At 14 I was trying to figure out what the hell Donnie Darko was all about while simultaneously figuring out how to get through my freshman year. Meanwhile, at 14, Ashleigh Watson was going all in with her music career. We all have different stories to tell. Hers much more interesting earlier on than mine, obviously.
A young teen in the music industry. It can be an intimidating place, but Ashleigh admits that heading out on her own allowed more fear into her life than the latter. We talked about her teenage dreams coming true, being an adult on her own and more like her admiration for everything ’50s.
Kendra: Joining a group at 14 and being a working musician, how fast were you forced to grow up?
Ashleigh Watson: I think entering the industry at such a young age taught me a lot. Our band manager taught us valuable lessons about being mature and upfront about our needs on stage which I think shocked a lot of people. Often young women can be overlooked in the industry and it might be assumed that they don’t know what they’re doing technically. In that sense, we as a band, (Sweethearts) made sure we came across maturely and made sure we were treated with respect. This gave me a strong backbone moving forward.
Kendra: Were you able to enjoy a well-balanced childhood, or was that something you weren’t that interested in having since you had music to focus on?
Ashleigh: I definitely had a normal childhood. I think by 14 you’re almost a young adult so entering the industry is no different than other kids who get a part-time weekend job at Kmart etc. I saw my time in Sweethearts as a blessing and I loved being a part of the band. It was as much about making friends and having fun as it was about work. Yes there were late nights and sometimes it was tough to balance school and a busy gig schedule but I think most musicians love to be different and stand out from the rest so we relished in our less than normal schedule.
Kendra: Fast forward to now and you’re out on your own. After being in a group for some time, was heading out solo like taking a breath of fresh air for the first time?
Ashleigh: Heading out on my own was actually scary. I was used to having all my best friends with me on stage. But even in the band we stood up and sang as individuals so I never felt held back as I would if I’d been a part of a girl group or something. I find myself setting up my current band layout in a very similar way to Sweethearts because that’s what I grew up with and that is still comforting to me. Sweethearts was very typical of a Motown style big-band, with your horn section and backing vocals so I think I’ll probably keep within that vein.
Kendra: Let’s talk about your inspiration, the ’50s. I recently talked to another artist from Australia who was infatuated with that decade. Are the ’50s ever-present in Australia?
Ashleigh: I don’t think my love of the decade would have anything to do with the popular architecture, fashion or music in Australia because Aus is so progressive and modern. I’m sure there are other cities around the world that would embrace their history more for example San Francisco is meant to be heavily representative of the ‘60s.
Australia boasts beautiful old buildings but these are much earlier than the ‘50s. We show a lot of love for our historical sites but on the other hand, there’s always something being torn down to make way for a new building which is sad. There isn’t a lot of vintage love here. Having said that, Op Shops in the city are huge but they have clothing from many decades. I think there are certain areas of the city that host more retro-loving, artistic types but they’re a breed.
We have a great radio station here, PBS 106.7FM which plays all sorts of music but particularly a lot of jazz, soul, and Motown of the ‘50s era, but again it’s a breed of people that listen to that stuff. There will always be people who love and appreciate the beauty of the ‘50s. You can always find them at a Rockabilly festival up in Ballarat or Camperdown.
Kendra: If you had to choose your favorite fashion item, song and beauty trend of the ’50s which would you choose?
Ashleigh: Gosh that’s a hard one. Fashion item I’d have to say the petticoat. I don’t always wear these on stage but I LOVE to wear them swing dancing when I get the chance. I LOVE a full skirt. It’s impossible to ask a musician their favourite song so I’m just going to say anything by Elvis. He’s my absolute fave. Beauty trend would have to be red lipstick. That’s my trademark as I believe it would be for a lot of ‘50s artists and appreciators out there.
Kendra: Your goal in music, among many things, is to take listeners back to the golden days of Motown. Was that what drove you when recording “Little Love”??
Ashleigh: I think writing “Little Love” came really easily. I didn’t have to think about trying to make it sound a particular way, it just came out like that because that’s what I hear in my head. I would hope though that the 50s Motown reference is felt and appreciated by the listeners.
Kendra: You got to record that out in LA. How did Los Angeles treat you?
Ashleigh: LA is a really interesting place. It’s not normal. It’s so mixed up with the Hollywood vibe and very touristy. It’s big and in your face. For someone like me who loves to be amongst the greenery of nature, it’s probably a little intimidating. There are some lovely spots outside the city though. The people are great. I think they’re more willing to help up and coming artists and support projects because they know that the next big act could be just around the corner. LA is where everyone flocks to make their career.
Kendra: What does 2018 hold for you in terms of music?
Ashleigh: 2018 holds a new EP most likely! It’s always difficult to predict what will happen in this industry. It all depends on what opportunities you are afforded and what gigs you can land but I’d like to say that I hope to have a fresh EP out and having success there.
Kendra: We know you love the ’50s, but if you had to make a more modern mixtape of songs you love from the here and now – what five would be on it?
Ashleigh: Yikes. Um, gosh I do love the ‘50s and Mix Tape makes me think of that…I