B&L: What animal do you associate yourself with (given our ties to oxen)?
Ashton: Maybe a giraffe? Sometimes I feel too tall for this world. Although you will meet my drummer on this tour, Steve, who gives me a run for my money in the height department.
B&L: Why music? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it? How’d it come calling to you?
Ashton: In the middle of my teen years I discovered the life affirming combination of happy and sad that a beautiful rendition of an honest song can give you when you’re wearing headphones and walking down the street, or when you hear something knew that gets to you in a new way at a concert. Since then it has just felt like the default way for me to try to express myself.
B&L: Let’s talk about your latest record, “The Romantic.” I haven’t heard it yet, let’s just get it on the table… Are you a romantic?
Ashton: I am! Deep down, yes. But calling the album “The Romantic” is meant to be ribbing myself a bit about it. Although a lot of times I am also The Neurotic or The Anxious.
B&L: What were your goals for this particular record?
Ashton: I wrote these songs in my mid to late 20s during a period where I was doing a lot of getting to know myself. I think in my early 20s I thought I knew everything, and then the second half of that decade was the process of that illusion falling away and really coming face to face with the relationship patterns I was getting myself into, and the fact that my particular worldview wasn’t always as infallible as I would’ve wanted it to be. So I think the album is a document of that process.
B&L: Looks like you got picked up by the fine folks at Signature Sounds (some of our favorite people!) How’d you get hooked up with ‘em? What excites you about putting music out under that particular label’s guise?
Ashton: I really came into my own as a musician by playing folk music, but I don’t have a desire to stand all the way under that umbrella. I don’t want people to listen to what I do through a lens of comparing it against other music they know by people who play the banjo, or other people who are influenced by traditional folk. Signature Sounds has always embodied an open-mindedness in terms of genre and musical influences, and an emphasis on songs. I’ve followed what they’ve released for a long time, and by the time I was looking for a label, Jim had seen me play and dug the record. It fell together pretty naturally. I asked him if he had any thoughts about cutting a song or rearranging the track order but he was really hands off and wanted to put out the record I had made as I envisioned it. It’s a great feeling.
B&L: Is songwriting an easy or arduous process for you? Are you an “in the moment” kind of writer, or do you have to actively schedule “office hours” to get words on paper?
Ashton: I have tried, and continue to try, everything. Something that’s been really fruitful for me is getting together with groups whether it’s over email or in person and setting a certain amount of time and making a hard deadline to write a number of songs. Forcing something out fast is a great way to turn off your censor, and I like having more songs than I can use so that I can pick out the 1 in 10 that I like and throw the rest away (or save them for later).
B&L: Where do you tend to pull inspiration from?
Ashton: Everywhere! Random science facts I hear, stories people tell me about their relationships, my own life…
B&L: What’s the making of a great show?
Ashton: I feel really awkward on stage if I can’t feel the audience reacting. So right now I’m into bantering with the audience — I really try to make them laugh even if I’m introducing a really sad song. I like shows without banter too, but at least right now it’s not what I’m inspired to do.
B&L: What can folks expect when they come out to see you perform at the Word Barn on February
Ashton: Well, over the past few years I’ve been playing solo a lot on one hand, and working on a really fleshed-out album with 17 musicians on it on the other hand, so this tour is somewhere in between those extremes. It’s my songs in trio formation: me on banjo and guitar, and my old friend Steve Foster on drums, and Kat McLevey on electric bass. The arrangements are tight and groovy and there’s a big emphasis on vocal harmonies since the both of them are beautiful singers.
B&L: Is it weird to set foot onto stage and play to a room full of (mostly) strangers? Or are they all friends at this point?
Ashton: I think it used to be, but now I LOVE playing for people who’ve never heard me before. I take a lot of pride in my songs and to play them for people who are hearing them for the first time helps me hear them for the first time too and to play them that way.
B&L: What’s one tune (or, heck, a couple) that exists out there in the ether that blows you away that you kind of wish you had written yourself?
Ashton: “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young because it has that instant universal cozy nostalgic feeling…
“Funeral” by Phoebe Bridgers because its verses are beautiful in the way that they aren’t literally connected to each other but they tell such a beautiful, devastating story…
“All I Want” by Joni Mitchell because it is clearly a specific snapshot from her life but it also doubles as an instruction manual on how to love. AND her phrasing is insanely funky. “All I really really want our love to do is to bring out the best in me and in you”. It can be so beautiful to just spit some simple wisdom.
B&L: Question number 12. If you could have a dozen of anything, what would that dozen of
Ashton: Bagels from St. Viateur in Montreal. Lucky for me we’re going there on this tour!
Taylor Ashton makes his first appearance at the Word Barn on Friday, February 28th in support of his brand new record, “The Romantic.” Grab your partner and come join in on the festivities… Tickets are available here.