Today (April 3), country star Ashley McBryde releases her new album Never Will via Warner – the eagerly-awaited follow-up to her 2018 major label debut Girl Going Nowhere which earned her New Artist Of The Year at the CMA Awards and two Grammy nods.
As part of our extensive country coverage in our Nashville 2020 special, we spoke to McBryde about dealing with pressure, industry double standards and the obstacles she faced in her early career.
“People close to me that I worked with on a daily basis were saying, ‘You should be running twice a day,’” McBryde told Music Week. “If I had time to run twice a day I still wouldn’t, because I hate to run. Of course, I want to be healthy, but at the time I wasn’t any bigger than a twig anyway and they were still trying to have me lose X amount of weight, because, ‘If we’re going to take photos, the camera’s going to put that weight back.’ And, ‘We love your curly hair, but it’s too curly – can we put our own curls in?’ I was like, ‘OK, I’ll try anything.’”
She continued: "Even though I was still being true to myself playing live shows, I had agreed to try anything once. I knew I liked my hair better curly and that I don’t have to be skinny to be successful. That would have been an impossible facade to keep up. I don’t ever want some young man or young girl to look at me on a screen and go, ‘I could never be that because I’ll never look like that.’ That would break my heart. I’m 5’3” and I weigh 170 pounds. If anyone has something to say about that, they can stand toe-to-toe with me and say it to me.”
Here, in an unread extract of our interview, we dive deep into the making of the new with McBryde…
What was your vision for Never Will?
“Some of the songs that are on the record were written six years ago, and some were written a week before we went in to make it. So, we really did let the songs we had tell us where we were going. We started out with a ton of them, and then when you rehearse them it’s just natural selection: the ones that are going to stay are going to stay, and the ones that aren’t, you just watch them fall off to the wayside. We rehearsed probably 20-25 songs, and then we had to get that down to 11.”
Girl Going Nowhere was a life changing album for you. How did you contend with the pressure to follow up a record like that?
“When we went to make the second record, I had to remind myself and everybody involved that when we made our first record, we went in as a band, and took a snapshot of who we are and what we sound like. We don't have to write and record a Grammy-winning record, what we have to do is go in and give ourselves and everybody else a really accurate snapshot of where we are as a band. So if that starts to sound a little more on the rock side? Perfect! If something sounds a little more on the bluegrass side, fantastic! I tried as much as I could to remove the pressure.”
To do music on this level, you have to reach deeper and be more naked in front of the audience
On Sparrow you seem to talk about your gratitude for your life as a musician, but also the sense of loss of family time that comes attached with that?
“You’re absolutely right. It’s, ‘This is magical, this is wonderful!’ and it’s, ‘I miss you’. Our parents, our spouses, our siblings, they want us to do this, they want us to have everything we want and they miss us. I think my favorite line in the song so far – I'm still processing the magic we made that day – and it even makes me upset now: ‘It’s not fair how you miss the ground, when you're out here in the sky’. And that's a pretty good summary of what it feels like. Sparrow is my favourite song on the record today... But it changes every day!”
We should probably discuss Shut Up Shelia, too...
“Anyone that happens to be named Sheila, I do want them to know we don’t have any hard feelings! Shelia’s a real person, she’s lives in the Carolinas in the United States. It was really important for me to acknowledge that not everybody handles loss in the same way, that it's OK to handle it however you want to handle it. But it's not OK to try to convince someone to handle it the way you handle it. Shut Up Shelia was perfect.”
Stone is an incredibly personal song about losing your brother. Was there any trepidation about putting that much of yourself out there?
“If I’m going to get to do music on this level and get to reach the ears we’re getting to reach, then you have to reach deeper. And you have to be more naked in front of the audience. I’m not the only one that has a dead brother, my co-writer that day, Nicolette Hayford, her brother has been gone for a couple of years. I said, 'If anyone’s going to write a song for dead siblings or suicide, it’s going to be me and you.' It was a really long, painful day but it was also super-therapeutic. She’s such a brilliant writer, neither of us will even write anything down on paper until somebody cries. That’s just the way we write together, as soon as she saw an exposed bone she just jumped on it like a junkyard dog and was like, ‘Grab your guitar!’ And that was it. I’ve tried to tell people that this song is not on this record to hurt people, it’s on this record to remind you that if you’re hurt, you’re not by yourself.”
Subscribers can read the full Ashley McBryde feature here.