Bakery chats in Olympia with Ashley Eriksson

Melissa Denice Saunders

Ashley Eriksson

“Almost there.” Ashley Eriksson texts me as we are both en route to the bakery where I am to interview her before my dishwashing/bus girl shift. Artists (at least the smart ones) generally have multiple side hustles and generally, people in Olympia are shitty at making and following through with plans. The latter definitely doesn’t apply to Ashley Eriksson because although Ashley Eriksson does whatever the fuck she wants, the intent and passion in which she pursues music is downright professional. Her solo Colours (via K Records) is a not a record of wanton musical abandon; it’s a beautiful, exacting, mellow opus that still emanates cohesion and poignancy, despite it being recorded in a variety of musical spaces on Eriksson’s portable 8-track recorder. On the title track, Eriksson sings, “Keep it light/Try to write it down/Before it’s gone” and no doubt that the record has a certain ethereal transience, like a sonic rainbow after a humid, grey storm or blunt smoke rising. By taking her inspirations and diverting just a bit from the music she makes in notable bands (Mount Eerie and LAKE, just to name a few) Eriksson talked with IMPOSE about the carving and creating of her own spaces of expression with Colours.

You have two records coming out. Colours and LAKE's The World Is Real. But I want to talk to you about Colours mostly.

Just so you know, it's three. We're going to put the third one [Circular Doorway] out ourselves [on LAKE's Water Island Records].

Oh yeah. Markly Morrison was saying…so that's going to be three this year. And well, congratulations. I listened to Colours on tape because you gave me a tape after the LAKE show in February.

It's pretty mellow.

It's hitting very deep tonalities even without being dark. It's a nice balance of…you know how even though it rains a lot [in Washington], the scenery can still be really beautiful? Not overwhelming but it affects you really deeply. It's kind of mysterious. What was it like recording Colours?

When we were living on Widbey Island for four years — that's where [my husband] Eli [Moore] is from — I had this idea a while ago…well, I like playing piano a lot and I don't always have pianos to make recordings with but maybe six years ago we were recording with this guy Tucker [Martine] and he had suggested [it]. “Maybe some time we could record just you with piano” and maybe I should've brought it up to him but I had this idea that I wanted to record it myself. I've been in a band a long time and before that, writing music was really about recording myself and my own space and my own flaws and my own victories. I feel like I can't always have as much…I don't know. It's a very different thing being in a band. I really missed that so I wanted to record myself.

So I had this digital 8-track and it's really portable and I would take it around to different spaces on Widbey Island that had pianos and just nice acoustic spaces: organs. We have a community hall that Eli's the manager at so during off-hours we'd go there and set up in this giant empty space and record. So yeah, I did recording there, too and played drums.

I was thinking that it's a piano-based or more piano-centered record; it's great to really just have you and your voice. Your voice is well-preserved. I like your singing style. It's not Mariah/Beyonce melismas; it doesn't have to be big and dramatic in the way that you sing. It doesn't have to be over-the-top dramatic to get your attention. It hits something really inside the listener.

My neighbor across the street…I couldn't even tell what he was saying. I thought he was saying, “Your van, you could really fill it in” or “I listen to your van”. He was saying “band” but it sounds like “van” and I was like, “My van?” [laughs] I think he was saying that he could hear our practices and the vocals are really quiet in practices or not [audible] at all. We don't have the microphone hooked up so he was saying, “You need to sing more; have more emotion in your singing.” [laughs]

Oh, that's some nice constructive criticism.

This is the neighbor from across the street; really far away, you know, listening to our practices. So all he could hear was the bass and then our tiny, quiet voices.

Back to Colours, you were saying how you recorded it. On the back of the album sleave it reads: “People and establishments who allowed the use of their interesting acoustic environments.” Did the acoustic environments shape the feel of the album? They obviously did but were there any specific ways they made Colours what it is?

Yeah, I never before gotten to use my own recordings. Gotten to use more interesting acoustic spaces; big ones, basically. For example getting to use a baby grand piano. I used a couple for songs. Not that those really make a difference to me. I don't really care. I mostly like upright pianos. I don't want a big piano. One of those [baby grands] were in a big hall. Yeah, and having drums in some of the songs. If the drums have the sound of being really boom-y it's because I recorded it in a really big space. I didn't record all the drums that way. But also, what's really important to the sound of the album–'cause when you record yourself and it's like, bedroom pop or whatever…bedroom recordings–you can get into your own head space more. It's more personal. You're not worrying about anybody else being around or judging you really. You just get deeper and deeper so there's definitely a lot parts that I recorded, like [“Good Storm”]; the basic tracks for the song are all done in our trailer and I was just feeling really…it’s hard for me to say that I go through relationship struggles or emotions. And I have to be in a really personal space to be able to write that song, if that makes sense. Sometimes you just need to be in that dark space and just be upset, like, “Yeah, we don’t get along perfectly all the time.” So yeah, it’s recorded in our house and trailer…we have a little construction trailer that I bought from one of my bosses that I had on Widbey Island.

You were speaking about certain mental space you’re into… like, on “Why Are You So Helpless”, [are] you posing a question to yourself? A question to someone else? Where were you at when you were writing that song and shaping how it sounds on the record?

I did acupuncture this winter and I was having an incredible emotional response and would be just crying and crying and as I was leaving, I was realizing that…that song “Why Are You So Helpless” and “In The Stubborn Eyes of a Demon” were very deep emotional, questioning sort of songs. I don’t know if I could put those feelings any clearer than they are in those songs. I was just thinking about the lyrics like, “That is exactly how I feel,” If I push away everything else going on in my life, I really feel these things. And with “Why Are You So Helpless” I guess I was picturing these people in my life who struggle in life that are…what’s the word…not irreconcilable, you know? And in a way, there’s people that you or even anyone…someone you’re close with or someone you’re not close with—they’re dealing with it, you’re dealing with it, too. I don’t want to say specific names or anything but [with] different lyrics, I was thinking that.

I don’t know how to pronounce the name of track five…

Oh yeah, the Swedish song. It’s called “Ette Stilla Regn” and back when Eli and I were in Sweden a few years ago, we heard the artist on the radio. Not that song but…I grabbed my handheld tape recorder and I recorded and I was like, “I never…this is so good. I have to know what he says.” And then I played it for my aunt — she’s, like, one of the only people I can work on my Swedish with because she doesn’t speak that much English so just speak any language at each other and try to figure [it] out; try to communicate. But anyway, she knew the song. She was like, “Ah, yeah [says something in Swedish]…yeah!”

Anyways, when I then found out who it was and looked him up on the Internet and started hearing more of his music, I was so excited. And the more I read the Wikipedia page, the more tragic his story became. Incredibly tragic. So anyways, I guess covering his songs has started to mean a lot to me. I mean, there’s many layers to recording the song because on one hand, it seems amazing that recording his songs years later; he died and his songs are in Swedish but then that they would be able to touch someone across the sea. That seems cool but also I just think they’re just really good songs whether they’re in Swedish or English [regardless] if I could understand the lyrics or not. I mean, Ted Ted Gärdestad wrote the music and his brother [Kenneth Gärdestad] wrote the lyrics.

I don’t know any Swedish. Do you know what this translates to?

“The Quiet Rain.”

That’s beautiful. You mentioned that you were in Sweden with that guy, Eli. I don’t know if you know him…

Yeah, that guy I hang out with a lot.

Yeah, I remember you were gone for a really long time because you were on tour with Mount Eerie and well, you and Eli write a lot of songs together and he did the photography for the record. What was it like—I mean, obviously you guys share so much and he’s a big part of your life…you have sort of…it’s a wolfpack. It’s very strong, deep and prolific bond. What was it like to be on tour in Europe and he’s all the way in the States?

I think we realized that the amount of time…a month is manageable. And Geneviève, Phil’s [Elverum] wife thinks that what happens after a month is that you forget what home’s like. The sense of home is really important. I was gone a month and then Eli and I went to New York for two and half weeks and then to go back home—to come back to Olympia—I was definitely feeling scared. I didn’t connect with…not that I don’t like my home or my house or my housemates but I actually was feeling this thing of, like, “Is that my home? Really? I haven’t lived there.” I hadn’t lived there very long; I lived there since the fall. And I feel like I’ve been away for so long, I could live anywhere now. It’s not that big of a deal which maybe isn’t that good of a feeling, you know? But anyways, it wasn’t too long. We got back together, again—I mean, we’re always together and we could talk a lot.

I think—back to the thing about Eli and I—doing a lot together. I don’t know anybody else that is able to do all their work together as much as we do. Like, we really do everything together and it works really well. So every once in a while we’ll have other little projects that are we don’t do together. And then it’s tempting to drag the other person in but then you have to be like, “Aah, no, maybe you should just do that with your friend and I’m not going to be a part of it. We do projects sometimes that are outside of our relationship and that’s a good thing.

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