I had the opportunity to talk to Ashley Riley about her song- writing preferences, inspirations, and her third album, All the Pretty Things. See what she had to say below.
E: Your vocals have had comparisons to Stevie Nicks and your music seems to emulate a lot of the strong Americana sound; which artists have most inspired you?
Ashley Riley: I think I've been most inspired by Patty Griffin and Neil Young; I really like his guitar playing even though some people say it's sloppy. I actually just discovered Lori McKenna and I think she's a really good lyric writer.
E: Where does your inspiration come from when you're putting together something new?
AR: A lot of times I'll just kind of sit down and play and sometimes I don't actually know what a song is about until I'm about halfway through it. Sometimes I actually do sit down with something in mind that I want to write about so it's kind of different every time. It's usually just [inspiration from] my life, my friends, and just everything around me.
E: When did you start actually playing and writing songs?
AR: In 2008. I think my first show was on Valentine's Day.
E: All the Pretty Things is your third album. How has your style matured since your first album's release?
AR: I would say that my first album was pretty much just me: solo acoustic. Since then, I feel like I've just kind of grown my sound each time. The second album had a full band behind it, well, actually, not a full band, just bass and drums, and this new album actually has a lot more organ and keyboard and lead guitar. I feel like I just kind of keep making it a little more sophisticated sounding.
E: What made you decide to add a band on your second and third albums after releasing a solo debut album?
AR: Well, I think just the way that I kind of got started was [as a solo artist]. I just got a guitar and started taking lessons and writing songs pretty much instantly and once I started getting more confident in that I started going out to a lot of open mics in the area and eventually became the host of one. From there I met my future band and started collaborating a little bit more. [The band were] other artists that would come to the shows and [we] just became friends and decided to play some stuff together and became a band that way.
E: Do you prefer working with a band over the solo work you used to do?
AR: I mean, I still write by myself; I still write everything and then take it to the band. We haven't collaborated yet, maybe it's something I should try, but we haven't done that yet.
E: I'm a fan of "Bulletproof"; where did the inspiration for that song come from?
AR: That song is actually kind of sad. It's about someone who OD'd on heroin actually and it's just kind of like the people around trying to help. It was a family member of a friend so I'm kind of like a third person in that story.
E: Is there a song on the album you most prefer to perform live?
AR: I think, actually, the title track, "All the Pretty Things", is the most fun to play live. It's just got a lot of dynamics with it, like it's kind of quiet but the choruses get really loud so that one's pretty fun. And people seem to really like "Love Shark"; a lot of people tell me that's their favorite one.
E: Where did the inspiration for the title track come from?
AR: That was actually a song that I was trying to write on purpose. I was trying to write more of a fun song because a lot of my music seems to be a little downbeat and kind of, I don't know, people will be like 'are you okay? Are you upset?', so I was trying to write something a little happier.
E: Does that downbeat tempo reflect the music you most enjoy or would you rather begin writing more of these upbeat tracks?
AR: It does. I kind of enjoy more mellow music or I kind of joke that my iPod is basically like Lilith Fair or something. So I do enjoy that kind of music and I think that's why I write a lot of it but it is fun to perform those upbeat songs; you can rock out and that's fun.
E: You said that your favorite track to perform live was "All the Pretty Things", but do you have a favorite track from all the songs which you have written throughout your career?
AR: Honestly, I think that my favorite is usually the song that I just wrote. It's usually the last song I wrote because you're kind of really invested in it and you're just, you know, really playing it a lot when you're trying to write a song. I usually find that when I'm writing a song it ends up being my favorite until I write a new one.
E: Is there anything else you want to say to your fans about this upcoming album or any of your music in general?
AR: I really just am proud of this album. I actually worked on it for about two years and I think that I've really just kind of found my sound through all of the songs that I've written and albums that I've done. I feel like this time around it just kind of really is what I wanted it to sound like. I think that it's more personal [than former albums]. I finally got exactly what I wanted to get across in the recordings.
Make sure to purchase your copy of All the Pretty Things to hear Riley's gorgeously simple and stripped down sound.