INTERVIEW: Bay Area Rapper Austin Dean Ashford

Hi Austin, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

HEY! Thanks for welcoming me! I have been really great at the moment to be honest. Just bouncing around from zoom classes and creating. Thanks for asking.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Sophisti-Ratchet”?

Yes, I would love to! My first single for my debut project “Sophisti-Ratchet” is finally here. This is the title track for my debut interdisciplinary project where I integrate multiple disciplines and genres into one listening experience, and this single is the first domino to an effect that plans to start rolling out now. The single really gives a nice exposition and foundation about how I typically operate in spaces that don’t have a lot of people like me in them. I like how this song is a blend of styles—the beatboxing, the ukulele, the lyrics, and melodies make it kind of hard to label the sound, which is intended. I am excited to share this single because, stylistically, I think the blend of genres is executed well and ready for the world to hear. The single has a lyric video to help people catch up with all of the lyrics and to prepare the audience for the listening experience that is to come next with the Audio Drama. This song means a lot to me as a single because nothing else really describes my style and journey as well as this single. This single is my articulation of how frequently I code switch between the multiple spaces I inhabit as a Black academic and artist.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

OF COURSE an event inspired me to write this song! I think the initial event that inspired me to write this song was my struggle with being a first year PhD student and the only Black person in my cohort. There are plenty of nuances that are neglected when you are the only body in a space. I should have been accustomed to this because I was a Black speech and debate competitor in undergrad and I was a theatre focus for my Masters, but I was not able to articulate what it felt like to be in spaces as a Black body with the need to code switch so much in order to be successful. The particular event that sparked that initial event was when I was in the middle of signing a major record deal and touring in March 2020 and then the pandemic happened and froze all my opportunities at the moment. I should have been happy because during this time I was/am also pursuing my doctoral degree in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts at Texas Tech University, which is very rigorous, but ya know. I was ready to pop.

Any plans to release any sort of video for the track?

Yes, there is already a lyric video out for the song right now! A live performance video will be dropping in a week and there will be a music video released before 2021 WITH MORE VISUALS TO COME BABY!

How was the recording and writing process?

The recording and writing process was natural and organic for me. It was a simple song I was writing on the ukulele and performing live while I was touring to colleges and doing my plays. It was just a bunch of bars and lyrics on my ukulele chords, and I would play the song when somebody would ask me why am I pursuing my PhD when I should do music full-time. Then I noticed that emotion was embodied in the live ukulele version, but now I needed to make a recorded version because of Covid-19 live performances were not happening anymore. So, I learned to make beats on my iPhone on garage band, then I edit it on my computer before finally going to a local recording studio that does really good country and rock records, because I knew they could probably record live ukulele well and help me blend the other sounds I’m interested in as well. This then allowed me to contact longtime friend Gregatron to help me co-produce the tracks, and now we are here with the first single to a series of 6 EPS!

What was it like to work with Noel Scales and how did that relationship develop?

It was an honor and privilege to work with Noel Scales! I have been a fan of her work since she was an HBO Brave New Voice poet representing Philly! I also considered her to be a birth child of Lauryn Hill with how multi-talented she is as an artist. She is well versed in so many arts and has always been an innovative musician. To be honest, I was nervous to ask her to collaborate on this track because she is doing so well and amazing, but when I asked her to get on my first debut single she got me back the raps IMMEDIATELY and took the song to a whole new level. Our relationship developed with me as a fan of her work as a writer, and musician just waiting for the right song at the right time to collaborate.

How much did she get to influence the song?

I would say that she does more than influence the song, Noel Scales embodies the song and can articulate the feeling and style in a way nobody else can.

What role does the Bay Area play in your music?

The Bay Area plays a huge role in my music. I was born and raised in the Bay Area and was influenced by the sound and the style. The way that artists approach a verse or stylize their articulation is heavy in my music. The way that language is bended and played with is extremely rooted in Bay Area music. If you check my cadence on how I rap and extend my vowels or the switch up on the bridge that is very Bay Area Basics in music.

How has OutKast and Anderson Paak influenced your writing?

Yo, Outkast is a huge influence because I am the youngest of 4 and my older siblings would play Outkast and have arguments about how they are shifting the southern style of music by bringing a new sound and amazing lyrics we had never had before in hip hop at the time. Including the storytelling that the group is able to bring with the funk style and breaking meter while innovating the entire hip-hop culture by their craftsmanship. Similarly, Anderson Paak has influenced me by how he is able to take cadences with sharp punching bars that fit with drums as well as sing a soulful melody without autotune that is natural and organic to the human experience. These two artists have their own distinct voices that tell a story which highlights the personality in their sound. This has influenced my writing because it shows me that I can be a genre blending artist that tells a story that is authentically mine as well.

Does the new single mean we can expect a new material – how’s that coming along?

Yes, this does mean you can expect new material very soon. I have an entire interdisciplinary project that is set to release in 2021 and the other installments in 2022. The process is coming along way better than I could have ever imagined. For some reason the pandemic has offered me some opportunities to work with some of my favorite artists and best friends to complete this debut and dissertation project. Personally, I was nervous about trying to finish something that is so large in context, however, with the time allowed during Covid-19 and the collaborations involved this is becoming a dream come true. I am able to add my Theatre, Cinema, Music, and performance studies background into a project that is in conjunction with my dissertation with regards to my academic journey as well.

Any tentative release date or title in mind?

I think People should be ready for a Music video in December and ready for the next single at the top of the 2021. The best bet is to stay subscribed and following my accounts because I have a lot of content coming out musically for at least the next two years, and if you like theatre and film I got more coming too.

What else is happening next in Austin Dean Ashford’s world?

That is so awesome you asked this! Well, what is next is in May I finish my course work for my PhD and will be on exams and dissertation until I am Dr. Ashford in 2022! The first person in my family to earn a doctoral degree after I didn’t graduate high school. I am in the process of closing some deals with Film and Television with my original work and practicing every day until touring is back ON!

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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