Pop music artist, Ashley Wool!

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Westchester County, about 45 minutes north of New York City, but I always just tell people I'm a native New Yorker because it's easier than trying to explain what Westchester is. ("So you're from the city?" "No." "So you're from upstate?" "No." "So you're from Long Island." "...No.") 

What inspired you to get into music? I've been writing songs in some form or another since I was about seven, and I loved a lot of children's poetry--Shel Silverstein, Robert Louis Stevenson, and my all-time favorite, Dr. Seuss. But it never occurred to me that being a singer and songwriter was something I could just do, right now, even though I wasn't cool or famous or older. Then I saw a little feature in Scholastic News about a band called Hanson, three brothers, aged 16, 13, and 11, about my age, and they had been playing music together for a few years already and had just signed with a record label. Something clicked in my brain when Hanson became big. Seeing kids my own age, writing and performing their own music, talking about their process, and actually being successful at it, was incredibly cool. And in interviews and their home videos they just seemed like fun kids to hang out with, zany and messy and un-glamorous just like me and my friends. So I don't think I quite realized that their level of success, at that age, was not ordinary or realistic for most people. But you're not thinking like that when you're young. You live in a world of possibility, a world of, "well if they can do it, why not me?" I think the reason I stuck with it is because that feeling, the excitement of possibility in spite of improbability, stuck with me into adulthood. 

Do you play any instruments? I can read music and plunk notes on a piano, but I have not become proficient at any non-vocal instrument. I used to play guitar to a mediocre coffeehouse competency level, but after developing fibromyalgia several years ago, my hands became very weak and easily exhausted and I can't really play anymore. I keep meaning to get one of those ChordBuddy contraptions that all the snobs make fun of so that I can slowly build my strength back up and actually be able to accompany myself even if I'm not feeling my best physically. Because it really does hold me back when I always have to find someone else to accompany me. 

What is a songwriting session like for you? There is no one way to do it, but it's worth noting that my best work always comes when I'm forced to exist in the absence of internet distractions. I've "written" entire songs behind the wheel of my car. I came up with one of my all-time favorite hooks while I was in college working as a dishwasher at the dining hall. I wrote the first version of "Half of My Life" by candlelight during Hurricane Sandy when the power went out. It was the most cliche thing you could imagine. I was working multiple jobs and spreading myself way too thin just to distract myself from the situation that the song is about, but when I had no choice but to sit in the dark with my feelings, they all came flooding out.

There are a few co-writes on the upcoming album too, including "Starving Artist," which started off as kind of a campy, tongue-in-cheek song, but in the middle of recording it, my producer Gabe said out of the blue, "you know, this would be a lot cooler in a minor key" and it completely transformed the song. It still has some camp and some cheek, but it's also a genuine anthem now and I like it better that way. My vocal producer Garek, who's an accomplished singer/songwriter in his own right, improved upon a lot of my work by demanding more brevity and more strength and straightforwardness in the lyrics. If he thought that a lyric was half-assed or clunky, he always made me dig deeper, and it was frustrating but very worth it. Sometimes just removing a few extra syllables makes all the difference. 

Have you toured a lot in your career? Sadly, no. I've always had practical concerns and survival jobs holding me back, the classic catch-22 of having a career in the performing arts when you're not independently wealthy on the side. But one of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic is the increased availability and normalization of remote work. I now have a great job as a Medicare insurance agent that is fully remote, pays me a living wage, and has benefits, including travel benefits! So since I'm no longer tied down to one place by a survival job, touring is definitely a goal! 

What is your local music scene like right now in NY? The best and worst thing about the performing arts scene in New York, in non-pandemic times, of course is that it's absolutely saturated. The best thing is that it's an abundance of riches. You want to see a choir singing Haydn? A jazz quartet? An avant-garde lo-fi band? A hip-hop freestyle troupe? An opera? A Broadway musical? An African drum ensemble? Just some talented amateurs slaying at karaoke with their friends? It's all here. But the worst thing is that nobody ever has enough time or money to see it all. So if you want people to come to your shows, simply being excellent isn't enough. A pigeon poops on an excellent singer every day in New York. You really have to build relationships with people and get them excited about you as an individual, and you have to reciprocate that excitement. You can't waste energy comparing yourself to others or trying to be better than them. You have to let other people's work inspire you instead of threaten you. Luckily, that part is easy for me because I am surrounded by incredibly kind, generous, wildly talented people in every direction, and the day I stop getting giddy with excitement about that is the day you can just put me in the ground because there's no point in living any other way. 

Do you ever write for other artists? I haven't written anything that's specifically been for someone else, but I have a lot of songs that don't quite fit the sonic aesthetic of the album I'm working on and might be better-suited to someone with a different sound entirely. I have a whole folder of lyrics called "unintentional country songs." Maybe Carrie Underwood should sing them. 

What is your true love, acting or music? That's sort of like asking whether my true love is coffee or caffeine. Could I theoretically have one without the other? Yes. But I don't. Same with acting and music. Even though they are technically different disciplines, my acting and musical theatre training always went hand-in-hand with my work as a singer/songwriter. They coexist symbiotically in my artist brain, and I've never subscribed to the preposterous and frankly classist notion that those two worlds must always be separate. Historically, they never were separate. And thanks largely to musicals like Hamilton and TV shows like Glee, we're getting to a place where people are realizing that they don't have to be separate. Music and acting are both forms of storytelling. You can have one without the other, but the storytelling component is the same. I guess you could say that my true love is storytelling. How's that for a circuitous mixed-metaphor answer? 

Tell us about your latest project. I had big plans to finish and release my full-length album in the fall of 2020. But we all know what happened in 2020. I was still able to release the three singles, which did pretty darn well for themselves in spite of my inability to perform live. But I think I speak for a lot of creatives when I say, 2020 changed the trajectory of what I thought I wanted as an artist. The album that I would have released before the pandemic isn't quite going to be the album I release, hopefully, prayerfully, this year. It's going to be less about me and more about everyone else. It's going to be less "brand" and more "human being." It's going to be more positive and more confident even in moments of vulnerability. I know I'm being cryptic. But that's what I can say! 

What can we expect from you in the future? A lot more musical theatre now that theaters are starting to open up again. A lot more writing about growing up as an un-diagnosed autistic and conversations about disability rights in general. I have a lot to say about that, especially after becoming a Medicare agent. A lot more pictures of my cats, too.