Ashley McBryde Talks Songwriting, Crafting Album Number Two [Interview]

With her debut major label album, Girl Going Nowhere, Ashley McBryde staked her claim as a perceptive troubadour, the kind of artist who trades in a no-fuss style of bygone lyricism, imbued with wit, humor, and heart.

Country radio may not have been swift to engage with McBryde’s music, though one would scarcely have guessed it judging by her appearance on the Academy of Country Music Awards earlier this year, where she not only was honored as New Female Artist of the Year, but performed twice during the broadcast—a vulnerable, triumphant rendering of “Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” as well as in a fiery collaboration with Eric Church on “The Snake.”

McBryde’s debut album earned a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album. In June, she was honored with the MusicRow Award honor for Breakthrough Artist of the Year, as well as Song of the Year for “Girl Goin’ Nowhere.”

Accolades don’t only come in the form of awards; for McBryde, finding out that “Bible and a .44,” an autobiographical song from her debut project, is also included on Trisha Yearwood’s upcoming album Every Girl, was an honor in itself.

“As a songwriter, that’s the feather in the cap, when someone you respect like Ms. Yearwood decides that something you wrote is something she would lend that voice to. Her voice is pretty much the best voice that’s ever been on country radio.”

McBryde’s first inclination that the song would be recorded came from none other than Garth Brooks.

“I got a call from Mr. Brooks and he had a couple of questions about ‘Bible and a .44’ and ‘Girl Goin’ Nowhere.’ He wanted to get to know me, know about my co-writers. Then I found out through my publishing company at the time that Trisha was thinking about cutting it. Then I found out through a tweet that she did cut it,” she says with a chuckle.

When it comes to her own music, McBryde is deep in the weeds of working on her follow-up project.

“We are working on it. I think we are done with song selection. I think what we’ve got right now—I’ve got some reference mixes on the bus with me right now. What I have right now is a really solid swing.”

The album blends songs McBryde has had in her arsenal for the past five years, along with more recent material. While the first album was recorded in two nights at Jay Joyce’s studio in Nashville, she has had more time for experimentation on album number two.

“We knew we couldn’t stretch in every direction we wanted to stretch [on the first album]. Jay told me, ‘Take a snapshot of where you’re at, and leave yourself room to grow.’”

She heeded the advice and says the coming album will have grittier lyrics and will embrace her rock ‘n’ roll proclivities to a greater extent.

“Everything on the new record is everything you would expect to get from me—you are going to have a finger-picking song, the acoustic stuff and then straight-up rock ‘n’ roll stuff. It’s part of our tendencies that we weren’t able to fully express with the first record. So we decided to fully express it in the second record and see where it takes us.”

McBryde’s extensive time on the road opening for artists like Eric Church earned her hefty performance cred, but left little time for creating new music. “I really only had like a day a month to write and that is not enough. I have to write,” says McBryde, who notes she began writing for the new project in earnest in January.

One of the first of those January session songs is the stunning Nicolette Hayford co-write “Two Birds, One Stone,” a title McBryde says has been whittled down to just “Stone.” Both Hayford and McBryde have brothers who died, including McBryde’s brother, 53-year-old William Clayton McBryde, Jr., who died in mid-2018.

“I use humor to deflect trauma and I know this about myself,” McBryde says. “We were writing something else and it got kind of boring for us. I said, ‘You know we are both in the dead brothers club. And if anyone is going to write a song about being in the dead brothers club and how much it sucks, it’s going to be me and you.’ We started smoking cigarettes and I told her how angry I was at my brother. I’m just ranting and raving. I’m like, ‘You know what? He’s got one son [Bradley]. And every time Brad reaches a milestone, I’m going to have to take care of this shit. He left a huge mess.’ I was just screaming and she was like, ‘Damn, you are really angry.’ Both of our brothers were Army veterans and I was like, ‘Yes I’m angry. We have to write a pissed off song.’ She said something and it made me laugh, and I went, ‘Whoa, when I laugh, I sound like my brother.’ We exposed a nerve. We would not let up on each other. So we were just crying, had a glass of whiskey and it took us four or five hours. We’d laugh and then cry more. I think what we came out with helped us and we thought it could help somebody else.”

Brandy Clark has two tracks on the project; McBryde’s “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” co-writer Jeremy Bussey also has a track on the project.

“We have some dark subjects, even if some of them are kind of humorous,” she says, naming a song titled “First Thing I Reach For,” which she wrote with late songwriter Randall Clay. “It was a sad song. We went to cut it and rearranged it, sped it up a little bit and it became the most charming, honky-tonk sing-along.”

Though the album is still a work in progress, McBryde is most concerned about the consistency of message, rather than a linear sound.

“When I first put the songs together, I was like ‘Dang this is kind of all over the map,’ and when you listen to what we have, it all has the same message, the same direction. It reminded me that honesty is a necessity. When you are selecting what to give to the people who love your music, you have to select with honesty and vulnerability first.”

And if McBryde is feeling pressure to write that elusive country radio hit, she’s not succumbing to it.

“You have to remind yourself that if you write for radio, you are behind the curve. You are writing for the wrong people and you’ve creatively shot yourself in the foot.

“Great music, thanks to streaming, is a lot like Netflix. When one of us finds out about a cool series, we text it to everybody and we start watching it on the bus. Music is much the same way. Music fans feel an ownership to music. They find that light in the dark and they will hover around it and they will bring their friends to it. People will go down a rabbit hole to find more music from you.”

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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