If you’ve seen Ashley Heath live in the Upstate before, whether it was a Fall For Greenville or Smiley’s Acoustic Café or Gottrocks, you might not be ready for how hard her Thursday night show at Radio Room is going to rock. And that’s because, in the past, Heath, a previous winner of the Journal’s Regional Artist Of The Year award, played either solo acoustic or as part of a stripped-down duo in her previous performances. This time, she’s bringing some Heathens with her.
The Heathens in question would be her band, a the four-piece outfit that backs Heath on her latest EP, 2018’s Where Hope Never Dies. On that release’s five songs, the band plays bluesy, groove-heavy rock behind Heath’s own propulsive rhythm guitar and her soaring cry of a voice, lending some serious muscle to the proceedings.
The Asheville native still loves playing acoustic, but she says it’s simply more fun to have a full-tilt rock band wailing behind her.
“An acoustic show is a more intimate feel,” she says. “You can really take in the meaning or the story of the song. But the band brings so much more energy. And I love that. And it gives me a chance to play my electric guitar. It gives me a chance to show off a little.”
Perhaps part of the exhilaration that Heath feels onstage playing the songs from Where Hope Never Dies comes from the fact that, from the songwriting to the recording to the release, the EP was entirely within her control. It was a different story from her first album, A Different Stream. To keep costs down, that album was recorded at Echo Mountain Studios by interns who essentially used the sessions as practice. And it was originally intended as a duo album with a friend of Heath’s, who left midway through the recording.
“This one is truer to what I am, because I had a lot of control over it,” Heath says. “There are similarities, but the first one is a lot more folk and this one is a lot more rock.”
The EP’s release on CD & LP, along with the accompanying t-shirts, stickers and other merchandise to promote it, were made possible by a Kickstarter funding campaign that literally became fully funded at 2 a.m. on the final day of the campaign.
“It was really stressful,” Heath says. I had no idea if it was going to work. I got the message that said, ‘YOU DID IT,’ and I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t go to sleep after that. And it wasn’t just one person chipping in; it was like 200 people. And that can reassure you so much: ‘I DO have a fanbase and they DO believe in this music.’”
For Heath, it was a high point on the roller coaster she’s been on for the last four years.
“I feel like I have to sing,” she says. “I feel it in my soul. But it’s very hard, because sometimes you’re stuck in the corner of a room playing background music, just trying to make money. But then you’ll have this one big thing happen, and it restores you. Just getting those opportunities, that’s what keeps me going.”
“There’s no balance to this life at all,” she adds with a laugh.
But if there isn’t a balance, Heath feels there might just be a bright side to her struggle.
“I’m starting to realize that my role in all of this is to inspire others to do what they do,” she says. “They can fulfill their dreams if they put the work in and go for it. It’s really hard, and I think a lot of people want to do something like that, but they don’t think they can. You see something like this, and it can be so inspiring. People have come up to me and talk to me about that; they say, ‘You did it. So I can, too.’”