Los Angeles-based singer Johnny Ashby’s track “Born Again” delivered a soothing, aspiring aura that progressively developed into a memorable refrain. The dreamy tune encourages others to rediscover themselves during difficult phases of life.
The Huffington Post named Ashby a “Top 5 Emerging Icon” after his first EP “Cannonball Days” peaked at #9 in the iTunes songwriters chart. Moreover, his songs have been featured on primetime television for shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “Elementary,” “Rise,” “Baywatch,” “Teen Mom,” “Midnight In Texas” and NBC’s “NHL.”
The artist grew up in the United Kingdom before establishing himself in Los Angeles. He fondly remembers making a guitar out of a tissue box and some rubber bands as a kid and has been playing ever since.
“I used to sneak off and listen to my grandad’s vinyl and my dad’s cassettes — anything from jazz to rock and roll, from Miles Davis to David Bowie,” Ashby said. “I had a vast and expansive collection of musical taste available at my fingertips, and it definitely inspired me to do what I do today.”
Aside from Fleetwood Mac and U2, Ashby declared that he is a massive Oasis fan. “In the UK we have this ‘were you a Blur fan or an Oasis fan?’ I was a closeted Blur fan!”
The early riser confessed that his typical day is a “bit weird” at the moment. When he wakes up, the first task he tackles is writing a song, which is followed by a recording session in the afternoon. When Ashby has ample time, he tries to surf or ride his motorcycle for fun.
“I usually have an idea of what I want a song to be about before I start writing it,” Ashby commented. “A typical pop song can follow this: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, double chorus arrangement. However, I try to get away from that as often as I can.”
The artist said that there is only one track on his upcoming EP “In Bloom,” which will come out on Aug. 21, that follows the generic musical structure. “Sometimes the chords come first, sometimes the melody, but very rarely the lyrics,” he said.
Ashby wrote “Born Again” with his friends Bill Delia, Fredrik Eriksson and Sebastian Fritze from the band Grizfolk. He revealed that they wanted to write a song about new beginnings.
“What if we actually could live forever? What if we had more than one chance? I like the idea of having a second chance, and I believe that we get that,” Ashby remarked. “Life kind of comes in cycles. To be ‘Born Again’ for me is when you’re able to rediscover yourself in challenging times.”
The artist revealed that “Born Again” was written in two parts over two sessions. Before lockdown, they only had the first half of the song recorded. For a couple of weeks, Ashby was used to hearing that part only.
“I remember getting really excited when we wrote the main hook, but I wasn’t able to hear it in context until we recorded it. The first time I heard the song in full was when I was driving in the car,” Ashby mentioned. “When those drums came in on the last chorus, I got a little emotional. The music builds with the intensity of the lyrics at the end, and it just comes over you.”
The singer stated that the most important line in the track is, “Do you feel defeated, have you come undone, in a world that’s reaching out for an invisible sun.”
He continued, “I think that when you feel at your absolute worst, it seems so hard and impossible to dig yourself out. We’re always in the search for the seemingly impossible. I know that a lot of people can relate to that feeling.”
Ashby expressed that “Born Again” is drastically different from his older songs. He believed that he had grown as an artist as well as a writer over the years. “In that sense I guess the title is quite accurate. It’s a new direction for me,” he said.
The whole track is about change. Ashby encouraged listeners to not worry too much if they are undergoing a rough patch. In five years, the artist would love to perform at a summer festival with his mates as the sun goes down.
“I’ll never forget playing and hearing my songs sung back at me at LA’s Troubadour — that was pretty special. I also played a Sofar Sounds show on crutches the day after a car accident, which was pretty stupid of me,” Ashby said. “It was a wannabe Dave Grohl moment! I also fell off a stage once, and it was not cool.”
Ashby concluded with great advice for ambitious singers who are trying to find their style, “I think I got stuck because I kept trying to emulate other people that inspired me. But the truth is, I don’t sound like David Bowie or Bono. I don’t also sound like Lindsay Buckingham or Marvin Gaye either,” Ashby said. “It wasn’t until I stopped trying to sound like someone else that I finally found my own voice.”
Contact Ron Rocky Coloma at rcoloma ‘at’ stanford.edu.