Though by her own admission she does not feel she is very good at interviews, Berkeley-based singer/songwriter/bandleader Ash Reiter came through in this one with characteristically casual grace, slowly warming up to the whole process as she shared some thoughts on what has made writing come more easily to her as of late, among other things.
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I travel back to Steve Taylor’s birthday party in November of 2009 quite often and marvel at just how pivotal that one night was for me personally. Inarguably, the strongest and most significant connection I made that night was with Ash Reiter, someone who became not only one of my favorite singers to listen to, but also a good friend.
I had been chatting with her for a little bit, as I had been with many others, before the live music that Steve had promised was about to begin. She struck me as a solid, friendly, cool person who was in all likelihood one of the soberest people in the room. In the middle of another conversation about 10 minutes later, I heard this beautiful voice, floating above a pillow of malleted cymbals, singing the words, “there’s a ghost in my head.” I immediately thought, “whoa, who is that?” I turned around and saw that it was Ash, that cool girl I had been talking to earlier. She didn’t even mention that she was one of the people who would be playing that night!
Part of what cemented the connection with Ash’s music was the words of the very song she was singing. As she continued to sing, the words came out: “there’s a ghost in my bed / there’s a ghost in my chest / and he will not let me rest.” Coincidentally, as she sang these lyrics, the ghost in my head/bed/chest was standing right next to me. The magic of this song, “Stumble and Fall,” was that, even though it was reflecting an emotionally painful experience that so many of us have been through, Ash’s delivery of the lyrics – and the music she and Will Halsey created – was less sad and depressing than it was comforting, uplifting, and even celebratory in a casual sort of way. And after that smooth, folky intro, you could dance to it right through to the end.
“Stumble and Fall,” from 2010’s Paper Diamonds, was quite different from Ash’s earlier, jazzy-folky tunes, yet it bridged back to that style almost effortlessly. It’s also very much indicative of the direction she has taken with her music since then, with that “take a sad song and make it better” ideal being one of the key hallmarks of Ash’s work on her forthcoming second full-length album, Hola. “Broken Drum” falls very much into the same category – “sad song to play on a blue guitar / but that’s alright, I got a head all full of stars” – and yet it’s a more intricately constructed pop song and has even more of that up energy to it. And to keep things interesting, Ash finds ways to turn her fascinations with California history into pop songs (“Ishi,” “Little Sandy”), not to mention end-of-the-world doomsday theories (“2012”), nature (“Hummingbird”), and good old fashioned embarrassment (“I’ve Got Something I Can Laugh About”).
The temptation to turn this interview into an all-day, all-night hang session was very great. Ash and her entire band – drummer Will Halsey, guitarist Drew Brown and bassist Scott Brown – were all present, planning a barbeque, and practicing their party tactics off-camera during the interview. I had to dash off to play a show with the Beehavers immediately after we wrapped so there was no BBQ for me this time, but there will be others I’m sure.
A note about the performance:
Working with Garrett Eaton on this series is really pretty great, for a number of reasons. One of the reasons you can see most easily is the creative spark he brings to the photography, being that he has such a great eye for composition and locations. After I confirmed the date of the shoot with Ash and Garrett, the two of them talked a bit about particular ideas they’d like to see in this episode. When I circled back with each of them, two themes emerged: movement (most of which you see in the interview video), and the Panoramic Hill staircase in Berkeley, just a short drive from where Ash and Will live. The staircase is where we filmed Ash and her band playing a new song called “Heatwave.”
Scott is usually heard playing electric bass with Ash, but for this outdoor performance he brought his acoustic upright bass, while his older brother Drew plugged his guitar into a small amp powered by a car battery. Will, ever the sensitive gentleman, is often self-conscious about disturbing people outdoors in residential areas with his drumming. After all, when he lets loose he’s a total monster and one of my favorite drummers for it, whether he’s playing with Ash Reiter, The Blank Tapes, fpodbpod, or anyone else. For this performance, he got past his reservations and kept a light, tasteful beat with his snare, a tom and a shaker. Neither the neighbors, passersby, nor the dog that briefly interrupted our session, seemed to mind in the least.
Ash Reiter, “Heatwave”
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Buy some Ash Reiter music, why don’t ya!
- Paper Diamonds (2010) – the physical CD at Amazon
- Paper Diamonds (2010) – the digital album at iTunes
Hear even more from Ash:
Keep up with Ash Reiter at her Facebook profile too!