Ashton Shepherd Opens Up to Country Weekly
WHERE COUNTRY GROWS
Ashton Shepherd opens up about her new album, her growing family and writing her most personal songs yet.
The release of Ashton Shepherd’s flippant tongue-in-cheek single, “Look It Up,” marks the end of a long wait for fans of this unabashed country traditionalist. “It’s different,” Ashton says of the tune. “I was very drawn to the song’s sass and the catchy lyric. It almost leaves you wanting more.” While her debut single, 2007’s “Takin’ Off This Pain,” found Ashton playing the part of the neglected wife who threatens to put aside her wedding ring for a night or two of fun, the video for “Look It Up” finds Ashton taking things one step further—she packs up all her wayward man’s belongings and makes a wad of cash off of them at a yard sale. She even sells his dog. To film the video, this Southern-bred girl packed her bags for Los Angeles. “I got a little nervous,” admits Ashton. “That is a little outside of my element, for sure. I just told [ video director ] Michael Salomon, ‘Just tell me what to do today.’ I’m not the best actress in the world, but I can do my best. I kept thinking, ‘Does this motion look silly? Do I look OK?” In one scene, Ashton, spruced up in a shiny dress, torches her man’s letterman jacket. In another scene, she uses some of her man’s possessions as targets for working on her golf swing. “At that point, it was later in the day. I felt a lot more comfortable. We’d gotten the first of the day shoot done, and I felt really pretty in my dress, so my confidence had boosted and you can tell in that scene. They were like, ‘Can you hit some stuff with a golf club?’ I was like, ‘Yeah! I’ve got a good golf swing.’ It was a very cool experience.
Ashton’s 2008 debut project, Sounds So Good, cracked the Top 20 on the Billboard country sales chart, while the album’s two singles, “Takin’ Off This Pain” and “Sounds So Good,” hit No. 20 and No. 21, respectively, on the Billboard airplay chart. The then-21-year-old wrote nearly every track herself—a rarity in today’s music market. Ashton tweaked her corn-fed country sound for her second release, Where Country Grows, by adding outside writers to the mix. Bobby Pinson helped pen the title track, while Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark co-wrote “Tryin’ to Go to Church.” “When you have a debut album that people kind of like, you can’t help but feel a little pressure,” Ashton admits. “cutting outside songs isn’t a risk when you are dealing with Nashville songwriters, because they are so talented, but for me it felt like a risk because of the acclaim I got as a writer after my first album. It doesn’t seem as odd now that I’ve finished and released the record. I’m already asking people to send me stuff now for the third record.”
Ashton credits producer Buddy Cannon (Kenny Chesney) with polishing her sound. “We’ve got a good relationship,” she says. “It’s like a father-daughter relationship. He’s got a special presence in the studio.” Ashton points to the song “I’m good” as an example. “Buddy was able to hear a different production on this song. He just nailed what he told the band to do. I can hear something like, ‘I want this to sound simpler or slower,’ but it’s neat for me to watch him. He’s the relayer of my music and does a wonderful job.” To make sure that not only Buddy but also Ashton’s full stable of songwriters got a good feel for her music, Ashton invited several of her creative cohorts down to her home in Alabama, to a music-filled hangout on her property that she calls the Pickin’ Shed. “I brought Buddy down a couple of years ago and we wrote songs. I made him pork chops and collard greens. [Songwriters] Troy Jones and Brice Long came down last summer and we cooked ribs for Troy and passed the guitar around and drank a few cold ones.”
Fans shouldn’t see the plethora of co-writes on this album as warning signs—Ashton was the sole writer on two of the album’s most intimate tunes, “I’m Just a Woman” and “Rory’s Radio.” “’I’m Just a Woman’ can be an anthem for so many women out there,” says Ashton, “whether you have children or you don’t. A lot of the ladies get discouraged out there. They want their man to understand them better. I get discouraged, too, but then I think, ‘You know, if I’m getting discouraged and I had somebody doing my hair and makeup this morning and I’m doing a photo shoot or being interviewed by people, what do all these women that don’t have all these pizazzy things feel like?’ That’s why I feel like this album really is the people’s album,” says Ashton. “I’m real just like they are.”
“Rory’s Radio” shows just how real Ashton can be. The song is written about her experiences growing up with her brother, Jeff, and his best friend, Rory. “My brother was killed in a car accident when I was 13. When I say Rory, I kind of say Jeff in the same sentence because they were pretty much attached at the hip as best friends. If you saw one, you saw the other one,” Ashton explains. “Jeff was 23 when I was 13, so I grew up wanting to be their age.” It helped that tagging along with her older brother and his friend allowed the teenage Ashton to get away with things. “I’d tell my mom and dad that I’d be out past nine o’clock, but I’d be with Jeff or Rory, so that was acceptable to my parents because I was being looked after. We’d buy a bag of crawfish and sit under the bridge and eat crawfish, or they’d take me to get ice cream, or sometimes we’d go to a little gathering.” After her brother’s death, Rory was a source of comfort to Ashton’s family. “He’s a part of Jeff to us. Sometimes I’d go riding with him and his girlfriend at the time, or we’d all go over to his house, and sometimes we’d talk about Jeff. The song is about looking back and remembering that time and place. I feel like when the public listens to it, they will picture someone’s radio.”
As for her own family—husband Roland and young son James—Ashton says a new daughter will have joined the clan by Septmeber. “We’re excited to be parents again,” says Ashton, who has already picked out a name for the baby—Raden Delilah. “James will hug me and kiss my belly. He’s recognizing [his sister] to that extent, so I can only imagine the little bond they will have.”
At 24, this mother, wife, songwriter and entertainer seems content and fulfilled. “I’m really living my dream life. I’m expecting my second child, I’m doing what I wanted to do with my music and God has been good to me and my whole family.” 7/21/2011