Kassi Ashton doesn’t typically concern herself with such things, but she had a suspicion that her new song “Violins” might not go over well with Interscope, the pop half of her country-pop label deal.
“It’s very opposite what’s happening in pop right now,” says the Missouri native, who announced herself in 2017 with the brooding “California,” an outcast’s questioning look at small-town life, and followed it up with the viciously funny “Taxidermy.” “It reminds me more of punk, where as pop is really urban right now.”
Not that it’s exactly the Clash, either, with a strutting, four-on-the-floor beat and a funky acoustic guitar pattern that give way to Ashton’s no-nonsense Southern drawl and a barbed electric guitar melody. But it shares a little more in spirit with the style-hopping pop-punk of Gwen Stefani and No Doubt, who brought spiky attitude (and catchy as hell songs) to the charts when Ashton’s musical tastes were forming. It turns out, her label actually loved it.
“That’s what we get for trying to put an assumption or a label on something — you just never know,” she says.
How did “Violins” come together?
I was writing with Natalie Hemby and Luke Dick, two of the people who were on my last song, “Taxidermy.” They’re brilliant. I don’t know why, but like we do most days, we started talking about exes, horrific stories. I was talking about one in particular, like, “He was just so whiny. He really needed attention.” And Natalie said something like, “Oh, call the waaambulance.” And have you ever seen, my dad used to it all the time, where he’d put two fingers together like he’s playing the world’s smallest violin, and puts it up to his ears. I did that movement and rolled my eyes. Natalie goes, “I can’t hear the violins you’re playing!” We’re like, “Oh yeah, we should probably write that.” And Luke Dick always brings the funk. He’s a music mastermind. And Natalie brought the “Violins” and all the cool little aspects and I just had to bring the experience.
There’s a lot happening here — it has a danceable beat, but also some indie rock-sounding guitars, and even horns. What was your musical vision?
Luke actually started playing the thing you hear right off [hums opening riff]. It sounded upbeat enough, but also I pictured myself walking down a street, waving goodbye to whoever kept bothering me. I automatically got a picture in my head of like, I’m having a great day and I’m just gonna ignore you. It’s not, “I’m mad because you won’t leave me alone.” It’s like, “Hey I’ve got better stuff to do. I’m gonna dance and do my thing. Please stop whining in my ear.”
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At least to this point, you have these really intriguing song titles in “California,” “Taxidermy” and now “Violins.” They always hint at a deeper story. How important is that for getting people to pay attention?
It’s very important. Nowadays, where they say our attention span is like 1.2 seconds and we go on to the next thing, like the scrolling mentality. And playlists, which is what my music is on currently, is no different — just scroll, scroll, scroll. If I feel like I see a title I’ve heard before 300 times, and I don’t know the artist, I’m probably not gonna click on it. When “Taxidermy” was sent to me, I was intrigued by the title alone. I was like, for better or for worse, who would not stop and think, “What the hell is this?” Whether it was great, or whether they thought it was awful, at least they would stop. At least it is attention-getting. I think “Violins” is kind of the same. I can’t think of another song called “Violins.” There’s an emoji that’s violins. It all works out in my favor.
As far as country goes, you’re emerging at a moment when a lot of other women are carving out their own paths and disregarding the established model. What do you make of that phenomenon?
I tweeted yesterday how amazing it was, because I was noticing — it all popped up on my timeline at one time, of artists that I think are incredible that are women in country. You could see these little glass ceiling shattering things that they were doing and there’s no longer like, “You have to do this, you can’t do this, you have to do this. We’re like, “We tried to follow your rules” — well, not me, but others who came before me — “We tried to follow your rules and we still weren’t making Top 40, so now we’re just gonna do what we want anyway. So thank you for your instruction, but no thank you.” The girls are taking it into their own hands and saying, “Ok, this is what we love.” What’s great is, the response we’ve gotten from fans is, “I agree with you. I want you to do your thing.”