Music

Ashley Eriksson: Sunset

The COOLEST new video and some sweet chit-chat about art and stuff.

Many years ago, when her band LAKE was just a few years old, I used to follow Ashley Eriksson’s blog. Mostly I remember a lot of pictures of the natural idyll of the Pacific Northwest, and being charmed by how romantic her life looked. Her voice had the same feeling: naturally beautiful, sweet, a little shy.

Earlier this year, Eriksson released her debut solo album, Colours, for K Records. It’s a melancholy number that shows off her skills as a songwriter.

When I saw her new video, for the song “Sunset,” for the first time, I immediately wanted to share it with the Rookies of the world. Who cannot relate to this tug-of-war between technology and IRL connection? Also, the choreography of it is a marvel.

I emailed with Ashley about all this and more late last week, and here’s what she said.

JESSICA: So, this video was really immediately fascinating and thought-provoking to me. Where did the idea come from?

ASHLEY ERIKSSON: Sarah Hanssen, the director, approached me with the idea for the video. It was all her! The lyrics involve struggles with technology and quality of life, so Sarah’s concept for the video was to have one long, continuous shot of me going back and forth between a hyper-modern room and a more old-fashioned room, torn between two ways of living. I live in Washington and Sarah lives in New York, so she also planned the video around my band’s tour schedule—when we would be playing shows in New York state. I learned the choreography ahead of time over email from a friend of hers. That part was really fun. The choreography tells the story. When I originally wrote the song seven years ago, it was about quitting smoking, but there’s obviously more to the song than that, because it still continues to resonate with me. 

I follow you online, and your life seems to mirror this video in certain aspects—like, you are someone who puts work online, but at the same time, you have some real analog, DIY, hanging-out-in nature-aspects. Is that an accurate picture?

Yes, definitely. I am glad that comes across. I like to be googleable and am grateful to live somewhat close to nature. I grew up in a suburb of L.A., so I came to resent all the green lawns and non-indigenous plants [there] and wanted to live somewhere that had a more symbiotic way of living. Right now I’m living where my husband, Eli, grew up, on Whidbey Island. It’s pretty close to Seattle.

What’s your life like on the island? What did you do this weekend?

This weekend was interesting. Eli was gone for the weekend recording our friends’ band, PETS, in eastern Washington, so I had some time alone to work on myself. I slept outside in the RV without heat in my sleeping bag one night. I wanted to test it out. It was probably 32–38 degrees in there. It felt so amazing and centering and I had really great dreams. Yesterday, instead of making plans to party and watch the Super Bowl, I bought a day pass to go to this fancy gym with a saltwater pool and did as much exercising and sauna-ing as I possibly could. I pushed myself more than I normally would. It was great. 

I feel like that is always my goal, but—like a lot of people, I think—I find myself swept up in the ease of technology and wasting a crazy amount of time on, like, Facebook.

Facebook, fortunately, doesn’t take very much of my time. It’s just this thing I use sometimes.

What’s your favorite use of technology in your life? 

My favorite use of technology, right now, would have to be my mother-in-law’s NutriBullet. Haha. We’re living with my husband’s parents right now. I love making smoothies in the morning. Sometimes I wish I could just eat smoothies all day. It’s sort of brain-numbing compared with actually cooking.

Is your phone your least favorite? What’s your relationship with your phone like?

My relationship with it is complicated. It is so helpful, but it’s hard not to overuse when I’m still discovering new things about it. I got a menstrual-calendar app recently that I’m excited about. Last week I was thinking that I’d really like to learn the constellations. A constellation app seems like a perfectly wonderful, harmless learning tool to add to my life. 

Are you a more analog person? Do you write and mail letters?

I like art objects, ephemera, going to museums, thrift stores…and I love handwriting, so you would think I would like writing letters, but I despise it. I rely on word processing [and on] editing my sentences constantly until I feel like I am getting my honest ideas across. I don’t even like talking on the phone. I fall out of touch easily with people, so if it weren’t for email and touring, I would just lose touch, and the only people who I would ever see and talk to would live within 10 miles from where I am living.

How have you found community where you live? 

The community here is really wonderful. I love this place. The pace is slower. Eli grew up here, so there are friends and families who have been connected for a long time, but I never feel like I’m left out as a newcomer. There’s always newcomers here. Also, a funny thing about our community is that there’s not many people here in our age group, so you always spot each other right away. Who are they? What do they do? We should ask them to come over for dinner.

Why did you want to make a solo record?

Recording is such an incredible tool to have discovered in my life. To be able to layer sounds and sculpt moods and feelings is absolutely priceless. I wonder if I will ever tire of recording. I wanted to make a solo record because I hadn’t made one in years, since I had been in the band LAKE. Any recordings/demos I made went to the band. But recording myself is a different process and I’m able to have more control. 

What did you learn while making it?

Off the top of my head, I would say that the things I learned from making Colours are:

  • Having hundreds of tracks worked for Enya, but it didn’t work for me. It will drive you crazy and will probably crash your computer. (I’m talking about the second song, “Why Are You So Helpless?” with which I will never be satisfied…)

  • Mixing tracks (getting the levels of each track just right) is super hard. When you have to listen to your songs over and over again, you lose perspective after a while. 
  • I learned that a recording isn’t a song. You have the song and the idea for the recording, but it doesn’t always work out how you want it to. It might have all the parts, tempo, and everything, but not the right feel. You might never get a recorded version of the song that you like, but you should record it anyways and maybe someone else will come along and do a cool version of it. 
  • Recording cover songs gets me warmed up to do my own songs or lyric writing. It’s a good technique. ♦

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