IInterviews with international pop stars via digital video services are often dull and wooden. Unpleasant mostly. The technical delay in transatlantic language transfer occasionally leads to slapstick overlapping of questions and answers. You literally talk past each other. It works, but it’s irritating and annoying.
Singer-songwriter Ashlyn Rae Willson, better known as Ashe, has a recipe for that. She sits in a wicker chair in Los Angeles with blonde hair and hot pants and reacts with: humor.
From her studio apartment in the hipster district of Silver Lake on Sunset Boulevard, she spots a bottle of Augustiner Hell on a Berlin desk and says: “Normally we would go to a bar around the corner and have the conversation there. I know this beer. When we performed in Munich a few weeks ago, I tasted it. HELLES is the BEST!“
An effervescent debate about the variety of German beers follows. A 29-year-old from Los Angeles finds the bizarre religious war between Kölsch and Alt great. That’s unusual in days like these, to say the least.
Especially as it transitions seamlessly from Rhineland top-fermented brews to a steep discourse as to whether the white, middle-class, bike-riding queerness of Silver Lake’s pretty, gentrified, low-rise community is “reactionary” or still “progressive.” Ashe likes it there. She likes the hand-pulled coffee in trendy coffee shops. In addition, she is happy if she can ever be at home in a relaxed “Take it easy” atmosphere. Because Ashe is in the process of becoming a new indie world star. Silver Lake has to wait longer for them sometimes.
Since 2019, the 29-year-old has been stirring up the digital music channels in particular like a gentle storm. A bedroom producer who can play the piano excellently, which she is very happy to demonstrate in the Zoom interview on a piano standing behind the wicker chair when called out (“What’s a classic, please”).
Her amazing early single “Moral of the Story” ended up in the 2020 Netflix tearjerker “To All the Boys – PS I Still Love You” and, with an Eric Satie-esque minimal piano touch, made her kind Lightning Teen Star. The rest is a gripping mid-tempo chanson with hip-hop beats in the vein of a Rihanna or Katy Perry. The central stanza “Some mistakes are made, that’s alright, that’s ok. When you think you are in love…” became a catchphrase among US college kids. The number of video views on the various platforms is expected to exceed 100 million. Not bad for an independent woman releasing music on the enterprising US small label Mom and Pop.
“What I want to convey is self-confidence”
In contrast to the producer armadas that her famous colleagues – like Beyoncé recently – bring up, Ashe believes in the author principle. She does everything herself, only pal and Billie Eilish brother Finneas (O’Connell) is allowed to get involved. “I like the innocent romance of a song coming from a singer,” she once said. If you like power pop with smack, then Ashe hasn’t actually delivered a really bad number so far. However, she did not drink her light beer in Munich from a gold goblet in a five-star hotel, but stayed in the clubby environment of the medium-sized Freedom Hall.
Nevertheless, she is currently massively dissatisfied and critical. In the tap dance video for “Not Mad Anymore” she reflects on her own rise and fame: “Burnt out like a star ’cause baby, we are made to fall apart”, it says, while she dances around a men’s gang in black in a flame red pants suit . That quotes great Hollywood entertainment and deeply despises the usual marketing mechanisms. An unusual and surprisingly reflected range of attitudes for a feel-good musician.
She drives it even harder in the current song “Angry Women”. In the video she is naked at the end, which is still a tough, very daring caliber in the normal US mainstream beyond Megan Thee Stallion and Lizzo. Before that, she cut a contemporary fully tattooed man’s arm with a pair of Struwwelpeter giant scissors from a blue and yellow designer thread until there were no clothes left. Similar clear statements can be found on the new album, which will be released in October. “Hey baby, why don’t you smile? You got such a pretty face,” she sings in the pre-hit. Normal men don’t like angry women: “You told me, ‘nobody likes an angry woman’.”
The fact that she takes Yoko Ono’s famous cut-piece performance into account is almost just a side note in all of Ashe’s diversity, but it is a remarkable one: a brief glimpse into the avant-garde camp. More interesting are the artist’s harsher, almost punk-like tones, which one locates in the mainstream. That’s because of their penchant for 1970s garage and pig rock. “If it’s rock music, then it has to have a bang,” she casually throws into the room.
The new record is called “Rae”, her middle name, with which she now announces a blatant metamorphosis after the “Ashlyn” era of the first album. “Ashlyn is over. Let the Rae era begin,” the blurb reads.
After all sorts of jokes about clichés about women in the music business, the woman in the West Coast wicker chair gets personal and suddenly serious at the end of the interview: “My debut album was made after my divorce. All this turbulence and hurt that I don’t wish on anyone… Then came a phase of healing, which the new songs are now saddled with. It’s about self-confidence, sexual freedom, arousal and liberation from the inner ghosts. What I want to convey is self-confidence: how to punch a hole in the wall as a woman!”