“If I had an altar to bow to, it would be ‘Pet Sounds’”, an inspired Ashe tells NME from the California home. Well, you and us both, pal. We needn’t explain exactly why the Beach Boys’ 1965 album changed the rules for every bit of pop music to follow, but for Ashe, the music is perhaps more revelatory than most.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Ashe’s experience of music was singing in church and the Christian radio her parents listened to. It was not until her grandfather introduced her to artists such as Tom Petty, Ella Fitzgerald and The Beach Boys on road trips that her eyes were opened to popular music.
“I absorbed a bit of it then, but when I went to Berklee [College of Music], my love for Brian Wilson and ‘Pet Sounds’ grew,” Ashe explains. “I started to learn the complexity of the music as I was learning more about theory, and ‘Pet Sounds’ always stood out as the most experimental and weird of them all.”
It was this innovative sound that drew her in. “Brian Wilson was playing around with everything under the sun, similar to The Beatles,” she says admiringly. “There’s something to be said for a noughties pop song… but it’s a routine, cookie-cutter thing. I was so intrigued by the way he was like, ‘screw boundaries, I’m going to bring sand into my house, put my bare feet in it…and write these amazing records.’
“Paul McCartney said: “no one is educated musically until they’ve heard that album.” I was like, if Paul tells me to do it, then I’ll do it.” Distinguishable by her sparkling, cinematic production and heartfelt lyricism, Ashe’s melodic pop sound is heavily rooted in one of her biggest influences”.
Over the past 18 months, Ashe has proved herself as a formidable new force in the pop world. Working alongside close friend and producer FINNEAS – who worked with sister Billie Eilish on her massive debut – Ashe’s breakthrough single ‘Moral Of The Story’ garnered over 250 million global streams, and landed the singer-songwriter a collaboration with Niall Horan. Eager to build on this success, Ashe is back with the hotly anticipated follow-up single ‘Save Myself’ and rumblings of a debut album.
Talking (and singing) NME through some of her most revered Beach Boys tracks, Ashe reflects on just how influential the band has been on her music.
‘God Only Knows’
Ashe: “It’s sonically really cool, but this song is the most lyrically profound for me. It wins the day. It’s definitely one of the most vulnerable records that The Beach Boys ever put out; just that sentiment of “god only knows what I’d be without you”. Brian was writing it about his dad, who was a bit of a shithead, so it is just a beautiful ode to the horrible man who made him who he is.
“I would say that it’s definitely the best representation of vulnerable lyricism, which is something I have tried to adopt. It is also Paul McCartney’s favourite song of all time, and that’s really cool.”
‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’
“As a songwriter, I love me some lyrics. The line “they say I’ve got brains / but they ain’t doing me no good” – come on, so good! I think it’s ironic because he wrote a record in the late 1960s about not feeling like he fit in and, if there’s an era that I feel like I belonged in, it would be then. The air of revolution and the burning bras, the whole thing is fantastic. The song is as relevant to me now as I feel like I don’t really know where I fit in, in the world or the musical landscape.
“I threw a livestream to celebrate the 54th anniversary of ‘Pet Sounds’ back in May where I got a bunch of my friends together and had everyone pick their favourite songs. I picked this one. It took me four hours to learn how to play it on the piano before I could play it in front of other people because of the chord complexity.”
‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’
Ashe: “I just love this one because it’s so playful. The horns, the background vocals – wow. It’s not nearly as vulnerable or complex as some of the others, but it’s one of the first records I remember hearing from The Beach Boys. It makes you feel good. It’s like a living, breathing piece of music; every time you hear it a new lyric or melody will pop out, and the vocal harmonies are so complex. It’s track one on ‘Pet Sounds’, so it’s like they knew they needed to start with this feel good record to get people to dig into the whole thing.”
Ashe: “This one is actually the record they released after ‘Pet Sounds’. It’s probably the most similar to their early stuff. It’s whimsical and then bam, the hook kicks in. Oof.
“’Pet Sounds’ when it came out was a flop, which is so tragic because it’s world renowned as one of the best albums ever. Putting this out afterwards, it got all the love and I think led people back to ‘Pet Sounds’. They had the ability to be as great as The Beatles. Brian went into his drug era and his brain really suffered during that time, but [his] mind was genius. Imagine what other records we could have had! It makes me so sad, but I’m glad ‘Pet Sounds’ exists. I’m very grateful for it.”
Ashe: “This is the title track and it’s the most romantic melody. That melody and the key changes… it’s a sleeper hit. I almost wish Brian had written lyrics to this so that people paid more attention to it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put this record on if I’ve felt musically uninspired or stagnant, or felt like I was hitting some sort of mental musical blockage. I’ve cried several times to this record.
“Brian was just one human and so am I. We have that in common, so there’s this mass of inspiration going if he can make something this beautiful, maybe I can try.”
Ashe’s new single ‘Save Myself’ is out now