Ashley Kutcher’s path to music wasn’t exactly the most typical journey, but it’s obvious she was always meant to end up being a singer-songwriter.
Last year was a frantic year with so many changes for a lot of us, but I don’t think anyone had as big a life change as 22-year-old singer-songwriter Ashley Kutcher. This time last year, she was on her way to graduating with a degree in Nursing and passively using TikTok as a way to release snippets of music. Now, a year later, she’s signed to the powerhouse label Darkroom who discovered the likes of Billie Eilish.
1883 had a chat with the rising artist about her journey into music, why she uses her fans’ experiences in her songwriting, and why she thinks music helps just as much as nursing does.
You pursued a career as a nurse before you decided to pursue music — at what point did you decide to make that change?
I don’t want to say music isn’t a practical career, but I came from a very practical family and it [music] was framed in our heads as just a hobby. It’s something you do as much as you want, but you need to find stability in a career. I went to college for Nursing and I was playing music in between that and a waitressing job I didn’t like and wasn’t making much money doing. I started booking gigs around the area and I started using TikTok as a platform to showcase my music and I ended up signing a record deal right after I graduated from nursing school. I found a team I liked and felt supported by and I took the plunge!
That’s amazing because so many artists don’t always have that post-secondary experience at all.
It was a crazy situation. COVID did help push me to pursue music in a way since so much of the nursing work became virtual aside from the hospital stuff, so I was able to take meetings and work on music during my nurse schedule. Despite my parent’s hesitations, it felt like the right moment for me; you only get one opportunity in your life to do something like this and it was standing right in front of me so I took it.
Especially being signed to a label like Darkroom!
Yeah, it’s super exciting. All of the people that they’ve worked with, I genuinely love and respect so much. It’s not really about who they sign, it’s about the energy they bring to the table when you’re in a discussion with them. You want a team that is excited and believes in your music and project.
Something I love about you is that you write all of your music and a lot of your songs only have one other songwriter on there. Was songwriting something that came naturally to you?
I do find when you’re working with fewer people, it’s better because it feels more intimate. “Love You From A Distance” was written by me and produced by someone else because I don’t produce… yet. I do like to write everything though, whether that’s by myself or with one or two other people. I’ve been enjoying going to more writing sessions because it’s a great opportunity to meet people rather than being stuck in your head all of the time! I didn’t start songwriting until college, so the fact that I am even in writing sessions is crazy to me. I wanted to go into nursing because I wanted to help people and make a difference and I realized I can help people with music, too. I would read messages from people on TikTok about helping them through a bad state of mind and that’s when I felt comfortable leaving nursing to go into music because it was just another avenue to help someone.
Songwriting very much is a form of therapy to you in a way.
I’d say so. Going into those [writing] sessions can be scary because you’re going into rooms with people you don’t know and pouring your heart and soul out for everyone to hear. I’ve realized that a lot of it is about relating to one another; it feels more like a support group than anything else because we do get quite deep, but we are all thinking about different people or experiences. I love when people make the song their own because that means it’s a universal song that everyone can relate to. With “Love You From A Distance” I remember thinking the lyrics “Remember when I’d drive you home ’cause you didn’t have your license” were so personal to me, but I’ve had so many people reach out and say they can relate to the same thoughts and feelings. TikTok has made me realize no one has had a unique thought or experience! [Laughs]
Are there any artists or songs in particular that you feel see you and universalize your experience in a way a lot of other artists haven’t been able to do?
It depends on the song and the artist, but James Bay is an artist I always feel can summarize my experiences for me in a beautiful way. There are a few songs on his debut record that I listen to and everything just clicks. Hozier is another one where I can listen to the lyrics and because he’s so poetic, you can put your meaning behind a lot of what he is saying. I look up to artists like them because I want to make timeless music. I have some songs coming out that are more pop-leaning but I like being able to dance between genres.
It’s exciting to be in a place where you aren’t putting yourself in a box because that’s exciting to listeners; we like not knowing what to expect next.
Yeah, and it allows for you to bring in new listeners who lean more pop or who prefer songs that have more of a singer/songwriter vibe. The real meaning comes from the words and what the song is saying; that’s what people stick around for.
Speaking of sticking around for the lyrics — “Random Writes” is a series you started on TikTok. Can you tell me a bit about it and what made you decide to start it?
When I started on TikTok I was writing to people and asking them to give me an experience or something they are going through and I’d write about it. I love writing from other people’s perspectives and pulling from their stories. I did one this week and I was working on it before this call! It’s a fun way to interact with listeners and it helps me get inspired and see if people like it when I post it online. I wrote a song a few weeks ago that started from a comment on TikTok and I’m pretty sure I’m going to release it.
I love that so much. You really integrate your listeners into your work and that’s such a personal and thoughtful connection to build with them.
Yeah, it’s something that’s been really amazing to do because I feel like I can add in my own experiences and blend it with their stories and sometimes a song comes out of it!
“If I Could” was the first song you wrote about someone else’s experiences — what was that like?
We wrote it in a writing session over Zoom and the other writer was in the UK. We were all discussing someone close to one of the writer’s going through cancer treatment and she’s so young. We just kept talking about how if we could take the pain away from this person, you would. It’s like when you see someone close to you in pain and you know you can’t do anything, which I think a lot of people can relate to. We went off that concept as we were writing and I remember being younger and my best friend going through something tragic so the song has hit a new emotional spot to me ever since releasing it.
You said you wanted to help people through music and you’re even helping yourself, too!
Yeah, having people hear it and reach out and tell me they are going through something similar… it’s humbling. It’s therapeutic for them, they feel like their story is being told, and that’s the best feeling that can happen when you write and release a song.
The video is just as powerful, too. How did the concept come together?
I wanted the concept of time and clocks counting down. I want all of my visuals to be related to the song and have a meaning behind them, so when the director said they were going to project numbers & time against me I was really into it. It’s demonstrating someone’s time running out in the most obvious way.
Your debut EP will be released later this year — what can we expect from it?
A lot of songs I’ve already previewed on TikTok but there are a few people haven’t heard yet. The cool part about it is that just because they’ve heard a preview, it doesn’t mean they know the full production! There were so many songs to pick through, but I wanted to pick my favourites. I tried to consider everyone’s opinions, but these are the songs I’m most proud of and I could see myself having a lot of fun playing them on stage. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.
“If I Could” is out now. Follow Ashley via @ashleydkutcher