Interview: Ashton York

Ashton York is a dreamy sounding singer-songwriter who has created a fantastic song in his latest release, Awful Time. I liked the song a lot, so I wanted to learn a little more about him – check out the interview below if you’re as intrigued as I am!

By Jane Howkins

You recently released a track titled Awful Time, which we reviewed. What can you tell us about the song?

Well it sort of fell into my lap one day when I was home sick with Covid. At the time, I was waiting tables in the city and getting fucked up every night and my life was getting really small and miserable. I had no confidence in myself and I felt that all I had done in my adult life was let people down. I was lonely and hurting. At the time, I wasn’t aware of how bleak my life had gotten, but I remember when I finished writing the song, it just resonated so deeply. After I made the demo, I used to walk around the city and listen to it over and over again. I think I was trying to get inside the song or maybe I just liked it a lot, but it had this quality that felt new to me, something I hadn’t really done before, other than maybe Midnight Love.

Has the pandemic hindered your work much?

The pandemic made me better. I actually haven’t thought about this until now, but I don’t think Awful Time or the rest of this record happens without the pandemic. in 2020, I had a lot of time to get high and anxiously overanalyse my life. I think a big take away from those days was that I wasn’t taking music seriously enough. I don’t think I really knew how talented I am or how much potential I had until the world stopped. for so long, I felt like I was just sort of surviving and using music as a crutch in some ways. And then Covid came to light a fire under my ass. Shout out to my good friend Anthony for walking me through that season.

What is the writing and recording process like for you?

I don’t really know? I do, but I don’t. Songwriting is so illusive, It’s like the wind. Sometimes it takes hours, days or months, and sometimes it takes twenty minutes. All I know is that songs sneak up on me. I don’t get to control when or how. The only thing I can control is how often I pick up my guitar. I usually write before I record. If a song is good enough, I’ll take it into the studio and have a go at it. I don’t do a ton of at home recording. If I do, it’s very lazy on the production side of things. That’s why I recorded an EP on a 4 track tape machine. It was just easy and simple and did the job, but it’s just not really my thing, recording at home. I like studios.

Do you plan to release any more singles in the near future?

Yes! Karen St comes out next month. It’s a true summer banger, a breezy acoustic tune about a girl. It’s the only light, approachable pop tune on the record. I wrote it in ten minutes, truly, I had no intention of writing it, it just happened.

You recently released an album, titled Lakewood Blvd. What can you tell us about the album? How has the reception been so far?

Lakewood Blvd was going to be the name of my second full length studio album. I lived with my great aunt and uncle in Lakewood (near Long Beach) for almost two years before the pandemic hit. during that time I wrote and demoed a bunch of songs and was planning to put them to 2” tape, but before we even got started, the project sort of came to a halt. Instead, I released a double single in the summer of ’20, followed by a 4-track EP in early ’21.

Anyways, I was walking around SF about a month ago, and I realized I had a bunch of demos on my hard drive that it would be fun to release. So I located the files, wrote down a track list, made some shitty artwork for the cover and just put the demos out as-is. I’m glad I did that. Those demos are special to me. Ultimately, they were never supposed to be anything more than demos. I forget sometimes, but my songwriting has improved a lot in the last year and the record that finally came together for me is 1000x better than Lakewood Blvd would have been. Music is weird. so is life. Also, the folks who listened liked it. I like it.

Have you started writing for another EP or an album, or is it too soon?

U pick up my guitar and attempt to write something new every single day. Well, most days I should say. Lately I’ve just been working on my guitar playing and fingerpicking more. I wrote a really sick blues riff today and I have all kinds of ideas for it. I also wrote a slow, pretty arpeggio piece today. What seems to happen to me is that I write a bunch of mediocre shit for a really long time and then after a while, a bunch of songs come together and I make a record. That process has taken a couple of years both times I’ve done it. if I ever get around to my third full length project, I imagine it will be insanely different than what I’m working on now.

A major reason I’d like to have some success in this business is so that Ican afford to record and produce songs as I write them in real time, instead of working on the same 10 or 12 songs for two years because of financial restraints.

Your music has an acoustic folky quality. What/who influences you most as an artist? What have you been listening to recently?

My influences are many. I like to listen to records all the way through and I only do that when my attention span allows me to. I guess in the last few days, I’ve listened to Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, Mark Hollis’s self titled album, All the Best, Isaac Hayes by Mark Kozelek, and Time (The Revelator) by Gillian Welch. Oh and I’ve been listening to that new Neil Young record, Toast. I’ve listened to the first track on that thing probably 50 times in the last few days, it makes me happy. Neil Young is a huge influence and hero of mine. I know… typical. I don’t always listen to singer songwriter music, but lately it’s just been hitting the spot.

You’re based in San Francisco. What is the music scene like in your part of the world? Are you influenced by your surroundings?

So far, from what I can tell, the SF music scene is pretty weak. There just aren’t a lot of folks doing what I do here. Touring acts come through here all the time, but other than that, it’s not like LA where everywhere you turn there’s a songwriter or musician. Most people my age here in SF work in tech. I often feel like a fish out of water here.

I think in a few years, I’ll have a better idea of whether SF has influenced the sound of my work. it’s hard to tell right now. I guess now that I think about it, it’s sort of impossible for your surroundings not to influence your work. All I know is that I love it here. It’s small, sort of gross, really beautiful and it just feels worn in. The architecture, history, climate, wildlife etc., is pretty amazing here. I find myself struck with awe quite a lot. A couple weeks back, my mother and I hiked along the coastline and watched a dolphin frolic about for 20 minutes or so. We were entranced.

Do you have any tour dates lined up? Any plans to tour the UK?

God i can’t wait to tour. It’s what I was born to do. But no, nothing on the books for Europe yet. I can’t even get a gig here in the city. I would love to open for artists like Andy Shauf or Noah Gundersen. I should probably put a little more effort into playing live, but every time I try, it just feels like a dead end because I can’t sell tickets at this stage of my career to save my life. For those of you reading this, support your friends. Go to their shows. bring your friends and pack the place out.

Any last words for the fans?

I actually don’t know if I have any fans who aren’t also acquaintances and friends, but if you’re out there, thank you – truly. And thank you to the dozens and dozens of beautiful people in my life who continue to support me. Thanks for believing in me. There’s something really beautiful about having those few special people in your life who know you’re good before a music publication says you are. I’m fortunate to have folks around me who know my worth as an artist without having to be fed that knowledge by the media or whatever.

Thank you for giving Awful Time a listen. The reception has been really amazing so far and I’m so grateful. The new record is called Nightmare In Your Arms and it comes out this October.

Feel free to follow along at @ashtonanny on Instagram.