Ashley Ray

Ashley Ray
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Ashley Ray grew up outside Lawrence, Kansas, on a farm so remote the options for getting in trouble were pretty limited. "I couldn't sneak out," she laughs. "My parents would hear me drive away. I was in the country." So when the elementary school sent home a notice about guitar lessons, it seemed like a decent diversion from back-roads life, and Ashley showed up at her first lesson with a "$50 cheap guitar from a pawn shop," determined to learn. "I honestly don't know what made me want to do it," she says. "No one else in my family plays an instrument. But my mom tells me I used to sit by the stereo when I was 3, and put my head up against the speaker. Music was always on in our house. It was everything." Ashley's folks might not be musicians themselves, but they are every day blue collar heroes. Mom's a UPS driver--"She's done everything from working the counter to driving those big ol' brown trucks. She's about 5'5" and 115 pounds soakin' wet, yet she's the strongest woman that I'll ever know," says Ashley--and her father, who passed away in the fall of 2006, was a construction worker. "He built everything he had from the ground up, from houses and car engines to what he wanted most in life: a beautiful and very loving family." What they both built in Ashley was a strong Heartland work ethic -- and then they gave her a set of early influences that's hard to beat: "My parents loved Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, Keith Whitley, James Taylor. And we knew it was Saturday morning cleaning day when Reba was on." But it was a Patty Loveless album, When Fallen Angels Fly, that made Ashley want to be a singer. "I loved every song," she says. "I wish I'd made that album." She'd started writing by the time she was 10, trying her hand at fragments of poetry that never quite became a whole song. For a while, she was so shy she'd only sing while facing the wall. In high school, she'd ditch the parties after football games to coop up in her room and practice. She played talent shows, sang in choir, sat in with bands made up of men twice her age. No one was shocked when, after graduating high school, Ashley left everything behind and moved to Nashville. The first person in her family to strike out on her own, she enrolled in Belmont University to earn a business degree and help ease the transition--but she had no intention of giving herself something to fall back on. "The point of school was to come here and meet people." Today, Ashley's musical influences extend past the classics of her past to powerful singer-songwriters like Patty Griffin and Lori McKenna. "I'm a fan of artists, not huge sing-from-your-belly singers," Ashley explains. And you wanna talk career goals? Try this: "In my wildest dreams I would write one with Dolly Parton, jam with the Dixie Chicks, sing one with Lee Ann Womack, drink one with Bob Seger, and roll one with Willie." She's well on her way. The formerly bashful Kansas girl has already shared a stage with massive acts like Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert and Cross Canadian Ragweed, in addition to a 40-city jaunt with Eric Church, firing up audiences with a voice as unexpected as spiked sweet tea. And though her tunes may feature a lot of what she calls "cussin' and drinkin'," Ashley's heart runs much deeper. Leaving home, fighting through the circus of Nashville and coping with the loss of a parent--this is no wilting prairie flower. The chick's a steel magnolia if there ever was one. "My songs are about strength," she says. "Like everybody else, I've been through some hard times and had my heart broken a few times, but music is what helped me pick myself back up and just get through it. I hope that my music will do the same for other people." So don't be surprised if, every now and again, Ashley writes about something that pretty little girls aren't supposed to. In a genre where men can do all the sinnin' they want, there's still a taboo against women revealing their flaws--and that's something Ashley's determined to fight. "The double standard sucks," she admits. "Because I write real songs, about real things that I've done. It's music. It's therapy. You put the truth into a song, and I guarantee somebody around the world's gonna relate to it, whether it's ten people or ten thousand." In other words: Don't be shocked, country fans. Get excited. Some serious therapy is coming your way, from a girl who's faced her share of challenges but never backed down from a single one. "I write because I need to get it out," Ashley concludes, with the confidence of someone who knows her typical journey is about to have a very atypical ending. "If I were really wanting to make money and live in a big ol' fancy house, I would have gone to medical school or something. But music is what I have to do. It's air to me. There's no backup plan."
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