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ASHLEIGH FLYNN: making music while fighting for justice and democracy

(Raffaella Mezzanzanica)

Ashleigh Flynn grew up in Kentucky and “cut her teeth” on local bluegrass scene and Motown.

In 2018, she debuted an all-female rock band Ashleigh Flynn & the Riveters to pay tribute to the symbol of American feminism, Rosie the Riveter.

And this is exactly what Ashleigh Flynn is. She is an incredible, charismatic artist who can’t stop fighting for what she believes in (equality, inclusiveness, social justice). This is the reason why she is currently “writing letters to voters in US swing states appealing to them to vote….to shore up our Democracy”.

I interviewed Ashleigh and we talked about music (from the beginning of her career as a solo artist to the new adventure with the Riveters), feminism and politics. And believe me…she has a lot to say!

Q.: You grew up in Kentucky, a state with a profound tradition of Bluegrass and you started playing this music genre. Was it hard  for you as a woman to find your way in the music scene?

A.F.: To some degree yes…but I came into the “music scene” quite organically and gradually.  I have been fortunate to gravitate towards musicians/live music throughout my youth to adulthood. It wasn’t until I moved out to Oregon and lived in a little cabin in the woods for a few years that I really found my voice as a songwriter…from there it was as if the universe opened up a world of family, friends and colleagues who supported and encouraged me to write songs and sing them. Upon becoming more serious about music as a possible career, I came face to face with the major barriers women face in garnering opportunities to work and for exposure – and while that is changing for the better, just look at the roster of most American music festivals…female acts remain in the minority. I have however been very lucky…with opportunities to tour with my heroes, Nancy Griffith, Todd Snider, the Wood Brothers…

Q.: You moved from Bluegrass to playing some of the most traditional American music genre (country, Americana, Southern rock etc.). How much do you like to be considered part of the American music tradition?

A.F.: I absolutely consider myself part of the American music tradition…blues, folk, jazz, bluegrass, rock…the music I write draws from these uniquely American genres and stories. 

Q.: You’ve been defined an “electrifying performer”. Your latest EP as a solo artist, The Low Arc of the Sun, was recorded in front of a small audience at the Secret Society Ballroom in Portland (OR). What’s the importance of playing live shows for you? And what do you remember of recording that concert?

A.F.: Performing live is the primary reason I play music. Connecting with bandmates and the audience is a spiritual practice for me.  Recording that concert was a BLAST! And we did it on the longest night of the year…and the set list was a song  cycle which incorporated this notion of seasonal shifts and our human connection to the earth as it shifts toward and away from the sun each annual cycle. 

Q.: In 2015, you were among the artists featured in the album “To Emmylou: a tribute to Emmylou Harris”. How did you feel when you were asked to be part of that project? On that album you performed “Red Dirt Girl” and I’m thinking that, as a kind of weird coincidence as this might be, Emmylou Harris’ “Red Dirt Girl” album was released twenty years ago, on Sept. 5th. Did you choose that song yourself? And if so, why did you choose that song in particular?

A.F.: YES! I was honored to be invited to participate, I love Emmylou. I chose Red Dirt Girl because Emmylou wrote it. It’s gorgeous song that she was inspired to write after watching the movie Boys Don’t Cry. She transformed that sadness she felt as that story unfolded into this gorgeous song about so poor young kids in the south who in her story faced major barriers – poverty, trauma…and the song itself – the music and the lyrics together, by observing this human condition offers the listener (and in the case, the singer) an opportunity to also observe and feel empathy and compassion and love. 

Q.: In 2018, you debuted an all-female rock band called “Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters”, whose name is a tribute to a real American cultural icon “Rosie The Riveter”, a symbol of American feminism. Why is it still so important to talk about feminism and women empowerment today?

A.F.: Well…I’d suggest that the fact that America has a misogynist in the White House is evidence of why it’s important to focus on women’s empowerment.   

Q.: Tell me more about “The Riveters”. Who are they and how did you choose them to be part of your new adventure?

A.F.: After I saw Nancy Luca (our guitar player, who is of Italian ancestry) play guitar, I know I wanted to play rock music with her, and moreover wanted to play Americana music (typically a male dominated genre) with an all-female band. So we worked on songs and curated the band and BOOM here we are. 

Q.: When I think about women in music and your mission of empowering women and spreading out positive messages, there are two stories of female bands which come to my mind:  Ace of Cups, a band founded in SF in 1967, had a great success (they even opened for Jimi Hendrix) and then they had been completely forgotten until 2019 when they had the chance to release their first album, and The Highwomen, a female super-group formed by Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires, with the intent to raise awareness on the lack of representation of women in the country music world, especially on country music radio and country music festivals. 

Is country music or music in general really dominated by men? 

A.F.: Yes, we toured a few festivals with Ace of Cups last summer! It was awesome to learn about and hear them!

I would say yes, and especially in the case of Country music, it’s a pretty misogynistic scene. Grateful to the Highwomen.  

Q.: “This Love”, the first song of your first album with the Riveters was published together with a real powerful video. I read you decided to write this song after the 2016 Presidential campaign. Four years later, there’s another upcoming Presidential election and an increase in violence and protests all over the US. What do you think? Do you think that this new election could be the turning point for the country? A.F.: If we don’t get Trump and his minions out of the Whitehouse and the Congress and the judiciary it will likely spell the end of American democracy. The rise of domestic terrorist groups under Trump is unprecedented…we need to vote like our lives and way of life depend on it.

Q.: Your first album with the Riveters was released two years ago and you are still being nominated for awards. The video for “This Love” won the Award of Merit from One Reeler Short Film Competition and “Too Close To The Sun” has been nominated for both Austin Micro Short Film Festival and The Newport Beach Film Festival. Would you tell me more about the concept and the release of these two videos?

A.F.: This Love was an appeal to human goodness…that when we lead with love we can change things for the better for humans, for the planet. Too Close to the Sun is a modern day allegory for the myth of Icarus using the story of Lawn Chair Larry. We knew  as we introduced Ashleigh Flynn and the Riveters to the music world that we’d want to have some powerful and creative videos to share. 

Q.: “I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I’m changing the things I cannot accept”. (Angela Davis). Women have always had a great impact in changing the course of history. How can we all contribute today?

A.F.: Well…at this moment I am writing letters to voters in US swing states appealing to them to vote….to shore up our Democracy – for our children, and to honor those who have come before us in building this great country that I love.  

Q.: What’s next for Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters?

A.F.: We are on the cusp of releasing a “digital 45” with two songs on it in October – all of which has been produced remotely with band mates recording their parts at home and sending them to Nancy Luca to engineer. We also will be releasing a live album this fall.  And, have some livestream shows coming up.  More long term, pending success in combatting the pandemic, we are planning to tour all of the festivals we missed this summer, in Summer 2021. We are also competing for a spot on Melissa Etheridge’s Cruise next November, all again, pending our success at combating COVID19…and given our track record under Trump, I don’t anticipate that happening unless we can get rid of him and his cronies this November. We are also planning our sophomore release…we have a bunch of songs in the hopper just hoping we can get together to record real time with each other next spring.  

Find out more about Ashleigh Flynn:
w. http://www.ashleighflynn.com/    
f. https://www.facebook.com/ashleighflynnmusic

and more about Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters:
w. https://www.ashleighflynnandtheriveters.com/

All pictures courtesy of Ashleigh Flynn

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