Her lyrics and stunning voice caught our attention, but her heart and drive are why we stayed hooked. Ashley McKinley is a 25-year-old singer/songwriter from Howell, New Jersey who is breaking into the Nashville music scene. She is a senior at Belmont University and is pursuing a degree in songwriting and minoring in music business. Interestingly enough, she first caught the songwriting bug when listening to an Avril Lavigne song at a young age and had an urge to change the lyrics and melody a bit. Then it occurred to her, “Oh, I don’t need to do that, I can just write my own song!” And she has been writing ever since. Still, who wouldn’t want to hear that Avril/Ashley mashup, though, right?
In high school. McKinley’s love for music blossomed as she started to discover which genres and artists resonated with her the most. She now has a unique range of musical influences from legends such as The Beatles and Carole King to Cristina Perri and Kacey Musgraves. In fact, Musgraves’ album “Same Trailer, Different Park” McKinely states, “changed my life.” The elements she finds intriguing about these artists – their authenticity, heartfelt writing and great melodies – are greatly mirrored in the song that was so graciously shared with us, titled “Love Language.”
“I shouldn’t have stole your keys
I didn’t wanna let you leave
I’m trying to rid of my regrets
And the biggest one is how we left”
“Love Language” is a hauntingly beautiful story, told from the point of view of someone who is coming to terms with the fact that the person they have shared so many memories with is leaving. While the story of the song itself is emotional and raw, the story behind the song is just as vulnerable.
“This is a song I wrote for one of my songwriting classes when I was not in the mood to write. I had completely forgotten the assignment was due the next day, so I quickly dropped what I was doing, and headed over to our writing rooms on Music Row. I was writing the song with tears streaming down my face and staring at the Starstruck Entertainment sign in front of me, when one of the songwriting classes walked in on me. I quickly fled the scene, and relocated to the downstairs couches. They were nestled in the corner, hidden by bookshelves, and it was there that I cried in peace and finished the song. The next day, I was really hoping I wouldn’t get called on in class to share my song. It typically takes more than one class to get through everyone’s, so I had a fair shot. Of course, I was picked on first! It was so embarrassing. My classmates and professor were cheering me on the whole time because it was nearly impossible to get through it without crying. I was a blubbering mess. Anyway, my professor came up to me afterwards and told me it was the best song she had heard me write, so it was worth it.”
Often, it is the songs that were never meant to be that usually end up being the most prevalent in a songwriter’s life and career. When there is no planning and only spontaneity in the moment, lyrics can flow freely from pencil to paper and from heart to world. Because of this, we’re so grateful that this is the song and story McKinley chose to share with us. What a gift.
Currently, McKinley is a busy bee. She is attending school, working at The Lotus Room, and working on her next project, recording a new EP! She also dedicates a lot of her time to mental health awareness on her social media, working alongside family-run accounts @mindfulmft and @mantalks on Instagram. She dreams to lessen the stigma on mental health by sharing her story and helping others find resources. You can find Ashley McKinley’s music on all streaming platforms, including her EP “Wishful Thinking” and two recently released singles “Break Even” and “The Truth Is.” Upcoming shows include a livestream on April 3rd benefitting a UK charity and a writers’ round at Donelson Pub on April 12th. Hope to see you there!