Since her autobiographical debut track “California, Missouri” released last year, UMG Nashville/Interscope artist Kassi Ashton has been adamant about doing things her own way and taking a hands-on approach to her career—and she’s got the mood boards that inspire her videos and colorful handmade stage ensembles to prove it.
Ashton discussed joining Maren Morris’ upcoming tour, making the vivid redneck-meets-urban celebration clip for her new track “Field Party,” and writing the intensely personal ballad “Pretty Shiny Things.”
You are going out on Maren Morris’ GIRL: The World Tour. How are you preparing for it?
Running. A lot of cardio. Watching the Beyonce documentary once a week. [laughs] When you grow up and you dream of being an artist, touring is what you dream of. I would rather be onstage in front of 20,000 people instead of in a room with five people.
The fact that I get to do that, I’m so grateful. The fact that it’s the Maren tour makes me feel so warm and fuzzy because I feel like if I were to open for some other artist that I totally love and appreciate, I might feel like I need to cater my set to their audience or keep their demographic in my brain. But with Maren, I feel like I can just do my show and her fans will be welcoming, open-minded and open for a mix of genre. This is my first introduction—I have 45 minutes to say, “I’m Kassi Ashton and this is who I am.”
I’m making outfits for every show, so I’ve been busy sewing. I’m trying to learn the parameters of what I can do. Can I design the microphone stand? Because anything I can design, I’m down for it. Diving into all of that is really cool.
Have you been able to talk with some future tour mates about what to expect about being on one tour?
I talked to one of my best friends, Tenille Townes and she’s been touring for the past year. We had breakfast the other day. She was telling me bring shower shoes and do this or do that. Also, talking to Maren, we were at the video shoot for The Highwomen video and I had told her potential cover songs I wanted to do during my set, and she helped me pick one of them. She was just so cool and genuine.
You recently released the video clip for “Field Party,” which reunited you with video director Kristin Barlowe, who led your videos for “Violins” and “Pretty Shiny Things.” What was your vision for the “Field Party” video?
I wanted it to not be your average field party. I wanted it to be a bit trippy and have people from all different backgrounds. I just wanted it to be kind of a unifying thing. If you’re country, come country. If you’re urban, come urban. I made the treatment and I always make mood boards to work on the feel and the vision. [Kristin] always wants to push the envelope and she just gets me. She took my wacky, bright vision for the video and made it so much bigger.
Where was this video filmed?
We found these really old buildings near Germantown near Nashville that I think used to be a slaughterhouse and it’s about to be completely redone. The location was really convenient and everyone could Uber there because I wanted them to drink real beer during the shoot if they wanted to. I loved that it was kind of on the border of city and more rural.
“Pretty Shiny Things” feels like it brings a more vulnerable side of you from what we see in “Violins” and “Field Party.” You wrote “Pretty Shiny Things” while you were still in college. What inspired the song?
Yeah, I was a senior in college at Belmont. I didn’t even have my publishing deal with Creative Nation yet. And I’m going through something difficult, and I was going over a decision about what I was going to do and how it was going to affect my life or not affect my life. I was like losing sleep over it and I woke up in the middle of the night. I lived in this tiny duplex in east Nashville. I started writing it and sent it to my friend Emily who was a songwriting major. The song was so personal to me, with all these feelings, and she just like grabbed it and sent the song back to me, with the resolution.
It’s so important to tell the truth in music. Art is supposed to be honest. We had written plenty of drinking songs and boy songs at that time, but this felt powerful. I remember from that moment forward, I was like, “My music will always be this way.”
I ended up winning country showcase and getting my publishing deal and that song really made my publisher go, “Oh, that’s special.” So I held onto it for so long. I wasn’t ready to answer questions about it and talk about it and let it go. I got to a point where I thought, “This is selfish of me to keep it. If one person can change their outlook by hearing this song, I’ll deal with the rest.” It was really a fragile thing for me to put a visual to it. I want this to be real, but artistic and the same time, but I just want it to be this haunting thing. I wanted the video to come off as real and raw as it could.
You are signed with UMG Nashville and Interscope. Why did you decide to join that label?
I love them to death. Everyone over there, Cindy Mabe in particular, I love her to death. They appreciate and they strive for real artists who have a total vision—not just a singer.
They want someone who knows who they are and it’s not about their “brand.” I hate the word “brand,” because art is part of identity and it’s who I am as a person anyway. They really help you be strong in that.
They are so supportive that I am not doing things the traditional way. I haven’t gone to radio. My songs are off-centered and are like, “How can we cater this to you? We are not just going to put you on an assembly line and ship you through the process.” When I was getting label offers, they came to me with the Interscope partnership. They said we are not going to box you in.
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