Ticonderoga, New York.
A snug little hamlet in the southeastern corner of Essex County, and home to roughly 5,000 people, including Nashville singer songwriter Ashley Sofia.
Sofia grew up surrounded by the lush forestry of the Adirondack Mountains, and it was here where her love for folk and Americana music would blossom, largely in part to her merchant marine father who played for her and with her growing up.
After her 2014 debut album, Love and Fury, Sofia was heralded as the “21st century reincarnation of the Laurel Canyon folk-rock sound.” Her highly anticipated sophomore album, Shades of Blue, is set for release September 6th, and she’s gearing up for a busy autumn.
Music Mecca: So you grew up in Ticonderoga, New York. What did you do for fun growing up, and who or what got you into music?
Ashley Sofia: For fun I spent a lot of time outside, because it’ the wilderness and that’s really all there is to do. I was heavily shaped by the landscape. Riding horses, hikes, fishing, and such. My dad’s a big outdoorsman, so we did a lot of that. My mom was really big in to antiques, so on weekends we did a lot of thrifting and antiquing. It got me into my love of buying second hand, and buying items with stories behind them. My dad was always playing guitar, and he was in a band, just a weekend warrior kind of thing. He’d play old Honky Tonk music, Americana, a lot of Neil Young, that kind of thing. I grew up singing harmonies with him, and loved what he was doing, and knew I wanted to be a part of that.
MM: You have your newest album Shades of Blue set for release September 6th. What are the influences and inspirations behind it?
AS: This record in particular is a little Van Morrison, John Denver, Emmylou Harris, Paul Simon, and those kinds of artists. It’s a melting pot of sounds and style references, mostly sixties and seventies folk rock. I’m a huge Joni Mitchell fan, though I don’t feel I can compare myself to her, she’s so brilliant. I listen to her a lot.
MM: How does Shades of Blue differ from your 2014 debut album Love and Fury?
AS: I think it’s almost a complete departure. Shades of Blue goes a little bit further, and it was a more deeper dive. I was really able to hone in on what I wanted to say, and who I wanted to be as an artist when I came to Nashville. I started taking meetings, meeting executives and people in the industry. There was a lot of pressure of what I want to stand for, and what I need to say on this record. You know, what do I want to do with this. Nashville gave me the opportunity to look closely at myself, and figure out what I want to say. Sometimes you find out exactly who you are by finding out who you aren’t.
MM: What do you think you’ll remember most about recording the album ten years from now?
AS: I think I’ll remember what a wild process it was. It took three years on and off, and I got really sick in the meantime. I was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases. I had to take a lengthy break where I moved home with my family, and I was not well. I was still pretty sick when I came back to Nashville to piece it all together. But that experience made me dive even deeper into the music, because it felt so important. And I thought okay what do I need to say, what do I need to get off my chest. It felt like something I might die trying to do, honestly.
MM: What has been one of your most defining or accomplished moments as an artist so far?
AS: I feel so lucky to have done so many things, even though I’m not anyone anybody would recognize on the street, but I’ve had some incredible yet simple moments. The most important ones were simple interactions, like letters I’d get in the mail, people telling me stories of how much my music has touched them. I found out I was a few people’s wedding songs, first dances, father daughter dances, but the one that touched me the most, was a woman who told me her and her husband would listen to my last album on repeat while driving to chemo and radiation every single day. Just knowing that I was able to be there during those parts of their life was such a tremendous honor. I’ve got a really great grassroots fan base and I’m so appreciative they let me be a part of their life.
MM: Do you have a particular atmosphere or pastime that aides in your songwriting process, or does it come sporadically?
AS: My songwriting is a pretty organic process. If I go too long without writing a song I start to get the itch. I’ll sit down with my guitar, and get playing. I also write alone. I write by myself, for myself. I’ll write for other people, but when I’m writing for an Ashley Sofia record, it’s only me. My songs are all true stories. Real things that have happened to me. Usually I’ll come up with chords that feel like something, and they’ll evoke an emotion or feeling, and I’ll start singing. The process feels like I’m tapping into something somewhere else. Almost as if the song has been written already, and I’m just like a conduit for it. That’s how the good ones come.
MM: Friends, family, or other musicians ask the best places to eat in town. Where do you send them?
AS: I really like Mas Tacos, I think that’s a great spot. I love Avo because the food is really fresh, and it’s great when you’re trying do plant-based or meatless Mondays. I also love Silo because it’s farm to table.
MM: Dream Scenario: If you could open for any artist, at any venue, who would it be and where?
AS: I would probably say Emmylou Harris. Maybe before her at the Newport Folk Fest. Or the Ryman or something….Red Rocks! There’s so many great ones.
MM: What is your ultimate goal as a folk singer/songwriter, and in five years, what do you hope to have achieved?
AS: My ultimate goal is to make people feel a little bit better. To make them remember, to help them forget. Whatever it is that they’re going through. I hope that my music in this record in particular is something they can put on and feel a little better about the world. Because that’s what the musicians who came before me did for me. They made music that I could put on while laying on my bedroom floor, hanging in my dorm room, driving my car, and just heal these parts of myself that I don’t think anything else could touch but music. If I can do that for even one person, that would be it for me.
MM: What advice would you give to young small town songwriters who want to pursue their dreams?
AS: I’m certainly not an expert on anything business or Nashville, but things I learned and wish I knew all along, were probably things like knowing yourself strongly before moving. What you stand for, who you are, what you’ll do, what you won’t do, what you’ll sound like, if you’re willing to change your sound, what is your sound, and also don’t underestimate the power of small interactions. I think so many people come to this town with really big dreams, which is amazing, but it’s important to find meaning and power in tiny, micro interactions that we have all the time with people. In my opinion that is a success. If you’re lucky enough to have people show up to your shows, and even buy your stuff, you are doing fine.
You can learn more about Ashley and her music on her website HERE.