Northeastern folk duo Ash & Eric have established a reputation for their beautiful and delicate harmonies within their music, and their new single “Autumn Hymn,” is no exception.
The duo got their start under the name, The Promise is Hope, in 2014, and got engaged at the end of their very first show (how precious), in front of friends because they, “didn’t have fans yet.” While still going by the original name, the duo released two albums: Where We’ve Been & Where We’re Going (2015) and Every Seed Must Die (2018).
This past Fall, the duo officially changed their name to Ash & Eric, with the intention to “…meet listeners in a space, face to face as themselves.” The change wasn’t a restart for the group, but more of a rebrand so they could present as they have always felt- themselves.
2022 is set to be a big year for the group, with their delicate new single “Autumn Hymn” dropping today February 18th, and a hauntingly beautiful music video set for release March 1st. The duo also has their third full length album as well as a visual album set for release this year.
We got to ask Ash & Eric some questions about the new single, the vision behind the music video, and much more.
So what’s the origin story of the musical project that is Ash & Eric?
Ash: We met around 2012. We both went to a church here in Worcester, Massachusetts, where we helped out with their music program. We had a friend who played cover gigs in our area, and he was sick and needed a substitute one night. He asked Eric to play, but Eric didn’t think he could fill 3 hours of music. He asked me if I’d join him. We got together to practice and – it’s cliche, but it’s true – sparks flew immediately. Our musical chemistry was palpable, like we’d been singing together forever. Obviously the personal chemistry was pretty serious, too. We got married in 2014. We played a lot of cover gigs, but eventually recorded our original songs and toured as “The Promise is Hope” the year after we got married.
Eric: We released 2 albums and toured as “The Promise is Hope” until 2020. The band name was a reflection of our beginnings. It also pays homage to our last name, “L’Esperance”, which means “hope”. We were so in love and so full of hope. Ash had convinced me to quit my day job and become a musician, and we were just swimming in idealism about our future as a band and a couple. Then, our first year of marriage hit us like a ton of bricks. I had a near-drowning accident, my family had a number of tragic deaths, our church fell apart, our community of friends crumbled. All of the stories are too long to get into here, but it was a rough time. We released “Every Seed Must Die”, our second album, in 2018, which held a lot of that grief. We didn’t necessarily lose “hope” – well, maybe at times – but we had toyed with the idea of changing our band name at that point. After going through the wringer, we just weren’t the same bright-eyed idealists we were in 2014.
Ash: Then, COVID hit. We had some time on our hands. We thought about quitting all together, honestly. Then we rallied. Then we’d want to quit again. Up & down; I think most musicians had that experience in 2020. What is my career if there’s no career to have? Anyway, we made it through thanks to the incredibly generous support of our fans, but we were absolutely not the same band we were pre-pandemic. We were so much more “us”, if that makes sense. Stripped back to the bare essentials. Off the hamster wheel. We still hold hope in our hearts, but we don’t want to promise anybody anything anymore. So, we are just us now. Ash & Eric. If we help you find hope, great. If not, that’s okay. Maybe hope is less of a promise and more of a choice.
So you just dropped your new single, “Autumn Hymn.” What’s the backstory and inspiration behind it?
Ash: Eric wrote it so I’ll let him take the lead.
Eric: My parents took us to a Simon & Garfunkel tribute concert, and I was really struck by “Kathy’s Song”. I was inspired by the way Paul Simon uses natural imagery to explore his internal world, and I love the finger-picking. I tried to emulate the song by first writing about the wind and turning it into a character. Why is the voice of the wind so sad? I realized quickly I was projecting my own sadness onto the wind with that anthropomorphization, but I loved the imagery. Over the past few years, I’ve realized that the stories that I was given and inherited no longer work to help give meaning to my life. I need a new story. One that I can situate myself that also takes into account a bigger world; one that includes failure, death, and pain. Where good people don’t always have to win, and that’s okay. Good isn’t 100% good and bad isn’t 100% bad. A more nuanced story. Nature lives within that nuance. It’s not asking a million questions, or making up systems to make sense of the world. It just is. That’s really beautiful to me.
Is there something about this song specifically that led you to choose it as a lead single?
Ash: Well, to be perfectly honest, we have been producing the videos alongside the songs, and we knew the video for this single was going to be really special. So, we wanted to drop it first. Alas – our first single was decided. But I do think this particular song gives our listeners a good idea of what to expect from us on this album. It is incredibly thoughtful and the production is richer than our last record, so it sets the stage for the new music.
Eric: I’m really proud of the production on this song. I arranged the instruments as characters moving through the story. The flute is the ethereal wind, the dove is the trumpet, the harsh percussion represents the violence of the wolf, the uncaring nature of life sometimes. It’s not your typical single – it’s a long song without a chorus – but I think it showcases how far we’ve come as musicians and how rich this album will be.
The music video is almost like a mini-movie; it immediately reels you in with its artsy, borderline spooky feel, and of course the beautiful ending. Can you tell us a bit about the vision behind the music video and how it connects to the song?
Ash: Our incredible videographer, Ben Trussell, actually dreamed up this video. I’m not saying that metaphorically – he had a dream where our heads were all wrapped up. He was also heavily inspired by his favorite painting, René Magritte’s “The Lovers”. The kissing couple is shrouded in cloth, indicating a distance or barrier to true intimacy. The scenes where the characters are surrounded by trees, and finally, flowers, is an homage to iconographic art of saints. It represents the sacred nature of human life and of our relationship to one another.
Eric: The video was inspired by that painting, and we don’t really know who these characters are. They are masked and isolated in the beginning. I think the song and the video are both about accepting life on its own terms, instead of putting on masks and trying to force something. Our systems tell us what rules to follow, but why are these characters going through all these motions? They are caught in somebody else’s story, and the masks represent that lack of honesty and intimacy. They need a better story. And it starts with them taking off their masks and letting each other see who they really are. In the song, that’s what the dove does. It sings, it doesn’t give any answers. It just sings a song. It acknowledges the questions that we have, and also that there really aren’t satisfying answers for everything, and that’s okay.
Also, I see you have a visual album, A Song For Every Sadness, and a regular album, Sure, dropping this year. What can you tell us about these and what can fans expect?
Eric: Sonically, the album draws inspiration from the 60s-70s folk singer-songwriters. I don’t want to call it bluegrass… but the slide guitar and some of the ways that I approach my guitar-playing borrow heavily from bluegrass players. The vocal production itself is kind of pop inspired, with more reverb. So there’s a blending of both genres and time periods. It’s a blend of old and new. Our lyrics and voices are definitely the features, but I approached arranging the other instruments like they were characters in a story. The music itself is more playful and interesting than our previous releases.
Ash: Lyrically, it’s a very thoughtful album. We’re exploring our childhood stuff, our losses, our career, and the security of being married now for almost 8 years. It’s a very reflective 30-something album. The film was my idea, after watching Beyonce’s Lemonade for the hundredth time. I just wondered if we’d be able to do something like that. It was a bit of a stretch, but our amazing fans Kickstarted it and our videographer is knocking it out of the park. The film will be a few bits of our story, over songs from the album. Eric’s near-drowning accident, a story from my childhood home, some midnight finger-puppets in our apartment. It’s the story of where we came from, where we find ourselves now, and what we hope our future will be. I don’t think our fans are going to see this coming, and we are beyond excited for everyone to see the whole film. It’s probably the most beautiful thing we’ve ever made, and we owe every ounce of gratitude to our videographer for making that crazy dream a reality.
What messages or feelings do you hope listeners take away from these upcoming releases?
Eric: For me, I always hope our listeners come away from our music thinking, “Yes! I’ve been feeling that way, but I just didn’t know how to put it into words”. We want to put our honest experiences into words and sound, and let people live their own truths through our art. As the producer on the record, I wanted each song to be a really beautiful space for folks to occupy for a time. A space that’s warm and inviting, but evokes a lot of emotion. Overall, I want this album to be a refuge.
How does the songwriting process work between the two of you?
Ash: We write separately. We share absolutely everything else in life; we tour together, we live together, we work together. But, for some reason, we can’t write together. I’m really private about my writing, very sensitive to any editing or commenting on my early drafts, so we just write alone. We’ve tried writing together, but it’s really tense. When songs are 90% fleshed out, we’ll bring them to each other for final touches. We add the harmonies and figure out how the two guitars will work together.
Eric: Then, I produce them when they’re ready for the studio. These days, Ash is doing most of the writing, and I’m doing most of the recording & producing, so we’re finding a great rhythm with that.
What is the most memorable show or tour you’ve performed and why?
Eric: The first time we headlined Club Passim in Cambridge, MA was really amazing. That had been a huge career goal for us, and we filled the room to the brim. We stood on the same stage Joni Mitchell, Dylan and Tracy Chapman had been on, and it was historic and heavy and we played really well that night.
Ash: What about that show in Accident, Maryland? On our very first tour, we got paid $300 I think to drive to the absolute middle of nowhere – I think it was near the border of West Virginia, totally in the mountains – and play for nobody. It was a brunch gig at a cafe in the off-season, and we literally played 3 hours for the sound guy. He offered to pay us double to play another hour. We said no, but we’d play longer for a free place to stay. They put us up in an empty model house. There were no beds, no furniture. I really thought that was it. We had a good run, got murdered on our first tour! We made it, luckily, but that was my most memorable experience. Not quite as awesome as Club Passim, but still a great story.
What goals – either musically or otherwise – do you have for 2022?
Ash: I want to write as much as possible. Typically, during the album-release cycle, I end up really exhausted by all the work. Crowdfunding, releasing, doing press, touring. It’s a ton of fun, but it’s definitely a lot of work. I forget to write, probably because (subconsciously) I’m afraid to have to start over with another record! Then it ends up being a few years in between records, and we want to start releasing them faster than we have in the past. So, I’m writing every single day. That’s a new habit for me, but I’m enjoying it a lot. We are hoping to be ready to record again by this summer.
Eric: I’m looking forward to growing as an engineer and a producer. I’m taking a few projects this year that I’m excited about and hoping to give a couple bands some really awesome records. Like Ash said, hopefully we’ll also be recording another one of our own sooner rather than later. We’re also both really excited to get back on the road.
And can fans catch the two of you on tour this year?
Ash: Look at that segue. Yes! We’re scooting around New England this winter promoting the singles & music videos, then in May, we’ll be touring the new album from Boston, NYC, Richmond, North & South Carolina, Nashville & Knoxville. We can’t wait.
Tour Dates & Performances
2/17 – Livestream (Anxiety Relief XXXVII // Autumn Hymn)
2/19 – West Hartford, CT @ The Sounding Board (opening for Mark Erelli)
3/05 – Southbury, CT (House Concert)
3/08 – Woodbury, CT @ Woodbury Brewing Co (w/ Frank Viele)
3/22 – Livestream (Music My Mother Would Not Like)
3/25 – Fairfield, CT @ StageOne (opening for Livingston Taylor)
4/22 – New London, CT @ All Souls (Friday Night Folk)
5/04 – Newmarket, NH @ Stone Church (Dead Archer Presents)
5/08 – Cambridge, MA @ Club Passim (Record Release show)
5/09 – New York, NY @ Bowery Electric (Map Room)
5/12 – Richmond, VA @ Tin Pan
5/13 – Aberdeen, NC @ The Neon Rooster
5/14 – Bluffton, SC @ Roasting Room
5/18-21 – Kansas City, MO @ Folk Alliance
5/26 – Knoxville, TN @ WDVX Radio (Blue Plate Special) [12pm EST]
5/27 – Asheville, NC @ Isis Music Hall (Lounge)
6/11 – Rockport, MA @ Old Sloop Coffeehouse (opening for Antje Duvekot)