Interview: Ash Reiter
Ash Reiter is a natural. The way she sings and sways and commands the stage, it’s like she was born to play music. So it’s difficult to imagine a time when Reiter wasn’t churning out sugar-sweet, sultry-sounding, pop-infused songs, but it turns out, that wasn’t so long ago.
The newly-26-year-old Reiter said it wasn’t until her senior year of college that she realized she had a good voice. Furthermore, it was her roommate – a music major at UCSC – who tipped her off to the fact.
Having taken guitar lessons in high school, Reiter already knew enough about music to start writing and performing, which is exactly what she did. She began collaborating with musical outfits, which ranged from folksy acts to more jazzy types of music.
And after graduating from college, the Sepastopol, Calif., native traveled and moved around a lot, trying to figure out her place, before settling down as a second-grade teacher in Oakland, Calif. Today, she works with an after-school program, teaching music to children.
Reiter said her style, which has been described as indie, folk, rock, jazz and she personally refers to as “island-influenced”, draws inspiration from friends in local bands, including Rubies, as well as bigger bands like Little Joy and even The Clash.
“[But] it always changes,” she insisted.
Her 15-song debut album, “Paper Diamonds,” was released in February of this year, after more than couple years of hard work – work which is more than apparent in the beautifully polished aesthetic of the album. It features plenty of lush harmonies and delicate hooks, and runs the gamut from upbeat rock ‘n’ roll-inspired tunes to tentative and stripped-down ballad-y numbers.
Work on the album began in 2007, when Reiter collaborated with Phoenix-based Shane Kennedy, who “was kind of the guy masterminding it,” she said.
Unfortunately, Reiter was sick during the process and ending up having to scrap a lot of the recordings.
“It just gave me this very vulnerable, whispy sort of voice,” she explained.
But in spite of not coming out with many successful takes, Reiter said that she doesn’t regret the time spent on the recordings.
“That was a really good experience for me,” she said of her exposure to a professional recording environment, noting that – a solo artist up until that point – she especially was unaccustomed to playing with other musicians.
In the time since then, Reiter laid down and completed all the tracks on he album, resulting in an exquisitely appealing and very real debut.
And then came the process of promoting the album and playing shows. However, in the past few years since Reiter began moving forward on her musical path, she has definitely made a name for herself even before she had an album to tout, playing small bills and large festivals alike (the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle being one example), filming videos of studio performances, and even sneaking in a Daytrotter session or two.
Included in her live band are musicians Drew Brown (guitar), Mike Spreer (bass) and Will Halsey (drummer). The latter is also her boyfriend and partner in songwriting. In addition to playing together in Ash Reiter, they have a conceptual electro-pop side project, Sugar Candy Mountain.
“We both wanted to make happy music,” she said of their collaboration. “Lately we’re just wanting to make people dance.”
This marks a new kind of songwriting for Reiter, who admitted her songs were much more personal when she first set out to write. Now, she finds herself in the collaborative position a lot more often, which creates a self-imposed distance between Reiter and the words she pens.
“[Co-writing songs is] kinda hard for me,” she said. “It’s a different way of thinking.”
Currently, the Ash Reiter crew is in the studio, recording the follow-up to “Paper Diamonds” at East Bay studio New Improved Recording. The album, set to be named “Hola,” will be released in Spring of 2011. But for fans who can’t wait to hear the new material, local label 20 Sided Records will put out a 7-inch in January, featuring three of the songs from the new album.
While Reiter has undeniably come a long way from the recording novice of just a few years ago, she still enjoys the aspect of the live experience the most. In fact, for her, nothing beats the feeling of “putting on a show [and] being on stage performing.”
Although, she has noticed a dichotomy between the way crowds and fans interact with her at different venues. College audiences, she said, are typically “attentive to your every move,” which makes her feel somewhat self-conscious. But on the flipside, Reiter said that sometimes she also plays where “you have to try and win over people.”
However, that somewhat-unpredictable fluctuation of playing live is part of what makes it so much fun, and Reiter’s main goal with the band is just to “get some sort of momentum going.”
This includes touring outside of the Bay Area more, playing in other bands and recording more albums.
“I want to make more music videos [too],” she said.
As for her long-term plans as a musician?
“I don’t know if I want to be Sheryl Crow when I grow up,” she said. “[But] I’d like to make it my career.”