Ashley Rhodus has always been just on the outside of my social circle. She’s friends with some of my friends and I’m friends with some of hers. That’s just the way Athens is, a place where almost all of us live within one degree of separation from each other. Up until this past summer I knew Ashley as the red-headed Skulltender. Then most of the students went back to their hometowns and that social circle shrank once more. But our paths still never crossed.
One night in the summer my friend invited me to a show at the Pink Mistress because his friend Ashley was going to play some tunes. I tried to watch the set but even with the ceiling fan spinning at top speed sweat poured down my face. I headed for the fridge to snag an ice-cold beer and sit on the back steps.
She caught my attention, though, with her bottle of tequila at her side, her nylon-string acoustic guitar, orange Kustom amp, and effects pedals. I listened through the open kitchen door and found myself in awe of the uniquely quivering vocals that accompanied her simple, folky guitar strumming.
Besides the times I would stumble up to the bar at the Skull to order another PBR from her, we didn’t interact until the first day of September. In the middle of a shift at the Valero I received an unexpected Facebook message from Ashley Rhodus. She had sent me a link to her new EP Pseudio Recordings on Bandcamp, released under the moniker Wished Bone.
After the first Jettison staff meeting I set to brainstorming topics. I came back across Pseudio Recordings and remembered that summer night. I decided to write about her.
Ashley and I meet up on a Thursday night. We both had long days, me going to class and finishing up preparations for the interview, her finishing an exam before returning home. I gather my notebook and sixer of PBR pint cans and head down the road to her place. We’re pretty much neighbors but this is the first time we’d ever hung out. I knock on the door and one of her roommates answers.
“Ashley here?” I ask, avoiding eye contact with yet another Athenian who I knew from around town.
Ashley, sporting a green trucker hat that reads BAHAMA PAPA in white text, is playing with one of the house’s cats when I walk in. We head down the stairs and out the back door. Ashley leads me through a brief splash of darkness to a door on the outside of the house. She pulls it open and turns on the light.
I find myself in the Pseudio, a poorly lit room with a drum kit sitting on Persian carpet, amps, pedals, guitars, a couple paintings in various artistic styles, a pile of torn-up carpet for future soundproofing, broken tube lighting that turns itself on occasionally, and a deteriorating dresser holding her Tascam Portastudio four-track and a briefcase full of cables. One of the toms sits on the floor without a stand with nearly a dozen empty PBRs on top. I plop my bag on the ground and pull my beers out.
“Can I have one of those? Or should I go get one?” Ashley asks. I laugh and tell her I’m not going to be able to drink all six on my own and two beer cans hiss like a brief crackle of static.
She sets to plugging the four-track into her amp. She pulls the original cassette out of its case and places it in the four-track. I’m going to hear Pseudio Recordings as it’s meant to be heard. “Witty Boys Make Graves” starts playing, her shaky vocals and lofi folk rattling the drum kit.
“I like the rattling,” I try to tell her, but she’s too busy muttering to herself while fiddling with the kit, attempting to quiet the additional noise accompanying the first stanza of her song. When she finishes, she turns the amp down just a bit.
I hate the way I cannot see / All of the spaces between the trees / So I’ll take a photograph and try to make it work / But every memory is just a circle drawn in the dirt …
“I guess this song’s not a bad place to start. It’s the opening track. Do you frequently open your set with it?” I ask.
“I have been recently. Since I’ve released this. Probably because it’s not one of my favorite songs. I like sorta finishing with whatever’s my favorite song at the time.”
I think back to the other night at the Skull, when Ashley played with DVA, an insane experimental loop pop group from the Czech Republic. I remember her finishing with a song I didn’t recognize from Pseudio, full of intense vocal delays complimenting sparse lyrics.
“It was one of the new ones. It’s called ‘Hubbub.’ I wrote these words and they were playing in my head a certain way … I think the only way they could come out the way they needed to was with the delay.”
Ashley is a talented songwriter but, as a poet, I’m particularly interested in her lyricism. Her songs usually feature rhyming couplets, either with exact rhyme or close, or slant, rhymes. But her rhyme scheme isn’t law, as she experiments with her lyrics on each tune.
The tracks on Pseudio Recordings are straight-forward, leaving nothing hidden and nothing more to be desired. These are songs about travel, lost lovers, a trip to the DMV on East State Street; songs simply about being, without the makeup of superfluous, meaningless language.
“It seems to be, so far, really associated with seasons, which is weird. This past one had a lot to do with the end of winter and the beginning of spring. And it’s interesting because at the end of the summer and beginning of fall is when I started this next album,” she says.
The conversation darkens quickly, as I start to delve deeper into her songwriting. Not all artists want to admit that struggle fuels their work, but Ashley has nothing to hide about her creative process. Full of longing, failed relationships, and transition, Pseudio Recordings is a musical confessional, her journal, amplified.
“I wrote the songs in a short period, about a week and a half, in March. I’m telling you, I wanted to die and was hating everything. It started as trying to turn my poems into melodies.”
The vocals effects accentuate this. Sometimes it really does sound like she’s crying.
“Do you think your struggles are really what are fueling your ability to create?” I ask.
“Yeah. I think so. Yeah.”
“Does that worry you if you were to get to a place where you were content?”
“I don’t really ever want to just be content. I think that’s almost worse than being flighty. I think that would be the most boring thing, just being content,” she answers with the laughter of slight inebriation. “I think that’s why I just wanna travel and struggle, you know? Not in a way that I’m dying, in a way I’m, like, half dying.”
I laugh with her, maybe as a defense mechanism in response to such raw honesty. Or maybe it’s because of her transcendence of the anxiety over being the focus of attention. I can’t help but blurt out my enthusiasm, awe spilling out of my grinning mouth.
Ashley idealizes The Starving Artist. This is common in young creators, but there’s authenticity in her desire for struggle and travel. She tells me she’s only alive when she’s half dead, only full when she’s half empty. That she recognizes the paradox of happiness. It’s a slippery, abstract concept that floats right through your hands once you think you’ve found it. Writing this, I think back to the book I’m reading about Buddhist philosophy. While I have no idea about Ashley’s spiritual leanings, or mine, I know she’s already on her own unique path. She’s not looking for anything in particular, just a simple life as a warble folk troubadour. She isn’t looking for happiness, just a life outside of societal norms that will allow her to create and find fulfillment in what she truly enjoys. Contentment breeds stasis, and Ashley needs motion in her life, particularly in her pursuit of satisfaction through music.
I don’t need no temporary home / I got mine just where I roam …
Ashley is stuck in the past, not only in her analog recording process, but also in her anachronistic lifestyle. She needs the transitory life, bouncing from place to place. I can’t help but notice something so bohemian in her desire. Like she tried time-traveling back to the great folk days of Greenwich Village but forgot to take off her trucker hat.
We start talking about “High and Lonesome,” Pseudio’s second track. This song has less of a singer-songwriter vibe, instead following a more traditional folk narrative. It’s easy to hear the influence Bob Dylan and Michael Hurley have had on Ashley’s songwriting.
“High and Lonesome” is a reflection on not having a place to call home, an obvious nod to the transitory life of so many olde-timey country singers and folk musicians. Ashley named the song after her friend’s band that she toured with. She didn’t know if she was going to finish her degree in Plant Biology at the time and had no idea of her next step.
“We were just kinda going across. My friend Conrad built this crazy truck with this wooden structure on the back. I felt like I had nowhere to call home … it was kinda just thinking ‘that’s okay.’”
Again, I can identify with her perspective. I had flirted with the idea of not finishing my degree in Creative Writing two summers ago while working at Fluff Bakery. I had convinced myself that I would struggle for my art and work wage jobs to get by. But I decided to complete my degree and now I’m just a few weeks from graduation and I find myself wondering again: what the fuck am I gonna do next?
But Ashley is lucky; she’s a musician, and a damn good one at that. She’s planning a tour for the winter with her partner Brian, who performs as The Wandering Lake. They’re going out west as far as Lawrence, KS, where Brian lives at my late idol William S. Burroughs’ estate and as far south as Pensacola, FL. Through touring and releasing more records, Ashley will be able to travel and support herself enough to stay on the road.
I’m jealous as hell. I wish that the poetic community allowed for self-sustainable touring, but as there aren’t so many venues that host paid readings of traveling poets, I would have to pay out of pocket for this kind of lifestyle.
Smoking my tobacco seems so dumb / When I listen to you hum / Living in the country sounds so good / And I know that we could …
Ashley doesn’t aspire to the status of rock star. She doesn’t need to be this generation’s folk goddess. But she wants out of Athens in the near future. While others in town are content with playing a show a week in town, she wants to take her music, and her life, outside of Southeastern Ohio. Like so many of us, she has her eyes set on the West Coast.
“I wanna grow my own food. The first thing I wanna do when I graduate is just buy an acre of land somewhere and camp on it until I can build a little fucking fort or something.”
She wants to put her knowledge of plants to use without studying them in a lab. Her approach is more hands-on and she hopes to get the best out of life through her own collection of experiences. Music, though a relatively new medium to her, will be a constant to help her cope with the struggles of her daily life.
“I feel really good when I get it out. It might just be self-induced mania or bipolar or something, but when I get it done it feels so good.”
Springtime lover, / My perennial flower, / How come I only see you when April showers? / And every downpour / Only lasts an hour …
“The vocal effects were really inspired by Mac DeMarco … Basically I can show you. He recorded his first few albums on a four-track. He uses this thing, called a pitch shift. For this song [“Springtime Lover”] especially.”
She leans over the top of the four-track and messes with some knobs. Her vocals slide up and down in a more exaggerated way than on the record itself.
She continues, “That’s what Mac DeMarco uses on most of his songs, which is why his voice sounds super deep and creepy.”
Ashley wrote all six songs of Pseudio Recordings on her own, but one night after a show at the Bat Lounge, she asked Shane Riley to borrow some of the mics that were laying around and headed back to the Pseudio with Brian. He played the drums and plucked away at her dad’s Japanese Fender Stratocaster, also providing some additional vocals and bass on “High and Lonesome.”
“How long did the recording process take?
“We did it in a night.”
“Jesus Christ …”
One night. Who do they think they are? Black Fucking Sabbath? Most bands today spend days, even weeks, in the studio perfecting each miniscule sound on their debut EPs but Ashley and Brian hooked up the four-track, recorded six songs with Brian improvising his parts, and cut a record.
While she may call her music lofi, there’s nothing sloppy about it. This is 21st century folk in its most honest form, recorded in a dank basement with old equipment onto a cassette tape, and, honestly, I couldn’t imagine the recording happening anywhere else. Pseudio Recordings may be a reflection of Ashley and her everyday experiences, but it’s also a reflection of the Pseudio. Appropriately enough, her next record, a full-length, will be called Cellar Belly.
“So what’s the deal with Cellar Belly? When’s that happening?” I ask.
“It could be tonight.”
“Am I keeping you from something?”