AUSTIN, TEXAS – Austin-based singer/songwriter Ashley Monical announces an October 16release date for her debut CD, Facing the Shadow, on Firecat Records. Produced by John Evans and recorded in nearby Wimberley, Texas, Facing the Shadow is the calling card for an exciting new Americana artist, showcasing 11 original songs either written or co-written by Ashley Monical. Backing Monical (lead vocals, guitar and keyboards) on the new disc are Falcon Valdez (drums) and Scott Davis (bass, guitar and organ), with special guest appearances by Emily Bell on background vocals, Eleanor Masterson on violin and Trevor Nealon on keyboards. Monical will tour substantially in support of the album’s release, including dates throughout Texas, plus Tennessee, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah.
The material on Facing the Shadow is very personal in origin, but universal in appeal, as Monical explores her own fears and dreams that anyone can relate to in the real world. At the heart of her songs is the idea of facing your own faults and desires in life by being truthful to yourself and to others around you. It’s the kind of musical territory she first began exploring over five years ago when she was one half of the buzzed-about acoustic folk duo called the Wildflowers, with singer Halley Anna Finlay. She has even traversed the glitzy “American Idol” phenomenon that took her out to Hollywood. About that event, Monical remembers, “It was a cool experience, but it definitely wasn’t really for me.”
The recording sessions for the new CD came together very organically and in a beautifully- relaxed setting. Producer John Evans (who also plays guitar on the album) lined up Falcon Valdez and Scott Davis (Band of Heathens), plus fellow Heathen Trevor Nealon and Eleanor Masterson for a couple of tracks, and Emily Bell on a few others. Monical secured the perfect studio space for them to live and work together in creative seclusion: a cabin in Wimberley on land owned by her father. “We all stayed out there and recorded the album on equipment that the engineer, Steve Christensen (from the legendary Sugar Hill Studios in Houston) brought down with him,” says Monical about the sessions. “I just wanted to be surrounded by nature and really liked the idea of everyone being out there together with nothing else around to distract us.”
All of the recording was done over the course of two weeks in the summer of 2014. And although Monical and Evans stayed true to their shared big-picture concept for the album as a whole, they allowed the sessions to flow naturally rather than by any sort of confining formula. “We just bended and twisted the songs and sound until they came to a place where we felt right about them,” she explains. “Some fell into their place right away and some took lots of time, energy and patience, but they all found their home.”
And the resulting tracks have a flow that glides smoothly throughout the entire album. The opening song, “A Child I Was,” is a gorgeous, stately piano ballad with a spiritual theme and sensual undertow that recalls the Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac sound. From the fierce resistance coursing through “Hunt Me Down,” to the soulful, gospel arc of “To the Mountain” and “Traveling Soul;” and from the languid beauty of “Sleep Child Sleep” (a lullaby Monical wrote for her godson), to the restless verve and sly bite of “Running” (a surefire single with a razor-sharp hook worthy of prime Tom Petty), Facing the Shadow is a multi-faceted study in sonic and emotional contrasts that fit together as a seamless, three-dimensional whole.
“It’s not really a concept album,” Monical says, “but I was definitely going through a period of really discovering who I am and what I stand for and what I believe in over the past couple of years, and a lot of these songs are definitely about that.”
A good deal of that self-discovery came out of Monical’s decision (self-imposed) in her mid-20s to go sober. But coming into her own as a performer with the courage — and obligation — to share her songs in front of strangers, friends, and peers alike proved an awakening, too.
“Of course, there are still times nerves creep in a little when I am about to go on stage,” she admits with a smile. “And for a while, I wanted to call the album ‘Stage Fright’ because I want to face that. I want to bring it out of the dark and shine a light on it, just to put it out there and … release it.” She ultimately decided on Facing the Shadow as the album’s title. “Everyone goes through a time in their life when they need to face the shadow. My wish is that this album will not only help folks through that time, but also inspire them to turn up the volume, roll down their windows and sing along with me in the moment!” Monical has the courage to own up to and face her fears and weaknesses, but she’s not about to be defined by them.
About Ashley Monical
Although both of her parents loved music — so much so that her mother began teaching her how to sing as soon as she could speak — Monical didn’t begin writing songs until her early 20s. That’s when the Texas native moved to Austin after spending her teens in Colorado and growing up overseas for the better part of her childhood. She began the Austin chapter of her life immersed in theater, discovering her passion for performance over the course of many experimental plays — including, she recalls with a laugh, a Greek Tragedy in which she had to be fully nude onstage every night in front of an audience of 300 people. Talk about stage fright!
“It was terrifying and liberating,” Monical admits. “And I feel that performers should always strive to go to that place, even if they aren’t literally taking their clothes off in front of hundreds of people. When performers are open and vulnerable, it allows the audience to be open and vulnerable, too, and it benefits everyone involved in the sacredness of the art.”
As much as she loved the theater world, it wasn’t long before Monical found herself drawn like a willing moth to a flame deeper and deeper into the heart of Austin’s justly celebrated music scene. “I picked up the guitar at around 21 and just sat alone in my bedroom a lot – playing through the finger pain – and I learned enough chords to play some covers, just because I wanted a way to sing,” she recalls. “But then I started writing my own songs and eventually going down to songwriter night every Wednesday at Cheatham Street (a legendary venue in nearby San Marcos where many notable Texas songwriters got their start), and it all kind of started from there.” She went on to spend the better part of the last decade playing her songs in front of audiences all over Texas and beyond, from Austin bars and coffee shops to the International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis to Larry Joe Taylor’s Coastin’ & Cruisin’ music cruise; she landed that gig — and the chance to perform for thousand’s at the LJT Texas Music Festival — after winning one of Taylor’s annual songwriting competitions.
All of the experience is readily apparent on her debut. Monical’s honeyed voice has been honed to crystal clear perfection and purity over years of choir practices and performances going back to fourth grade, and every song is a testament to both her poet’s soul as a writer and her equally graceful way with melody. The album also reveals a definite sense of purpose; Monical spent months revising her songs to gig-tested perfection and recording a number of demos with different artists and producers as a concerted effort to bring her artistic vision into clear focus. By the time she found just the right producer in John Evans, she knew exactly the kind of record she wanted to make. And Evans, a seasoned performing songwriter in his own right, was right there on the same page with her from the start.
“It wasn’t forced at all,” Monical enthuses. “John has experience as an artist and fresh ears with an edge on how he hears music. He is open to new ideas and ways of creating sound and that’s what made me want to work with him.”