Ashnikko is getting ready to drop debut album Weedkiller (Parlophone). The long-awaited LP from the UK-based American singer and rapper is released next Friday (August 25).
Parlophone has high hopes for Weedkiller, given the artist’s digital footprint, including 5.8 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Lead single Weedkiller is approaching 20m streams.
“The label has been very kind to me and allowed me to put out the music that I want to make,” said Ashnikko. “They really trust my vision. That has been incredibly liberating.”
A spectacular blend of industrial pop, electro-punk, swaggering hip-hop, slick hooks and uneasy electronica (sometimes all in the same song), Weedkiller is based around the concept of a war between nebulous machines and a fae civilisation, Ashnikko using the springboard to delve into environmental concerns, personal trauma, queer politics and the political patriarchy.
“A lot of the visual language on this album is very much tied into nature worship,” they explained. “I wrote a short story two years ago that spawned the rest of the album.”
With long-standing collaborator Thomas Slinger, Ashnikko approached their first full-length as if she were scoring a film.
“We were very heavily inspired by what Hans Zimmer did for Dune, building out these beautiful sounds that fit the story, the narrative that we were trying to convey,” said Ashnikko.
“I’ve put out loads of music but never called it an album before because I’m just a really horrible perfectionist,” they added in the Music Week cover story. “I was like, ‘If I’m gonna put out an album, every song has to be written with intention.’”
Ashnikko made a chart impact with mixtape Demidevil in January 2021. Peaking at No.19, it has 49,868 UK sales to date (including 44,381 from streams), according to the Official Charts Company.
Earlier chart success came with the single Daisy, which peaked at No.24 in 2020 and has UK sales to date of 441,896. Globally, the track has more than 457 million Spotify streams.
The initial breakthrough came with Stupid (feat Yung Baby Tate), which is certified platinum in the US. In the UK, it’s on 180,690 sales.
A few singles were earmarked for release from 2019’s Hi, It’s Me, but it was one that wasn’t – Stupid – that blew up on TikTok. At the time, Ashnikko didn’t even have a TikTok account. They recalled with semi-bafflement the occasion when someone pointed out the song was rapidly getting a high amount of views.
“Some random person was like, ‘Look what’s happening on TikTok’ after it had 1,000 views. I was like, ‘Oh cool...’” said Ashnikko.
The song made Ashnikko one of the first TikTok superstars, its success soon spreading onto Spotify and YouTube, too.
“It was strange,” she added. “I was looking at my phone like, ‘What the fuck is happening?’ It was growing so fast. It was very weird. I think I got lucky. Now, every record label under the sun is like, ‘Oh my God, you should make a TikTok trend, you should engage on TikTok’. ‘Engage on TikTok’ is my trigger phrase. But I got away with it somehow by not interacting.”
Ashnikko then teamed with TikTok and Beats for the Daisy video.
In the wake of that success, George Shepherd at Various Artists Management said that Ashnikko did the right thing by engaging with the platform by completely being themself.
“They didn’t chase trends, they didn’t try to start viral moments, they realised, ‘I know how to speak to my audience,’” he said. “That’s the big thing missing in pop, the honesty, whether it’s calling out the problems with underrepresented people or the LGBTQ community, or being completely honest with their opinions. I think people buy into that.”
Like other artists who emerged in the last few years, Ashnikko was forced to focus her creativity on music and digital activity during the pandemic (although touring is now back on with US and European dates, including Alexandra Palace on November 30, following a festival run).
“Artists get to play the smaller rooms and work their way up,” they said. “But the pandemic coupled with how my career just exploded randomly was a very drastic change in my life, one that I was not super-prepared for. I remember 2019 into 2020 being very difficult for me, grappling with what was expected of me and how I was supposed to be.”
“I wasn’t prepared,” Ashnikko added. “I didn’t have the skills to be anyone’s boss or to have that level of expectation on my shoulders. But I am getting there. It’s a process.”
It wasn’t just in the real world. Online, too, everything suddenly changed.
“Having a relative loss of anonymity online was a very strange thing,” she continued. “I’m super-grateful that it happened, I get to make the art that I want to make, I get to work with people that I love, but it was really weird.”
Ashnikko suggested that being an artist in the 2020s is like having two full-time jobs, one encompassing all the things that musicians have always done, the other being a social media expert.
“It’s so all-encompassing and it’s so demanding,” they said. “You’ve gotta be an editor, marketing person, musician, visual creative. It’s a lot of hats and I don’t know if I’ve mastered them. I’m still working with mastering how to use social media to my benefit. I always feel like I got real lucky at the beginning.”
Having built on the TikTok breakthrough and amassed a body of work, it isn’t a career that hinges on a singular viral moment. With the release of Weedkiller, it now takes in an album, singles, EPs, mixtapes, live extravaganzas and flamboyant aesthetics. How did Ashnikko do it?
“I don’t know! I scream and cry a lot,” Ashnikko told Music Week. “My brain is full of car exhaust. I work 24/7, I’m a workaholic.”
Subscribers can read the full interview here.
PHOTO CREDIT: Vasso Vu