Ashley Cooke’s debut album is “Shot In The Dark”, and she’s pumped about putting out her body of work for all to hear. A native of Florida, Ashley called 18 different places “home” before settling in Nashville. The singer became somewhat of a TikTok sensation during the pandemic and she was able to build up a fan base and create a buzz in Music City. However, what really shot her to the top was her song “Never Til Now”, a duet with Brett Young that took on a life of its own and has become a go-to song at weddings, gender reveals and other family celebrations. The song, included on the new album, was recently certified as a gold single and Ashley received a commemorative plaque following a performance on the “Today“ show.
“I was honoured that that was the moment to see it all and have it all happen,” says Ashley, who is calling prior to her soundcheck for a show in Jefferson City, Missouri. “That’s my dream morning show and I’m a (show anchor) Hoda Kotb fan. It was a lot of fun.
“I wrote “Never Til Now” with my friend Matt Roy and I thought it was just a really cool love song. I was unsigned at the time and I had no idea what the song was capable of. I posted it on social media and everybody started using it and making videos with it. Now I get to play it live at shows and have people get engaged to it. When I see all the user-generated content online marking special occasions, it’s just amazing to see what a song can do.”
The album kicks off with “Tastes Like”, which begins with a sweet dobro and then kicks into high gear with its catchy chorus. In the song, Ashley tries to drown her sorrow over a lost love with a “Jack and Ginger”. There’s also an eye-catching video for the number with the singer displaying some dance moves that may have been developed through TikTok.
“Actually, I never dance on TikTok, ever,” she laughs. “It’s not my thing, but I’ve got some moves and I broke them out for the video.
“Tastes Like” is a really fun starter for the record. I was thinking of the album almost as a live show where the musicians kind of warm up at the beginning. You hear the guitars go and they stop. Then you have the drums go and they stop. It felt like everybody was shaking the dust off and about to play on my album. It was the perfect opener and had good vibes.”
Ashley slows things down for “See You Around” and there’s an emotive video for the song with her duet partner Nate Smith. It’s another number about an old flame and this time Ashley is reminiscing over a “Jack and Coke”. The album’s title track offers a positive outlook on romance as a chance Saturday night meeting with a stranger in a bar turns out to be the real deal. The “neon stars lined up” for the couple in the song in much the same way they did in terms of the singer’s career.
“I chose that song for the album’s title because a lot of my career up to this point has been feeling like a shot in the dark,” she begins. “My plan was to graduate from college and do new artist stuff like get a publishing deal and write for a few years and then maybe put a song out by myself. It’s the type of path that takes 10 to 12 years to pursue. Then the pandemic happened and I couldn’t do any of that, so I got on social media and started posting videos. Every video you post can be like a shot in the dark at times. I just tried stuff out, and some of it worked and some of it didn’t. That song mirrors a lot of what I’ve been through and what I’ve experienced as a young artist in Nashville.”
Coming in at 24 songs, 20 of which were co-written by Ashley, “Shot in the Dark” sets the record for the longest debut album by a female country performer. The set collects six of her previous singles, plus eighteen new tracks, several of which were released prior to the album coming out. Ashley felt it was important to release the record in one shot, as opposed to two volumes.
“I was thinking about what the next chapter will be and I really don’t know what album two will look like. I have no idea where I will be in a couple of years. I would hate to hold on to half a project that feels so modern and represents where I am right now. A lot of the stories are coming from places I am right at this minute. The label said they believed in me and that they loved the songs so they said let’s just do it. I think that getting to release the art that I’m doing at this time of my life is really important.”
A couple of the more personal songs for Ashley are “I Almost Do” and Enough To Leave”. The former song is a duet with Colbie Caillat, who co-wrote and sang background vocals on “Breathe”, on Taylor Swift’s album “Fearless”. (“I’ve always been a big Colbie fan. We got in a room and we wrote that song, and it came from a very real place. It was about my ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend”). “Enough To Leave” was inspired by Ashley’s mother.
“That song came from advice that my mom had given me,” she explains. “I was in love with somebody that I knew wasn’t right for me and I wasn’t right for him. I didn’t know how to end it without him thinking that I didn’t love him. My mom said the best possible way you can love somebody that’s not right for you is if you leave and you give them the time and space to find the person that is right for them. So that song was born in a hotel room at 2 AM after I asked my mom’s advice.”
Last spring Ashley toured with her “Never Til Now” partner Brett Young. This month she’s on tour with Luke Bryan and then her “Shot In The Dark” headlining tour runs through November. She’s also graced the stage of the Grand Ol’ Opry several times, and her first appearance in October 2022 led to one of the songs on her debut album.
“The weirdest thing about playing the Opry is you think when get up in that circle you’re going to feel different,” she says. “You expect to feel like people you’ve watched up there before, you know, superstars who are shimmering and flowing and they’re just fixed in their world. When I was up there I thought that I still feel like me, just in fancier clothes. But it was amazing to feel connected to all of the greats and stepping into that family of people that really understand me.
“The song “Next To You” came about the morning after my Opry debut. I was walking out into my kitchen and I saw all of the flowers, congratulatory notes and unpopped champagne bottles on the counter. This was all of the stuff that people had given me the night before. I sat down and just started writing a song by journaling through my voice memos. It took maybe 10 or 15 minutes to write the whole thing.”
The song “Moving On With Grace” has a rocking edge spearheaded by some slashing electric guitar. Although Ashley doesn’t have rock influences per se, she does have a penchant for hard country.
“I used to cover Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder And Lead” in my set,” she explains. “I would love that kind of voice and the person I would turn into when I sing a song like that on stage. I wanted to write a version of that with an Ashley to it, and what I’d want to say and how I’d want to do it. Now it adds a really cool aspect to the live show because I kind of get to replace the cover and do my own song.”
The song has another reference to her old friend Jack (Daniels), this time in the form of a new flame to replace the old flame that she’s thinking about. With multiple references to that particular brand of bourbon throughout the album, could an endorsement deal be in the works?
“That would be great,’ Ashley laughs. “At some point I’d love some free Jack so let’s go.”
Other Country Stuff:
Ashley Cooke’s duet partner on “Never Til Now”, Brett Young, has just dropped his own new album “Across The Sheets”. The multi-platinum star’s eight-song record is his most adventurous project thematically and lyrically to date, drawing inspiration from “the person you want to share everything with, the one you lay your head down with every night”. Brett is currently out with Sam Hunt on the “Summer On The Outskirts Tour.”
Nashville has become more than a second home to popular Waterloo Ontario group The Reklaws, inspiring their new release “Honky Tonkin’ About”, featuring international breakout artist and Fort Worth native Drake Milligan. Slipping into their country roots with unmistakable southern tones, the new track featuring Drake, a familiar face on “America’s Got Talent”, delivers the rowdy Reklaws party in a way that is bound to please traditional country music fans.
Embracing the next chapter of his career, Alberta’s Dan Davidson has just released his new upbeat love song “He Met A Girl“. The new single in which Dan hits his stride with a blend of country and pop nostalgia, is the second track from his upcoming album “Nineteen Eighty Something”.
Finally, Vancouver’s Shawn Austin has just released “Dirt Roads Downtown”, a collection of four new tracks that cements his status as one of the country’s fastest-rising new voices. Blending his heartfelt lyrics with pop-driven production, tracks like “Missin’ You” and “Lonely With Me” come to life complements of his distinctive, husky vocal grit.