In the past 18 months, Big Loud Records-signed artist Ashland Craft has emerged as something of a "can't miss" country star on the rise. On September 3, the member of CMT's 2021 Next Women of Country class releases Travelin' Kind, a debut album that feels like the rocking, countrified, and passionate creator is putting her entire heart and soul on the line for the country and pop music communities to embrace as one of their own deeply, and in regards to both genre's futures, one of the foundations at the forefront of where music is heading.
Yes, it's an audacious thing for the Piedmont, South Carolina-native and former cover-song singer with honky-tonk roots to humbly expose their entire selves for the world-at-large to see and hear. But, upon talking to Ashland Craft, you quickly learn the one secret to her success: she's as passionate as she is pragmatic, plus her heart's already been broken. In short, she has nothing left to lose and everything to gain.
"This album represents so many small pieces and parts of who I am," says the vocalist on a late summer afternoon while traveling between tour dates as an opener for the Zac Brown Band. "Early in my career, I told myself that I was going to pursue music with my whole heart, or not at all. Now, at the end of the day, I'll say that when it comes to my music, it's sometimes like, 'Screw it. I'm honest. This is who I am, and whoever likes it, likes it.'"
Definitive statements that put her heart on her sleeve pepper a conversation with Craft. Thus, in delving deeper into matters of the heart -- and being metaphorically punched in the chest by "Make It Past Georgia" using city's names in place of the heartbreaks that live there who "couldn't get their s*** together -- CMT asks Craft a simple question that asks her to divulge some of the reasoning as to why she's able to crystallize dynamic emotions into succinct responses:
"Is it easier to write songs about yourself, songs about love, or songs about heartbreak?"
Her response, after a prolonged pause, is telling. "Well for me -- and I know this answer will be depressing -- but I'd have to say heartbreak. The layers and emotions and need for vulnerability involved in writing about heartbreak [bittersweetly] lend themselves to so many beautiful ways to recover the good that happened before [being heartbroken]."
Moreover, songs like the 2020-released "Two Wildflowers and a Box of Wine" feature lyrics like, "Baby, we've been running this rat race / Coming in last place way too long / Singing that hurry up ain't enough / Overdrawn paychecks same old song / Need a little slowing down / To get this uptight unwound." This song, in particular, highlights best -- in reflecting a real situation that both she and her potential and established fanbase connect, together -- what allows for her to achieve growing acclaim. When asked to dive deeper into how plainspoken, poignant lyricism has aided her growth, it's another point where diving deeper into a short answer yields a more pronounced depth of understanding of what motivates this artist on the rise.
Craft offers that she would describe herself as "an open book that people have been reading." Continuing, she adds, "I've tried to be very transparent, and with each song I've released, put everything that's in me out there as much as possible. The key for me in writing songs is that I always try to say just enough to help someone understand their own situation and connect with me. In that way, my music speaks for the listener and itself and tells my story in the best way possible."
This pragmatism has expanded into the writing room and informed the entirety of the development of her debut album, too, which she, through the conversation, notes that she's "beyond excited" to be released. "I've been holding onto these songs for a while now -- some for, like, two years, now. The team that worked on the album and I pieced the songs on Travelin' Kind together until the album felt [cohesive]. This record represents the first -- of many -- chapters of my life in the music industry. [Travelin' Kind] starts at the beginning of my career, when I was sixteen and seventeen, traveling around locally and playing in bars. Then there's being on The Voice and stepping out on my own a pushing myself a little bit in Los Angeles."
Ashland Craft's awareness of knowing "who [she is now]" as defined by deeply and deftly navigating her past allows this album to stand out. Regarding what she feels allows her to craft music with such impressive depth, she gives an answer that continues to offer her entire, unvarnished self. "I'm not writing songs from any other perspective but the one that's uniquely my own. The more you hold yourself accountable and present who you actually are in your songwriting, you have a much greater advantage. To wit, on the just-released album single "That's The Kind of Place," she notes that the lyric "you're either sitting around waiting for Jesus or the county fair" doubles as a "perfect" description of her hometown, but also a turn of phrase that when you "just hear it in general, it hits different."
Being able to state such unique emotions with precision constantly is a fascinating idea to the up and comer. "Musicians overall, we sometimes feel our job is to state what people are feeling perfectly," says the performer. "But then, you learn that the best part about being a singer or songwriter is that sometimes, people find the best meaning in your work when it's more driven by being in the moment and imperfect rather than searching for the exact right thing."
Considering next steps past Travelin' Kind's September 3 release, Craft has a desire to diversify her talents while doubling down on what's brought her this far. "My biggest goal now is to move past just focusing on lyrics and dig more into vocals, showing off that side of my work a bit more. I love saying words, but maybe saying less of them! But still, my concentration is going to be on telling stories in unfiltered ways that universally connect with as many people as I can," she says. Relating a recent songwriting story, she continues, "I was just working with Kenny Wilson and Wyatt Durrette on a new song called 'Somebody's Gotta Do It.' It's one of the more emotional, heartbreaking songs that I've recently written. It proved that I could actually dig in deeper than I have been into my personal story. At the end of the day, people can try as much as they want to recreate other perspectives, but the fans can always tell when an artist is genuine."