By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Ask anybody how their past year has been and you’ll likely get a negative response, mostly in relation to the direction of mental health – whether it was from losses of loved ones, jobs or financial hardships.
Diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Complex-PTSD, life hasn’t been easy for Ashley Virginia.
The North Carolina-based experimental folk-rock renegade peppers the theme of mental health all throughout her diary-esque debut full-length album ‘And Life Just Goes On Living,’ due out Aug. 13, 2021.
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to speak with Virginia about her upcoming 11-track release and more.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Ashley Virginia – I love the songwriting process. I find it to be a very healing creative outlet that lets me reflect on and express vulnerability in ways that I am often unable to express otherwise. Taking personal and emotional experiences and turning them into art feels like a superpower sometimes.
Music Bugle – How important is mental health to you?
Ashley Virginia – It’s very important to me because it is vital for my survival, overall well-being and quality of life. My mental health is something I am constantly working on to feel comfortable living in this world. I wish our society was better equipped to support a healthy mind and body. The accessibility barriers – not even factoring the stigma – to proper treatment and care in this country is a huge problem. If I didn’t have good insurance and access to a treatment, I don’t know if I’d still be here today.
Music Bugle – What was your goal for your new album ‘And Life Just Goes On Living’?
Ashley Virginia – I don’t really think I had an “end goal” in mind when I sat down and wrote the songs that are on this album. Expectations of productivity can very easily create barriers to creativity. These songs were my way of processing the world around me. I try not to sit down and write with any expectations. After over a year of writing and reflecting, I started assembling the songs that I was proud of and that complimented each other and the album was born. I don’t really claim or aspire to be a poster child for mental health or anything like that. In my song, “Bellyache,” I say it straight-up, “I don’t have any sort of answers to provide.” These were the songs I needed to write and it’s pretty cool that other people seem to enjoy them.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ashley Virginia – I would consider myself an extrovert and so, isolation was really tough for me. The pandemic really shone a light on the areas of myself that needed love and attention. It became very apparent how reliant I was – and still can be sometimes – on external validation.
Music Bugle – How would you describe North Carolina to someone who has never been there before?
Ashley Virginia – No matter where you are in this state, nature is really only a stone’s throw away. We’ve got everything from mountains to sea and a rich and vibrant culture. I don’t think we’re recognized enough for all of the great musicians that come from here. North Carolina is home to John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Earl Scruggs, Libba Cotten, Ben Folds, J. Cole, Emmylou Harris and the list goes on. People love to s*** on the South for being bigoted/racist/conservative. What people fail to realize is how gerrymandered districts and lack of access to a more comprehensive education hold us hostage in a lot of ways from moving in a more progressive direction. Don’t get me wrong – bigoted and racist people exist here, but we’re not a lost cause. We have our own history to recon with, but so does this country as a whole and the South is often made to be the scapegoat. North Carolina is a beautiful place to live! It’s home!
Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write?
Ashley Virginia – I don’t really think any of them were hard to write, really. During a lot of the writing process, I was going through some hard times, but writing them was easy – like reflecting in a journal or diary.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Ashley Virginia – I don’t think it would surprise anyone to hear that I listen to a lot of music from the 60s/70s. Some staples for me are The Beatles, Queen, ABBA, Dolly Parton, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, George Harrison, Jude Sill, Fleetwood Mac, The Bee Gees and Blondie. Some more current artists that are in my rotation are Big Thief, Adrianne Lenker, Lucy Dacus, Anna Burch, Crumb, Courtney Barnett, Faye Webster, Divino Nino, Lake Street Dive, Lizzo, Maggie Rogers and Whitney.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Ashley Virginia – I love to go hiking when I need a break. There’s nothing like immersing yourself in nature when you need a new perspective. The closing song on the album was written while on vacation in the mountains of West Virginia for a week. I stayed in a cabin with some friends – no cell service, no internet. It was wonderful to literally get away.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Ashley Virginia – I think social media has a lot of potential for positive interactions and opportunities. It allows us to connect with one another in ways that we never have before. With that being said, I think it simultaneously hurts us as a society to be plugged in all of the time. It can be just as addicting as some drugs or alcohol. The only reason I am still on social media is because you have to nowadays to be a working musician. I have to set a lot of limits and boundaries with myself and social media – I don’t have any notifications turned on anymore. I am way happier when I am able to unplug and be present.
Music Bugle – What do you hope for by the end of 2021?
Ashley Virginia – By the end of 2021, I hope to be well on my way with recording my next album. I never stop writing and so, I’ve basically always got a collection of songs to keep me occupied. I hope to continue on my journey towards happiness and healing and I hope to look back on this album and feel a continued sense of pride for the work I put into it. Ultimately, growth is the goal. As long as I’m growing, I’m living.