One day, four years ago, singer-songwriter Ashleigh Stone was a waitress chopping lemons when her music career suddenly took a profound left turn. At the time, Ashleigh was a young single mom, and a promising artist struggling to pay the bills. Over dicing lemons, her friend and co-worker offered to play her boyfriend one of Ashleigh’s albums. That fateful moment led to the opportunity of a lifetime.
Now, she rises to the occasion with a raw and refined debut album, Elements (Up/Down Records), out June 12th. It’s a bold and masterful collection of songs performed mostly with just voice and piano. “I had to believe in myself to be this vulnerable with these songs and to keep the recording really naked. I had to let the journey be what it is and accept that,” Ashleigh confides.
The story continues that Ashleigh’s friend’s boyfriend (and now husband) was none other than Justin Furstenfeld, the frontman of the Billboard Top Ten-charting and platinum-selling modern rock act, Blue October. At the time, the San Marcos, Texas-based artist had already established herself in indie singer-songwriter circles with two critically acclaimed EPs, and Ashleigh had furthered her profile through appearing as a stand-in principal pianist for the Austin Symphony Orchestra and composing music for film and performance art.
Upon meeting, the two artists had an instant creative connection and something of brother and sister relationship that has deepened over the years. Ashleigh was recently featured on Blue October’s latest album, Sway, contributing vocals on “Things We Do at Night” and piano on “Fear.” She’s also toured with Blue October and Justin as a solo artist. Justin signed her to his boutique record label Up/Down Records, and has produced the artist’s label debut, Elements.
Elements’ audio vérité production treatment purely puts forth Ashleigh’s core aesthetic of earthy classic rock melding with the intricacy and dynamics of classical music. In this context, the listener can fully experience Ashleigh’s sensual and stirring singing traverse her mesmerizing and labyrinthine vocal melodies; her slow burn piano playing; and the poetic urgency of her lyrics.
Amidst the stormy sentiments in Elements there is a spiritual centeredness. “The theme of it all is that you can’t take away the rawness of life, but you can step away from it and see the beauty and hope in the self growth these experiences foster,” Ashleigh says.
The plaintive “Blood,” which will be released alongside a video, captures both prayer and painful acceptance, like walking into a church when it’s empty and hearing one beautiful soul wailing with angelic immediacy. Here, Ashleigh sings: I kept the faith, I still believe/Oh the blood on my glasses/keeps them rose colored. “I remember I wrote that song during a really difficult time. I woke up in the middle of the night, went over to the piano, laid my head down, and just starting writing. I was thinking about how people say I have rose-colored glasses on, and reconciling that optimism, and my sensitivity, with struggling and needing some help,” she reveals.
The album’s emotional centerpiece, “God,” is both hymnal and questioning. “That song goes into a spiritual realm—I put the most out on line on that one,” Ashleigh allows. Elements is rounded out by the positive messaging of “Saints and Sinners” and the quirky and playfully existentialism of “Kafka And Ice Cream.” Of the latter song she says: “My mom swears we are related to Kafka. Inspired by that I wrote this song that’s a love song to no one and everyone.”
It was Justin who suggested Ashleigh strip things back and record such an essentialized album, hence calling it “Elements.” Ashleigh recorded the piano parts of the album on the Mason & Hamlin grand piano in the church sanctuary she grew up attending, the First Christian Church sanctuary in Lubbock, Texas. She spent two days holed up in the church, engineering the sessions on gear she rented herself.
Recording in that church was deeply significant. Ashleigh first started singing in that church, the piano she recorded on was purchased by congregational donations, including the support of her grandparents, and her family funded all her piano lessons. Also, looming over her that day in that church, was her little girl aspirations of being a professional musician, and the feeling of isolation one feels growing up in a town as remote as Lubbock, and wanting to transcend those feelings through a success story.
The journey Elements represents is a universal story of holding fast to your dreams, working hard, and, in a way, having faith in the goodness of the universe. “I have a beautiful child, a house, and I can pay my bills through music and provide for my son. I feel like I’ve been able to live the dream,” Ashleigh says. “I’m so grateful and blessed. I get choked up just thinking about it.”