“He’s very curious. He’s ten months now. He’s started crawling. I have to keep my eye on him constantly,” Ashley Brooke Toussant said of her son, August. When last I’d seen the singer-songwriter she was performing at last year’s Brite Winter festival. During that performance, she held the sardined crowd of the wine bar captivated, quietly spinning stories through song and the delicate accompaniment of guitar.
In the time since, she gave birth to her beautiful son, who I was thrilled to meet during our interview at Phoenix Cafe in Cleveland Heights in anticipation of her May 17th album release show at the Beachland . “He really loves music,” she said. “He’s funny. When I sing him lullabies, he loves dancing. So if I sing for him, he’ll want to dance. The opposite of what I’m trying to do, get him to fall to sleep.”
I mused that perhaps he will play as well.
“When I was a baby, I rocked. He does that, too. So we’re thinking maybe,” she trailed off as she attended to her child.
The last time I saw you play was at Brite Winter last year. You’re really quiet on stage, but you pull everyone in. That’s definitely a really hard thing to do, to get everyone to be quiet when they’re in a wine bar.
It definitely makes me want to keep going. That was a really good show. It isn’t always. I’ve played in a lot of bars where it’s so depressing because you’re background music.
How do you power through a set when that happens?
You kind of laugh about it sometimes. You can always find the humor in it. You just play through it. Not that I make a joke of what I’m doing, but I kind of take it as practice time then.
What initially got you started with playing music?
I always liked singing. I’ve sang forever. I started writing my own songs in college. I liked singing because I liked people liking me to sing. So when I got to writing my own songs I definitely wanted to play out and get some sort of response from it. I started playing open mic in my hometown in Canton. I got a really good response from that. And I was just like, I want to do this all the time. So I really explored other places I could play. I started playing at more coffee shops and art galleries. Through word of mouth people would have me play. In Kent people have bonfires; I’d play around them. I made friends and fans. I would play wherever I could.
Did you start playing guitar around the same time?
I took a folk guitar class in college. Really didn’t know much when I started playing out in public. I was just like, oh, I know three chords. I played with a guy who played guitar for a little bit before I branched out on my own. I just learned more and taught myself.
You have this really unique old-timey sound. Who do you listen to?
I do like old music. I like folk music a lot. I like the singer-songwriter genre a lot. The past couple years since I recorded my last album, I’ve been really into really sweet songs from the 50s and 60s. I love Doris Day. She’s probably one of my favorite singers. I listen to a lot of her. I love old movie soundtracks from the sixties. I listen to stuff from today, too. I really like the band Beach House and Phospherescent.
The last album came out in 2011. It’s been a couple years.
Since then I got married, then got pregnant, had him last June. I kind of went through a time after I put out the album, you put so much into releasing and preparing them, that the post-world after it is kind of really overwhelming. I kind of went through a period where I kind of wanted to step away. I was playing a lot of shows, but I wasn’t writing a lot. I didn’t really write during my pregnancy. I wanted to see what else I liked to do. With this EP I really got back in to enjoying writing again. I’m excited to play my release show, for sure, to play some new songs.
Do you think it’s important to take time off?
Yeah, I think so, for me at least. I was playing a lot. It was not like I was loathing playing on stage, but I just wasn’t enjoying it like I used to. It took me a while to admit that I probably shouldn’t schedule so many shows, I could just let it be. There wasn’t pressure on myself to write or have a schedule of shows. That’s what made me excited to do it again.
Besides taking that creative break, how did writing this album differ?
Well, it’s different with a child. I don’t have as much free time. I’m a mom full-time. My husband is really great about when he comes home I can get time to write. My free time is not always creative. Sometimes I am tired. My husband is a teacher, so I recorded this EP on the weekend. My process has just been a little bit here and there instead of sitting down and writing something. Jotting down stuff.
So your album release show is at the Beachland. Who is on the bill with you?
Lowly the Tree Ghost and Emma Shepard. I played with Lowly a couple years ago at the Grog Shop. I really like their sound. Emma I heard about through Brite Winter. I didn’t see her because I unfortunately couldn’t go, but I really liked what I heard. I’m excited. It should be a good night.
It’ll be a nice, warm sounding night. What do you think the Midwest has to offer that other music scenes maybe don’t have to offer?
You also spent some time in Chicago. How do you feel these two cities differ?
Ashley Brooke Toussant will be embarking on a tour from Cleveland to Virginia Beach with her family! Tour will begin on June 13th and conclude on June 21st. If you’d like to help fund the artist’s first family vacation tour, you can head over to here and do so. We strongly suggest you also attend the show on May 17th!