Interview: Ashland Craft Proves Herself a Songwriter on Debut Album, ‘Travelin’ Kind’
When Ashland Craft first started making trips to Nashville to pursue her music career, she saw herself as a singer, but not a songwriter.
"I had never really dove into the songwriting world," admits Craft, who relocated to Music City full-time in 2019. As she immersed herself in the city's music scene, however, she realized not only that, as she recalls, "everybody here writes music," but also that she could be one of those people.
"That was kind of the shifting point where I knew I had stuff I wanted to say," she tells The Boot. "I think I was just hesitant, because I didn't quite know how to say it and how to piece it together at the time. I'd written when I was younger, but, of course, they were just mediocre songs, so I didn't know if there was any hope for me until I moved here."
"In Between," released in 2018, was a turning point, Craft says. "I wrote that song," she remembers, "[and] I was like, 'Okay, I can do this. Now that I see how this is being done and see that all it is is just emotions and words, and you piece them together how you want them to sound.'"
It was a real confidence boost for Craft, who co-wrote nine of the 11 songs on her debut album, Travelin' Kind, out Friday (Sept. 3). She wasn't necessarily looking to have her name attached to most of the tracks — "The music is most important, and if a song speaks to you, it speaks to you no matter who wrote on it," Craft says — but she can see why it wound up that way.
"I did feel like that was going to be the best way to portray who I was, through music that I've written," she reflects. "It's a huge accomplishment for me ... I truly know that I put my heart and soul into it."
Among those nine songs that Craft co-wrote — with everyone from Erik Dylan and Reid Isbell to Jessie Jo Dillon and Jessi Alexander — is "Last 20 Dollars." With a melody led by rollicking barroom piano and accented by fiddle, the honky-tonk-ready track is reminiscent of Shania Twain at her peak.
"'90s country is definitely the heart of my love for music," says Craft, who spent two years singing in a honky-tonk in her South Carolina hometown. She loved to line-dance to songs like "Last 20 Dollar," but she's also happy to lean into the heartbreak in songs from, for example, the Judds. Craft sees a bit of the mother-daughter duo's vibe in another album cut, "Leavin' You Again."
"We talk about it to this day ... how it's still one of our favorite songs," Craft says of herself and co-writers Jenna LaMaster and Faren Rachels, "and we're just proud of ourselves and the song because we felt like it encompassed everything we loved about country music."
"Leavin' You Again," in particular, shows off what makes Craft's voice unique: It's a little raspy and a lot powerful — just listen to her let go and lean into it in the song's chorus. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that she wound up on Miley Cyrus' team when she competed on The Voice in 2017.
"I take that as a huge compliment, because I friggin' love her voice," Craft says of comparisons to her former TV singing competition coach. "She was just such a confidence booster ... She tried to drill into my head [to] be confident and own it. And self-confidence was not something that was my strong suit."
Cyrus was a good teacher, clearly. Confidence runs through Travelin' Kind, particularly when Craft sings about loving and leaving on a song such as "Highway Like Me." Fellow South Carolinian Marcus King lends guitar to the track; it's a surprising pairing at first, given their different styles, but Craft says she could think of no one more fitting than the young guitar phenom.
"When I was still living back home, I had heard his name a million times. He's so fantastic," Craft gushes of King. "It's nice to see him absolutely crushing that lane, and I'm glad that he was able to bring that to my music."
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