Ashley McBryde—covered in tattoos, with ringlet curls—is a postmodern country femme. Unvarnished, she writes songs that slice into the splintery real world where temptation, getting caught in the abyss of have-not and throwing your hands up in frustration and exhilaration are all part of living. That combination makes 2020’s Never Will, which includes the resolutely poignant “One Night Standards,” a thriving survivor’s country. It’s also earned this 21st century Loretta Lynn in denim and black leather a trifecta of Album of the Year nominations: Grammy, CMA and her first ACM Awards nod.

She’s a long way from putting out a couple of indie albums and being pulled onstage by Eric Church to sing “Bible and a .44.” Warner Nashville came calling, and 2018’s Girl Going Nowhere earned Best Country Album and Best New Artist Grammy nominations and claimed a pair of ACM Song of the Year nods for McBryde as writer and artist.

A woman who can write “I’m not gonna say I never do this/’Cause truth is lonely makes the heart ruthless” without flinching is a voice for times like these. Unapologetic, she not only gets on with living, she reminds the rest of us how much life there is to live if we get real about what we’re made of.

You have this sunny smile, but you write about cheating and killing people with real grit.
In my town, there were two things to make: babies or meth. I didn’t wanna make either, so... Once you leave the porch, you learn there’s no net, no “what is what.” I’m actually thankful for that. There were so many taboos. People like me went out, and we found there’s a lot of terrible and awful and wonderful, and they aren’t that far apart.

You’re also authentic as fuck.
I’m from the Ozarks. I started carrying a pistol at six or seven years old. We were raised to be resourceful and take care of ourselves. We raised our own cattle, ate them and venison. Being the youngest of six, you have to be louder or they forget to feed you; you have to be an avid entertainer to make them notice you.

Seven years ago, I was in a bar in Little Rock. People were telling me, “We have our bad girl in Miranda Lambert; that slot’s filled.” It hones you.

Your sound is very stripped down, but the energy is so rock.
To play rock ’n’ roll, you need the PhD: Poor, hungry and desperate. I’ve always been broke, trying to play music in bars since I was 18. I left home at 17, so you know how that works. It’s what I am, and even now, with some measure of success, I’m still PhD.

Your harmonies and the ways your melodies modulate pull a lot from bluegrass.
A lot from bluegrass. Bluegrass has to include a child out of wedlock, sex out of wedlock or a murder. So that was a nice way to pay homage to country music, whether the pop side or the rock side, because when you come from bluegrass, it’s that England/Scotland/Ireland/Wales thing that binds it all.

You have no problem with sex.
I don’t have shame about it. Sometimes you need a gap filler; there’ve been people who’ve been there for me, and I’ve hooked up with people. When we started writing “One Night Standards,” it was about an airport, then an airport hotel, a place you don’t spend much time in. There’s only one night for a reason.

It’s universal.
Love and sex happens across all boundaries. Love and attraction don’t know social class or money. Money doesn’t make either very good.

There’s a lot more to you than people think.
Maybe it’s because I don’t show all my tools. I grew up listening to Beethoven, Vivaldi, Karen Carpenter, Johnny Cash, Don Williams, Kris Kristofferson and above all else, John Denver. But there was a lot of church music and...

Having Jay Joyce as a producer, yeah. He was in Iodine, for fuck’s sake. He’s gonna push the song to where it needs to be. We arranged these songs in real time and tried to record it all live. 

That’s rock ’n’ roll too.
Our attitude was, if it sounds rock ’n’ roll, lean into that; if it sounds bluegrass, lean there. We trust the songs. We know the song is gonna hold its hand up and sound like it’s supposed to—like a band in a bar. Our goal was to take a nice snapshot of where I was as a writer and with the band.

You write about tough things without judgment, embrace our cracks and...
The way I feel about good and evil, about “judgment” with the big “j” and the little “j,” is that it’s not our job. I grew up with a lot of Christian judgment, a lot of taboos, later realizing everybody cheats and everybody lies. I developed into a person who decided it wasn’t my place to judge.

Deal with life as it is, as it comes. Try to be kind all the time, and if you can’t, break their nose. 

Our favorite cartoon character is back on our minds. (8/4a)
The planets are aligning. (8/4a)
Rapino makes change for a quarter. (8/4a)
Billie's back...on her own terms. (8/4a)
It's high time for Justice in the Academy. (8/4a)
From tender shoots to mighty oaks.
Let's do the numbers.
It is not the name of a Henry Miller novel.
Could be. Dunno.

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