“I had a dream the night before Lollapalooza that no one came to my set,” said Ashe.
“I was the anomaly. ‘Everyone thought people were going to go to her set, and no one came,’” she laughed.
Reality was far from it.
When she took the stage at the music festival in Chicago — which drew at least 385,000 attendees after its postponement last year due to the pandemic — it was in front of countless fans.
“As far as the eye could see,” said the singer-songwriter. “Packed out and screaming. It was very surreal.”
The 28-year-old California native, born Ashlyn Rae Willson, has been a much-needed breath of fresh air in the music industry since her single “Moral of the Story” (and its captivating remix with Niall Horan) blew up across the world. It gained popularity after being featured in Netflix’s successful rom-com “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You,” and is one of the tracks on her debut studio album, “Ashlyn,” out in May via Mom + Pop Music. Since its release, she’s been writing new material as she gets ready for a North American headlining tour next year, and playing shows in the meantime.
The Cape Makes A Return On The Runway
A week later, she was performing again, this time at Winston House, the recently opened music venue and eatery, which began as a DIY concert space inside owner Corey McGuire’s home in Venice. The likes of Horan and actress Dove Cameron came out in support for the show — a jarringly intimate experience in comparison.
“It was definitely a little whiplash-y in that it was two very fun, amazing experiences, but definitely polar opposites,” said Ashe.
“It was much more of a curated, private thing,” she continued. “And so, it was actually, in a way, more nerve-wracking — It’s just such a different atmosphere. And both have their different, sort of, beautiful moments. I was a different type of nervous. They hear every note. They hear every, you know, misstep. I was like, ‘Hey everybody, [I’m a] human being, very much.’ It’s a lot more of a raw experience.”
A standout moment, she said, was performing an acoustic version of “Love Is Not Enough” with Noah Conrad on guitar — the cowriter and producer (along with Finneas O’Connell) of “Moral of the Story.”
“It was stripped back,” said Ashe. “And I don’t know, it was just a really beautiful experience. It’s also been so long since we’ve been able to play songs in person with real people. And it’s such a different energy when you get to really look at people’s faces.”
That night, she debuted the music video for “Love Is Not Enough,” a mesmerizing clip showcasing Ashe, alone, in dance.
“I used to dance when I was younger,” said Ashe. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, she began taking piano and singing lessons at the age of 8, followed by dance.
Back in March, she premiered the video for “Till Forever Falls Apart,” a duet with O’Connell where the two are seen performing their version of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers-inspired routine.
Ashe Roger Kisby/WWD
“I’d like to maybe start incorporating [dancing] more and more into my music videos, because it is such a part of me that really makes me feel centered and more like myself,” she said.
For “Love Is Not Enough” she wanted the visual to feel “unstable and chaotic,” she said. “I think love in my life and for the people that I know, it is a very chaotic and beautiful thing, just like dance can be beautiful. But it can also be very chaotic and sort of put you on the edge all the time.”
Hopping and lunging through a theater, as curtains drop and objects fall from the rafters, Ashe is in a bright yellow number in the video. It’s a vintage top and bottom found by her stylist, Christina Acevedo, in a costume shop.
“I’m really inspired by Quentin Tarantino movies, and Margot Robbie is wearing this sort of like yellow crop top in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” when she goes to the Playboy Mansion,” Ashe explained. “She looks so hot, but also, so free. And yellow is my favorite color.”
Fashion is liberating, she said: “It has a way of making you feel more brave. Whenever you feel more like yourself, you’re just a little bit more brave.”
She’s often seen in Gucci, after developing a relationship with the Italian house for over a year. It began after she wore an emerald green Gucci button-down in the video for “Save Myself” (her other best-known single), out in August of last year.
“I just feel so good in the clothes, and so I tagged them, and I was totally just pretending to flex like, ‘Hey, look, I’m wearing Gucci.’ And then suddenly, all my fans made ‘Ashe for Gucci 2020’ hashtag trend on Twitter worldwide,” she went on. “It was, like, the number-two hashtag in the world.”
Laughing, she continued, “I was like, ‘Does Gucci know about this?’ I mean, they don’t need me. They’re amazing. They’re constantly creating and liberating people…I’m so obsessed with everything Gucci.”
For her Winston House show, she had on head-to-toe Gucci from a men’s collection.
Ashe Roger Kisby/WWD
“It’s this oversize tweed-looking jacket with a Gucci logo on it and a burgundy and navy stripe along the edge,” she said, describing the look. “And then this lace button-up top and black ribbon bow around the collar, which is very sort of like Bianca Jagger, you know, circa `70-something, with velvet, burnt orange pants. I just couldn’t have felt more like myself in an outfit.”
She’s felt a sense of independence expressing herself through fashion, she added.
“There’s always been a sense [of] wanting to stand out,” she said. “And I’m not sure exactly where that comes from. But it’s definitely the way I am, and just in the last, I’d say, like three to four years, I’ve really experimented more. And honestly, when I left my husband, it was pretty liberating. I started sort of wearing everything I could wear. Because, you know, I would feel like, ‘Oh, he doesn’t want me to wear that. He doesn’t think that’s sexy or that’s attractive,’ or blah blah blah. Getting out of that relationship, I think was really helpful to me expanding.”
She got married at the age of 23 and has been candid about the experience, divorce (which inspired “Moral of the Story”) and finding her voice again. What makes her such a self-described “open book”?
“I think it’s a mutual respect sort of thing,” she said. “I always really appreciate it when people are open and honest with me. And I feel more connected to them when that’s the case. And so, I think that’s a really big part of it. I’m not trying to put up a barrier between me and other people. I’m not trying to protect myself against anyone. You know, if someone wants to hurt me, that’s on them. It’s being vulnerable, I think it is — I don’t know. It’s not just brave, but I think it shows a level of kindness. The more vulnerable we are with each other, it makes other people want to be vulnerable. And I think that’s so kind.”
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