NASHVILLE — Ashley McBryde doesn’t have any problem with using real people to inspire her country songs and revealing the sordid details of their lives, even if she’s dishing dirt about her own family and friends.
Her new album “Never Will,” out on Friday, is full of songs about opinionated women, small-town secrets, motel trysts and revenge fantasies. One of those is “Martha Divine”: The name may not be real, but the person behind the song is.
“Maybe I’m gonna piss my father off by saying this, but I don’t care,” McBryde said. “The song, and what I did to that person in the song, was based off one of my dad’s girlfriends. I really wanted to hit her in the head with a shovel.”
The Mammoth Spring, Arkansas-native is just at home in a biker bar as on a red carpet. She carved her own path in country music after her 2018 major label debut earned her a string of new artist awards from the CMAs, ACMs and CMT and multiple Grammy nominations.
But country radio has still not embraced what critics have praised. Her song, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” is nominated for song of the year at this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards, which were delayed until September, but none of her singles have ever gotten into the Top 20 of the country airplay charts. McBryde is among many female country singers who struggle to get heard on country radio.
“I don't think I can do anything that will cater to radio,” said McBryde. “We have to figure out how to get along.”
The album title song “Never Will” reminds everyone that she’s not willing to change now that she’s achieved success on her own terms. She notes in the song that she could name the people in this industry who still downplay her accomplishments, but she's not going to give them the satisfaction.
“You’re getting nominations and you're winning awards and playing arenas,” said McBryde. “You’re just like, ‘Do you not see that this is working?’”
The new album doubles down on the rock and bluegrass influences on songs like “Voodoo Doll,” in which she turns her powerful vocals to 11 while merging mandolin licks with electric guitar solos. And in a song that would make Patty Loveless proud, she does an acoustic bluegrass turn on “Velvet Red” as her voice warbles with that high lonesome twang.
But she mixes the tender with the tough. Just as she’s not afraid to tell other people’s stories, she opens up about her own painful truths. McBryde and her co-writer Nicolette Hayford share common tragic experience. Both their brothers, who were military veterans, died young and left behind sisters who were struggling to wade through the pain, anger, grief and questions.
The song they wrote, “Stone,” started with McBryde ranting about how angry her brother’s death made her.
“In my brother’s suicide, in the wake of that, he has left me my nephew, who is 26 years old,” said McBryde. “When he gets married, I gotta be there because you won’t be there. When he has a baby, I've got to be there because you left me this huge mess.”
But then she realized that she had no idea how alike they were until he was gone. And that was the story she wanted to tell.
“When Nicolette and I find a nerve, we will chew on it until both of us are in therapy the next day,” said McBryde.
“The whole writing process she went through so many stages of grief, but it was such a release for her,” said Hayford, who has helped McBryde write several songs on her two albums. “Every emotion you feel in that song happened that day in that room.”
On the record, McBryde’s sadness is audible as she slows down and sighs with the weight of her pain. She recorded it on her brother’s birthday.
“This song isn’t on the record to hurt anybody,” McBryde said. “It’s on there in case you’re hurt and you need to know you’re not alone.”
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Kristin M. Hall, The Associated Press