Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sharing A Six Pack with Ashleigh Flynn

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing and then meeting Ashleigh Flynn (web|Twitter) in East Nashville. Her album, A Million Stars, knocked my socks off then and continues in rotation today.

Through many months and miles of touring, Ashleigh composed another gaggle of fantastic songs. She polished a bunch of 'em and compiled seven of them into a new, live EP.

Well no, not that kind of live.

Her new EP, The Low Arc of the Sun, is a truly rich collection of songs - lyrically and musically. It includes five new songs, an original song first released by Flynn over a decade ago, and a fun cover of Buck Owens' Tiger By the Tail. The album will be released April 19th.

I feel as if Flynn doesn't write her songs so much as she paints her lyrics. Her word choices are more than just a simple turn of a phrase. Many lines evoke one or more of the five senses.

Sweet grass and sage, heat of the day
- Swee Grass and Sage

A heart's made to rest
The sound of a bird singing high from her nest
- Sweet Grass and Sage

Leaves from trees cherry
Blossom petals falling
Like I am falling endlessly, endlessly
- Fallen

Wrapped around so heavy like a woolen blanket wet with rain
- Fallen

I put my boots on and a big downy coat
A hat, scarf and mittens of woven wool
We go out walking in our city turned white
Snowflakes dance under the evening street lights
- Winter Song

In the yard, yellow roses bloom

The EP includes very nice production work such that all instruments are noticeable in the mix - guitars, fiddle, bass, brushes on a snare, high hat, steel, etc. Striking the right balance is tough enough to do in a studio environment much less in a live recording setting.

I recently had the opportunity to reconnect with Ashleigh and share a six pack of Q&A about her new release.

TMC: The faint echos - both vocally and musically - resulting from the songs being recorded live are truly an enjoyable aspect of the EP. Was this a sound you were looking for in choosing to record and release a live album rather than one recorded in a studio?
Ashleigh: YES! I have found that working in a studio can at times be so tedious as to knock the soul out of a recording. I really like the energy that comes from playing live...although often times it makes it hard to capture a listenable performance - pitchy-ness, tempo, tuning issues all can hamper a live tracking of a song. But if you are able to harness that energy, I think it makes for a way. This is why I chose to make this EP live - in a nice room on a spiritual day. 
TMC: A Million Stars was a concept (ehh, thematic?) album about strong female characters - fictional and factual. A theme for Low Arc - if there is one - isn't nearly as obvious to me. Have I missed something? Ha. I'm curious if you had a collective idea for the EP as well the process of choosing from your songs the ones you opted to include.
Ashleigh: The Low Arc of the Sun is a nod to the winter solstice. The show at which the EP was recorded was based around this idea - and most of the songs have some reference to the passing of time (as least in my mind), so that's the thread. 
TMC: For all the knocks by many on Hee Haw (some...well, many of them deserved), the show really did have its relevance with appearances and performances by some great artists. My dad had the Best of Buck Owens: Vol. 2 on LP. Though I learned to dig Tiger By The Tail and Act Naturally through his playing of the album on his Zenith fold-down turntable, I most closely associate my listening of Buck with Hee Haw. What did the show mean to you growing up in Kentucky and then later with reflection after you settled in Oregon?
Ashleigh: I grew up watching Hee Haw and LOVED IT! Like clockwork on Saturday night, I would watch in my parents' room as my mom got ready to go out. I had no idea how misogynistic it was at times or how powerful and damaging the stereotypes that it celebrated were. I just loved the music...it was like watching a cartoon. Regardless, I LOVE Buck Owens' songs and that Bakersfield sound. Like I say on the record, it was really part of the soundtrack to my childhood.  Tiger By the Tail made it onto the album because it is an utter joy to play. It tells the story of a woman who takes her fella and probably the world by storm, and he has to hang on for dear life! Sometimes I feel like time is a Tiger, and I'm clinging to its tail for dear life!
TMC: Your voice grabbed me from the time we first spoke in East Nashville a couple of years ago to your vocals on each song. I guess I'm at a loss as to how to describe it to folks without their hearing it themselves. Beyond your songwriting talents, what vocalists have shaped your approach to singing?
Ashleigh: Thank you! I grew up loving and listening to Motown and to my older sister's records, Fleetwood Mac - Rumors, Jackson Browne - Running on Empty, James Taylor - Sweet Baby James as well as my dad's Willie Nelson and bluegrass records. Then I became a Led and Deadhead in high school. In college out in Colorado, I went to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival for a bunch of years throughout the 90s. That's what really turned my sights to songwriting and singing. I'd hadn't ever sung before that. There I discovered Nanci Griffith, John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, Patty Griffin, Emmy Lou Harris. 

TMC: Barrow was previously released as the lead track on Chokecherry over a decade ago. For The Low Arc, you chose to slot it as the last song. Any particular reason for the book end slotting?
Ashleigh: The EP was recorded on the winter solstice of 2014 in front of an intimate audience at the Secret Society Ballroom in Portland, Oregon.  The effort included some fine local musicians. We wanted to honor the coming of the light with a curated song cycle.

Barrow was written about my quest to rekindle my late grandfather’s spirit (the only other working musician in my family who died of MS in Ireland) by following a footpath known as the Dingle Way to its most southwestern tip. After getting there, I had the good fortune to glimpse the summer solstice sunset as I pondered my bloodline and the passage of time as marked by the coming and going of the light.
TMC: The EP includes wonderful and strong musical arrangements and performances. Will you be in a position to tour with a band in support of the new release?
Ashleigh: I sure hope so! I really love the band. They are all outstanding musicians and great people. We are available for festivals and tours for sure - especially on the west coast. But you know, anything is possible under the right conditions.