Ashton Shepherd Brings New ‘Look’ to Sophomore Album
Ashton Shepherd debuted on the music scene back in 2008 with a traditional sound that blew through the country landscape like a refreshing wind. The lower Alabama honky-tonk queen disarmed and charmed critics and fans alike with her debut single, ‘Takin’ Off This Pain,’ and pull-no-punches lyrics throughout her first album. Now, the steel magnolia is back with a brand new project and a hilarious new single, ‘Look It Up,’ which takes a no-good, cheating husband to task by throwing the book — in this case, a dictionary — at him. The Boot recently sat down with Ashton to catch up on her new music and get her definitions of her ever-evolving roles as wife, mother, songwriter and artist.
You’ve taken a bit of a break between albums. Catch us up on what you’ve been doing since the last record came out.
We ended 2008 with the Sugarland tour, and were really excited about that. We started ’09 waiting for the third single to come out from the album. I kept waiting, and waiting, and before I knew it, six months had rolled by and I thought, ‘What’s going on? We must not be doing a third single.’ And by the end of ’09, the label was pitching me a couple of songs to put on the new record. So we started in January of 2010 cutting a new record. We went in and cut four songs in January, and five in May, and we were doing a lot of songwriting and song searching from that point on. And they decided to wait until January to release a new single. It’s really been a long process, but I’m really, really proud to let the fans know I’m back.
‘Look It Up’ is such a spontaneous, fun song. I read where you’ve been surprised by people’s reactions to the song. Why is that?
Because I didn’t know if people were gonna think it was too cliché. Sometimes you just can’t tell about the public. Sometimes they just grab certain things and you think, why did they grab that? It’s hard to figure. How intense people’s responses are has surprised me. If I heard this come on the radio I would like whoever was singing it, just because they were able to say, ‘Look it up.’ It’s kind of endearing. I think people like it for that and because it’s easy to sing to and it lightens you up. There’s a lot of people who go through these cheating divorces and even if it’s just a bad divorce, period, there’s so many people who are looking for a way to be over it for a minute. And you know what, that’s their few minutes they can be over it.
Have you ever felt that frustration with your own husband?
Talking about feeding off of your own feelings inside the song, my sister and a close friend have gone through some pretty rough stuff with their spouses before with cheating. And you have to wonder sometimes, is it the man that you really want to look at and throw under the bus, or is it that piece of trash riding around in the pickup truck? Because the piece of trash, so to speak, is very alluring and very seductress-like. For me and my husband, one of my biggest peeves is that I can’t stand for an old friend or a woman to walk in the room and just run up and speak to my husband but they don’t talk to me. Or, if my husband’s gonna ride somewhere with his brother, and they’re gonna go up to town for a minute and go have a drink. I’m not really worried about him, I’m worried about that ole gal he dated in school … I know how she is. He may not be looking for a thing, but you drink four or five beers and you let somebody start that stuff, and I know, because I’ve watched it, and I get ill about it. I’m able to vent out some of the feelings in the song [laughs].
The video for the song is really funny. What was it like to film it?
It was so fun! It was so different. When I read the concept, I thought, ‘This is perfect!’ Yard sale, I am mad, I am selling this guy’s mess, he’s fixing to be out of my life, I’m through with this, and it’s such a fun little idea that he just can’t catch up with her. He’s tryin’ to get back everything, and then on top of that he’s losing her. I like the fact that it’s me in my little plain outfit in the beginning, and then to me at the end of the video in the performance scene is like, ‘I’m over it. I’m going out tonight, looking like this, without you.’ I just love the whole idea.
Do you like making videos?
I do. I enjoy it. It’s different to act in a video, and I had to act in that video. I don’t know how people make movies, though, how they can keep that character for so long. In a video you’re having to remember so many little things, and you’re trying to remember all that and sing, and have the attitude. It does get hard.
You write songs all the time, don’t you?
I do. Sometimes I get in writing moods and I want to write a song every couple of days. Then sometimes I may not write a song for three weeks. It’s just according to how it’s hitting me at the time. Sometimes I have to give myself time off from it. Especially during this record making process because it becomes, ‘We need this. We need that. Well, we don’t really know what we’re looking for, we just want this kind of song.’ I don’t like that pressure. I like to just write.
The Pickin’ Shed, on your property, is that still the main place you write?
Yep, I do. Actually, we really did something cool: Buddy Cannon came down and wrote there with me, which was really exciting. A couple of other writers, Troy Jones and Brice Long, came down this summer to the Pickin’ Shed, and they were both so sweet. We wrote for a couple days each, and we just had a fine time doing that.
You wrote the majority of your last album before you turned 21. How has your writing evolved or changed since then, or have you noticed it’s become an easier process for you now?
It was a lot easier to write songs before I had a record deal, because the record labels and the industry doesn’t mean to put pressure on you, but they do. They don’t realize that they are, but you end up having a pressure there that you feel. At times I feel myself wanting to say, ‘Just let me do what I do.’ And they do: nobody has ever gotten in the way of that. [My label president] Luke Lewis signed me letting me be me. They’ve always let me be me, and it isn’t that. It’s not that they’ve done anything wrong or anything, it’s just that it gets harder for me personally: it’s a battle. I get in my own head and I turn in song after song after song, and either it’s not good enough or it’s not the right song. You get in this cloud and you do feel like, ‘Look, I need a little reassurance or a little spark here.’ And they don’t realize they’re doing that. I think I’m growing as a songwriter. I’ve gotten better, but I feel like at this point songwriting does feel harder, and it’s never felt hard to me. I have to really set myself aside and and say, ‘OK, Ashton. Write this like you’re not turning it in to anybody.’ Otherwise I way over think it.
You’re a pretty candid person who tells it like it is. Has that ever caused you any trouble in life?
Maybe you could call me a little controlling or I like things to be my way, but since I was a little girl, I’ve known what I wanted. I’m very rootsy, but it really hadn’t ever caused me too much strife. I really know when to say when. I’m not too outward but I’m very honest. Not honest like ugly honest, but sometimes something will just come out. Nine times out of 10 I say, ‘Well, I don’t mean it like that,’ if I say something that sounds a little too boisterous or whatever. I grew up with two big brothers and a little sister, so I’ve always been that way. I’ve always known where I felt like things were going and maybe a little too much sometimes.
Tell us about the songwriters you worked with on this album.
That’s the neat part for any of my fans who pay attention to the songwriters, the couple of outside songs are by Rhett Akins and Dallas Davidson, who are huge writers in Nashville right now. The songs that are co-written are by Bobby Pinson, who had like six No. 1 hits for Sugarland, and Troy Jones, who’s had a ton of hits.
What are some of your personal favorites on the record?
One of my favorites is called ‘Rory’s Radio’ that I wrote about my brother Jeff’s best friend growing up, Rory Dunigan. I dedicated my first record to my brother, who was killed in a car accident in 1999. I didn’t have any songs on the album about him, but I did dedicate the record to him. Rory and Jeff were almost the same person, that’s how close they were. This song reflects back on us riding and listening to Rory’s radio growing up, and remembering my brother. It’s really special to me and that it made the record. I pushed for it. I love it.
Let’s talk about James, your little boy. How is he doing?
Oh, he’s big! He’ll be 73 pounds at five years old! He is a hunk of burning love! He’s just curly headed as ever, and he just got a big set of drums and a stereo for his birthday. He plays his drums a lot in the Pickin’ Shed. He loves to play Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s ‘Gimme Back My Bullets.’ We’ll put it on and he’ll just play and play to it. He’s such a big fan of mine, and the sweetest little thing. I have to get on him a little bit, because he’s getting a little bit groan-ey. He’s getting a little too big for his britches sometimes, but he’s great.
The Wall Street Journal called you a potential Loretta Lynn for a new generation. How does it feel to hear somebody say that about you?
I tell you I don’t really feel worthy of being called that, necessarily, but I appreciate so much being put in that category. It’s huge. I would have never thought that’s what people would say. I had hoped that’s what they would say — I hoped people thought I was good enough — but I didn’t really know they would say that! I’ve gotta live up to this! I guess I shouldn’t say it’s too much for ‘em to say, but sometimes it does feel like, ‘Wow, what an honor,’ because look who you’re talking about! I love Loretta. She’s just outstanding, and a big influence.