Johnny Ashby is a British singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles, California. Ashby found a love for music through his dad’s mixtapes. As a teen, he played guitar in various bands and after leaving college, stepped into the session world.
Deciding to move to California with nothing but a suitcase full of clothes, a guitar he built himself and dreams of playing the legendary Troubadour, the songwriter dove in headfirst and has not looked back since.
How would you describe the music that you typically create?
I guess it’s a mix between folk and rock because that’s what comes most naturally to me. “Rolk”?
Have you got a ritual of sorts when writing and thinking about your music?
Kind of. I heard Paul McCartney writes a song every morning when he wakes up. So, I try to force myself to write, even if I have nothing to write about. It’s good practice but often those songs aren’t the best. But I feel like you have to do that to allow the good ones to come in. You have to tune in to it and then the songs come. I try really hard to block out all other distractions, like my phone. That’s why I like to write in a notebook, because there’s no screen. I think most importantly, I have to be able to feel what I’m writing. I have to feel it, or no-one else will.
How do you feel the Internet has impacted the music business?
I love that new technology allows everyone to be creative and record from home. Nowadays anyone with a laptop can write and record a song and then upload it to Spotify, Apple etc and that’s an amazing thing. Social media is a powerful tool, but I think it’s made the music industry more of a singles market and sadly there’s not really much of a love for albums anymore. I feel like guitar music generally works best in an album format and subsequently there seems to be less of that. With social media I think it’s hard for new artists to breakthrough because everything is so saturated online. It seems to be a little less organic right now. I think the 90’s was the last time we had that; I was a bit too young to experience it properly though.
Has your musical journey had a deliberate direction, or did it simply gradually evolve in whatever direction it found?
Well firstly I quit smoking and my voice changed a lot! (Laughs). So that meant I started writing in different keys and that helped my chorus’s sound bigger. But I think I struggled a lot to find my voice ya know? I was trying to sound like my idols and then when I didn’t sound like them, I felt like a failure. So, I’d go back to the drawing table, and I’d start again. The problem is it’s just not a realistic thing for anyone to aim for. I’m never going to sing like Bono or play guitar like John Mayer. It’s just not going to happen. It wasn’t until I stopped trying that suddenly something clicked and I was like “Ohhh so this is me”. That was quite a pivotal moment in my journey as a musician. It was right around the time when I was writing the songs for the Friends Lovers and Enemies EP. It’s one of the cool things about learning an instrument, you practice every day, and you see these small, little jumps in your progress. And then nothing! Nothing at all! And then, just when you’re at your lowest, you jump forward several steps and it feels amazing! It’s that reward that makes playing an instrument or writing songs so enjoyable.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
Not very well. I think it’s important to take breaks and step away for a few days, or weeks. There’s been times when I’m so frustrated with it, it’s like I’ve had an argument with my guitar. It’s like a relationship, and we don’t talk. And then eventually I pick it up, apologise to it and that’s when the good stuff comes in. The same is true if I’m writing a song, it’s not really writer’s block but it’s like this brick wall that you hit in the middle of a session. If you stop for some fresh air and make a cup of coffee, then you seem to get the ideas of where to go next a bit more easily. I’m a big fan of the author Roald Dahl. He said that he would stop writing before he didn’t know what to write about. That way when he picked it back up the following day he knew exactly where to start. I love that.
If we were to peek over your shoulder, what does your studio look like? What gear do you typically use?
I have a little set up at home. I used to record a lot in various studios or at a friend’s place but right now I’m starting to really enjoy being in my own space. It’s another form of creativity when you write at home, I don’t think this album would exist if I wasn’t forced into lockdown like everyone else. I use Logic as my DAW with a few plugins. Everything goes into an Audient interface and occasionally I’ll use the Line 6 HX Stomp as an interface for electric guitar. I have a couple of mics, an SM7B for my vocals and a couple of budget mics from SE Electronics which I use for acoustic guitar and things. Those SE mics sound great. I’d like to get a real piano in here someday and use them on that.
As a kid were you ever frightened of a monster under the bed or in the cupboard?
What would be the ideal food to have cooked for you on a date night?
Spag bol and a bottle of red
If you were a member of the Spice Girls, what would your spice handle be?
“Not so” Sporty Spice
Do you have any lucky items, objects, or traditions?
I wear a necklace round my neck with the piano key that used to open the lid of my Grandad’s piano.
What is the most useless talent you have?
I can cup my hands and blow a blade of grass in-between my thumbs. It makes this loud “quack” noise. Good for calling ducks but not a lot else.