Ashley Koett likes to laugh, rain or shine.
The Texas-born Coloradan is something of a quadruple threat: she sings (more on that later), plays guitar, writes lyrics, and co-directed her first video. She codes, too. All of those talents bring their own form of creative expression, a unique catharsis that materialized onscreen. "If you’re laughing about something sad," she tells us, "That instantly makes it not as shitty."
Koett's first video is for "Call Me," a quirky, colorful depiction of disconnected love that sounds much sunnier than its lyrics read. Koett and co-director David Keaveny made the video on next to no budget, driven by a late-night creative spark.
Watch the video above, and read on to hear Koett discuss the makings of her debut video, growing up in a Texas bubble, and the balancing act that being young and creative requires in 2017.
You have a lot on your plate.
[Laughs]. I do.
You’re in two bands? Three?
I’m in two that play shows, then one just with friends—we have some recordings and stuff but we haven’t done any shows.
You have a job, too?
I’m a waitress at a sushi restaurant and it is the best job. It’s so fun. It’s the weirdest job I’ve ever had but it’s so much fun. That’s 25 hours a week. I enjoy it a lot and I eat a lot of sushi. The owner and the chefs always make fun of me because I eat uneaten sushi off peoples’ plates when they send it back. [Laughs] Nothing with a bite out of it, nothing weird.
I am terrified of sushi so respect to your adventurous spirit.
I eat anything. Now they give me the weird shit to see if I’ll eat it. I’ve eaten a fried shrimp head, every type of fish egg, whatever. I love it. Just go in. It’s just food!
So three bands, sushi expert, and you’re a student.
Have you ever been tempted to part ways with college?
I have. I was going to take a semester off but if I do that I lose my scholarship if I want to go back, which would make that difficult. I’ve wanted to drop out forever, but I have a year and a half left and I think I can do it. I’m taking easy classes from here on out anyway.
It’s a difficult thing to balance with music. Do you see any overlap between coding and music or are they distinct in your mind?
For a while, I didn’t see any similarity. I was doing engineering and always liked math… It started to translate when I thought about structure. How I write songs is very methodical. My songs have to make perfect sense to me for them to ‘work.’ In math when something makes sense it’s more technical, but even in math, I couldn’t explain any math concepts to anyone but they’d make sense in my head. It’s like that with music. I know when something doesn’t feel whole. That carries over.
There’s a lot that goes into those songs, and you tend to be responsible for the moving parts. You write, sing, play guitar, play keys...
When I’m working on production I’ll mess around with keys. I’m not technically trained with the keyboard but it’s just another instrument, it’s a more simple guitar so it’s not too hard to figure out. I’ve written a few songs that start on keyboard then I transfer it over to guitar. I do everything in Logic.
Did you produce all of “Call Me”?
For the song itself, that was produced by me and Albert Gordon (aka Natalie Green). He helped me with that, the song is old. We worked together on the sound. The rest of the EP, I think three songs are 100 percent my production, then “Call Me” has Albert on it, and “Lover” [another song from the forthcoming Call Me EP] is mostly me but someone sent me a beat that I loosely based it off of. I like to take charge and do most of my production, especially because I’m really particular, but if someone is down to help out, I’m not going to limit myself.
Do you remember the first time you sang or picked up the guitar?
I’ve done it since I was a kid. The first time I knew I actually sang well was when I was a baby, I was six. I was in my computer room, and I was playing this Madeline video game, the one with that little French girl, and there was a section where you could listen to the game’s songs and there’d be lyrics going across the screen karaoke style. I was singing my heart out to all of these songs thinking no one could hear me. “MADELINEEE.” And then my mom barged in like, “ASHLEY YOU CAN SING SO WELL.” I was embarrassed but that was that [Laughs].
My dad played guitar. I got a guitar in sixth grade and he made me play it. My brother was good at guitar and he’d bully me [Laughs]. He’d tell me that because I could sing, I didn’t have to be good at guitar, and because he couldn’t sing, he had to be great at guitar. So I worked hard to get better than him so he couldn’t say anything.
Did your dad teach you any songs?
My dad taught me “Fly By Night” by Rush, nothing else. I’d learn Jack Johnson songs. I’d learn tabs online. In high school, I wanted to get better so I started taking lessons. I was paying for them myself because I worked at a burrito place and a tutoring place. That’s where I learned a lot of jazz chords and standards. That became the groundwork for everything I do now. “Call Me” and all of those EP songs are super jazz-inspired. My guitar teacher was like my therapist, too. Those lessons were sick. And what do you pay for in high school? Food? I didn’t mind paying.
Who were some of your influences? What posters lined your bedroom walls in high school?
My room in high school was like my cave. I covered an entire wall with all of these indie rock band posters, pictures. I was very into that in a very messy, chaotic, shit-is-everywhere way. In high school I was obsessed with old Modest Mouse. I was emo. I definitely had a run-of-the-mill indie rock phase—The Strokes, those people. My influences were all over the place. I think I had a Radiohead poster. I was a little emo kid.
There’s a thing that happens when I pick up the guitar or write lyrics. And it’s interesting because I love Amy Winehouse, but I didn’t start listening to her until a year ago. It wasn’t formative but it’s cool to hear her and hear the similarities. I’ve kept a journal since early high school, and to write songs I’ll often take something from my journal and just make it sound better. Songs aren’t typically premeditated for me I guess.
Very autobiographical, it sounds like.
Definitely. The second song of my EP, I was drunk and had come back and wrote all of that. The first half of the song wasn’t meant to be a song, it was drunken scribblings about someone, then I woke up the next morning and I liked it.
What part of Texas did you grow up in?
I grew up north of Houston, in the Woodlands. A little suburb. It’s a bad place that I don’t like. It’s this weird utopia, extremely rich. It’s hard to live there and learn anything about the real world or be exposed to larger issues. There are problems. People have plenty of problems there. But it’s a sheltered community. I hated the Woodlands when I was growing up because all the other kids did and I didn’t know why, but now, going back there, it’s just a weird place. It’s very monotonous. Everyone is the same. White, wealthy. It’s a bubble, that’s what everyone calls it.
Was “Call Me” the song written about one person in particular?
Yes. “Call Me” wasn’t very serious on the surface. I don’t really like to talk about being sad to people. If something bad happens I talk about it jokingly. “Call Me” is so sad that it’s kind of funny, and the song sounds so happy and upbeat but then you hear the lyrics and it’s a different story. It’s awkward to be super sad in front of someone. There are people who can do that, but I’ve never been comfortable with it. And if you’re laughing about it, that instantly makes it not as shitty.
How long did it take y’all to make this video? Where’d the concept come from?
I had gone home to Texas because it was winter break. We filmed it in January. So it was December of last year, I was bored at home, and I had tickets to go to LA to meet some people and film something but I didn’t know what I was going to do yet. We were going to do a video to a different song, it was totally different. I was sitting in my room and then I had the idea of these phones hanging from the ceiling around me. We actually had all of those phones at my house, my family never got rid of them.
So I had a bag of 20 old phones and I had a song called “Call Me” and it just fit. Albert had just finished the production and it fell in place. I had actually drawn out the video frame by frame, the whole thing. I was on one [Laughs]. When I get inspired I go off. My friend came over the next day, she’s an illustration major, and she drew it out nicely because I’m not good at drawing. I took that to LA and had it completely planned out.
It’s a well-made video.
I think our biggest expense was the $30 we spent on the backdrop. That was our “oh nooo” moment [Laughs]. The beginning was just shot at our friend’s apartment while he was at work, and he hadn’t decorated anything since he moved because he was at work so much. He didn’t even have a pillow on the bed. What. [Laughs]. But it was easy to decorate because of that. The second part, with the phones, was filmed in the old Brockhampton house. I was hanging out with them at the time and it all worked out. I went to school with Ian, Will, and Ameer.
One random question: favorite Jamba Juice smoothie?
Definitely the Amazing Greens. It’s the only healthy one. I worked there so you can trust me. All the other ones, it’s just syrup and frozen stuff. My favorite smoothie has pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seed are my favorite even though I’m allergic to them. I love them. I eat them nonstop but I throw up or feel sick every time I eat them. There’s a strong correlation. I have some in my car right now.
And one last random question: You've tweeted about your distrust of Apple, what are your thoughts there?
The new MacBook doesn’t have a USB port. [Laughs]