“I have a soul the devil wouldn’t buy.”
Those are the first few words that fell out of Ashley McBryde’s mouth as she settled into our CMT.com interview.
The Arkansas native and a member of the CMT Next Women of Country program speaks in lyrics even when she’s not trying. At the time, she was talking about a road trip to Florida with her father. While driving through Mississippi, she told him she wanted to visit the original crossroads where bluesman Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil only to come back and play the hell out of a guitar.
“I’m little. I’m pale. I’m not strong. But bad things are scared of me,” McBryde said. “I think it’s because my dad was a preacher growing up, and I was raised in the Church of Christ. So I was raised to believe you’re going to hell no matter what. And I have always had that feeling that if a demon walked in the door right now, I’d be like, ‘You can’t be in here.’ And he’d be like, ‘[Expletive], I am not messing with that one.’”
McBryde’s highly anticipated debut Girl Going Nowhere sets up the powerhouse vocalist as one of the most admired storytellers to emerge from Music Row in the last decade. She is part of a rising class of introspective musicians who came up through the local songwriting community where they don’t tend to mince words. They make them count with every breath of their being. Many of the co-writers on Girl Going Nowhere are ones she connected with through the many songwriter rounds around town.
“They closed the Blue Bar a few weeks ago,” she said of the Midtown hang where she could be found singing on Wednesdays. “There were Monday nights at Dan McGuinness for ‘Guinness Girls,’ Tuesday nights at the Rusty Nail in Hermitage for ‘Trucker Hat Tuesday’ and Wednesday at the Blue Bar for the Music Row Freak Show with Terry Jo Box and Bobby Pinson. We’re all friends now.”
After 11 years in Nashville, you start to question if what you’re doing will actually connect. I think timing and experiences has a lot to do with it. The time I spent to be something I wasn’t, just to be told no; the time we’ve spent as a band playing for the attention of the bikers in the bar doing anything we can to get their attention; and now the timing of this message of ‘making the best of the worst day kinda night,’ it seems to be something people need to hear right now and if I can even help one person turn their day around, then all these couch-surfing playing for tips nights were worth it. The new album 'Girl Going Nowhere' is available everywhere now!
Watching McBryde’s opening performance before Luke Combs at the Ryman Auditorium, no one wanted to miss a moment of what she had to say onstage whether she was pouring her heart out in song or shooting the breeze in between performances.
“I grew up playing bluegrass, too,” she said. “In bluegrass, there’s a lot of joke telling and a lot of banter between bandmates. It’s like improv or watching the Carol Burnett Show.”
Playing biker bars also helped turn her into a storytelling ace. “Because nobody cares if you’re in there playing guitar or not,” she exclaimed. “You’ve got to find a way to get them. And so sometimes, I would take the first two tables, and if these two tables were listening, I would start to make fun of everybody else in the crowd, but only to these two tables. And so it got to where people were like, ‘We should go sit at the front when Ashley McBryde plays because she makes fun of everybody else at the bar.’”
McBryde says most of the music she writes is inspired by her own life. The title song of her debut album came from a comment a ninth-grade teacher once said to her when she asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. McBryde’s answer involved studying at Arkansas State and then moving to Nashville to be a songwriter.
“She told me I was stupid,” McBryde recalled. “Most educators wouldn’t say that. It wouldn’t have mattered what you said to them whether you wanted to be a bug collector. They’d be like, ‘Oh yes, there’s probably a market for that.’ And then she told me that I better have a really good backup plan.”
McBryde never had to fall on a backup plan. Her 2016 independently released EP Jalopies and Expensive Guitars led to her signing with Warner Bros. Nashville. And she’s graduated from the Nashville writer’s rounds that shaped her into the artist she is today to national tours, major music festival appearances and her first concerts overseas.
“You get your whole life to write songs for this first record,” McBryde says of Girl Going Nowhere. “You have to be really careful when you choose what is going to be in that picture because this is everybody’s first snapshot of you even though I’ve been out doing this for 11 years in bars. You may only get one chance to do this. You could get hit by a bus in a little while. And are you proud of every single track on there?”
Also, Garth Brooks is listed as a contact on her phone. He started covering “Girl Going Nowhere” during his shows and wanted to record it, but McBryde’s record label has bigger plans for the song.
“It’s a really weird sentence to say, ‘I texted Mr. Brooks,’” she admitted.
McBryde’s ultimate goal is to have her songwriting reflect the everyday issues her fans are going through in life.
“It’s the cowboy code,” she said. “You should always stick up for people who can’t, and you speak for people who can’t speak for themselves. Be kind and take no [expletive].
“Not everybody is going to like your songs. But you probably wouldn’t hang out with those people anyway. So rip your chest open. Air your dirty laundry because it might heal somebody. It might heal you. But it might heal somebody else.”