We had the good fortune of connecting with Ashton Lee and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ashton, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I grew up in Huntington, WV. I come from a long line of musicians, and my parents were very supportive of my musical ambitions. I was fortunate in that way. My Dad taught me to sing at an early age, and my Mom bought me my first guitar. Family gatherings always included Bluegrass jams. Family vacations were spent at music festivals. I took lessons for many years from great teachers who encouraged me to get onstage at every opportunity. I’ve been performing in professional environments since I was 9, and there really is no substitute for that kind of experience. Music evolves from tradition and culture, and the music of Southern Appalachia has had an irreplaceable influence on so much of the music we value today. Of course we try to strive for new sounds, but a rich foundation is essential to have all the necessary tools and experience to create something that truly moves the artform forward. I believe that being raised in such a rich music tradition played an immeasurable role in allowing me to become the musician I am today.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
While I play many roles in the music business- band leader, professional guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, background singer, teacher, sound engineer, producer, etc, my primary focus is my own artist career. My music is a product of a wide variety of influences and experiences, and I suppose that particular combination is what sets me apart. I am most often labeled as a Country artist, which probably stems mostly from the undeniable Appalachian twang in my voice. Some of my material is certainly Country, and Country Music has always been a significant influence for me, but anyone who has experienced my show or listened closely to my records will quickly realize that it can’t be described quite so simply. I am a musician first. My training, experience, and listening preferences span many genres- Blues, Jazz, Funk, Fusion, R&B, Rock, Bluegrass. All of it finds its way into my writing, my playing, my production, and my shows. Better students of the Country tradition will know that I’m far from the first to embody these broader influences in Country Music, but it does make me quite unusual in our current era. I am proud of the records I have made and of the exceptional band that I have the privilege to lead. I am very excited about my new record From A Different Holler. I believe it represents a step forward in developing my voice as an artist, writer, and producer. My current level in my career is a product of 20 years of hard work. For working musicians like myself, it is hard to think of a more difficult career path. For me the path has involved many years of education, trial and error, and extreme dedication. This is a business of endless uncertainty, of frequent highs and lows. At its best, it is the most fulfilling experience I can imagine. At its worst, it instils crippling doubt and depression. The pandemic year provides a prime example of just how uncertain our profession can be. Through all of the ups and downs, I’ve never truly considered any other path. This is a lifestyle, a passion, a defining characteristic of all of us who chose to pursue the dream.
I’ve learned too many lessons to include in a concise answer, but most importantly I’ve learned that a life pursuing my passion is the only life I want. The benefits far outweigh the costs. I would like for the world to know that creativity and integrity are in fact more valuable than commerciality. That building a brand around substance will always yield a more fulfilling career- even if it takes longer to achieve a particular status.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Unfortunately us musicians tend not to get out much beyond our work environments. I would liken it to not hanging out at the office on your days off. My personal preference is to spend my free time far away from the city running and climbing in our incredible mountain environments. Outdoor adventure is always my first suggestion for visiting friends as well. But if I had to suggest experiences around our city, I would recommend a world-class Jazz concert at Dazzle, a drink tour around RiNo, seeking out food trucks for meals, a Funk jam at Herbs, a concert at Red Rocks, relaxing at Confluence Park, and supporting some local bands at local venues like Number 38 or Oskar Blues Basement, or Globe Hall. Denver has a unique vibe as far as big cities go. The people’s willingness to support local food, drinks, art, and music played a big role in my decision to move here.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
To my parents Lonny and Diane. To my teachers Scott Stephens, Bobby Maynard, and Andy Page. To my studio mentors Jim Lightman and Mike Durham.
Sean Kamp, Danette Reeves, Troy Brandt, TC Hart