A Forever Journey
Tell us about yourself as a musician in terms of your interests and style of performance?
I’m interested in every element of music – the main thing would be composition. That’s taken my interest so much more now, mainly because it’s given me the chance to synthesise everything that I’ve learnt in music until this point. Style-wise, I’d have to say it’s an amalgamation of fusion, gospel, jazz, hip hop and soul.
Which three words would you use to capture your musical self?
It’s hard to say without giving myself too much praise, but I’d probably say ambitious, dedicated and focused because I just have an unquenchable drive at the moment, to create and be passionate with everything.
What was your first instrument?
My first instrument was keyboard. I can play a little bass and drums, but keyboard was the first thing. A little bit of a back story to that was that my parents bought me a little toy, so I’d always be pressing the demos on it and the songs I liked the most were the piano tracks. My parents invested in me taking lessons, I started playing the keyboard when I was eight and the rest is history really.
Did you always have a keyboard teacher from the beginning of that journey?
Yes, my first teacher was my dad! My dad is quite a well-know musician in the Birmingham music scene so he taught me from the age of eight to thirteen, then I had another two teachers and another at University. I got into music because of my dad and my brother who was somewhat of a virtuoso when he was young. He had his grade 7 when he was about thirteen. Just being around him when he was touring in a young band with the church, I wanted to be just like him. Being around all of that, at all the venues, all the performances that my brother was doing, it was just in the making for me to transition into doing something in music myself too.
Huge congratulations on the release of your first album. You had an EP before, right? So how did you transition from the EP to the album?
Yes I did, in 2017. It was a natural transition in many ways. The only thing I wanted to do with the album really was to make it more prolific and to have the control of the album in my own hands as much as possible. With the EP I had someone else produce a lot of it for me. With the album I’ve done all the editing myself, literally at home just editing everything.
One of the many thoughts behind it was trying to take it to the next level and trying to get everything that’s in here (taps head) on the screen and into sound as much possible. That’s a forever journey, but it’s something I wanted to try and get out through the album.
From the arranging perspective I hear orchestration, I hear harmony, I hear so much, and it’s really just equipping myself with the tools to be able to do it. Certain harmonies and different instruments that I can’t play yet, I can tell people what I want, I might be able to spell it out for them, but there’s certain emotions that I would hear in my mind that might be difficult to be able to translate and get out. Music is a forever process of learning and the more you learn the more you’re able to dig deep into the ideas and get the ideas that do you have, out.
How have we gone from EP to album, to being signed?
It’s a mad journey to be fair! The first process was ‘can I actually do this’? Realising I could do it and then getting the affirmation [from the label] that “hey you’re actually good at this, we want to promote you further and push you”. The first thing I did was step into the role of a composer and create my own music, which is something I hadn’t done before. I’d done tours for different people but I wanted to firstly prove to myself that I could do it.
Before releasing the album I released a single, The Question and that single did quite well in terms of the radio. It got round to lots of different places abroad and because of that someone actually reached out to me and said “we’re really interested in your sound, we’re really interested in your music and we’d love to have you join the label”.
Everything that they’re offering in terms of promotion that I’m not able to do myself, they’re able to do, which is amazing. They’ve got representatives here, radio markets here in the UK, and a lot of markets in Italy, so that’s the next place for me to branch out more, internationally.
What has been your driving force in getting to where you are as an artist today?
For me, it’s trying to prove to myself that I’m actually capable. I’ve been a successful composer and I’m capable of being a successful artist, because as a new musician you start off with so many doubts when you’re coming up. Those doubts tend to go down when you get more experience and your technique grows. It’s just a journey of realising your potential and now I’m at that stage where what spurs me on the most is thinking can I actually be a household name? Can I really make music that inspires and touches people?
All that counts is just my family, my wife, obviously my child and my parents as well.
You were selected as one of four artists in Jamie Cullum’s Recommends Series for 2020. How has that process elevated your musical journey and your profile?
Straight away, there were some quite well-known industry names that reached out to me to say well done when they saw it on Instagram. People have been asking me to do solo gigs. As soon as the pandemic finishes there’s certain festivals that I got because of the Recommends Series, that have been rescheduled to this year. It’s raised my value as an artist and sparked a lot of interest which is cool, because we all need that, we need people to be interested and I guess having a name like Jamie Cullum behind you supporting you, that certainly makes other people realise, well this guy must be quite serious at his craft. Aside from that, it also causes people to go and listen to your music and check it out, which is cool.
Is it something that you were selected for, shortlisted for or applied for? How did that happen?
I was selected and shortlisted via Jazzlines and they’ve supported me tremendously. Since I decided to get my own band together and push myself forward for the EP, they’ve just been so tremendous. They genuinely care about you and your artistry and they just give you that space and the time to do what you need to do.
You talk about your faith on your album. What role has that played in your musical journey?
I guess the way it plays for me more specifically would be just trying to promote the gospel, but the specific gospel of love and unity.
How has the pandemic affected you personally and as an artist?
The first thing was just trying to be more optimistic because it did affect my levels of optimism. You’re looking at the music scene and you just don’t see any way that you can gig at all. Everything’s shut down and you don’t know when it’s going to come again and that does affect how optimistic you feel about the scene and moving forward. But at the same time, it’s given me the fantastic opportunity to hone the skills of producing because that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
I bought lots of equipment to produce, when [the pandemic] started and my album was already recorded but it was very messy. Having my sequencers, I was able to spend a lot of time refining everything, literally playing parts again myself - just the whole process of cutting and editing. I had a very I guess, enjoyable time really - I feel a bit guilty to say that – but it was enjoyable being able to focus on that side of music.
If you had to name only three desert island discs, what would they be?
Stevie Wonder’s Inner Visions, D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar, and Robert Glasper’s Black Radio.
What role has music education played in your musical journey?
Education has given me the tools to understand exactly what it is that I’m doing and it’s also giving back to younger students and other people, because I’ve had some amazing music teachers in my time and inspirational role [models]. People able to see the potential in me and give me the chance to realise the potential in myself. That makes me want to do it for other young people as well.
I had a teacher called Mr Francis, a wonderful guy. He really appreciated my abilities. When I was in year seven and year eight I was more into doing the talent shows, but when I got to year nine, ten and eleven I thought I was too cool. Mr Francis was always that teacher that would say “look I know you think you’re cool, but you need to be doing music, you need to be doing talent shows, you need to be doing all of that”, and maybe to him at that time he probably thought I wasn’t really listening, but I was. I guess what I really got from that was ‘there’s a teacher that actually believes in my ability’ because to be honest, there was nothing else in school that really made me feel worthwhile in terms of the system, so I found that in the music department. You can imagine being a 14 or 15 year old, having a teacher actually appreciate your abilities when you’re not hearing it from anyone else, made you feel really confident. So I thank him tremendously. I think he’s moved to the States now. If I could get in contact with him I would.
How would you advise a young musician who wanted to perform?
First thing’s first. Practice practice practice. That’s what I’d say. You have to practice. You know, you can’t escape that. There are a lot of people who talk the talk, that I’ve met but their skill doesn’t quite live up to what they say. You have to put the hours in as much as you can. Most importantly just try and be a good person. Try and be humble because that will get you into so many circles. As much as people think it’s ability and who you know, that’s important, but mostly in the scene, people want to be around others that are good, down to earth and humble. So I’d say practice, work on your character, work on being a good person and work on being humble.
If you would like to get in touch with Ashley for any of the following services, you can contact
him via his social media Instagram @ashleyallenmusic_
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