Gaining attention in the Twin Cities and within the music blogosphere, St. Paul, Minnesota soul/R&B singer Ashley DuBose’s newly-found success is both appreciated and unexpected on her end. While achieving mainstream superstardom isn’t at the top if her list, spreading music with a message is.
Inspired by seeing artists on television, DuBose began seriously writing and performing music in high school. A recent college mathematics graduate, she’s turned to music to educate hopefuls on pursuing their dreams. Following a stellar performance, Soultrain.com sat down with DuBose at Minneapolis’ historic Capri Theater to learn more about her debut album Somethin’ More, her true relation to the soul genre, and why connecting with listeners through her music is most important.
SoulTrain.com: How long have you been involved with music?
Ashley DuBose: I’ve been creating and recording music for the past five years. This album is my first solo project, but I’ve done a bunch of collaborations with other local artists. I’ve been singing since I was about seven years old and I started performing when I was in high school. In college I did shows and participated in talent shows at my own and surrounding colleges.
SoulTrain.com: How exactly did you decide that singing was something you wanted to pursue?
Ashley DuBose: You know there are just certain things you do that make you feel good. I guess I like singing because I like to hear myself and it feels good coming up with the music. The majority of my songs I come up with when I’m doing the dishes or taking a shower, so it’s kind of a pastime even. The thing that got me to pursue it was it being a dream that wouldn’t go away. There were times when I wanted to stop desiring it, because it’s like the NBA–people tell you not aspire to be a musician or an NBA star because it’s rare. But, the truth is, it happens. Even though I know how unlikely it is to become very successful, the enjoyment of it keeps me going.
SoulTrain.com: Your current single is “Life Goes On.” How did you come up with the concept for it?
Ashley DuBose: Jimmy Easy, the producer, wrote the chorus and from there I thought there were a couple different directions we could go. I just think about it as a grand scheme; our life comes to an end, but the whole experience keeps on going. When someone dies, someone else is born and time keeps going on — just as with good and bad. We have to experience the good and keep those moments with us, because we can’t always relive them. You can’t let the bad moments get you down and really break you.
SoulTrain.com: Is there a personal experience that taught you that life goes on?
Ashley DuBose: Everything in life, from the small things that could mess up my whole day. It could be being late for work and looking really bad in front of your employer. That was the scenario in the video. I’ve never gotten fired, but I’ve had that situation. That’s something that would stay on my mind and ruin my whole day. Another thing that’s happened to me is a huge breakup, being cheated on and thinking, ‘Oh, I’m never going to love again.’ That ruined my whole year, but life goes on. Those might have been horrible instances to me at the moment, but a lot of people have it way worse. Time heals all.
SoulTrain.com: Your album was just released this May. What does the title Somethin’ More mean to you?
Ashley DuBose: The meaning of Somethin’ More–the song and the title of the album–is about striving for something more in line with the goals you have for yourself or with something you haven’t already attained. It’s about wanting more than you have right now in life. In one breath that might sound unappreciative, but we all strive for something whether it’s a goal, love or being in a better place — whatever that means to you. Somethin’ More was a big accomplishment for me, because it marked a goal of mine, which was creating an album that I could give to my family and friends and also having something that would help me grow as an artist.
SoulTrain.com: Was the process of making an album you imagined it would be?
Ashley DuBose: When I started I didn’t know it was going to be an album; I just started working with the producer (Jimmy Easy). We started making music for fun. I like to sing and write songs, he likes to make beats and write songs. He had the equipment so we were like, “Hey let’s make music.” Someone booked a show for me with a few months notice and I was like, “I can’t have a big headlining show without a CD to have for the people afterwards.” I asked him if he was willing to partner with me to get an album done and he said, “Sure.” I didn’t think of how the process would be, but it was easier than I would have imagined.
When I usually think of a big project I’m intimidated and may say, “There’s so much work to do, I don’t even have eleven songs in my brain right now.” But it comes as you go and within different instances I would be inspired to write something then it would go on the album. The process — as I thought it would be in the beginning — wasn’t scary or intimidating at all. My producer was patient, which is what’s needed with me so it was a pleasant experience.
SoulTrain.com: From your perspective, what is it like being an artist in the Twin Cities?
Ashley DuBose: I don’t know what it’s like to be an artist anywhere else, so I can’t even compare it. There’s a common opinion that Minnesota isn’t the place to get your start, because you’re not going to garner the support that you need. I don’t think that’s true. If you have good music, people can’t deny it and are just going to like it. If your music is universal then you can make it in Minnesota. I put my music out and people of all races, cultures and ages tell me they love it. That in itself shows it’s possible to get a large following.
SoulTrain.com: What’s your connection to Soul Train and soul music? How has it influenced the artist you’ve become?
Ashley DuBose: I remember watching Soul Train as a kid, but as far as the older artists, the music I grew up listening to was what I heard on the radio — more current, 90s music. Soul music isn’t deep rooted in me aside from the artists I listened to that were inspired by soul artists. It’s kind of like a second-hand influence. I’m inspired by current soul artists who were inspired by soul and jazz artists of the 70s and 80s. I’m not really an old soul when it comes to music.
SoulTrain.com: Ultimately, where would you like your music to take you?
Ashley DuBose: It would be a dream to make a career out of music and have it make money for you where you don’t have to focus on anything, but performing and making music. I would love that. What I really want from the music itself is for it to spread to the masses. If I was working a job and it still spread, I’d be happy. I’d be even happier if I didn’t work that 9-5.
SoulTrain.com: Is having made it to you being a mainstream artist?
Ashley DuBose: No, the feeling that I have when I go on Twitter and people are telling me, “I’m Listening to Ashley Dubose on the radio” is what speaks. Six months ago you couldn’t have told me that I’d be on the radio. I’d be like, “Really? How is that even going to happen?” Six months ago the album wasn’t even thought of although I had songs recorded. Now I have physical copies that I’ve sent out to my family in Philadelphia. My dad wasn’t even in my life; he’d peep in for a week every so often. He found out from my grandmother that I had an album — no hard feelings, I’m just putting it in context.
Afterwards he called me and said, “I love your songs, I’ve been playing your music.” The fact that my dad came back into my life and felt connected to me through my music means the world to me. Evoking those type of emotions from people is the greatest thing, I don’t need to get or be famous. Mainstream is not all it’s cracked up to be. I think we look at things and say, “Oh, I want that life.” Knowing myself I want to be able to do what I want and not have people criticize me. I want to be able to go to a restaurant and stuff my face and not have anybody say anything. If my music could go mainstream and I could be in the background, that’d be great but that’s rare.
Makula Dunbar is a journalist covering music, entertainment, business and community. Founder and editor of digital culture magazine Cognizant Measure, her work has been featured in print and across the web via UPTOWN Magazine, The Atlanta Post, Sister 2 Sister Magazine, the Twin Cities Daily Planet, Hiphopruckus.com and many more. Follow her on twitter @Kules.