View the original article at: http://www.countryweekly.com/magazine/vault/ashton-shepherd
Originally published in the Aug. 26, 2013 issue of Country Weekly magazine, featuring George Strait on the cover.
There are those who profess to be country—and then there’s Ashton Shepherd. As down-home and relaxed as a backyard hammock, dropping colorful bits of Southern vernacular with unpretentious ease, the Alabama-born-and-raised singer is, as folks like to say, “the real thing.” Her songs relate anecdotes of true Southern life, with nary a mention of tailgates and keg parties. Ashton also has the credibility to put them across in a meaningful manner.
Fans first took notice of Ashton in 2007 when she debuted on the charts with “Takin’ off This Pain,” which landed at No. 20. Her follow-up, the summery “Sounds So Good,” reached the Top 20 and she enjoyed her biggest hit in 2011 with the funny and sassy “Look It Up,” which peaked at the No. 19 mark. Ashton and her label parted ways the following year, explaining in part why we’ve heard barely a peep from her these last several months. But during the summer, Ashton bounced back with a new single, the star-spangled “This Is America,” which she wrote. Ashton has also released an album of the same name on her own label, Pickin’ Shed Records, her first full-scale project since Where Country Grows in 2011.
“I’ve been waiting on this all year,” says Ashton, who actually released the album on Aug. 16, her 27th birthday. “It feels really good to be back.”
Ashton’s comeback saga started with a long layoff after she and husband Roland Cunningham welcomed their second child, daughter Raden, in 2011. Her label agreed to allow her the time at home, though perhaps reluctantly, as she was starting to garner some attention in the competitive country music world. Like many female artists before her, Ashton felt torn between the demands of her career and the responsibilities of being a mom.
“There were times when I often felt I was losing control of my life a little bit,” she says matter-of-factly, avoiding any hint of drama. “You’re moving all the time and you literally don’t have a minute to yourself. It is hard to balance all of that. I would sometimes ask for eight or nine days straight to be off, because a couple of days was really nothing by the time you got home, did laundry and tried to cook at least one meal for your family. You can feel a little discouraged because you think you should be spending more time being a mama. But I can’t say enough about how sweet the label was to me,” she makes sure to interject. “They allowed me a wonderful platform.”
Now, she basically enjoys the best of both worlds as a stay-at-home working mom in her beloved Alabama. Ashton can tend to Raden and son James without having to leave the confines of home for long periods of time. The change in environment has helped her songwriting, she pleasantly notes.
“I have definitely had more time to observe things from a home standpoint,” Ashton explains. “That’s how I came to write ‘This Is America.’ I was kind of uncertain about things and I didn’t know what I was going to do after leaving the label. But I realized that I have a lot to be thankful for. I am proud to be living here in America and I believe in our country and all Americans. I wrote it real quickly because it came from my heart.”
Ashton also muses on the joys of small-town life in another tune from the album, simply titled “Andy,” a nod to The Andy Griffith Show and the iconic Mr. Griffith himself. As with “This Is America,” Ashton found herself in a reflective mood when she crafted the song. “We still watch The Andy Griffith Show every night,” she says with a smile. “It’s kind of funny because, at least where we live, it comes on after the evening news is over and what a jolt that is. You watch all this violence and bad news and then on comes Andy. But that show still touches my heart,” she adds earnestly. “There is usually a lesson in each episode and the shows today are nothing like that. And I don’t know how people got away from that so much. I don’t know if it’s because things move too fast now or what, but I just believe that if we’re not passing those good values on to our children, they’re just gonna be gone. It’s still important for me to value those things and that’s where that song came from.”
Ashton reaches back to her own childhood on “17 Again,” an up-tempo number that recalls the innocence of teenage years. “It puts me in a good state of mind,” she says. “And I have one on the album that I wrote when I was about 17 called ‘Let Me Love Your Pain Away,’ which I have always loved. It’s more of a soul song.”
From the smile that creases her face, it’s obvious that Ashton has found the right place for her and her music. Helming her own label, she admits, comes with certain pressures but there’s a great tradeoff—the freedom to make her own decisions, right or wrong. “That’s what’s good about being independent now. I can see the steps I’m taking,” she explains. “I get to make the decisions on everything. It is all on me. And I can honestly say that we’re just having fun with it again. As much as I like being a mama, I just never lost that feeling of this is where I’m supposed to be. So, to be back,” she adds, smiling, “I thank the Lord for it so much.”