Ashley Gold is not your average folk-pop singer-songwriter. Her debut EP, Late Bloomer (set for release this Friday at Hell's Kitchen), is fair evidence of that, and as Gold sits across from me, sipping tea and chatting about her musical process, it becomes increasingly apparent that the petite, fire-haired songbird is most definitely in a category all her own.
First, Gold doesn't sound like she's from around here. She is--born and raised in Eagan, no less--though her parents are both from New York (her mom is from Queens, her dad is from the Bronx), and Gold has traces of the accent in the way she drops the g-ending on some words and elongates it on others. Second, Gold is personable in a way that doesn't really seem very Minnesotan. The second question I ask her--"So, how old are you?"--is met with a loud laugh.
"Girl, we just met!" Gold exclaims. "I mean, can't we just wait 'til like twenty minutes into knowing each other? Damn..." Then she gets serious, straightens her shoulders, and smiles carefully. "I'm 27."
"Oh," I say, a little surprised. "I would have thought you were younger." Not for any other reason than her vibe--Gold is sunny and positive, with a sprite-like energy in her gestures.
Gold is only slightly sensitive about her age. "That's why my CD is entitled Late Bloomer," she explains, "because, in the music business, people know what they want and get their start young. For me, it took me a long time, and here I am at 27 starting fresh, and that's why I feel like a late bloomer. At least in the musical sense."
But Gold isn't really starting fresh. She's always been a singer, and always known she had a voice. She also has a little history with the Doomtree collective, after being brought in first to do back-up vocals with Dessa, Paper Tiger, and Lazerbeak on 89.3 the Current's The Local Show, as well as some live shows. The live stuff, though, didn't always come easy to Gold:
"I was super shy when I was growing up, and I refused to sing in front of people, but I knew I was good," she says, hunching up her shoulders. "My friends would make me sing for them at parties, but I would be so shy that I would lock myself in the bathroom and sing through the door."
She's gotten over that now, of course--and though she took a few detours along the road to music (a Family Social Science degree from the University of Minnesota and a background in non-profit social work), Gold is confident that she is exactly where she's meant to be.
"I did what I thought I was supposed to do," Gold explains with a wry look, referring to her history, "and I did that for a couple years... but that was too heavy for my heart. I wanted to be able to help people in another way, and from that point I picked up the guitar and started to teach myself how to play."
So she did. And practiced, and wrote, and haunted open mic nights at the Blue Nile. Gold's roots are in spoken word, and that was what she first started performing.
"I would do spoken word, and from there I started to write melodies that had hooks to go with the words, and then I started to do stuff with the guitar, and then it was only kind of a rap, more like a song..." Gold laughs again as she tracks the progression of her sound.
You can hear the influence of the spoken word-rhythm on the Late Bloomer opening track "Just Friends," a smooth, acoustic guitar-driven track that recalls the punchy vocal style of Nelly Furtado, with a silky chorus of oohs and aahs. Her song "Benefit"--a quick-paced, high-on-attitude, Latin-esque track with a rap breakdown in the center--might be closer to local hip-hop superstar Dessa; though Gold's voice is nothing like Dessa's, her approach is similar.
"I like things to be really organic, and I like them to really flow out of you," Gold says when I ask her about her creative process. "I don't like to be like, 'I'm gonna write a song today.' I don't like to sit down with the intention of writing a song. It'll hit me randomly, and sometimes it'll hit me when I'm working [as a server], and I'll have to run to the break room and write a melody or scribble it on my paper along with orders," Gold says, laughing sheepishly. (When she isn't singing her heart out, Gold moonlights as a server for the Citizen Cafe--no stranger to the life of a fledgling creative doing it on her own, that's for sure.)
When I ask Gold about her next steps, she takes a big breath and lets it out slowly. She has thoughts about touring, getting a manager, and just playing more shows, but she sparkles when she talks about her music. "I will always have a soft spot for an acoustic guitar and a good love song or a good breakup song, and I'll always make that music whether I put it out or not," she laughs, and we share a look--what girl doesn't have a soft spot for a good break-up song, after all? "But I'm ready to collaborate with other people. I think I have a project with a producer who lives in Austin, it would be a little more electronic... we'll see," Gold smiles, content, but looking forward.
As for the music itself, Gold is terrifically radio-worthy. "Good Sad Song", Late Bloomer's second track, is a pop gem--a solid break-up song if there ever was--and you can hear the full range of Gold's breathy, confident vocals. If her sound is great, her crisp lyrics are excellent: "Let's throw the towels in/Let us call a spade a spade/I have tried, I have tried to love you/But your soul's trapped up in this cage/I built the bars around you/Now I'm banging my head against the metal" Gold sings on "Good Sad Song."
I ask Gold what she's expecting at her album-release party at Hell's Kitchen this Friday, and she gives me that same big, exuberant laugh. "What am I expecting? I don't know!" She sighs, giving me a laundry list of tasks she has to get through before Friday night arrives. "I just want it to be a huge celebration of my friends and all the people that have supported me up to this point. I just want to have a party! Like, yes! It's finally here, it's finally done! And I want to see some friends I haven't seen in a while and just catch up and, you know, have some Jameson." Gold's smile is infectious, and I find myself laughing with her. She has gusto, this one--and it's a good thing she's gotten over that shyness, because if her new EP is any indication, she'll be performing for quite some time.
Ashley Gold will be on Radio K's On The Corner tonight at 8:30p.m. You can--and should--attend her album release show at Hell's Kitchen this Friday, March 18th. To hear samples of her music, check out her Myspace or her website, ashleygoldmusic.com.