As a child, she wanted to be a veterinarian. In college, she studied communications. Now, Ashley Cooke is living out her true dream of becoming a country artist.
“My parents are nowhere near country music, but I fell into it because so much of it is about the stories and the people - I have always been a huge fan of that,” said Cooke. “I will never not speak my truth in my music and that’s super important for any artist.”
No matter where she lived, Cooke grew up playing music and writing songs. Whether it be Wisconsin, California, Florida or anywhere else, she always found herself taking the time to visit Nashville to write. So at 18, she finally moved to Tennessee. After graduating from Belmont University, she found herself following the musical path more seriously - it's been non-stop since.
Catching up with Holler between recording sessions, Cooke discusses how a social media platform made all the difference to her career and how her friends have played such a special role in her songwriting. Even when reflecting on some of the lowest parts of her life, she beams ear to ear - her vibrant personality and dedication never failing to shine through. It's clear that though country music has only had a small taste of what she can do, there's a whole lot more on the horizon for Ashley Cooke.
Growing up, you spent a lot of time visiting Nashville. When you moved to the city properly, what were some of the steps you took to build your presence in the country music community?
It’s tough to come to Nashville and suddenly be surrounded by so many talented people. You might’ve been that big fish in your small town, but when you move to Nashville, you’re a small one. Personally, I just loved going to a million writers’ rounds and getting to know people. You have to figure out who you are and stick to it, but also find a way to cut through the noise. It’s difficult, but everyone finds their way.
How did it feel to hear your music on country radio for the first time?
Man, I’ll tell you! The first song that I put out was called ‘Jealous Of The Sky’, which is about my best friend, Adam, who passed away from cancer when I was 18. It was a huge moment in my life. I wrote that song with my friend Bridgette Tatum, and it was the perfect way to encompass how I was feeling; it's just for anybody that’s ever lost someone. The first time I heard it on country radio was on The Bobby Bones Show. I was sitting in my hometown - around the South Florida area, where I’d met Adam - and I was with one of our closest friends when it played. I cried - and I’m not really a crier - because at that moment I felt like Adam was really with me; it really was a full-circle moment.
You became a creator on TikTok about a year ago now. Why did you decide to start posting on there - and do you think it’s furthered your career as an artist?
It’s helped me so much. Honestly, it wasn’t a platform that I planned on utilizing, which is the fun part about it. Basically, quarantine hit after I graduated and I thought, what am I going to do with my life? Music is what I want to do but I can’t play shows, I can’t do writer’s rounds, I can’t co-write because of social distancing. So I thought, you know what? I’m bored, why not just do a TikTok video? The first video I posted went viral with two million views. After that, I caught the bug and I’ve been making videos ever since. It keeps artists like me on the grind, because there’s no guarantee that the people who follow you will see your videos. You have to always be creative, innovative, think of new things and constantly push the boundaries of what you’re doing.
It was your success on TikTok that led you to launch The 615 House. Tell me a bit about what that is and why you started it.
My friend Chris Ruediger and I were talking about starting some sort of collaborative project, mainly because we’d seen the impact the [TikTok influencer collective] Hype House was having. So many people are interested in Nashville’s songwriting and artist community, so we thought we could collaborate, cross our platforms and bring our shared audience demographics together. That’s how The 615 House was born. I’ve met so many people through The House who are all from totally different areas of the U.S. who were using the platform and caught our attention.
The reception to your song ‘Sunday Morning Kinda Saturday Night’ has been so good since its release. What does the song mean to you?
I’ve been a songwriter my whole life and I’ve never cut an outside song, but when I heard the demo I was like, “Guys, I feel like I wrote this. This feels like my story, who I am as a writer and as a human. I have got to cut this song.” The impact the song has had has been insane. It’s been on SiriusXM’s The Highway for seven weeks in a row now, which is kind of unheard of for an independent artist. It’s also been on The Bobby Bones Show and has garnered so much love on other streaming platforms. It really reminds me of that reminiscent feeling of why I fell in love with country.
You recently released ‘Between You & Me’, a collaboration with Roman Alexander. What was your experience like working with him on making a new version of his song?
Roman Alexander has been a friend of mine for a long time. He put out his version of the song a couple of months ago, and it just hit eight million streams on Spotify - he's crushing it! When I got the call to feature on the song and make it a duet, I was like, “Dude, this song is so good, I would love to hop on!” I feel like his version of ‘Between You & Me’ is amazing, but the duet version is completely different; it’s like a whole new take on the song. It’s one of those feel-good, dancing in the room with your partner kind of songs.
Where do you hope to see your career go in five or 10 years?
I’d love to have a number one song or sell out a stadium, but one of my favorite lessons from this last year is simply not to over plan. My manager wants to kill me when I say that, but all of this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t hopped on TikTok on a whim. If I had a plan for what I wanted to do, it wouldn’t have happened that way. Maybe it’s just the creative Gemini in me, but there is something really cool about the spontaneity of God’s plan. What’s supposed to happen will always happen, so I’m just gonna put in the hard work, keep speaking my truth and the doors will open if they’re meant to. That’s just kind of where I’m at, so we’ll see where that takes me.
'Between You And Me', Ashley Cooke's new duet with Roman Alexander, is out now via Twelve6 Entertainment.
Ashley is this week's cover star of the Holler Introducing Playlist! Check her out alongside RVSHVD, Triston Marez, Brett Kissel and many more below.
Photography by Ford Fairchild.