With a voice reminiscent of modern-day pop singers like Rihanna and Emeli Sandé, powerhouse singer and burgeoning songwriter Ashley DuBose immediately stands out to me as someone who deserves a closer look.
She just released her full-length debut, Somethin’ More, at Honey last month, and given how fast it came together — DuBose says she and producer Jimmy Easy finished the bulk of it in about two months — it is an impressive document of a young artist who is starting to find her voice.
To find out more about this promising new talent, I called her up to chat about her background, her songwriting, and what’s ahead for her this summer.
Local Current: Tell me about your background. Where did you grow up?
Ashley DuBose: I was born in Philadelphia. My mother moved here when I was 3, she had moved by herself to get away from my father, she had an unhealthy relationship with him. She raised all four of us by herself. We grew up on the West Side of St. Paul.
How long have you been singing?
I remember singing when I was about six years old, just loving to sing to the radio, but really my first time singing in front of a crowd was in my sixth grade talent show. Me and another girl, we sang “Where My Girls At?” by 702. So that was my first time performing in front of a large audience. From there I would do different talent shows at school, like in junior high and also at the Boys and Girls Club, the local rec center. And my mom would sometimes put me on the spot and have me sing in front of people, and I was crazy nervous, and that kind of helped me get over a little bit of the nervousness throughout the years. But I still get butterflies when I perform.
What are some of the first songs that influenced you?
The song that I was singing when I had that early memory of being six years old and singing to the radio is Lauryn Hill, the Fugees’ version of “Killing Me Softly.” I often perform “Killing Me Softly” at my shows, I like to include that in there because it’s kind of rooted in my musical past, that’s the song I remember. When the breakdown came around I would just belt it out with her and it would feel so, so good. I played KDWB a lot, so I really liked Alanis Morissette, I liked Aaliyah, Jewel, all the music that they would play on the radio station, I really liked and I knew all the words. Stylistically, my musical background is pretty diverse. I can listen to anything, almost, and be able to enjoy it or relate to it somehow.
When did you start writing and recording your own music?
In 2009, I met Mike Dreams. I met him through my daughter’s dad; we all did music and he invited me and my daughter’s father to perform in his CD-release party, and from there we kept in touch, me and Mike. I did a couple features for him, I recorded for his last two albums, and one day I was like, ‘I’m going to stop letting college be the excuse that I don’t have time to do music. I’m really going to focus my energy and spare time that I have outside of school to it, and outside of being a mother.’ I have a daughter, I had her when I was 20.
So in the last 8 months I started working with Jimmy Easy, who is the producer for Somethin’ More. We were just kind of making songs for fun, because he enjoys music and he’s not looking to get famous off of anything or make money off of anything, he just loves to make music. So we didn’t have an album as a goal in mind, we were just working together, and then a friend of mine booked a show at Honey for me and I thought, you know, there’s been so many shows where afterward I get off stage and everybody’s like, ‘That was great! Do you have a CD? Where can we hear more?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m working on it!’ So finally I said this is not going to be one of those shows. I’m going to have something for these people afterwards. I talked to Jimmy Easy and asked him if he would be willing to partner with me and really grind to get an album done by May 19 — and this was sometime in late February, early March, so we really had like a little over two months to really get it out. Long story short, we got it done, and that’s the project that you’ve seen and is out now.
It sounds like you have a lot on your plate.
I just graduated from St. Catherine, so I’m done with school, which gives me a lot more time than I had before.
What was your major?
Are there any overarching themes that you had in mind for the record?
When we started out, we didn’t have an album in mind. But the songs that we were making, and anytime I write a song, I draw on a life experience. Jimmy and I, we both think deeply on life and memories and just the quality of life and things that matter, like family and doing the right thing, being a good person. So when we teamed up, it was like easy, it was like it was meant to be. So he would have a chorus idea and I’m like, that’s the kind of thing I think about all the time! Like living life like you’re going to die tomorrow.
“Somethin’ More” was the first song we recorded, and it’s about having a goal and just striving towards it, and sometimes obstacles get in the way, whether it’s a voice in your head telling you that you’re not able or you don’t have what it takes, or if it’s outside people, you know, kind of bringing you down rather than lifting you up. In my own life I was dealing with school and motherhood and thinking wow, so much for ever becoming a musician. And actually doing it for more than a hobby. So that was really like a meant-to-be song when he showed me the chorus. He showed me the chorus and the beat and I wrote the lyrics for it.
And then “Die Tomorrow” was the same thing, he had the chorus already written and the beat made, and I came in and wrote the verses, and the verses are talking about like how life is so short, and for every one of us, no matter how long we’re going to have to live, it’s temporary. And what are we doing with each day? Are we telling the people that we love that we love them? Are we showing them that we love them? And are we making our time here meaningful? That’s the story behind that song.
So going into it, there wasn’t an overarching theme, but once we realized that we were going to turn this into an album I wanted it to represent the things I’ve gone through over the past two years as a mother, as a student, and as a hopeful, aspiring artist. And also in relationships, like I had a turbulent relationship with my daughter’s father, so the song “Guilty” stems from that. It’s really just drawing on my own life other the past few years.
How do you feel about the term “neo soul,” and do you feel like it applies to your music at all?
It’s a nice term. [laughs] But does it apply to my music? I think it does, in some aspects. But then I also, there’s a few songs on my album that can be termed neo-soul, and then there’s some others that can be termed pop and R&B, you know, or maybe even hip hop, so I wouldn’t call myself a neo-soul artist because I don’t want to put myself in a box. I don’t think about the genre when I’m writing songs or creating music, but neo-soul’s a nice term, and my CD collection has mostly neo-soul artists. You know, Ledisi, India.Arie, Alicia Keys, I love to listen to it. But there’s also artists from other genres.
If you could share a stage with any artist, who would it be?
There are so many that come to mind. But when I think about it stylistically, and the energy and the feel that I would like my performance to have, I think Lauryn Hill would be a great artist to share a stage with. Because she sings, she does hip hop, and she has a great energy and is a great lyricist. Going back to my childhood, and the earliest song I remember really singing and knowing all the words to, it would make a lot of sense to me, a lot of musical sense to share a stage with her.
Now that your album is out, what’s on the horizon for you?
I’m just going to continue to spread the word via Twitter and Facebook. Also I’ve been out in the public just kind of pushing the CD, walking up to people that I don’t know and just letting them know who I am and about my music, and just trying to solicit support that way too. So just promoting the album and also looking to book some more shows.
Ashley DuBose has two shows coming up this month:
- Thursday, June 14th at Fine Line Music Cafe (Doors open 7pm, show starts at 7:30pm; 21+; $5)
- Friday, June 29th at Honey (Doors open at 7:30pm, show starts at 8pm; 18+; $5)