October 15, 2013

Interview: Ashley Eriksson

Ashley Eriksson speaks to THE LE SIGH about Japan, nostalgia, and colors.

My interview with LAKE's Ashley Eriksson could have gone really poorly, especially because I gave some pretty bad directions, first to a venue, then to a college cafe. We then interrupted an intense open mic confessional in a coffee shop, which was just awkward. We ended up eating cactus burritos in a noisy mexican restaurant before LAKE performed in a tiny college basement. Ashley's music, both solo and with LAKE, is like musical soul food: comforting and heart-warming. That sounds disgustingly cheesy, but I mean it in the most endearing way. When I listen to Ashley's most recent album, Colours, I had to fight the urge to daydream because her sweet voice instantly creates tiny pictures in my head. I sometimes categorize music by seasons and moods, but Colours is an exception to my rule: it's perfect for the entire year.

I had heard that Ashley is really nice, but she is really a super sweetheart—like, that angel lent me money to buy a burrito. If you need any more proof, check out the video of Ashley singing at the Olympia Senior Center. I wish I could include our entire two-hour conversation, but Ashley and I discussed how we both hate reading long, mundane interviews (not that ours was!!), so you'll just have to believe me when I say that our talk was extremely enjoyable.

THE LE SIGH: So tell me about your tour in Japan, my friend is going there next year!

ASHLEY ERIKSSON: Japan was awesome! We went on tour for two weeks, learned some words, and people actually understood us! The last week we were there, we got a really different experience than hanging out with music people. We figured that if we had a ticket and a trip paid for, we should go somewhere or do something different. We didn't really have the money to do a lot, so we decided to WWOOF.

TLS: What type of farm did you WWOOF on?

AE: Just like a normal farm. They made everything they ate. Except for the tofu, because someone local made the tofu. I think it's a special thing, the guy goes around on this special truck, and in the evening, people get home from work and then you hear the tofu guy say "Tofu! Tofu!" and there's a song coming from his truck, and then you go out and buy tofu!

TLS: Ugh, that's my dream. Is that the farthest you have ever traveled?

AE: Well, LAKE has toured Europe a few times, and my dad is Swedish, so I've been going there since I was a kid.

TLS: Another beautiful country. So you grew up outside of L.A., but now you live in Washington. How was that transition?

AE: I ended up there because I had a friend that moved there, and when I visited her, when I was like 18 or 19, it just seemed like the perfect place for me. It had seasons, I didn't grow up with seasons. It's good for your mental health! I didn't end up going to school, I moved there for the music.

TLS: Did your parents give you a hard time about not going to school?

AE: No! I mean, my parents are both teachers and I have a very academic family, but I've always been the artist, so not much has been expected of me in that respect, in academics. 

TLS: What do you do in the car when you're touring?

AE: Usually on every tour, I end up getting into something, usually it's creative. One time, I had a video camera, and so I was making these stream of consciousness sort of collages, like one shot after another, just filming stuff all the way, like all the in-between moments. That particular project though, uh, the camera ended up on the car, I left it on the car and we drove away...This spring I had a really great experience where I would listen to nostalgic music that I don't have anymore that was on my friend's ipod. I was drawing the rooms that I lived in when I was listening to the music, and I was remembering the objects from the time. It would help bring back memories. I had this realization about nostalgia, like, let's say homesickness, everyone has it, it can be so deep and so unsettling or so transporting, but there are so many different versions of it. 

TLS: I think about nostalgia a lot too, especially about moving away from home and realizing that you can never really return to your childhood again. On a totally different note, why is your album named Colours?

AE: It just seemed like the obvious thing to call it at the time. I'm a visual artist too, so when I write songs, I think of them in visual terms, and I talk about visual things in the songs. And certain keys sound like specific colors to me.

TLS: Which colors are most common?

AE: Mostly blue.

TLS: Who is your favorite K Records artist? Maybe that is an awkward question...

AE: Hmmm, well, before I even knew what K was, I had heard Beat Happening and I had heard The Microphones. It was cool to hear Beat Happening, it was good for my brain. I listen to and have been influenced by music with a lot of humor, like The Kinks and The Beatles. I'm not that funny of a person, but humor comes out when I make music, like, I make almost constant jokes when I write songs. I mean, I have a lot of serious songs too, I write a lot of songs. I only had one Microphones album.

TLS: The Glow Pt. 2?

AE: Yeah, but hearing that was different than anything else I have ever heard before. It reminded me of one of the those concept albums from the 60s and 70s, but it was with like new sounds, and I love the feeling of experience, like you're going on a journey when you listen to, and I hadn't really experienced that in modern or contemporary music. So I don't want to say that anyone is my favorite because I still feel like there's so much I haven't heard that I could get into to, but that was a very influential and important album.

TLS: How did the Adventure Time theme come about?

AE: The creative team is in LA, and I knew those people because I grew up across the street from CalArts. When I started getting into recording, one of my friends shared my music with the other kids in the animation department, and then people started listening to it in their figure drawing workshops, so I got a lot of exposure with my burned cds that somehow reached a lot of people. 

TLS: When I think of CatArts, I think of Judy Chicago's Womanhouse project. Have you ever studied feminist art?

AE: I didn't specifically study feminist art, but I had the opportunity to learn a lot about it. A big part of going to school and a big part of what I associate with being feminist is being able to write and be critical. I mean, I do some of that, I have a blog, but I'm not being critical, I post pictures. I write a lot of different kinds of music, and writing music as a woman is very important to me. Part of making music, and this is kind of a weird part of it that I don't ever have to talk about, is finding emotions that are really strong and complicated. When I'm recording and I get into these deep spaces with a concept or sometimes I'm, being funny about something, or maybe I'm covering a song that's by a male singer, and there's things in the song that I think are weird, but I like singing those songs and experiencing those emotions. 

For more of Ashley's music, check out her blog and the K Records website.

Written by Quinn Moreland