“Take a moment to get to know me and a bit about my new album that goes in an entirely new direction.”
Ashley Davis has fashioned a career transporting listeners to a different time and place. Now she’s taking them even further.
With her sixth album, the Kansas singer-songwriter sheds the acoustic sounds that made her a household name within the Celtic music world. Instead, “Burning Down” embraces the electronic compositions of her rebellious youth.
“It was fun to step into an entirely new world of pop,” Davis says.
“I was drawing from The Cure to Velvet Underground to tons of influences from my teenage years. Creepier, darker, cool sounds like Mazzy Star. How many times did I sit on a couch at a high school party while ‘Fade Into You’ was playing? And I’d look across the room and see all these people totally transfixed by this song.”
Davis admits she wasn’t raised around traditional Irish music. She instead became immersed in the style in college, eventually earning a master’s degree from the Irish World Academy of Music & Dance at the University of Limerick.
“I actually grew up in a home filled with ’60s folk and Motown records,” she says. “But I also enjoyed the influence of all the babysitters in my life who were listening to The Clash or ’Til Tuesday or early 10,000 Maniacs.”
Typically, Davis records material showcasing her own stellar guitar playing backed by scores of notable Irish musicians. For her latest 10-song effort, the majority of tracks incorporate the work of just two others: producers/multi-instrumentalists Gawain Mathews and Will MacMorran.
She reveals during recording one of the producers would often come up with a groove. Then she would build a song in the studio based around that rhythm, rather than her customary way of, “Here’s a song I wrote on my guitar.”
Standout cuts range from the ethereal, anthemic vibe of “Burning Down” to the hypnotic pulse of “Bus to Dublin.” Davis also tackles two diverse covers. She transforms “Take It With Me” by gravelly icon Tom Waits into a heart-wrenching torch song.
Most intriguing is her take on “Friday I’m In Love,” the jangly 1992 pop hit by The Cure.
“I sat down at a piano and started playing it slowly, and it was the first time I ever understood what the song was about,” Davis recalls. “My whole life I’d danced to it at parties. But then I realized it’s like that Plato quote: ‘Love is a grave disease.’ It takes you through a cycle of, ‘I can’t stand him’ … ‘I’m so in love with him’ … ‘I don’t care’ -- that type of relationship where euphoria is going up and down.”
Lyrically, Davis’ originals stray from the language that exemplifies her previous work.
“In the Celtic scene, you’re lightly talking about love and how it’s blooming,” she says. “This time I got to speak about it in a direct way.”
She cites the lines “I’ll tear myself apart / So I can send some to you” from “In My Heart for You.”
“Some people who have gone through one of those relationships where they just keep giving and giving, they get it immediately,” she emphasizes. “‘Here’s another piece of myself for you.’”
On the opener “Burning Down,” she sings: “The silver strands I bury in my hair / Are the rivers that will guide me back to him.” She notes the verse speaks about how wisdom can bring a person back to a loved one.
Known for the soft, pure, almost otherworldly tone to her voice, Davis found her delivery comfortably adapts to the new soundscapes she explores.
“My voice is really suited for it,” she says. “I’ve got a smooth timbre that moves in sync and in line with electronic music.”
Remarkably, the compositions on “Burning Down” easily translate into her live acoustic set. This is why she bookends the album with a stripped-down version of the title track featuring her vocal supported by traditional Irish instruments.
“The people from the Celtic world who have heard this electronic album seem to make some kind of bridge between the two for themselves,” she says.
Born and raised in Lawrence, Kansas, Davis became enamored with country music as she was embarking on a professional career. This led to moving to Nashville to study songwriting at the prestigious Belmont University. Her undergraduate experience segued into her post-graduate tenure in Ireland learning the Gaelic tradition. From there she spent a decade in New York City, perfecting her own material at the venues around Hell’s Kitchen.
Currently, she’s returned to her roots in Lawrence, both physically and musically.
“This is the first album I’ve ever put out where on the day it was released I had zero anxiety,” she says. “I didn’t care what the reaction would be because I had actually followed myself that truly. I hadn’t tried to please anyone else.”