QSC Aspiring Interview: Ashaine White on grunge-soul & EP, Ash

What comes to mind when you think of grunge-soul? Perhaps not an artist that looks like North London singer-songwriter Ashaine White, she suggests.

“I do find that people are used to something coming out of somebody that looks like me,” acknowledges Ashaine White (pronounced Ash-ay-nee) from her home in North London. “It's my ends,” she says of where she grew up. “It's what I represent. I class myself as a proper Londoner,” she grins.

With her new five-track EP, Ash, White (pronounced Ash-ay-nee) is proud to challenge these stereotypes and is carving out a sound that is unmistakably her own. Back to grunge-soul: White grew up inspired by legends of both opposing genres, citing Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, Kurt Cobain and Radiohead as artists that made a lasting impression on her.

“A lot of amazing black musicians are making what people class as ‘UK black music’, and are doing it incredibly,” she points out. “I'm just trying to present myself as the most ‘me’ I can be; all my influences are what bleeds out of me. It's hard to be in a situation where you're being told that what you do doesn't make sense because of the way you look, or the way I sing or the way the music sounds, so I'm really excited to have Ash out,” she enthuses, adding that the EP’s name couldn’t be more her:

“Ash is my nickname. It's fully me,” she explains. “This is the type of music that comes out of me. I'm not thinking about what's in the charts, I'm not thinking, ‘I want to make a song that sounds like this person's song’. It’s more: we sit in a room, we make music and whatever comes out is what comes out.”

Aesthetically, I'm a moody babe – you will see me in all-black, always. But I do have a soft and loving side.

White is proud to be involved in PRS’ Power Up community, representing a wave of black musicians and artists making music that feels authentically them, rid of stereotyping and archaic industry expectations. Amongst the many things her EP represents, it’s a big fuck you to the stereotypes of what black music ‘should’ be.

“I am really excited to be a part of a wave of black musicians that are being themselves, being authentic and putting out music that feels like them, whether it is R&B or stereotypically ‘black’ genres, or whether it is completely the opposite,” she nods.

“As black people, with the black history that goes alongside music, we should have the opportunity to play within those genres and use every layer of ourselves as black people to create music. So that's what I'm trying to do. It's exciting to be a part of the community of black musicians that have come before me and help to push that message forward.”

A self proclaimed open book, White happily shares that she’s just finished a therapy session – something which she’s a big advocate of.

“I wouldn't say I have any outward issues right now with how things are going,” she considers. “I'm not too much of an anxious person or anything like that. But I think of it like the gym for your mind, especially when you are an artist and the music that you make is quite close to your heart. 

"Songwriting is, for me, a form of therapy – they go hand in hand. It sounds very cliché, but a page of a notepad or your phone is kind of like a therapist – it's something that you can get all your ideas out on and hopefully receive something back that helps you feel like you've figured it out a little bit more. I think it's so important, especially for creative people. This career path has a lot of ups and downs and a lot of good news and bad news.”

the music industry needs the artist to be defined. I don't really follow that ethos.

Just last year, White was working full time in an admin role where she was booking shows for musicians, all the while wishing she was in their place. She knew it was time to take a risk, quitting her secure 9-5 in order to pursue her own music career. When being handed an eye watering bill for her car being serviced, wondering if she’d done the right thing, her phone pinged.

“An email popped up saying, ‘You've been nominated for an Ivor Novello Rising Star award,’” she recalls, shaking her head slightly at the memory. “I just closed the email straight away. I was like, ‘What is actually going on?’ Bearing in mind, I was self-managed, self-releasing, no label, no anything. It was just me. There's so many people pushing to be nominated. Why would it be me? The universe told me, ‘This is the time that you do this for yourself and you go for it.’”

Ash explores love and friendship in its many forms. The EP represents White at her most authentic, seeing her write songs that feel honest and true to her experiences with a no-frills writing style. Written and composed by White herself and produced by Gilberto Mallindine-Bettini, the five-track EP follows-up 2021’s Fairytales.

“I want my listeners to hear my lyrics as if the words came from my mouth in conversation, a conversation about life,” she says. “I never really go into a project with an idea of what I want all the songs to be about, I just let life show me what my songs are going to be about.”

A lot of the songs on the EP are about being sickeningly in love.

Delicately resentful and intimate Lianne La Havas-esque track Right Here – “I get a lot of comparisons [to her] which I'm very grateful for, because she is an incredible vocalist and one of my favourite singers” – encapsulates the haunting aftermath of a toxic relationship, and was the first song written for the EP.

“I feel like it's hilarious, you can tell that I wrote it during covid,” she confesses. “Everything was quite isolated. It has this kind of…” she trails off, searching for the right word… “aggression towards holding something so close and so dear that was horrible, and you're in a really bad situation, and I think that was so reflective of the mindset that I was in. 

"At that time I was working, but I wanted to write songs. I was sitting in, playing my guitar and really enjoying those moments and discovering myself, so Right Here was like the birth of that, and it became about a breakup and about a tumultuous relationship.”

I am excited to be a part of a wave of black musicians that are being authentic.

The EP is equal parts light and shade; nostalgic and dreamy Favourite Thing describes the early stages of love – “it’s the song that I’m like, ‘I need to beat this song’ every time I write a new one; I can't believe Favourite Thing is a song that is mine,” – while Damien Rice-esque Meant To Be is pure emotional, intoxicating bliss. White has a confession:

“Aesthetically, I'm a moody babe – you will see me in all-black, always. But I do have a very soft and loving side.” She takes a deep breath: “I have been in a relationship for five years and we are grossly and madly in love. It's so gross. It's sickening!” she laughs. 

“A lot of the songs on the EP like Favourite Thing and Meant To Be are about being sickeningly in love. Meant To Be is about being madly in love with this person that you didn't expect to ever cross your path, but when they did, it was meant to be. It’s where you can't imagine anything else but this and this feeling and this happiness, and even when we've got our house on the farm with our studio in the back garden and our two kids, I'll still be annoying and asking you to go and get something that I forgot,” she imagines, smiling. “It is a love letter.”

Whether it’s grunge or soul-lovers – or anything in between – White is happy for listeners to interpret her music as they wish:

“I know that for the music industry, sometimes people need the artist to be defined like, ‘You're this type of genre, or you make this type of music,’ and I don't really follow that ethos. I don't think things need to be defined. As long as you've taken it in enough to think about what it feels like and what it means to you, I've done my job. So I don't get frustrated with it,” she shrugs amiably.

Since the Ivor Novello Rising Star nomination, White has seen her profile rise. Should fans expect a new EP or an album any time soon?

“I'm such an open book of a person,” she smiles, happy to tell all. “I'm excited about this stuff and want to let everyone know! I'm writing, writing, writing. Hopefully we'll have a new project at the start of next year – a new EP, probably. An album is scary. An album is your big one, you know? So I want to keep working up to that. But there’s definitely new music to come, and shows, so stay along for the ride.”