Growing up in a preachers family and being a child of 11, his family was continuously on the road. The kids were all expected to perform as part of the weekly church services, festivals, and tent revivals. His childhood was everything but “normal” to him, though he was still grateful for all of his blessings. Ashley says, “My dad bought me a fiddle when I was five,” he recalls. “He thought I was naturally gifted at it and said, ‘That's your instrument.’ We would stay awake sometimes until the sun came up at bluegrass festivals, hanging out in parking lots or campsites and just play all night. That's how I learned to play.”
Throughout those years, Ashley loved how the audience responded to his music and performances. However, he soon realized it was causing much more conflict with his family’s hopes. “I felt like I was trying to be someone I'm not,” he says. “My parents hated the word ‘entertainer.’ They’d say, ‘We don't entertain people; we change people.’ But looking back now, I was an entertainer, a frustrated entertainer, because I got the most joy singing, making people smile, and being on stage.” Ashley realized to change these priorities, it would sure be a challenge.
As time went on, Ashley decided to move to Nashville for good and try to make it to where he wanted to be. “Back home in Virginia, we all had bunk beds, and I was lying there in my bunk thinking ‘I’m a man, I can do whatever I want, and I don’t want to be here,’" Ashley says. “I had a friend take me down to the used car lot. I saw a 1986 Ford Bronco, and was like, ‘That one.’ I drove to Nashville and showed up at a friend’s house and said, ‘Can I stay here?’ And he said, ‘Well, I'm sleeping on the couch. You can sleep on the floor.’”
Soon after arriving and Nashville and word getting out about this new lightning-fast fiddle player, Ashley started playing with Opry member Carrie Underwood. For about two and half years traveling with Carrie’s band, he realized he was meant to be a working musician. Though, his talent didn’t stop there. While on the road, Ashley saw an opening for an appearance on an upcoming Fox show called The Next Great American Band. “I called two of my brothers and said, ‘Guys, we can win this. I know we can.’” And indeed, they did. Calling themselves Sons of Sylvia, Ashley and his brothers were signed to the management company of the show’s creator Simon Fuller. Thanks to Simon and his belief in this group of brothers, the super producer Mutt Lange said he was interested in finding a new country artist with whom to work, Fuller knew he had the perfect candidate.
“Ashley ticked all the boxes,” Mutt says. “He has an incredible range and can sing anything, he’s a very talented writer, and as a musician, he plays with aggression. On the fiddle and the mandolin, he’s an animal.” To Ashley, it felt as if he had hit the lottery both personally and professionally. “I flew out to L.A. and we just hit it off,” he says. “We talked about music, we talked about life. For eight hours, we just talked. Everyone left. Simon left. It was just the two of us in Simon’s office.
To Mutt, Ashley's roots loom large in his music — "a blend of country and pop informed by the Americana styles he absorbed as a kid and the soulfulness of his voice." Over the next two years, they reworked his songs, co-wrote a host of others, and collaborated closely on an entire album. This was extra special to Ashley since Mutt hadn’t done with a brand new artist for 20 years. So who was that last artist he had worked with? Shania Twain. Ashley knows that he is fortunate to be given this opportunity, and he claims to take full advantage of his good fortune, leading himself to work on being even more successful.
After all he’s been through, Ashley has never lost the initial thrill he experienced early on; the one that comes from playing for an audience and affecting their mood with his songs, voice, and playing. He wants listeners to experience a range of emotions while listening to his songs. “On ‘Greyhound,’ I want people to feel that longing,” he says. “On ‘So Sexy It Hurts,’ I want people to dance around in the bathroom in their underwear. “On ‘To the Moon,’ I want people to be cruising in their car at night and forget all their problems. And on ‘One More Time,’ I want people to be making out and falling in love.”
And for himself? “All I want is to keep my eyes on the prize,” Ashley says.
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