Kassi Ashton's mother raised her to unapologetically be herself. But as a self-described black sheep growing up in small-town Missouri, where she was bullied for being different than other kids, the prospect of "being herself" was easier in theory than in practice.

However, any pushback Ashton received early on helped shape and solidify her resolve, as she began her career, to prioritize releasing music on her own terms.

"I think any time anyone does something different, there are gonna be some people saying, 'Oh, you can't do that,' but I'm like, 'Yeah I can, because I literally just did,'" Ashton explained to The Boot in a recent interview. "I don't mind that. I would be upset if there wasn't pushback, because I enjoy things that push people to form an opinion. If it's just background noise, then who cares, you know?"

Ashton grew up in two households: At her dad's cattle farm, she rode dirt bikes and wore coveralls, and at her mom's place, she participated in beauty pageants. Both worlds felt true to her.

"I've always had the challenge of being both," she notes, "because most people who see one of those sides don't really believe the other."

From a musical standpoint, Ashton is also something of a dual citizen: Signed to UMG Nashville in conjunction with Interscope Records, she has a foot in both the country world and the pop world. The singer says that even if her brand can't be summed up in a neat little package, picking just one facet for her music would mean omitting part of the story.

"I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn't do both," she admits. "It's 2018; everyone listens to more than one station. I want to make music that is 100-percent me, so why would I put a box around that?

"Someone asked me recently, 'Are you mad that you're labeled a country artist?'" Ashton recalls. "And I was like, 'No, I want to be labeled a country artist. I just hope that there's more than one label on the bottle.'"

Ashton wants to make sure fans get acquainted with all aspects of her musical personality right from the start. Following singles such as her raw, autobiographical debut, "California, Missouri," and the fiery "Taxidermy," she is gearing up to record her first full-length studio project, and the result, she says, will contain a diverse roster of styles and influences.

"We'll be in the studio before the end of the year, and brand-new music is getting released in January," she shares. "I'm really excited. Honestly, I just want to make sure I get at least a brief portion of all my layers, and I want people to fully understand me so that I can fully understand them."

Above all, Ashton wants to make an authentic connection. "As far as the songs as a whole, they're all very different, but I'm hoping my fans realize they're all very me," she explains. "I'm hoping that my fans realize that I'm being just as honest and authentic and open as I can be. That's very important to me."

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