Photo | Submitted
Coffeeville native Ashton Shepherd is working on her fifth studio album. She’ll open for Lee Ann Womack Sept. 19 at The Steeple.
Band: Lee Ann Womack, Ashton Shepherd
Date: Wednesday, Sept. 19, with doors at 6:30 p.m.
Venue: The Steeple, 251 St. Francis St., www.thesteeplemobile.com
Tickets: $28-$45, available through venue website
Before Lee Ann Womack takes the stage at The Steeple Sept. 19, singer-songwriter and Coffeeville native Ashton Shepherd will set the mood.
Since an early age, Shepherd has made country music her passion. MCA Nashville signed her after falling in love with her poignant songs and sugary delivery shaped by classic country. After she and the label parted ways, Shepherd created the indie label Pickin’ Shed Records.
As Tropical Storm Gordon began to roll past the Azalea City last week, Lagniappe caught up with Shepherd to discuss life and her upcoming album.
Stephen Centanni: From balancing career and motherhood to parting ways with MCA Nashville to starting your own label, your career path has been filled with challenges, but you’ve managed to stay focused and continue bringing your music to the people. When you get onstage these days and see all of those fans, what do you think about all has happened over the past decade?
Ashton Shepherd: For me, I think my primary focus that has grown to be more special when I step onstage is the true, loyal involvement of my fans. If they aren’t already my fans, then it’s an involvement that spreads in a good way. It lifts my spirits. It keeps me growing what I do in the challenging country music involvement. It’s ever-changing, there’s always something new happening [in country music]. Entertaining the fans keeps me passionate.
Centanni: You made the shift from a major label into the indie world back when it was still rare in the country music world. What was it like making that shift?
Shepherd: This may sound like a little bit of a strange answer, but I like to be as honest as I can. I can teach my fans and teach anyone that’s learning about me now that it was literally like going back to school or college inside an industry that I hadn’t taken on entirely by myself. I had such a large team doing it for me through Universal. They connected the dots with the manager and the booking agents and business management and different publicists inside the label.
The good news is that I paid attention to all of it through my career, but I never had to hands-on do it. That was a big transition for me. It was learning, but the good news is the good Lord blessed me to want to learn and have ambition, because it takes a lot of it. I had to learn it on my own. I had to learn how to distribute my records and how to get them on iTunes and even something as simple as creating a flyer. I had to learn every little piece of what I do.
Centanni: You’re one of the few artists that run their own social media. What benefits have you seen to running it yourself?
Shepherd: The fact that how much the fans appreciate it. I don’t even know if the benefit in that is their loyalty to me and being interchangeable to my loyalty to them. They know I’m going to be the one to answer them or respond, and I’m reading their comments.
I can see where some artists can see themselves as being too busy that they don’t feel like that’s part of their job. They want to put their efforts to choreographing a show or something. I feel like putting it towards my fans is number one.
I still don’t think that I’ve found my niche to grow organically like I want it to, but it allows me to connect on a personal level. I think that’s more sellable. It’s like taking a product with a guaranteed sell to a thousand people as opposed to pitching to ten thousand people, and you don’t even know if a thousand are going to buy it. I can almost pitch to a certain Ashton Shepherd crew of people, and it makes it very special interaction.
Centanni: The Pickin’ Shed is the name of your label. It’s also the name of a part of your house where you write your songs. What’s it like putting together a song in The Pickin’ Shed?
Shepherd: I feel like the environment makes it a little more laid back and special to write there. I always feel like I have this mindset that I get in as a writer. It’s like painting a box around yourself when you start to write. It’s automatic. When I write there, it’s extra special. It’s like home to me. It’s been such a part of starting out playing music. It’s a close-to-home thing. It makes it more special to write there. I think writing is always special, but it makes it a big plus to write there.
Centanni: I mentioned your social media earlier. I was checking out your Facebook and got the impression that there may be some new music in the works from you. Was I reading into that right?
Shepherd: You were, and that makes me feel great that you picked up on that and thank the Lord for it. I don’t have a marketing degree and have never been to college. I homeschooled the last two years of high school and got my diploma. It’s really neat to be able to tease something in an underneath fashion of marketing and promotion, and someone like yourself be able to tell that Ashton is brewing something else.
I like the fact that fans can tell that. When I announce it, everybody’s brain connects the dots at the same time. I absolutely am. I’m really excited. Like this last past week with this show I did in Ponce De Leon, I’ve been trying out some very new music on my audiences, but I’ve also been pulling a handful of special songs that I love that I’ve written over the past couple of years. A lot of artists take a couple of years in between albums to write.
A song written two or three years ago isn’t really considered old. I’ve got a good, probably 15-20 songs that I’m focusing on. I’ve been going through and picking out what really resonates the best. I want to go in and cut four or five of them and pick something for a single. I’m going all in with it.
I’m super hopeful too. I don’t know if it means another major deal or that I’ll grow extra legs in the independent market. I know it means something special, and I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me about it and express to my fans that Ashton hasn’t gone anywhere.
Centanni: When are you getting into the studio?
Shepherd: I don’t know about you, but I’m sitting here wondering where August went! It don’t seem like two days ago that I was getting the children’s stuff to go back to school. I’m in September all of a sudden. I’ve got a photoshoot in Nashville this weekend. We’re going to get that accomplished. That will be our first piece for promotion for the new album.
We’re looking at cutting three or four songs by the end of September, and we’ll have new imaging and promotion to go along with it. I know we’re in a different market, and everybody wants to put out singles. I know my audience, and I feel like it would disappoint people to not have a good amount of Ashton material. I realize that people aren’t buying music like they used to, but I want them to hear it. I’m that passionate about my music. My goal is to get those four or five recorded and maybe end up recording a full record before the end of September.
By the end of October, I want 10 or 11 songs recorded. I might even do a back-to-back, special release album if people want a physical album or release it to iTunes for a little while. It would be the work tapes of the material that I wrote, so they can hear both. They can see what it was like when Ashton wrote it and after it was produced.