Ashley Wool is a 19 year old singer-songwriter from New York and already armed with a full-length album, without the benefit of a record label. The musical theater major combines her classical training with plenty of pop sensibilties, creating a sound like no other in music and drawing fans from almost any genre.
Here is Alan Ho's first exclusive in nearly a year with New York's Ashley Wool.
Alan Ho: For our readers, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ashley Wool: Let’s see…I was raised in a very traditional family, with a hardworking father and a stay-at-home mom. I have a sister who is four years younger than I am, and we also have a Portuguese water dog named Sirius Black. The first song I ever recorded was “Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland” when I was 21 months old. When I started writing my own songs, I used the pre-programmed rhythms on my ghetto fabulous Casio keyboard as backup music. I began taking private voice lessons when I was 14, and I’m still going to see the same woman for them. I love nature and animals, and I’m a vegetarian, but not one of those nutty “let’s go burn down KFC” types. I’ve followed Musiqtone for a while now, and after seeing all the talented artists featured here, I was very excited to be asked for an interview!
AH: Was music something you’ve always wanted to do and what was your first memory performing?
AW: Music and performing have always been part of my life. My dad used to be an English teacher and drama teacher at a middle school, so when I was really young, I’d go hang out at the theatre with him during rehearsals—to me, it looked like a fantastic game of make believe. I also started dance classes when I was six, and started singing in school choirs, but it wasn’t until I was about 10 that I truly discovered my voice. I was in a children’s musical theatre program and it was the first time I ever sang a solo. It was a little intimidating at first, but as soon as I learned the songs, I wouldn’t stop singing them.
AH: How has musical theatre helped you in your music?
AW: Well, aside from the obvious technical aspects of singing and presentation that a musical theatre education provides, I think musical theatre has made me appreciate the benefits of working as a team; I was lucky enough to work with directors very early on who disallowed egos. Also, it’s made me realize the importance of constructive criticism and honesty. We do a lot of peer critiquing in college voice classes, and so I’ve learned to appreciate criticism, which I know will help me approach this industry in a more mature way.
AH: Who are the influences in your music and in your own career?
AW: I really admire Jason Mraz. He has a phenomenal voice, and he writes unique and funky songs that have personality, wit, and charm. My family owns multiple copies of all his albums, because he’s one artist we can all agree on, all the time. Christina Aguilera is another one of my favorites; I loved the pop songs on her first album, but when Stripped came out, I was blown away. She really took a chance with her music and wrote songs that meant something to her, instead of ones that were spoon-fed to her, and now she commands respect as an artist, and not just as a teen idol.
AH: We ask everyone this: What is your philosophy on music???
AW: It’s always been my belief that in order to truly appreciate music, you have to be open-minded. There are so many different styles of music out there, and if you don’t listen to something because you’re not used to it, or because you think your friends will make fun of you, then you’ll never know what you’re missing. I also believe that it’s important to show support for other artists. When I first joined MySpace, I was amazed at how many talented people go unnoticed by the mainstream crowd—it makes you realize how competitive the music business truly is, and that just makes it all the more rewarding when you can get past the cutthroat part of it, and obtain the capacity to appreciate other artists’ work, and have them appreciate yours too.
AH: Why is music important to you?
AW: Music is important to me because my productivity and emotional well-being depend on it. I’m not kidding. There are some songs that I always associate with certain activities, and I can’t do them properly without music. For instance, if I’m cleaning my room, I have to play show tunes. If I’m writing in a journal or doing homework that doesn’t require a lot of thought, it’ll be something mellow and acoustic. If I’m working out, it’s usually hip-hop. And I always listen to Britney before a performance—yes, really!
AH: What makes you different from all the talent that has come out of New York?
AW: Well, that depends on what you mean by “New York.” Most people, when they think of New York, they think of New York City. And the city is a great place; I’m really lucky to live relatively close to the so-called “capital of the world,” but I know much more of New York than the city. My grandparents live on a farm in western New York, and my mom grew up in a small town in the Adirondacks, and I love visiting both of those places. So maybe in the eyes of people who don’t know New York, I’m different because I do know it very well, and I appreciate all the varied cultural aspects of it, which all translate into my music.
AH: Being a songwriter, what inspires you to write a song?
AW: Anything that plays on my mind always ends up manifesting itself in a song. A lot of the songs that I write stem from confusion of some sort, and the songs are my way of making sense of things, and coming to terms with things. At some level, I’m probably exorcising my demons, because I do have an extremely vivid memory, and sometimes it’s hard for me to let go of things, but writing songs and sharing them with people helps me to do that. It also makes my experiences more relatable, since I tend to write songs about things that I feel uncomfortable expressing verbally.
AH: What’s the theme behind your debut album and explain the significance of the album title?
AW: Not Otherwise Specified refers to something that defies a typical or dictionary definition, and that’s essentially what I want my music to accomplish. I guess the theme behind the album is just saying, “I’m human.” The media tends to use music artists to represent certain images and lifestyles to the public, and these images are often very polarized—you know, you can be pop or punk, sweet or rebellious, smart or clueless, and if you do or sing anything that contradicts your assigned adjective, you’re labeled as a poser. It might all be part of the business, but when you think about it, people’s true personalities are a lot more inconsistent, and a lot more interesting. I’m not one type of person, so I won’t sing one type of music, or write one type of song.
AH: What’s the one song that defines you?
AW: That’s a tough one, because all of my songs define different aspects of my personality, but my personal favorite from the album would have to be “You Got Me There.” I think that it’s the most musically diverse song on the album, and it’s definitely the most fun to sing, because even though it was inspired by a really awkward experience, I’m looking back on it and laughing. It takes a significant degree of maturity to be able to laugh about things, but it’s something that I’ve gotten good at over the years, and that song shows it. Besides, I’ve always wanted an opportunity to rap in a song, and with “You Got Me There,” it just fit right in with the whole “I’m not taking myself too seriously” theme.
AH: Finally, what are your goals, short and in the long-term?
AW: For now, I’m focusing on doing well in school and making the most of my time there. Even though my major is musical theatre, and performing is my main focus, I don’t attend a conservatory, so I’m getting a strong liberal arts education as well, which is just as important. Still, my ultimate dream is to be able to live by making music…it’s an ambitious thought, but then again, I’m an ambitious person.
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AH: The thing or things you’d be doing if it weren’t for music…
AW: I’d love to go into journalism of some kind—like, I’d love to study ornithology and write for one of those birding and gardening magazines. I’d take on projects that would require traveling to the rainforest to observe the colorful birds that live there, or spending hours in camouflage in the swamps of Arkansas looking for the nearly-extinct Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. That would be so cool.
AH: What’s spinning in your music player right now?
AW: Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, which I recently bought at a used record store after wanting it for years. It’s amazing.
AH: The things you can’t live without as a musician
AW: As far as singing goes, I drink a lot of peppermint tea to help open my throat, and if I’m hoarse, I suck on these lozenges called Fishermen’s Friends. I also need Blistex, because I am always distracted by dry lips, especially when I’m singing. Another thing I can’t live without as a musician is alone time—before a performance or audition, I need to have a few minutes to just relax and focus.
AH: The Bitter End, Knitting Factory, Madison Square Garden, or Radio City Music Hall?
AW: Radio City would be my first choice.
AH: Broadway stage or concert stage?
AW: Well, performing in a play is always special because of the camaraderie and the teamwork, but doing theatre can sometimes be stifling because of typecasting—for instance, since I’m small, I tend to get cast in the little girl roles, and although it’s a lot of fun, it’s hard to play a different little girl every time. With my own music, though, I have a lot more freedom—I can sing whatever I want, say whatever I want, and not really care too much if I mess up a little, because it won’t throw off a stage full of other people. I can break the fourth wall, establish a connection with the audience, and just be the person I am, instead of the character I look like.
AH: Music none of your friends (or fans) expect you to listen to
AW: I shocked a whole bunch of my classmates on our afterprom cruise when I rapped through “The Real Slim Shady” and I didn’t miss a word. It was about 3 in the morning, too.
AH: Singing a song or writing a song
AW: If I had to pick one or the other, I’d rather sing someone else’s song than have someone else sing my song. I’m greedy like that. I want all the music for myself.
AH: The ultimate venue to tour in
AW: I’ve always wanted to play a stadium concert, either as my own show, or during a major sports event. Stadiums attract a different crowd than what I’m accustomed to, with a different kind of energy, and even though I’ve heard that the acoustics can be weird, I still think it would be a lot of fun to have my music dominate such a huge place, and have the audience all around me.
AH: Which act or acts would you love to share the stage (or bus) with?
AW: Without hesitation, I’ll say Jason Mraz. I’ve seen him live three times, twice as an acoustic show, and once with the full band, and he was amazing every time. He’s versatile and he appreciates spontaneity, so I think we could be good friends and collaborators. And I found out that he was once a musical theatre major too!
AH: Non-musical talents you carry
AW: All my friends tell me that I give good advice because I can approach a situation from different perspectives, and I’m very proactive and easygoing. I can identify lots of birdsongs, but I’m hoping to learn more. Oh yeah, and in my senior year of high school, during a field day face-off between my AP Macroeconomics class and the AP Psychology class, I won a very competitive hula-hoop contest that earned our class the “championship.” It was glorious.
AH: Favorite food(s)?
AW: -Broccoli rabe