Soulfully eccentric – that is just one way to describe the sound of emerging swamp pop artist Ashton Parson. Born in the back woods of South Carolina to a heroic, white 16-year-old mother and black, fly-by-night father, Ashton’s early childhood was fashioned with domestic hardship and prejudice. Shortly after giving birth, his mother was kicked out of her home for having a bi-racial child.
Miraculously, without the support of family, she still found ways to provide for Ashton, often leaning on music to get them through. By age 3, she already had Ashton rockin’ his pain out on a toy keyboard she bought for his birthday. From day one, Ashton had no choice but to live and sing the blues.
Ashton broke from his rustic roots and began making a mark on the NYC music scene. Hardly one week into arrival, he began entering singing competitions and playing open mics in the Lower East Side venues. Collecting only praise from his contemporaries, and already famed for his soulful, smoky tone, Ashton landed a regular set at the TriBeCa hotspot, Duane Park. Driven, and never artistically satisfied, Ashton continued to network, seeking more and more opportunities for his voice to be heard.
In 2010, Ashton hooked up with experienced NYC vocal coach Gordon Grody and began taking lessons regularly. When he arrived early for one lesson, Ashton crossed paths with music producer Rob Ray, who was on the tail end of a meeting with Gordon. On the hunt for new projects, Rob played a few tracks for Ashton, and Ashton sang a few a cappella numbers for Rob. Coming from two very different musical backgrounds, the chemistry was unexpectedly natural.
Now only 20 years-old, and still in search for romantic love, Ashton’s undoubtedly found the greatest love on earth in his mother, and it is best expressed in the bridge of “Rolling Stone”. He sings about her never having a sweet sixteen due to having him instead, and that he’s going to honor her by one day by making it onto the cover of a magazine like Rolling Stone. With his debut EP nearing completion, and “Rolling Stone” already building momentum, it won’t be long before Ashton Parson returns to his hometown in Cheraw, South Carolina just as Dizzy Gillespie once did—famous, with his dreams having come to fruition.
It is somewhat shocking, yet simultaneously regretful that our society would separate your mother and father. What have your roots done to shape who you are and the way you preceive life?
To be honest, as crazy as my childhood was, I feel really blessed to have grown up the way that I did. I was raised by my mother who had me when she was 16 years old. In a way we sort of grew up together. I watched her work 3 jobs at a time to provide for me and make sure that I was never deprived of basic necessities.
My relationship with my father was non-existent. He was abusive and out of my life at a very early stage. Watching my mother work so hard for what little we had really stuck with me throughout my life. I learned that nothing comes easy, and if you want something you have to truly work for it. I don’t believe in having anything handed to me. If I’m not busting my butt grinding for what I want, then it doesn’t feel right. I’m thankful that I’ve had a woman like her in my life to teach me that.
The iconic image of “Rolling Stone” has obviously been a major theme in your life, do you consider yourself a rolling stone?
I truly do [Laughs]. It’s funny because you know I’m always moving. I’m never in one place or ever know where I’m going next; and I like it like that ya know? I’m very spontaneous and I don’t think I could survive any other way. It’s funny because my friends always make fun of me for carrying this humungous bag full of clothes and stuff with me everywhere because I never know if I’m going to go to the studio or if I’m gonna go write with a friend uptown and stay over. So I literally always have this humungous bag in case I need to change.
From a young age you were inspired by music. But were you ever drawn to a different career? Could we have seen Ashton Parson the dancer?
I actually wanted to go into broadcast journalism. I went to college for that initially when I moved to the city, but it just wasn’t for me. I was too passionate about music to focus on anything else. Ashton Parson the dancer does indeed exist after a glass of whiskey. I can hold my own out there on the dance floor for sure.
What was it like to move to New York on your own?
I visited NYC first when I was 16. It just always felt like home. I moved here when I was 17, and it just felt right to be here. I didn’t belong back home, I was too restricted. I remember I would just take the subway all over and get lost on purpose so I could learn my way around. I got up here, and on my first night in the city I went to the Lower East Side and did some open mics. I had waited so long to sing in the city so I just jumped right into it. By the time I was 18 I had a residency in TriBeCa.
Teaming up with Gordon Grody must have been a major breakthrough, but it must have also inspired some sort of validation within you. Did you feel like you finally achieved what you deserved?
When Gordon reached out to me I really didn’t think it through about how big of a deal it was. I remember the first day I went to his house and he told me to sing for him, and I did a James Morrison song. He was completely blown away and told me then that he could never charge me for a lesson. This man has worked with Lady GaGa, Alicia Keys, Luther Vandross, Billy Joel, etc. For him to say that really lit a fire within me, and boosted my confidence a lot. He helped me truly believe that I could do this.
What has working with Gordon taught you? Do you have bigger goals, bigger ideas?
Gordon is a brutally honest man, [Laughs] sometimes too honest. He will tell me I sound like s*** in a heartbeat; and sometimes you need that you know? He is always pushing me to be my absolute best. He brought out things in me that I had never been able to do before, and it was because of my own insecurities that I wasn’t doing these things. He really was that first person to push me and because of that I don’t doubt myself as much anymore. I learned that there are no limits to what I can do.
What is your idea of success? If you don’t have one, how will you know you’ve “made it”?
When I’m looking at the audience and they all know the words to my music, that’s going to feel great.
I find it interesting that you say you are drawn to your father’s appeal with women, and that it is your pursuit to understand it. What is it about the rolling stone that we love? That we want to be that small stop in their life before they move on?
It wasn’t so much my father’s appeal with women I was interested in as much as why they allow him to do the things he does, and continue to love him so unconditionally. He has made a life living off of women for years; and it just really is beyond me how he does that. But I guess he probably has a lot of stories to tell. [Laughs]
We know you are breaking out as a new artist, and your sound is awesome, it is complex as it is refined – almost like a young Elvis. What are some plans that you have for your career that we may not have expected?
Thank you for that Elvis comparison. He is really one of the artists we looked to when crafting my sound. It’s that old blues/rock feel with a bit of a soul and pop groove. As far as my career goes, the only solid plan I have is to be around for a very long time.
If you could team up with any artist right now, who would it be?
I would love to work with Lana Del Rey. Her vision is so concrete and the music and lyrics are totally as captivating as the aesthetic is. I would also like to do a track with my best friend Rye Rye; we’ve talked about it for so long but we have yet to get into the studio. That will happen soon. I secretly have an obsession with female rap.
Aidan Sakiri /Elite.