by Richard Thorne

Ashy: Nobody Like Her

by Richard Thorne

Ashy: Nobody Like Her

Born in 1998, Christchurch pop artist Ashy Batchelor slips just inside the start of the so-called Gen Z, nutshell-described as an ethnically-diverse generation who have grown up with technology and social media. She’s also poised, confident and smart enough to have successfully self-managed her career until very recently. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.

Ashy has been writing songs since she was 13, and as the artist ASHY (the capitalising necessary for online identification) has released a series of quality singles in recent years. Already a million-plus streamed artist, her single EGO was included among Apple Music’s Top 100 Songs of 2020.

Latest single Mirror (feat. Vallé) entered NZ’s Hot 40 Singles chart at #25 (#4 on the local Heatseekers chart) in the first week of February, making it the highest debut yet for this emerging pop star.

The writing credits for Mirror stretch to five names, including herself and co-vocalist Enjalas Jenkinson, aka Vallé, both of whom were born overseas but grew up in Christchurch. The others named are Emanuel Psathas (aka Name UL), Josie Moon and Tami Neilson (who also provides backing vocals).

That oddly diverse talent pool is explained by the fact that the song was written at an APRA SongHubs event, a collaborative songwriting get together staged in Christchurch back in March 2020. Ashy says she asked the SongHubs Ōtautahi curator, Delaney Davidson, to put the group together, and in particular had a vision of including Vallé as a feature rap in whatever new song might result.

The lyrics of Mirror reflect all the way back to when Ashy was aged seven, growing up in Christchurch, and saw Indian-born American TV presenter Padma Lakshmi, on TV for the first time.

“The blanket meaning is about representation. For me, the story focuses on a pinnacle moment, when I was a little kid and I saw somebody who looked like me on TV,” as Ashy earlier told Stuff music journalist Vicki Anderson

“Yeah well, we actually spent a lot of time at the beginning asking what I wanted to write a song about, and I had always wanted to write about that experience of not being represented in media when I was that young, and this seemed like a great opportunity.

“It was my artist day, but we were tackling it all together and everyone contributed. To get the story across, lyrically, I think we definitely needed all those heads together at that point! We ended up with a good one,” she beams.

The writing team’s biggest challenge was figuring how to tell the story lyrically. Ashy says she never wants to be “super one-sided on anything”, and wanted the track to be celebratory, with more of a fun tone – despite the meaningful social commentary it embodies.

“It was more about taking the side of what I am, and how that specific experience made me who I am now. The use of ‘mirror’ is a play on the phrase ‘being reflected’. A mirror is a holistic way to put that in a nice lyrical sense. Vallé and I want to be that for people now. We didn’t have that growing up, but we want to essentially be a mirror to the next generation growing up.”

The quite personal theme resonated with Papua New Guinea-born rap artist Vallé, and in the writing process Ashy offered him the opportunity to provide a feature verse, but says she didn’t want to pressure him to deliver.

“After the lunch break he had this just amazing verse and we were all like, ‘Cool, that’s great’! We had such similar stories as well, and I think it was just an obvious thing, but an odd chance thing, that we could tell the stories so well together.”

Remarkably Mirror was all but finished by the end of the day.

“I think you can hear the mahi and amount of effort that was going on that day, and the bones of the song were written then. The basic song stems you still hear in the track were all recorded at SongHubs by Emanuel Psathas, not much was changed after.

“The only live instrument is the bass, which is the integral part! That was Chris Whitby – he’s a great musician. We re-tracked some vocals in our home studios, and then I passed it over to my long time producer Liam Quinn in Sydney, and he touched it up, mixed and mastered, and that was it,” she chuckles. 

Realising that probably makes it all sound a bit too easy, Ashy starts again.

“There was a lot of thinking around to who should produce it, because I’ve always [previously] had to take a demo and make it something else, but this didn’t need to be anything else. The actual bones of it were what it was, and I’d ruin it if I let someone else take it further, into a different angle. We definitely kept the magic energy of that day.”

While she does keep song idea notes on her phone, none were used for Mirror.

“I like to admit that as well. I think a lot comes from nothing in a creative room. I hadn’t worked with that many people in the room until SongHubs, and I loved it! I was excited to have a new experience in writing, and it helped me create after that, gave me more inspiration.”

Very much accustomed, and evidently comfortable, to be the star of her own show, the visually rich video for Mirror is also shared with Vallé. DoP was Mike Kelland, and Christchurch-based Belmont Productions have now produced her last three videos. Ashy says she works closely with producer/director Rick Harvie, and had a close hand in choosing the treatment.

“Rick and I work quite closely when we come up with a video – we have so many meetings, and we looked at several venues. This was a really difficult one though with Auckland in lockdown and here not so great either, hence why the [Christchurch] Town Hall was empty, which was lucky on our side. But even just costuming, and the number of people we could have, played a lot into it.

“We had the Town Hall for one whole day (plus a preview for shot planning), so there was a lot of good hard work to achieve that video within that time!”

Her biggest song to date, the 2020 single EGO, is another that Belmont gave the visual treatment, and it has enjoyed over 100,000 views, evidencing Ashy’s growing fan base.

“To get those numbers is a little bit, ‘Wow’… that’s a bit of luck for you!” she chuckles warmly. “EGO came out around Covid, and the video was released quite a bit after the song. But it really helped me hone in on what people really like from me, which was a visual. So I’ve worked Rick quite consistently now to build my whole visual story, which happens to be one of the most important to tell, for me as an artist.”

She happily admits to loving getting made up with glamorous costumes and matching looks, because she knows that’s what the people who watch her enjoy.

“This one was really different because it had Vallé in it as well, and was trying to meld and tell those two stories together. If you listen closely to Vallé’s verse it’s definitely not in the same tone as mine. When he was coming from is more a story of wealth and opportunity, and I definitely wanted to keep his integrity with how his input was being presented. 

“We have a great friendship from this, which is amazing. We never wanted to make it too much about one of us, it was both our stories at the same time. One of our favourite shots was the elevator shot, and the logistics of that were crazy! There are so many people in that elevator, oh my god, and for hours! It’s hilarious to look back on, but it looks so cool.”