With her latest single ‘Over You’ released and more on the way, ASHY (Aswini Batchelor) is the freshest pop talent coming out of Christchurch. At only 19, she is bristling with energy and intellect, and is no stranger to success in her field – having performed on X Factor, at Coca-Cola Christmas in the Park, and Smokefree Rockquest, among others. The road hasn’t always been smooth, unsurprisingly – the industry is notoriously competitive and as a young woman of colour there are some extra steps to the top – but that just seems to make her work harder. ASHY took some time to discuss her creative process, the journey to pursuing a career in music, and what her future holds.
So your single just came out, which is very exciting. Have you released all your singles under the same label?
I’m not under a label, I’m an independent artist. When I finished school, I wanted to do music so bad, so I took the year to step back and fully understand the industry. I signed up with the Music Managers Forum, and because I’m self managed that helped me a lot in terms of understanding how it all works! Then midway through last year I recorded at Roundhead Studios, which is Neil Finn’s studio, made some contacts there, and I’ve been working with the same producer that I started out with.
That’s seriously impressive, that you did all that research and figured it all out yourself.
It was a big learning curve, but I learned a lot about the business side of things, which I think has made me smarter in terms of what I choose to do and what my angles are. I feel like as a person I had to grasp all of it and understand everything before I could really just focus on just being the artist.
What kind of impact did having two producers on ‘Over You’ have, did it change anything?
Yeah, it did because I’m down the pop line but I wouldn’t say I’m straight pop, and this single is quite edgy and has a different flavour. I think Ben [Malone] really brought in the kind of R&B beats and hardcore drums that really gave it some rhythm, and really changed the song. But also keeping in with the other singles that I’ve had, it’s the consistency that Scott [Seabright] has that has made them all cohesive. I think it honestly turned out to be one of the best songs we’ve ever produced because there were three minds going into it.
What else has happened between X Factor and now?
X Factor was a big change for me, it really changed the way I thought about my career. I actually loved it, but it did make me step back and think “what is my point of difference and what do I have to offer that’s different?”. So I entered Play it Strange and other New Zealand songwriting competitions, and did Rockquest, and built my writing career – because in my mind, my point of difference was my writing.
Was that a formal thing? Did you do courses or just write more from different life experiences?
It was life experiences. I’ve never been a really formal person in terms of music theory. You know, I can’t read music – fun fact! I think I just have an ear for it, and I learned to sing and play guitar at the same time so when I write songs, it’s all in my head and then I play it on guitar
So what does the process look like when you actually write the music if you don’t use notes or tabs?
It happens differently every time (laughing). With Over You, I came up with the melody, the chorus line was in my head, and I thought “that’s really punchy and catchy, I’m gonna pursue this” and then I worked backwards. I thought about what could suit this big chorus, worked out what chords I was actually using in my head, then I went on GarageBand and got the chords up on the piano and worked it out and … there’s the song.
What do you like writing about?
I draw a lot from witnessing what other people go through. For the first time actually, this single ‘Over You’ was coming from a personal place, and it drew from my emotions. I usually look at my friends and what’s going on in their lives. Where we are right now is a big waiting game – a lot of people are at uni, wondering what they’re gonna do with their lives, having their first experiences or hard knocks and big successes. So some of it will be from other people’s perspectives, along the lines of putting myself in someone else’s shoes and taking on a character. But sometimes it is my story, and I think it’s interesting to see people try and figure it out. I am quite young so I think I haven’t lived enough of a life right now to write about it, but I think maybe in two years I could look back and actually write about this time.
Has being a young woman impacted your experience in the music industry?
Yes. I think it’s not a huge problem in New Zealand, but I think overall there’s a lot of underestimating going on – especially when you don’t have big labels or major companies supporting you. There’s a lot of proving yourself. I’m not sure if that’s down to my gender or how young I am, but it’s definitely there and I definitely feel it, but it also just pushes me harder! You have to believe in yourself and just be really smart.
You’re also a person of colour – has that impacted you at all?
I think people make assumptions straight away and I don’t know if I start off on the back foot, but I do have to take one more step to talk about who I am and say “oh I’m actually a Kiwi… and I write pop songs”. But in saying that, I think it could be in my favour because that’s a point of difference. I know it helps with my memorability and people don’t seem to forget me because it’s so rare that someone of Indian descent is doing what I’m doing. It’s my dream to have someone of my ethnicity be successful in this field. Looking at the music industry now, the biggest artists – there’s no Indian representation. It’s amazing to see it on TV – like with Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra – it’s so exciting to see them getting the platforms that they deserve, and that we all deserve, and I want to be that for other people. I think it’s a good time to do it.
What are your future goals – any 5 year plans?
Yeah, I do definitely have a plan. I have a few songs under my belt that I wrote maybe two years ago that I’m saving because I think they have a different feel. I want to keep it interesting for the listener – and for myself, project-wise. I’m actually working with another producer at the moment, Josh Fountain. He’s just taken over from Joel Little’s studio in Auckland where Lorde recorded. We’re working on something which is definitely along the straight pop line, which I’ve always wanted to delve into. In the future, I might end up in LA – just international ground, I think. I’ve always kind of written internationally, with that in my mind.