Ashley McBryde had dreams of moving to Nashville and hearing her music on the radio since she was a child. She began penning songs when she was 12 and despite an algebra teacher’s suggestion to have a backup plan, McBryde persisted.
Determined to prove her teacher wrong, she moved to Nashville in 2006. Over a decade later, her major label debut, Girl Going Nowhere, is now available. During a chat over the phone, McBryde muses at the idea of her former high school teacher hearing her music — specifically the album’s title track which touches upon those who told her dreams of a music career would never amount to anything. While she’s not sure if her teacher has heard her music, the singer hopes she listened to the song she inspired.
“I was hoping that she was tuned in when I played it on the Opry the first time,” McBryde tells Sounds Like Nashville. “I’m definitely going to send her a copy of this record, but I’m not going to sign it. I’m going to put a Post-it note on it that says, ‘Thank you for years of inspiration.’ I really do probably owe her some gratitude for giving me my first experience with rejection, and really lighting a fire under me. I’ve known my whole life I wanted to do this for a living, and I carried her words with me for a long time. It really kept me going, that somebody from home thought I couldn’t do it.”
It’s been a long journey to hearing her debut single, “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” on the radio. Countless jobs and struggles had her questioning her future in music but even the bad days gave her perspective.
“There were lots of times I would think, ‘What am I doing?’ But every time I would think, ‘Well, you could always go get a day job again, get another retail job. You can go get another serving job, you’re free to do whatever you want. You’re free to not play music,’ then the rest of my brain would go, ‘Shut up and play the songs! You’re doing what you love, and you’re eating and your dog is eating,'” she recalls. “So, even if it’s slim, your worst day doing what you love is better than your best day doing something that you don’t.”
While McBryde admits that it took some hard lessons to learn this realization, she persisted despite the odds set against her. She co-wrote each of the 11 tracks on her Jay Joyce-produced album and says she hopes listeners relate to each song. She adds that it’s important for her to be transparent and honest. On “Andy (I Can’t Live Without You)”, this honesty and vulnerability is evident. Penned alone at her kitchen table about her lead guitarist, Andrew, who lived with her at the time, the stripped down ballad is a laundry list of complaints. However, upon writing the song, she realized he’s her best friend and she would be lost without him. So, how did Andrew feel upon hearing the song?
“He laughed, and said he disagrees that he uses my good towels on the dog, and that he leaves his whiskers in the sink,” she says with a laugh. “He’s like, ‘I don’t. I rinse them.’ And I said, ‘No you don’t. They’re always everywhere, it’s like having an extra dog who sheds all the time.'”
Many of the songs featured on the project have been road tested by McBryde and her band for years. When they got into the studio with Joyce, he suggested minor tweaks to the sound and arrangements which helped transform several of the tracks.
“He’s a genius. I don’t know what other word to use to describe Jay,” she shares. “The [songs] we’ve been playing forever, we had these arrangements up and Jay would do these minor suggestions, here and there, and it would completely transform the song, and elevate it to a completely different level.”
“Home Sweet Highway” is the only track on the record that starts off with drums and vocals. McBryde says it’s something Joyce suggested and she never would have envisioned herself.
“He said, ‘Let’s just try it and see if it’s powerful,’ and it was powerful. The way he sees things, the way he hears things, is unlike anybody else I’ve ever worked with,” she marvels.
McBryde’s commitment to music is evident throughout everything she does and thanks to a new video series, fans can get an inside look at the life of a traveling musician. In one episode, she shares the role music has on her life. “I’m not on this Earth to have a successful relationship with somebody, I’m on this Earth to make music,” she says. Something she admits she got a lot of flak for saying by friends and family, she stands by her words.
“That’s my level of commitment to doing this. It’s already cost me relationships, and it will probably cost me more, and that’s okay,” she admits. “My dad told me when I was younger, ‘If you’re a musician it will ruin every relationship you’re ever in,’ and I said, ‘I don’t care.’ That’s just the way I feel about it.”
McBryde’s passion for music is something she plans to take to the grave. She’s thought about what she wants to be remembered most for and it’s that she gave everything she had.
“I’ve thought about, what if someday I go into the doctor and they say, ‘Ms. McBryde you’re in liver failure, and you’re going to pass away from organ failure.’ I would want to respond to them with, ‘No, sir. I’m passing away from the music business because I gave everything I had.’ I wouldn’t mind being remembered for that. Janis Joplin was the same way, just giving it every single ounce of everything you’ve got, every single day.”