Musical theatre actress and singer-songwriter, Brittain Ashford, has taken one of theatre’s most popular song “I Could Have Danced All Night,” from My Fair Lady, and has given it her own lush version, slowed down and let the song lyrics slow down to where you can feel and hear the song more deeply. Ashford’s background with theatre consists of performing in Dave Malloy’s musical Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812, in which she earned critical and fan praise. She also toured in Malloy’s Ghost Quartet, that showcased Ashford’s range of talents, including singing, playing the keyboard, autoharp and percussion.
Ashford’s love of music is her own, which began at an early age. Although musical theatre is something she enjoys doing, her music is a reflection of her own personality and talent, and is reflective on her latest album, Drama Club, featuring her own, stripped down versions of songs from famous musicals like Grease, Annie, and the latest, Hamilton. Another single from Drama Club is “Sonya Alone,” from Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812, and is an ideal complement to the meditative and wryly humorous clip for “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
Find out more about Brittain Ashford in our interview where she discusses musical theatre and what it means to her, her passion for singing and performing and the recording process of Drama Club.
It’s safe to say, you have a lot of love for musical theatre, as it’s embedded in your music and lyrics that you create. What is it about musical theater that you love so much?
Brittain Ashford: I’ve never really thought of my own music as particularly theatrical. Listening to musicals in high school gave me an appreciation of the theatrical, but I don’t feel that the American Musical has made a mark on my own compositions. Yes, I’ve made this cover album of show tunes, but prior to sitting down to make the record I don’t think I’d ever heard a single song from Wicked.
You were also in Dave Malloy’s Broadway musical Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. What was that experience like, and how did it flourish your continued love of music and music theatre?
Brittain: I never intended to get involved in the theatre world, but I recognized fairly early on that Dave Malloy was doing something very unique. When I was invited to participate in the first Comet workshop it didn’t seem like a good fit for me, but I’m glad that Dave pushed me and saw something in my work that I was unable to see myself. It was a difficult and rewarding process, particularly at the beginning when I didn’t entirely know what I was doing. The long days of tech were exhausting and something that even my saltiest touring days couldn’t have prepared me for, and the eight-show week of Broadway left me with little time for much else than the show. I know that I learned a lot, including what I would and wouldn’t do again. I loved doing Comet and would need to see something very special in a show to dedicate myself to something similar again.
You also toured the country in Malloy’s Ghost Quartet, which explored your extraordinary amount of talent, including singing and playing a variety of instruments. What was that experience like, and would you do it or something similar again?
Brittain: I love performing this show with this group of people. I would definitely tour with Ghost Quartet again or take on a similar type of show with people I trusted as much as I did this crew. To me this felt more akin to the type of touring I was used to with my own band, though obviously a completely different music machine.
When did you first pick up an instrument, and discover your passion for singing and performing?
Brittain: From a fairly early age I was singing along to the radio, dancing in the living room, and pounding nonsense songs out on the family piano. While I never took lessons, music was always something that was present in my household. It wasn’t until I was a freshman in high school that I began to teach myself guitar and really write my own music; I was pretty sold on the idea of seriously pursuing music when I was 16 or so.
Your new album, Drama Club, explores your love of melancholy-pop and your own interpretation of some of your most favorite scores from famous musicals. What was the recording process like for this album?
Brittain: The idea for this album was conceived with my dear friend Shenandoah Davis, so right off the bat we were both doing something we hadn’t done before. Though the both of us have made a handful of records, it’s a different thing all together to simply pick the songs you think might be fun to record versus methodically writing and re-writing your own songs prior to recording. Once we made choices about what we wanted to record, the process was similar to other records I’ve made: we laid the basic tracks and spent many months arranging and recording in various home studios.
You have two music videos out for “I Could Have Danced All Night,” including “Sonya Alone,” which both highlight your strong talent for performing and singing. What was collaboration like as being a director and working with fellow director, Tim Chaffee?
Brittain: Working with Tim was great – he was so gracious and brought so many good ideas to the table. It was also a tremendous pleasure to get to work with Jonathan Taylor, who did the choreography for “I Could Have Danced All Night.” I’m eternally grateful for both Tim and Jonathan for their flexibility and humor in the process. On the other hand, making the video for “Sonya Alone” was an entirely different method and execution, one that didn’t really need too many people to make it a reality. Generally speaking, I’m more excited to work with good people to bring something to life. But it’s nice to know I can make something simple on my own when I need to.
What’s next for you the rest of 2019, and into 2020 that you can share with us?
Brittain: I have been writing a lot this last year and will hopefully start working on a new album in January. I had hoped to tour Drama Club, and maybe come the spring I will, but right now it doesn’t feel like my main priority.
Who was your first concert, and do you have a favorite?
Brittain: Growing up in Seattle I saw a LOT of music. I don’t remember my first, but it was mostly likely either Sleater-Kinney or Modest Mouse.
What was your first album on cassette, CD and/or vinyl?
Brittain: I had a beloved cassette of Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints as a kid, but the first album I remember buying with my own money was a used CD of Nirvana’s Nevermind.
Do you have a guilty music and/or entertainment pleasure?
Brittain: I love Billy Joel. I’m not ashamed. Also a soft spot for Boyz II Men.