Kassi Ashton Talks “Pretty Shiny Things” & Future Goals: Interview
Kassi Ashton possesses one of the most exciting emerging voices in country music, and she has a lot to say. The 25-year-old introduced herself to fans with last year’s “California, Missouri.” An earnest anthem about staying true to herself in a small town, it positioned her as One To Watch. And her follow-up singles have all lived up to expectations. They’ve also showcased her creative range. “Taxidermy” sees her cooing promises of sweet revenge to a lover who did her wrong over twangy beats. “Violins” plays with a similar theme but boasts a more pop-leaning production as does a collaboration with Keith Urban on “Drop Top.” But it’s her latest single – “Pretty Shiny Things” – that seals the deal.
The confessional ballad addresses unrealistic expectations placed on girls to hide behind a perfect exterior. And it does so in a way that empowers. “Pretty shiny things, I swear that there’s more to us,” the hitmaker sings in response to years of ingrained lessons. “Take your makeup off girl. Hold your head high. Let your guard down, don’t be scared to cry. Ain’t nothin’ pretty bout a perfect life.” It’s the sort of song that speaks to the masses and draws comparison to a slew of timeless self-love anthems such as Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” Paired with an equally striking video, and it is yet more proof that Kassi deserves our undivided attention.
Recently I had the opportunity to hop on the phone with the rising star to chat about “Pretty Shiny Things.” Kassi opened up about the years-long process of getting the track ready for release. Not only that, but she shared some insight into shooting the music video (her first ever) and the dress she created for it. We also talked about her creative goals, hopes for the future and so much more. Press play on “Pretty Shiny Things” and dive into our exclusive interview below.
I wanted to start by talking about “Pretty Shiny Things.” You mentioned that the song came to you about three years ago. How did it feel to finally be able to release it?
It felt really good. Obviously it’s very challenging to be patient and wait and pick the right time and know that it’s the right time. To be confident in waiting that long. And it was a release. But I also was just so excited. I didn’t really think. It wasn’t a selfish thing. I thought of other people and how I couldn’t wait for people to maybe have something that they needed or something that they could connect to. Something that made them feel like they weren’t the only ones going through something difficult. That’s what I was most, I just couldn’t wait to give it as a gift to my fans.
The song really resonates with me because it’s a lesson that we’re trying to teach my three-year-old niece right now. Have you had any people reach out and talk about how the song resonated with them since it’s been available?
Oh, absolutely. A ton. And not just girls. Honestly, girls and guys both have reached out and been like “I’ve felt this way and I’m struggling with it.” Like “I’m currently struggling with it or I’ve struggled with it in the past and it really shaped me. And there are some parts about the way it shaped me that I don’t like. And this song is helping me to realize that I can fix that, and I can be exactly what I want to be, not what someone else wants me to be.”
Or people saying “I didn’t have a way to put it into words, and everyone around me is telling me that I need to be this. And you’re telling me to be myself. Thank you so much for that.” It’s like all those people were my younger self telling me while still being themselves telling me. It just felt warm.
Can you talk about what it was like working on the song in the studio?
We did the studio version probably two years ago. And it was like my first time ever being in the studio basically. We went in and cut I think three or four songs, and it was my first time doing that full run-though with actual live musicians, not just doing work in a writer room. And it was emotional for me. Emotionally going in the booth and having to put yourself back in exactly how you felt writing it – back in that space of just being honest with it.
I was lucky enough to have musicians around me and my producer Luke Laird totally support me in whatever emotion I just threw out in the booth. They weren’t awkward. If i started crying or didn’t want to talk for a while they were so supportive of that and just really understood. I think that really made that day – the people around me kind of opening up and making me feel like I wasn’t some strange girl crying in the vocal booth.
You recorded it two years ago. Why did now feel like the right time to release it?
The whole plan this year and partly last year was to start revealing layers of myself to my fans. Step by step by step. So they felt like they were getting to know me as you would a normal friend. You know, you wouldn’t just get their deepest secret right away. You would meet kind of the outside layer then start to dive in. I wanted that to feel organic with my fans.
Combined with that, the fact that I wanted to reveal some more surface level things beforehand and really just pump ‘em up and get to know them in that way then reveal some of the darker areas, I also figured it was a really great time society wise to release it. In our world I think people need to hear it’s ok to be yourself. More than anything I think because we just get so caught up in looking like what we think everyone else will like. Literally like or comment on. We get so caught up in what other people think we should be. We start living for other people and not for ourselves. So I wanted to kind of give that message now.
The video is also really so beautiful and so powerful. Was there any moment on set that made you feel a very strong way while you were shooting?
We actually shot “Pretty Shiny Things” and my last video “Violins” the same day. “Pretty Shiny Things” was first so we had to start early in the morning. And I wanted the music video, through all the art and shiny things that I wanted to immerse myself in for that video, I wanted the emotional monologue for it to be as real as it could be. So actually, this may be kind of a method acting, kind of crazy person thing to do, when I was getting my hair and makeup done, I tried to sit and put myself back in that thing. Whether it was looking at old pictures or listening to old voicemails and trying to put myself back in kind of a darker place. So that when I could do the video it was real, and I wasn’t just faking the sad face.
I warned everyone around me. I was like “listen, I want this to be real. I want this to be authentic. I’m not going to smile in between takes. So if I stop talking this whole video, it’s for the art.” I wanted to be as authentic as possible. So the whole music video was heavy for me. Because, one it was the first music video I had ever done because we shot “Pretty Shiny Things” before “Violins.” The first music video I had ever done. There’s all these people around me like shoving cameras in my face and stuff and “oh, fix your hair and do this.” It was kind of ironic that we were shooting a music video for “be yourself, you don’t have to be pretty.” But all these people are around you like “fix this, fix this.”
And I’m like trying to be in the place I was three years ago. So it was heavy but at the same time, surrounding all the heaviness in my body I felt a sense of “you’re doing the right thing.” Like this is right and this is going to look exactly how you feel. And that’s what I really, really wanted. And it worked out. Kristin Barlowe the director really took what I wanted and she’s a master at bringing it to screen.
It comes across really well. Also, you designed the dress for the shoot, right?
How long has fashion been a passion of yours?
I would say, basically my whole life. I think it was kindergarten or first grade, my mom sent me to school in these hideous black corduroy overalls with a flower stitched on the pocket. And I hated them. When I got to school I cried in my cubby until my mom brought me new clothes. I just love clothes. I think those overalls just didn’t express what I wanted that day. My mom can sew. I grew up with her making my theater outfits and my dance costumes. She would take me to Good Will or a thrift store and let me get old prom dresses and old wedding dresses and tear them apart and learn how to sew myself. That started in middle school.
Then through high school you want to be different in a small town so you start making your own clothes. I made my Junior year prom dress out of Duct Tape actually. It was for a scholarship so it was well worth it. Now being a new artist with a small artist budget it’s so, so convenient and so priceless to me to be able to bring to life whatever I’m seeing in my head or whatever I want instead of being confined in a tiny box. It really helps in the music video aspect, too.
I’m a total visual person, and I do all the video treatments and design my own merch and my own website. Having the tools to be able to bring to life whatever I see in my head is just so… I’m just thankful for it.
It gives you a lot of control over you own image, which is really great as you’re developing.
You also touched on something while you were talking about why fashion became important. You were talking about growing up in a small town, which definitely came through on “California, Missouri.” I feel like the main theme of the song was making your own way through life and marching to the beat of your own drum.
Is that something you see informing your future releases as well?
Oh yeah, definitely. That’s a big part. I think growing up there and always being different to kids, I learned very early that the best thing that you can be is one hundred percent yourself. And you should allow yourself to have the space to figure out exactly what you like and exactly what you want. And do not settle for anything below that because you’re worth everything you want. It’s really like an underlying thing of empowerment. I think that’s honestly the common thread through almost every song I’ve ever written. It’s a big main theme or a tiny little piece of it.
I just wish for people, I hope for them to just feel comfortable and confident enough to be a million, million times themselves. It’s so easy in our world to just follow or feel pressure to be something else. And I’m like “no. Be whoever you want. Who gives a shit.” My whole motto is do no harm, but take no shit. It’s like don’t be disrespectful but don’t be disrespected. Just do your thing, honey.
I feel like everyone needs to remember that all the time.
And I think just like, we all need to realize that every single person is human. We forget that. We think we’re the only humans with actual flaws and mistakes and trouble. And literally the person right next to you, even if you don’t know them, is a human. We’re all just trying to feel loved and understood. If you feel the confidence or want the confidence to be exactly who you are then it’s easier to realize that everyone else is human.
We’ve heard a couple of songs from you so far. And they really showcase the breadth of your sound. How would describe what your sound is?
That’s always a really difficult thing. Most people can be like “Oh, I’m like this and this.” I would say, one, as far as the lyric aspect of my sound, I love honesty. Just say it how it needs to be said. And I love story-telling. That’s why I love country music. It’s just like substance. I think the the truth is the best thing you can tell. I don’t want something surface level; I’m more of the deep end of the pool type of person. As far as production and what I love and vocals, I like grit. And I like rawness. But when it’s a tempo, I grew up dancing. So if I can’t shake my hips around, I don’t really want to do it.
I classify music as, you’re gonna laugh at this… I classify music in two categories. Of all genres, two categories. There’s Bing Bing music at the top, and there’s Boom Boom music at the bottom. It sounds so elementary. But I guarantee if you saw a list of songs you could put them in those two categories in a snap. Like so fast. And I like to live in the Boom Boom world. The low-ended, standing on the ground type. Everyone I tell they die laughing. They’re like “Kassi you can’t come up with better words?” And I’m like “no. That explains it.” You know exactly what I mean when I say this.
I think Adele lives in the Boom Boom world. But Eric Church also lives in the Boom Boom world. It’s down there. I’m putting my hands with my palms toward the ceiling like I’m cupping a big butt cheek. I just want the music to sound like me. I think all the songs I’ve put out so far and the songs I will continue putting out this year, they really are a pendulum of emotions and kinds of styles. But they all, I love all of them. And they all feel like me to me.
One of the biggest compliments I can get is when people are like “all your songs sound so different but they all sound like you.” I’m like “perfect.”
You mentioned that more music is coming. Are you working toward an album or an EP?
Definitely. I still buy whole albums and listen to them from the first song to the last song in the order that the artist put them in. I love cohesive projects. Just a big work of art. So yeah, definitely. I want to put out an album. The reason it’s single songs now is because I want to grow the audience and kind of find my real fans and introduce myself piece by piece. It really gives me space to make as many creative things as I can.
Every song I’ve done this year and will continue to do this year will have a music video and content series around all of it. And brand partnerships. So it gives me space to really be creative and build an entire identity versus here’s just one song and one picture. That way when you get my album it feels like you already know me.
One last question. In the last year and a half you’ve accomplished so much. You’ve released several songs, you’re really starting to develop your voice and build that relationship with your fans. You’ve also collaborated with Keith Urban, and it sounds like there is so much more on the way. What would you say that your biggest professional goal is?
Like all of my career? That is so hard. It’s so hard to name a specific. Obviously, like… I want to play the Super Bowl or I want to win at least 20 Grammys in my life. I always say, you know the picture at the Grammys? Ok, this is what I mean by the picture. Every year somebody gets to take The Picture. They sweep the Grammys and they have their hands together horizontal, and they’re holding like four or five Grammys. That’s another thing. But I think altogether I would say, I just want to grow every day. I don’t care if it’s tiny steps everyday.
I don’t want to blow up overnight because I’m 25 and have my entire life to be doing this. I want this to be a lifelong career. And I want to be able to always do it how I see it. And to continue to grow that way where I have the space to create exactly what I see in my head and exactly what I want other people to connect with. Because I think sometimes, you know from studying my peers that I look up to, that sometimes you get to a point where people are telling you “you need to do this. Or you need to do this.”
And then they listen to them, and that doesn’t always go great. I don’t want that to happen to me. I consider myself an artist as a whole because I love everything. Obviously music is the forefront, and I just… I always want it to grow at me watering it. I’m trying to think of an analogy.
That makes perfect sense. Thank you so much. It was so nice to chat.