In 2017, Ashley McBryde rose from relative obscurity to a spot in the ranks of country music's most exciting artists to watch. With her soulful, nostalgia-drenched debut single "A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega," McBryde intrigued country fans of all stripes -- and that was just the start.

Armed with a soulful powerhouse of a voice and killer songwriting skills, McBryde assembled her just-released (on March 30), major-label debut album, Girl Gone Nowhere. Produced by Jay Joyce, it will likely be one of the year's best country records.

Ahead of her new record's release, The Boot spoke with McBryde about the mean old algebra teacher who inspired Girl Going Nowhere's title (and title track), navigating the ever-competitive world of radio airplay and her favorite tattoos.

I love that “Girl Going Nowhere” is inspired by your mean old algebra teacher. Did working on this album give you some kind of catharsis? Was it a way to let go of both the skeptics and your own self-doubt?

It was a little bit of a band-aid for that. Working with Jay Joyce is life-changing in every way, and together we made this record that we’re really proud of. It’s very real and raw and authentic.

It’s funny, because right after I played the Opry for the first time, that teacher emailed my mom and told her that she was my biggest fan and "Oh, we’re behind Ashley 100 percent; we wish her all the best for achieving her hopes and dreams." And really, that’s helped more than anything else has.

It’s hilarious — there’s no better example of a fair-weather friend than this woman. But I will say that she has never apologized for saying that my dreams were dumb and that I wouldn’t ever amount to anything.

Ashley McBryde Girl Going Nowhere
Warner Nashville

“Dive Bar” was such a critically acclaimed song in 2017, and, for a lot of people, Ashley McBryde just came right out of the blue. Did it surprise you that the song got such a strong positive response?

It did. When we were choosing a single, I thought for sure that “American Scandal” would be the first single. My manager and I were discussing that we needed a song that could walk in the world of terrestrial radio and [satellite radio], and he thought that “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” was the perfect song. I thought that “Dahlonega” is not the best song on the record, but that would be like me telling you my favorite child as a parent.

I really thought we should put our best foot forward, so we put this out, and I started getting Snapchats and emails from people that the song had this really powerful impact on. One time, a woman sent me a snap that said “This song just changed my life.” I immediately snapped her back, and asked what she meant. Then she said, “This song kept me from answering a text from an abusive ex.” And I just ... that’s huge. That’s real-life stuff.

Listening to 2016’s Jalopies and Expensive Guitars and Girl Going Nowhere back to back, it seems like you’ve settled into yourself a little more as an artist on this new record. What changed for you between the two?

When we did that EP, it was me and some hired guns, some studio guys. They were great dudes -- people who can make your record sound better than you ever thought possible -- but this record is just me and my band. We rehearsed for three days, then went in two nights a week, starting at about 6PM and leaving at 4AM each time. We’d play each song down three or four times, and whatever the best pass was, we chose that, and it went on the record.

When we play, we sound like us on Girl Going Nowhere. We’ve been playing together for a long time. Hopefully, I’ve been improving and growing every year — if not, I need to look into that! This is just me and my dudes, and this was going to be our first big statement out into the world. I wanted it to look, smell, taste and feel exactly the way that I intended it to be.

The subject matter of this record is so reminiscent of the really ballsy, bold country that women in the 1990s were recording, like Terri Clark, Patty Loveless and Reba McEntire. Why do you think that’s so rare on the radio now?

We’re almost over this little peak on the journey where we can look over and see: "Holy crap, there’s a ton of us.” There’s more than a handful, and we’re ready. Get ready, boys.

It’s kind of strange that it’s rare now. In my musically formative years, I grew up listening to Suzy Bogguss, Trisha Yearwood, Terri Clark. We had all these different powerful women whose sounds were, in some instances, a lot alike, [and in] others that weren’t alike at all. If I grew up that way, then somebody else grew up that way, too.

There’s a whole class of women right now, and young girls that are coming up. We’re almost over this little peak on the journey where we can look over and see: "Holy crap, there’s a ton of us.” There’s more than a handful, and we’re ready. Get ready, boys.

We’re out right now with Luke Combs and Drew Parker is opening the show. It takes such big balls to get up with just you and a guitar, and I just love his voice and love his sound.

Faren Rachels -- she reminds me of Trisha Yearwood. She’s just trashy enough, just classy enough, just ballsy enough. I feel like one day, we’re going to end up collaborating. She’s a powerful.

How does radio factor into your strategy for success? Are artists wasting their time on an outmoded model?

Sometimes, yeah. Especially from a writing standpoint. If you’re writing to get on the radio, you’re already behind the curve. What you’re hearing and what you’re writing toward has already peaked.

When I first started writing with a publishing house, it was really focused that way. And it was so hard because there are so many different artists who are looking for different things out of a song. That would be like me telling you that I’m coming over to your house with ice cream and that I’m just going to guess the flavor you want. There are so many freakin’ choices, there’s no way I could get that right. And man, when you’re doing that, it is so soul-sucking. The real songs that you love, they choose you as the voice. You didn’t create that song; that song is already out there in the ether, and you get to access it, and lucky you, you get to access that. When you’re looking at it from a money standpoint, it neuters everything about the process.

Satellite radio and terrestrial radio are really pretty different, and we had to find a way to get the best of both. They’re a crucial factor, but they don’t get any say over the writing process. When we’re creating the music, we write what we know, we play what we feel, and we capture those moments. Then we look at exactly what it is that we have, and now it’s time to choose how we get people to consume it and what’s going to be potable for radio.

The real songs that you love, they choose you as the voice ... and lucky you, you get to access that.

Where do you see yourself fitting into the country / Americana / roots landscape? Is it hard to navigate this new, genre-less world?

It’s strange to see everything blurring together. We’ve got the traditional stuff, the hick-hop, the Americana, our power vocalists like Carrie Underwood. We’re representing all this other stuff, but we should really be trying to make it more even.

It’s easy to see all these sub-genres and get angry at someone who has success in something that’s not your thing, but country music is a big-a-- place. Why don’t you just build a bigger table and pull up a chair? I thank God my music is different than your music or his music, because that means we get to reach different people. There are people who aren’t gonna like my tunes, but I probably wouldn’t hang out with those people. That’s not who I’m singing to.

Country music is — can be — a loving industry. The less time we spend trying to check the boxes, the happier we’ll be.

“American Scandal” flips the typical love song script on its head — it’s about a scandalous kind of love, not the kind of love that Granny would approve of. What made you decide to approach it from that angle?

It came from me not liking love songs. Love songs are all about how I’ll move a mountain for you and I’ll never hurt your feelings. I’ve never been given a mountain, and if you love me, you should hurt my feelings sometimes. If I walk outside looking ugly in that shirt, you don’t love me if you don’t hurt my feelings a little bit and tell me. I wanted something that people could actually believe when they hear it.

You have the most fun, and love is best, when it’s just wrong enough to feel good. Everybody thinks this is a cheating song, but that kind of love is possible in a very committed relationship. My stepfather still shows my mother off; he’s proud to walk through the door with her as if it would be a scandal. It should feel wrong, but it should be right.

Every time I sing this song, I feel it in my toes, all the way into my bones. I don’t have that kind of love right now, but I know it exists, and the only time I can access it is when I’m singing “American Scandal.”

Country music is — can be — a loving industry. The less time we spend trying to check the boxes, the happier we’ll be.

If you had to pick, which is your favorite tattoo?

I just got the "American Scandal" tattoo, but eight days before that, I finished the eagle on my chest. When I started doing things on this level and had to start thinking about walking on red carpets and wearing formal crap, I was thinking, "How am I gonna stomach this?” I know I should have probably just bought a necklace, but every tattoo on me corresponds to a story, event in my life or a song.

I called up my tattoo artist, Nancy Miller, and I told her I was in the game now. I was running with the big guys now, and I needed something to prepare myself for that. I only have traditional sailor tattoos, and when sailors would reach a certain mileage or markers crossed, that warranted a tattoo. I asked [Miller] if there was anything she thought I’d earned before I jumped off this cliff, and she told me, “You’ve earned an eagle.”

If you’ve ever been in a bar with a bunch of old sailors and see a guy that has an eagle tattooed across his chest, that guy has seen some stuff. I thought that was perfect -- that’s exactly how I need to feel. I’m so uncomfortable at red carpets, so this is kind of like a power thing for me. It’s like wearing red underwear for times when I’m nervous or have a big interview. I’m totally wearing red underwear right now, and that proves my point.

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