When Ashley Heath sings of trying her best, in her new song “I Remember,” she might as well be crooning about her career. Certainly nobody in the local music scene works harder than Heath at living and working full time as a musician.
“I just did some intention journaling and, making small steps to get to the bigger picture,” she said. “It sucked a lot and still does sometimes, but I just decided I don’t want to just be in the bar playing for a hundred bucks, these three-hour solo shows in the BBQ joint, for forever.”
Heath performs between two to five solo performances every week in and around Asheville, the whole of North Carolina and into Tennessee—she estimates about 150 gigs a year. And that doesn’t include the countless hours she puts into her songwriting and improving as a guitar player.
In 2019, Heath performed for the second time at MerleFest and third time at Bonnaroo, and for the past three years, readers of Mountain Xpress have voted her the region’s best Americana artist. This Friday night, she celebrates the vinyl release of her latest album with a full band show at Asheville’s Grey Eagle.
And it has all happened without a manager.
“I want them to do their shit better than I’m gonna do it myself before I’m gonna pay someone to do it, and I want them to really believe in what I’m doing and I want to trust them,” she said. “I don’t want to get screwed over and hand over something I’ve worked so hard at just to say I have a manager.”
Heath grew up between two brothers in Marshall—her parents still live there—and even as an anthropology major at Appalachian State, her compass always pointed to music. After the suicide of a close friend, that friend’s parents told Heath they wanted to support her jump into a music career. Nearly five years ago, she walked away from a day job at a coffeehouse.
“They basically gave me an ultimatum. It was this account that had $3,000 in it, and they said they wanted me to have it, but in order to have it, they wanted me to quit my job and just try to do it,” Heath recalled. “I probably wouldn’t have quit my job without that push, but it gave me a reason to work harder and want it a lot.”
Heath’s music straddles Americana and country-rock. While her debut album, in 2016, can fit easily on a coffeehouse stage, her five-song album of 2018, “Where Hope Never Dies,” is a more full-bodied fireball you could hear coming from the likes of Sheryl Crow.
Heath was about to turn 30 last year and wanted to turn the decade in a big way. So she booked her first European tour, performing solo in nine cities across Belgium, France and the Netherlands.
“We not only stayed in a boathouse, but we also got to stay in a windmill home,” she said. “It was like being in a dream.”
If Heath is living her dream, it comes with persistence, perseverance and commitment. She calls her band the Heathens and, after struggling to find musicians willing to tour, she believes she has a lineup she can count on—up to a point.
“It’s hard to keep a group of people together on your path. I’m always the one doing everything for this brand,” she said. “In the last couple months, I really had to come to the realization that this has always been me, this is my thing, this is my songs, this is my direction, and I’m gonna fight for what’s best for me and not everyone else all the time.”