For this week’s Women to Watch Wednesday, Eileen interviewed Ashli Cheshire, the lead vocalist/songwriter/rhythm guitarist of Cheshi, a Frederick, Maryland (USA)-based dark folk band. Eileen talked to Ashli about her political lyricism, what it was like recording her first EP, and how her music can be the catalyst for social change.
Eileen: Your music to me sounds like the lovechild of Mazzy Star & The Cranberries, mixed with old mountain myths and dark magic; your deep, haunting voice that slides up and down the scales resonates with Appalachian gothic and dark folk. Describe your music to someone who’s never heard it.
Ashli: You’ve said it perfectly. When others describe my music, they often do that better than I ever could.
E: What moves you to make your music?
A: Questions. I was this was pretentious once. That the things that move me to write are my questions of where everything fits into our perception, our lives, our deaths, ours lives after death. I am very curious of the occult. The connections of different realms we may or may not be capable of realizing. I am very curious od bad people. How they continue to destroy the world, humans and Earth. I am very curious of myself, relationships and emotions I can’t explain.
E: What does it feel like to record your first EP?
A: It feels right on time. And at the same time, it feels like it’s been a long time coming. I’m most excited for our audience to hear what we are capable of. It feels good to take each note seriously. To recognize intention, ambition. I think many people will be pleasantly surprised. Trevor Williams (lead guitar/vocals), Matt Jachowski (bass) and Evan Braswell (drums) simply amazed me in the studio. I’m so glad they were with me on this and charging into the Cheshi future with me.
E: Tell me the backstory of your most recent release, “To Lose.“
A: The dichotomy between struggle and acceptance, in terms of following your passions in something like music—like jumping off a cliff into thin air. It’s okay to be apprehensive, it’s okay to be afraid of the ghosts of your past, or anything holding you back for that matter. But you’re moving ahead and that’s all there is to it. Your cup’s full. You’ve got nothing to worry about.
E: Cheshi’s lyrics are poetry that burns with a quiet, sustaining rage. How did you write these songs?
A: I write when I’m in that dark human place we all get to when everything seems so fucked. Music is that glint of light in the dark water above me. It gets me out—I may be gasping—but it gets me out. Other times, writing is a meditative thing. Mostly, it keeps my head above water.
E: Cheshi’s music is infused with politics, varying from subtle nods to bold choruses in “My Country” and “A Letter from Mother Nature.” What messages do you most wish to share in your music?
A: I can constantly feel this weight of the world. It’s there like bricks against my back, my chest. I often wonder how humans can continue on this destructive path. I often wonder where I come in. What am I doing wrong? How can I change? How can I change others? I feel such sadness and this overwhelming anger for how we act towards each other in America, so I wrote “My Country.” My newest song, “Poison,” is my cry to the Mountain Spirit. I wrote it while traveling along New River Gorge. The water was contaminated, and I cried for the mountain. One lyrics is “your veins are my veins / your flesh is my flesh / and we are both poison.”
E: How does your identity figure into your work?
A: I’m still trying to figure that out.
by Ashley Renee Hoffman
E: How does your feminism influence your music?
A: I do not stand for inequality. Bigotry. Racism. Sexism. Xenophobia. I’m sure it works in, by default I’m sure.
E: From your site: “Cheshi sings about the various challenges of life and the realistic darkness that exists in the world we live in.” To you, what are these challenges, and how do you hope to spark a catalyst for change with your music?
A: As questions inspire my songwriting, I hope in turn they motivate the listener to seek answers.
E: When you aren’t making music, what else do you do?
A: I’m a visual artist as well. I take antique art and do what I like to call “resolve” it. I am also an avid gamer and hiker. I like getting big ideas and collaborating with people even if it doesn’t end up going anywhere. I enjoy designing posters. I like sitting next to fires and sharing a bottle.
E: What are your hopes for Cheshi?
A: I wish to be proud. To say, gasping with life, that I have achieved what I was supposed to. To make an impact. To be fulfilled. My hopes for Cheshi are the same hopes I have for myself.
E: How can we support your music? Any upcoming gigs?
A: Ones to mention: October 23rd – Town Run Brewery in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I’ll also be having an opening for my most recent visual work there the same evening. I just organized a Halloween art show: The Dead Will Rise – October 29th at the Maryland Ensemble Theater (MET) in Frederick, Maryland.
E: What else do you feel is important readers know about you?
A: As I was writing this, I was listening to Phillip Glass’s “Knee Play 3,” and I hope it didn’t affect my answers too badly.