Ashley Shadow is a Vancouver-based singer-songwriter. Her second album Only the End is out September 24, 2021 via Felte Records.
(Photo Credit: Tyler Mcloed)
Amber Webber is the lead singer of Vancouver-based psych bands Black Mountain and Lightning Dust; Ashley Shadow is a fellow Vancouver musician who’s collaborated with artists like Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) and the Cave Singers, and who is also Amber’s twin sister. To celebrate the release of Ashley’s new record Only the End — out Friday via Felte Records — the duo got together to catch up over some wine.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Amber Webber: How’s your wine, Ashley?
Ashley Shadow: It’s OK. [Laughs.] Not my favorite.
Amber: I like having wine dates with my sister. [Laughs.] So you went camping over the weekend. How was it?
Ashley: It was good. We went to Galiano Island just for a night with a bunch of friends from Victoria, and we had a good time. We played some tunes and swam. Did some shrooms.
Amber: Did you play the tunes on the gee-tar, and sing?
Ashley: No, that did not happen. I’m not that kind — I don’t really jam around the fire.
Amber: Yeah, me neither. I wish I was more like one of those people, but… Certainly in our DNA, is it.
Ashley: I’ve been known to sing along to things, but not bust out my own tune.
Amber: Yeah. I like accompanying a singer with a good harmony. Maybe, though, you also play the drums? Like bongos, perhaps?
Ashley: I don’t know what you speak of. [Laughs.]
Amber: [Laughs.] I seem to recall a djembe drum growing up in the old rec room.
Ashley: [Laughs.] Yeah, I had some questionable things I used to be into…
Amber: I remember you being really good at it, actually. And I remember thinking, I wish I could play it, because I didn’t actually know how to all.
Ashley: You know, whenever I start playing a hand drum, I’m actually really good at it. But it’s also an embarrassing thing to talk about. [Laughs.]
Amber: I don’t know, that’s a skill, man.
Ashley: I mean, obviously the drums are awesome for people that can play them and are into that kind of stuff. But I was just a hippie kid that got into hand drums, so it’s a little embarrassing.
Amber: Yeah, well, you know. You gotta figure out what it is you like, and the best way to do it is to try it all out. Speaking of being a teenager and being a kid: Looking back, what do you think was your favorite record growing up?
Ashley: This is so hard because I never remember the titles of records, but I can tell you an artist that I was obsessed with and that hasn’t gone away for me would be Sinead O’Connor. I loved Palace Music. Public Enemy,
Amber: We were huge Public Enemy fans, which is awesome. I actually, just put some Public Enemy on my running mix recently, and it stands the test time. Fear of a Black Planet is so good.
Ashley: Oh, of course.But also, we were in the suburbs growing up, and we didn’t get a lot of music passed our way. So when we did—
Amber: We latched on to it and listened the hell out of it. I remember the first tape that I ever bought was at a garage sale, and it was Corey Hart. [Laughs.] And I didn’t care because it was, like, 25 cents and it was music, and I had no taste at that time in my life. I listened to the fuck out of that tape. And I think at the same time I bought that tape, you bought a way cooler one, which was Joan Jett.
Amber: And I was like, Ugh, my tape isn’t as cool. But Joan Jett, I remember us just listening the hell out of that.
Ashley: It was the one that had, [sings] “I hate myself for loving you.” [Laughs.]
Amber: Yeah. And it had that cover of, [sings] “Now I wanna, be your dawg.” [Laughs.] It was pretty sick. I actually just listened to that album from start to finish a few weeks ago. It’s pretty sick.
Ashley: I would probably know it word for word if I heard it again. It’s been a while.
Amber: Well, we should bust it out after we do this interview.
I was trying to think back, when I knew I was going to interview you, to what our first concert was, because I’m sure we went together.
Ashley: I totally remember — it was Maestro Fresh Wes at the PNE Forum and we were, like, 10.
Amber: Oh, the PNE, because it was free concerts. Within our budget!
Ashley: The PNE, for those that don’t know, is an amusement park-slash — what would you call the other side of it?
Amber: Like a fairground, basically. It’s Vancouver’s version of the county fair or whatever. I still love the PNE.
Ashley: It’s fun. The last show I went to see at the PNE — it wasn’t free anymore, but I saw Cyndi Lauper there.
Amber: Oh yeah, I guess I was there, too. That was a good one. She she still has it for sure.
Ashley: Oh, hell, yeah.
Amber: I don’t think she was going through the motions. Because her songs are so good, I don’t think she has to fake it just for the bucks. “Money Changes Everything” is such a good song. That’s kind of what I remember us being into — we were total ‘80s kids. I remember we were into Cyndi Lauper, you might have been into Madonna. Do you remember?
Ashley: [Laughs.] Ugh, just a tad. I was obsessed with Madonna.
Amber: You were obsessed.
Ashley: I literally can dance the whole “Vogue” for you.
Amber: I wish you’d just busted out one of these days.
Ashley: I pretty much bust it out whenever someone asks. [Laughs.] Which isn’t a lot.
Amber: Duly noted. But yeah, I feel like those women really shaped — we were lucky to have them in our lives growing up, because they were pretty badass ladies. I never really grew up thinking like, Oh, I’m a woman, I can’t be a musician, because of those cool ‘80s chicks. And then into the ‘90s also, like you’re saying, Sinead O’Connor, and then they not-so-cool-now people like Ani DiFranco.
Ashley: She’s awesome. But you know, I don’t listen to her as much anymore, maybe at all.
Amber: Tori Amos.
Ashley: Love Tori Amos, still!
Amber: OK, so on our road trip tomorrow, actually, I have two Tori Amos albums in the car. We can bust them out.
Ashley: I think that’s, for me, an alone time — like if I’m like painting or if I’m cleaning my house or something else, I’ll put on a Tori Amos album.
Amber: Yeah. I feel like all those all those women sort of set us up for feeling like we could kind of do anything we wanted to with music. I feel like later in life, after we started playing music is when I realized how much sexism there was in music. It wasn’t really there for me growing up, I was in my own imagination bubble and anything was possible. And then the harsh realities of people just hating on women in music kind of came about.
Ashley: Or just thinking that because you’re a woman in music, you must just be the backup singer, you must just be the keyboard player — not that there’s anything wrong with those two things at all. But being in an all girl band when I was 20 to 26—
Amber: What was the name?
Ashley: The name of the band was called The Organ, it was like a new wavey band. We’d just walk into a venue and instantly feel it coming from sound men and venue owners and everyone else, like to the point where they would tell us how to sing into the microphone. I was the bass player and they would dial my bass the way they wanted it to sound. And it’s just like, they would never do that to a bunch of dudes that walked in.
Amber: I remember once in Black Mountain when we first started, being told to get off the stage so that the band could soundcheck, I was like, “Uh, I actually am in the band.”
Ashley: Yeah, and there’s also that thing if you are a woman in a band, or a lead in a band, you get a question like, “Oh, who is the producer? Who played on your album? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” you know. But I don’t see those questions asked as much to a front dude in a band.
Amber: That was my next question to you. [Laughs.] Just kidding. Yeah, that’s true — if you don’t actually in the liner notes say that you wrote the songs, as a woman it’s assumed that you didn’t. Whereas if you share songwriting with a man, it would be would be assumed he wrote them all.
Ashley: Yeah, you probably get that a lot with Lightning Dust, right? You and Josh [Wells] both write the songs, but I’m sure that a majority of people think that he does most of it.
Amber: Yeah, on the last couple of albums, I’ve definitely wrote most of the songs, and then he produces them. But the reason why we always split everything like songwriting credit 50/50 is the songs morph so much during recording.
Ashley: And Josh really puts a lot of his production skills into that band, like it changes a lot when you record.
Amber: A hundred percent. And even this last record, there are certain lyrics that I wasn’t super psyched on, so we actually did some workshopping and rewrote some lyrics together — which is a first, too, because lyrics have always been just me. So that was kind of cool. I think collaboration is so awesome, especially when, if you’re working with a man who you feel respected by. But I think there is a thing with women where, if a woman sings on a man’s album, he’s doing her a favor. And if a man guests on a woman’s album, he’s doing the favor. Which is seldom the other way around.
But I think with you and Will Oldham, you guys have a pretty special relationship. How did you guys meet? It was so long ago.
Ashley: Yeah, it was a long time ago. We were in Victoria, B.C., Canada, and we opened for him at this beautiful church, I can’t remember the name of it. I’d just finished a Pink Mountaintops tour with Steve [McBean] for two months in Europe, just him and I, so we had a pretty good like duo going on. And we opened for Will Oldham in Victoria, and he heard me sing and we hung out a little bit after. And then we invited them to our friend’s basement for a party, and they came and we hung out more and I gave him my email. About six months later, he emailed and said, “Hey, can you send me some songs? I’d love to hear some more of your music.” So I set up some demos, and then he sent me some songs to work on. I learned them and he flew me out to Nashville and we spent a week there recording the album Lie Down in the Light by Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
Amber: That’s so rad. I love hearing those stories. There’s so much magic in music, like the relationships. It all comes down to being open to working with other people, and these magical things happen. And I think that album is so good.
Ashley: One thing I gotta say about Will Oldham is he is so supportive and so free with his music, and just lets you have room to do what you want to do. We’ve done some shows together, we’ve toured with him, and every night it’s just something a little different. It’s awesome the way he navigates through music.
Amber: He even took Lightening Dust on tour. What a guy! [Laughs.] That song is amazing that you wrote, “Don’t Slow Me Down.” When I heard the duet you guys did together, it was like you wrote the song for his voice. It was so good. Did you have him in mind for it, or did you just write it?
Ashley: That was a really old song that I’d written right after a relationship breaking, and also meeting him and just being introduced to another way of doing music. I thought it was really inspiring, and I’ve always really wanted to put that song on that album, and he came to my mind when we were about to record it so I asked him via email. And of course, we could not do it in person, but he recorded from his place and Josh did a wicked job of mixing it. I think it sounds really cool.
Amber: Yeah. I feel like your upcoming album is a little less like poppy. It’s a little bit more like an adult contemporary—
Ashley: Oh! [Laughs.]
Amber: Real heartfelt songs. It sort of feels like you’re a serious songwriter now, like you kind of graduated the indie rock thing and you’ve just written a really beautiful album. Did you kind of have a theme for the record, or were you just kind of writing through it all together?
Ashley: Honestly, I wish I could say I had a theme and it was planned, but it was just in the course of two years what was going on in my life. So I guess my theme was the last two years of my life.
Amber: So like you said earlier, women get asked about the other musicians on their album, so I’m just going to go and ask you about it. [Laughs.] Yeah, because I feel like. You know, when you’re a solo artist, you want to have other musicians on your album regardless. I think you’ve made a really beautiful album and it’s so tasteful — like there are other musicians on it, but only so sparsely. Let’s talk about Ryan Beattie for a second.
Ashley: Ryan Beattie is an amazing guitar player, probably one of the best guitar players I’ve ever heard in my life. He plays in a band called Himalayan Bear, and he is originally from Victoria, B.C., but moved here. We met and I asked him to play on the last album, and now he’s playing on this album that’s coming out. I’m so happy about that.
Amber: That’s cool. Yeah, I feel like more people should definitely tune in to Himalayan Bear. Do you think he can hear us through the wall? [Laughs.] Ryan Beattie also happens to be my neighbor, so that’s pretty fun. Sometimes I even hear him singing through the walls, which is pretty cool, and I’m sure he hears me, too. I was doing like this kind of wailing rock song in my living room, and he was joking about the three words singing over and over again at the top of my lungs to record. [Laughs.]
The woman before that lived there, god bless her soul, she was kind of a hippie in her 70s — she never left the apartment, ever, but you could hear her playing all of her music through the wall, and it was pretty special.
Ashley: You’re also leaving out the fact that you found her having a heart attack in the hallway and you helped resuscitate her and call 911 — every time I saw her, she told me that you saved her life and that you’re an angel.
Amber: Well, it’s true, actually, because we were meant to be on tour, but we got back a day early because we drove home from California super fast. We just got home, we were so burnt out sitting on the couch, and I just heard her and — I don’t know, I just felt like I should go out into the hall. And then as soon as I went into the hallway, she collapsed in front of me. So, you know, after that, we were bonded.
Ashley: You’re saying that she never left her apartment, but she was out at a Lightning Dust show and she gave me a huge hug thinking that I was you.
Amber: She was actually in the hospital for three months getting surgery after that heart attack, and she was in a medically induced coma for about two. But after that, she just came back with a whole new lease on life. She was pretty big before, but she lost, like, 50 pounds or something and she was ready to live again. And she did until she eventually passed passed away. But I can tell you that last year or so of her life was probably the best she’d had a decade.
Ashley: What was her name?
Amber: Her name was Shirley, and she was a special lady. So anyway, the fact that Ryan lives in her same suite, I feel like she’s kind of watching over him, and there’s this really cool artistic energy, because she was very artistic and an activist.
But anyway, I guess it’s been a pretty weird couple of years because there’s been no concerts and no live music, but this is just a fun little question for you: If you could pick any concert right now, who are you longing to see?
Ashley: Well, as far as shows go, the live show that’s given me the most feelings is probably seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — I’ve seen him, like, seven times, but I would love to see the whole band play a show, just like a thundering show.
Amber: That’s a good choice, actually. That would be sick.
Ashley: I would also like to see Black Mountain play again, now that Amber’s playing with them again.
Amber: [Laughs.] I know, I feel like I just wanna, like, rock out hard on some tunes, ya know?
(Photo Credit: left, Tyler Mcloed)