Interview: Ashley McBryde Goes Full Force on New Album ‘Never Will’
When Ashley McBryde went into the studio to record her second major-label album, she was ready to take a different approach. The country star spent only two days recording her breakthrough record, 2018's Girl Going Nowhere; this time around, she had two weeks to create a the set of songs that would mark the start of her career's next chapter.
For her latest record, Never Will, out Friday (April 3), McBryde once again recruited award-winning producer Jay Joyce to take the wheel and steer her and her band into a new, rapidfire-style creative process. The two worked together on Girl Going Nowhere, and Joyce also produced Miranda Lambert's recent LP Wildcard.
"It was the absolute best decision we made for the entire record," McBryde tells The Boot of putting Joyce at the helm.
"We would go in, decide what songs we were going to cut, we'd run it, like, three times, and then we would move to the next song," she adds. Joyce's choice to keep McBryde and her band moving forward instead of spending too much time on tiny details brought a looser feel to the recording process, the singer shares.
"He did that and allowed us to not overthink, because that's what would have happened if we had listened back every day to every song we did," McBryde says. "We would've sought perfection instead of honesty, and that is the wrong thing to do."
Still, Joyce wasn't afraid to go the extra mile to get the most out of McBryde and her bandmates -- even if it rocked the boat.
"If Jay Joyce chooses to piss you off, all he's doing is challenging you and giving you permission to be better than you think you are," McBryde says. "I have seen him take my guys in my band and stretch them in a direction that makes them uncomfortable. Before you know it, he has unlocked a tool inside them that they didn't even realize they had, and it was there the whole time."
Never Will finds McBryde at her strongest so far, with all of the elements fans fell for on her major-label debut on a new level. Her vocals shine on each track, whether it's the murder ballad "Martha Divine" or the open and honest "One Night Standards."
There's something for everyone on Never Will, but each track nonetheless manages to fit together like pages in a book. Songs such as the traditional, bluegrass-inspired "First Thing I Reach For" compliment the funky, edgy sound of "Voodoo Doll."
"It's one of our favorite songs to do live," McBryde says of the former track, joking. "That song is so country you would have to drive toward town to go hunting."
"Jay Joyce allowed us to not overthink ... We would've sought perfection instead of honesty, and that is the wrong thing to do."
Honesty is the key element of all of McBryde's songs, and what makes her performances so engaging. That's never more apparent than on the moving track "Stone," which was inspired by the singer's late brother Clay, who died by suicide in 2018. McBryde teamed up with friend and frequent collaborator Nicolette Hayford, who also lost a brother, to try and approach the topic for a song.
"I was very, very, very angry when I approached her about writing about my brother, and she kept saying, 'You're just too mad,'" McBryde recounts. The pair decided to take a step back from writing and went outside to take a smoke break -- and then, something unexpected happened.
"She said something that made me laugh. I cackled, but when I did that laugh, it sounded like my brother," McBryde recalls. "My eyes got wide and I said, 'Oh my God. I laughed like Clay.'
"She got this little grin on her face and she said, 'I know why you're angry: You're angry because you're hurt, and you're hurt because you didn't even bother to learn how much you guys were alike until he was gone,'" McBryde continues.
That moment became a turning point for McBryde, giving her a new perspective on her connection with her brother: "Instead of me just being pissed off that I no longer have my brother, I celebrated things like the fact when I get angry, I turn the same exact shade of red," she explains, and the result is a poignant and bittersweet look at their relationship and how it changed after his death.
"That song is not on the record to make anybody hurt," McBryde says. "But it's there in case you're hurt."
The title track of Never Will, meanwhile, is a natural evolution from the defiant "Girl Goin' Nowhere." The new song acts as a figurative planted flag while McBryde claims her territory in the genre.
""Girl Goin' Nowhere," it was kind of a very polite middle finger," McBryde admits with a laugh. ""Never Will" makes no apologies. [It says], 'This is where my middle finger is, and I will point it at anyone for any reason if they deserve it.'"
Before deciding to add the song to her album's final tracklist, McBryde made sure to draw a line in the sand for her bandmates. "I told the boys before we cut this and put it on our record, 'You're making a promise to me, to each other and to anyone we ever sing this to that we don't read the comments. We don't listen to the bulls--t.'
"We didn't. We don't," she adds. "And we never will."
Although some of McBryde's recent tour dates have been rescheduled because of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, she is still set to join Luke Combs on his headlining 2020 What You See Is What You Get Tour. when it resumes. Until she gets back on the road, McBryde has been interacting with fans through a series of lighthearted livestreams, during which she regularly cracks jokes and has even performed in a dinosaur onesie. The singer says her choice to embrace her silly side was an intentional one, meant to help keep her fans smiling through troubling times.
"It's very hard to release a record when you can't tour, but that's actually not the most important thing right now," McBryde says. "The most important thing right now is to keep our minds active and keep our spirits high."
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