Ashley Raines living to ‘serve the song’
Songwriter sings matters of the soul from the heart
April 17, 2009
In 2007, singer-songwriter Ashley Raines had just come off tour, and he wondered where to go next. What was he doing away from home 10 months out of the year, playing in bars where bad things were happening?
“I gave up, is what came out of that. I didn’t quit – I surrendered, I guess is the difference. And through that process of kind of surrendering to what it is that I do, I found my voice,” Raines said.
That voice is Hank Williams meets Robert Johnson, paired with a lifetime of hard living and a fascination with the juxtaposition of good and evil. It goes beyond cultural context or personal history, and gets right down to the songs in the back of all of our minds, Raines said.
“Country and folk and blues are the roots of American music, and I’ve always wanted to know what it is we’re rooted in. And it took me a long time to find that,” Raines said, describing his path from folk songs through rock and into country blues.
Raines and his band mates “live to serve the song,” he said, as they try to get to the roots of American music. With a storied bio – Raines left home at 14, then train-hopped, camped and hitchhiked his way through his teen years and early attempts at being a musician, he said – Ashley Raines and his band come to Mahogany Ridge on Saturday with a set of songs about good and evil, and the life in between.
Raines talked with 4 Points about his days on the road and the artists who influenced him while he was there.
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4 POINTS: How would you describe the music you play?
ASHLEY RAINES: We do a lot of roots country type of sound, like a Hank Williams. My primary instrument is Dobro, which is a lap guitar played with a slide, so it’s a lot like Hank Williams with a bit of an edgier bluesy content. Most of the subject matter we deal in is making deals with the devil.
4 POINTS: Why write songs on that subject?
AR: Topics of the spirit and topics of the soul are what have always kind of moved me. It’s easier to write a love song – everybody has unrequited love and love lost. And it’s not that we don’t do that, but at the same time the heavier subject matter : has always kind of been what’s interested me.
4 POINTS: How does that come through in your set?
AR: I do it for myself, you know, I don’t do what I do for other people. It’s nice that you can see what you’ve done is effective because people buy your albums. : But I just do what I do because it’s the only path I know to walk.
I left home when I was 14, and I spent a number of years living in a tent and playing on street corners, and I’ve been fortunate to have a career where I haven’t had to compromise to do what I do. It’s about being true to what I know and singing the things that matter to me. And to me it’s a cathartic process.
4 POINTS: Does having lived on the road show up in your songs?
AR: It’s not that I think of myself as a victim, but I sort of do what I do out of necessity. : I found myself living in my tent in Golden Gate Park and playing on street corners because it was the only option at the time. : You find yourself on a certain avenue. If I had found myself in law school, I would have been reading books about law, but instead I found myself gravitating toward the Kerouacs and the Woody Guthries : to those characters in our culture that are unconventional and blaze a trail.
4 POINTS: Where does songwriting fit into that path?
AR: Like anything, you immerse yourself in it long enough and it becomes second nature. Now it’s like breathing – I put the pen to the paper to get out of myself whatever I need to get out. : Once you write a song, it’s a totally selfish endeavor, but the juxtaposition of it is that once you’re done with a song it belongs to everybody. : I hope that there’s something on some sort of human level that does touch people. I wouldn’t assume that I would be selling any records if there wasn’t.