, I know that I need to listen to my heart and follow it. It is not to make the people around me happy, but I know I need to make myself happy. His lessons will stick with me always. Jameel was such a wise soul and I was blessed to spend so much time talking to him and learning about life through the experiences he shared. Jameel was only 35 and had a wife and 3 little boys.
Matt Ryd was the person I turned to when I felt ready to go back into the studio. He knew what I had been through with the loss of Jameel and he made the producer-artist relationship feel good to me again. There really needs to be a trust there and I trusted his musical instincts. He was creative, fun and he was such a good guy.
We started working together last January and he passed away in August. Matt was only 28.
I know in my heart that my “Dream Team” is still helping me from where they are. I have learned that life is precious and you can’t take anyone or anything for granted. Having had so many losses before turning 18, really can change the way one looks at life. I only hope to become the like the examples each of these people were to me.
DK: I am so sorry for their losses in your life Ashleigh and the news of Matt Ryd hit us pretty hard here too. Just keep on your current path Ashleigh, keep on singing, inspiring, acting and teaching and by living your dream day to day, you will reach your dream with a lifetime of results.
Now, getting back to your school years, was it in Junior High School where you started having difficulties with the kids around you?
AA: Yes. In 6th grade many of the difficulties began. I no longer wanted to follow the crowd when I knew what they were doing and saying to other people was not how I wanted to treat other people. Doing the right thing, made me an outcast. I was alone and bullied a lot because I wouldn’t go along with the peer pressure. It was a very lonely time. I had my family to come home to at night, but the days at school were very difficult and painful.
DK: I, myself can personally relate to that, but in your case however, you’ve taken those painful moments and turned them into something positive, not only for yourself, but for many others and in 2012 started speaking about having the power to DEFY words that hurt. How did you get involved in motivational speaking, was it a natural extension of your music?
AA: Two of my songs were selected to be on a compilation cd to benefit sick children in the hospital. The person who made the cd suggested me to her local high school to come and share my music with the high school students for an annual event, held in Appleton, Wisconsin called “Words Hurt.” My first time speaking was in front of thousands of students at age 16.
It really just flowed out of me from another place. I was calm and found myself using words I don’t normally use, in fact, I didn’t even know what a few words meant. It was a lot like my song writing process, it just poured out of me. I started telling the background story for each song that I wrote and then it turned into so much more than that.
I was giving the students tools to help overcome being bullied. After I was done speaking, we set up a table in the cafeteria where the students could talk to me one on one. I had a special dream box where the kids added their dreams. It was nice to feel that my music or telling my story might help them.
DK: Oh, I am sure. Making those wonderful connections is what it is all about. Tell me about some of your experiences with your motivational speaking that you’ve had already, please.
AA: I have had the opportunity to speak at the University of Wisconsin to college students, a few high schools and also some local teen centers. I hope to continue to have the opportunity to share my music and stories with kids.
DK: Do you have much time in between songs to share your experiences during your music concerts as well? If so, have you been able to connect with fans in the audience as much as I’d expect you do at your speaking engagements?
AA: If I feel like my audience is listening, I love to share the story behind the songs. Most of my music gigs do not give me the opportunity to really tell the stories because of the limited amount of time I am given, but I do enjoy telling them. In one gig I had last summer, the bar owner actually asked me not to speak between songs… It was unreal. People do like to connect, even if it is just talking about one or two songs in your set.
DK: Sorry to say, but if the bar owner didn’t want you to speak, then he or she should have just had a juke box for people to listen to music then. The live experience is not just watching someone play songs, it is watching that person or that band live a piece of their long term dream one night at a time. Right?
For those who have not had the pleasure of experiencing one of your speaking presentations, please share some of your messages, if you please.
AA: My message is to believe in your dreams, believe in your self and be an example of love for all the people you meet. Words only have the power that you allow them to have. The key is to KNOW yourself, who you are, and to love yourself enough to know it, even when others try to tell you something other than your truth.
DK: One question I had regarding a statement you made in a presentation about words in general; not having any power and that the only opinion that matters is your own. I am wondering though about the power of positive words, they hold power, power to encourage, uplift and inspire. How do positive words fit in with what you were saying?
AA: Words only have the power you give to them, positive or negative. I can talk about being positive, but I can not make someone become positive. Words and their meanings are personal to each one of us. If someone says something positive to me, I recognize it as their opinion. The only opinion that really matters is how I feel about myself, or how I interpret the words, positive or negative. We each have a choice of what we decide to keep inside and what we let go of.
DK: Thank you very much Ashleigh! When you were 10, you wrote your first song and now you’ve amassed over 125 songs, how many of them would you say are about personal experiences?
AA: I really don’t know. Many of them are about personal experiences. Some of them stem from a personal experience, but take on a life of their own. My song on my new EP called “Plaything” will have a music video about domestic violence, although the song was written after being bullied by my bosses at Jimmy John’s.
They would make up ridiculous jobs for me, like washing the cracks between the tiles on the walls. They would harass me and make me do things no one else who worked there had ever done. I finally had the guts to quit and walk away. To answer your question, I feel the emotions but have not experienced them all myself, so it is not always personal, but the feeling/emotions behind the song are.
DK: Totally understandable and how terrible it must have been that you were treated so badly at Jimmy John’s that you felt that quitting was your only option. Your bosses should have lost their jobs, in my opinion.
Changing the subject now, how do you go about your songwriting process? Do you need a specific time and place to concentrate? (Especially with your large family) Or do you write sporadically, when you’re able?
AA: Many times it just comes to me. We can be eating dinner and I will write things on a napkin because that is all there is to write on. I usually get the music and lyrics all at once and then I will play with it. It is very difficult for me to sit down and try to write a song. When I am open to it and feeling creative, they just happen. I would like to do more co-writing this year so that I can make my songs bounce off of another writer to enhance them.
DK: Yes, speaking from experience, it can be fun to co-write songs; make a night of it and stuff. Do you have a fairly regular schedule in your life?
AA: Not at all. I usually make it to the gym at 6am each day and then each day is different. I work a week day job at Tropical Smoothie, babysit for a neighbor and work around every gig and speaking opportunity that comes my way. It is challenging to juggle it all. I also can get called in by my agency for an acting audition and can have very little notice.
My weekends are usually full of gigs during the summer. We have also had the blessings of being invited to 3 music fests last year, and hopefully several more for this year. I have learned to go with the flow. When opportunities come I need to always be ready.
DK: I know you (at least used to) practice a couple hours a day, are you still practicing that frequently?
AA: Before I graduated high school in June 2013, I would practice all afternoon every day. This summer, my sister Alexa and I began singing at french markets all over Chicago.
We could play for over 4 hours without repeating a song. We would do this 2 or 3 times per weekend. For us, this was just like practicing and getting tipped for practicing! Right now, any down time I can find is used to be creative and to write new songs.
DK: How often do you rehearse with your siblings?
AA: Before a music fest or big show, we practice 8-10 hours per week all together and also practice on our own, each learning out parts, before we get together as a group. My Mom or Dad usually sits in so that it runs smoothly.
DK: Do your parents give you a lot feedback during rehearsals?
AA: They do. Sometimes we listen and take their advice, and other times, we don’t. I feel I have a pretty good ear for things, so I usually trust my instinct.
DK: What have been the biggest struggles you’ve faced specifically in your career?
AA: Financing all of the things I want to do has been the biggest challenge. I would love to do more music videos and have more music produced. My parents have 7 kids and are not able to support me financially, they support me in so many other ways. I have paid for all of my music production and videos myself, or through kickstarter/fund raisers. I have worked since the age of 9. I started out with a tye-dye company, working summers at their events and I have worked in many different jobs ever since. I have learned that if I want something, I need to be active in making it happen.
DK: That is so true. What are your impressions on the music industry as a whole?
AA: The music industry is what it is and it is always changing. There are many opportunities out there, and with the internet, there are so many different ways to be creative. I focus on being creative and I enjoy having the opportunity to see what others create, as well. That is one of those questions that if I thought about it too often, I would probably become overwhelmed.
DK: Understood. Tell me about your concerts and festivals that you’ve been a part of; you started at 9 singing in bars, but had already taken it to places like Cornerstone Festival. What are some of your favorite experiences from your live shows?
AA: My favorite experience was last May at the Montauk Music Fest in Long Island, New York. We were about to take the main stage after 2 performances on side stages, when it started to rain. We had come all the way from Chicago, driving straight through, put my own money into this trip, and we missed getting up on the main stage because of rain.
The fest asked us to play indoors, instead, and it turned out to be the best audience ever! They were singing along, my mom had agents from NYC swarming her afterwards, and my band played the best gig they ever have. I am hoping to be invited back there this year to have that moment on the main stage!
DK: That is awesome! It just shows that you never know who will be at your shows and what can come of them.
A couple years ago, you had the pleasure of appearing in a T-Mobile holiday commercial filmed at Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall. How did you manage to be part of that wonderful event?
AA: I auditioned with a Chicago casting agent. I actually got a call back for the lead, so it was really exciting! Everyone I worked with was great. We have kept in touch in a facebook group where we root each other on and support each other. It was an experience that was so powerful, to hear all of those voices come together as one. We filmed it 9 times and my mom cried every time we did it. It was pretty awesome! I made some great connections and good friends. We call each other “pink sisters”.
DK: So, with all of your great involvements, how have you managed to manage your time so effectively to take on so much in your life?
AA: There are times I put my energy into acting 100% and other times, I focus on music 100%. It just depends on what opportunities that I have at the moment. I enjoy both acting and singing so much. They both are my soul’s passion! Acting/modeling jobs also are a good way to help pay for music and video production.
DK: Now, as you briefly mentioned before, you have a new EP coming out soon, please share as much as you can about it with us… it is very exciting to know more great music is on the way from you!
AA: The new EP is called “Plaything” and it is the result of a successful kickstarter campaign I had last year. Four of the songs on this EP were produced and recorded at The Ontic, in Studio City/LA, California. I worked with Rye Randa and Jeff Foxworth. This EP shares the same self empowerment message that I hope to have in all of my music.
DK: Excellent! So glad to hear it! When and where will it be available for people to buy? Will there be any pre-orders?
AA: It should be up on iTunes by the end of January. For pre-orders, you can email me directly at: email@example.com
DK: Sounds great! I (personally) cannot wait!
What are some of your long-term goals that you’d like to see yourself accomplish?
AA: I want to grow as a person, an artist and hope to have a platform where I can connect with others and share my music and message. I also would love to live in California, as there are so many awesome opportunities for music and acting, not to mention, it is warm there! I fell in love with it and cant wait to be there again!
DK: Yeah, I hear you on the warm temps… with our current below zero that we’re going through now…! :-)
What is your idea of success in your music career?
AA: Touching people’s hearts and inspiring people to believe in their dreams. If I can make a living doing what I love and I am happy, I feel that is success.
DK: What steps do you feel you’ll need to take in order to achieve those goals?
AA: most importantly, believe that it is possible
DK: Aside from the release of your new EP, what do you have lined up for the next months?
AA: I am playing the Chicago French Market in January, February, March and April and I have a few shows lined up in a Cary and East Dundee. I will be back in the studio this month! I am excited about working with Joe Dillilo and Joshua Star from Solid Sound Recording in Hoffman Estates. I am hoping to do some cowriting and to really showcase vocal ability on my next production.
I feel like in the past, I have really connected emotionally to my songs, but maybe didn’t incorporate what my voice is capable of doing because I was playing it safe. I am excited and feel very blessed to have the opportunity to work with these guys! I feel we will create something really cool! I also hope to do more music videos! I also will be working on a project with Chicago artist, Taylor Mallory this month!
DK: Very exciting projects there Ashleigh! We’re all very anxious to see them come to fruition for you! Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
AA: I am currently writing a book called “Break in Two: How I Survived Bullying and How You Can, Too” due out in 2014. This book tells my story behind the lyrics in Break In Two and also stems from the talks I have given in schools. It will be available on Amazon later this year.
I also would LOVE for people to see my first music video “Break In Two”
It was filmed in Appleton, Wisconsin and was directed by my friend Brian Morgan, who is a very talented film maker that has worked all over the world. He is also an inspiration to me! He is young, but he has had so many amazing opportunities in his field. He is very passionate, and just a great human being, always doing so much good for others!
DK: A Book too? Wow…. Amazing and your video is a great one too, we’ve been featuring it for a few weeks now and we feel many more will feel the same! Thank you so much for taking the time with me Ashleigh, I wish you tremendous success in all you do and I am confident you’ll make it happen too!
AA: Thank you so much, Dennis!! You have always been very supportive and I really appreciate it! It’s been fun!
DK: Same here! Thanks again! Bye (for now)!
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