Song Premiere with Interview: Ashley Riley “Set You Free”

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Americana Highways brings you this premiere of Ashley Riley’s new song “Set You Free,” the title track from her forthcoming album. The single will be available this Friday, March 26, and the album will be released on June 18.

Set You Free was recorded and produced by James Treichler at Wave Upon Wave Studio.  “Set You Free” is Ashley Riley on vocals and harmonies; Jason Roberts on acoustic and electric guitars; and James Treichler on drums, bass, and keys.

We had the opportunity to chat with Ashley Riley as well.  Find the song premiere beneath the interview here.

Americana Highways: What prompted you to write this song? Is there a story behind it? What is the message you wanted to convey or the tale you wanted to tell?

Ashley Riley: “Set You Free” was written the day I bought my first electric guitar. I had an early morning gig on a news show about 45 minutes from where I live, and after I got done there, I decided to check out a local music shop I had heard about. I went in to check out the selection of Martin acoustics, but there was an Epiphone semi-hollow body that was calling out to me, so on a whim I bought it. I came home that night and was having fun getting to know my new guitar, and I wrote “Set You Free.”

This song is about letting go of the things that aren’t working in your life. There’s a mantra that I love — “I release what no longer serves me” — and I think that is really the heart of this song. The meaning of it kind of changed for me as the song progressed.

At first, I wrote it thinking about people who are flakes. The friend says, “I’ll be there, I wouldn’t miss it!” and then they always do miss it and you just know that already. I decided, man, when people show me who they are, I’m gonna believe them. I’m not gonna hold myself back or wait for someone else to get one board, I’m just keeping on keeping on. So at first, this song was about setting those people free, but in the end, you really are freeing yourself, I think. It’s kind of a theme on the whole record; maybe I’ve just reached that age where I’m less concerned with getting someone’s permission or approval. I’m just gonna keep going.

AH: How much of this song, and the album it comes from, were recorded before the pandemic started? How did COVID affect your recording process if at all?

AR: I’ve worked with James Treichler at Wave Upon Wave in Champaign, IL on all of the new songs, and I’m pretty sure this song got started in early 2019. We tracked a demo in-person, but then James recommended a friend of his, Jason Roberts (who’s got some really cool credits to his name, such as Norah Jones, Jonathan Wilson, Bedouine, Daniel Johnston), to play guitar on “Set You Free.” Jason’s out in CA, so we were working remotely before we even had to. That’s the way it went for 80% of the tracks; we had a few sessions pre-COVID where I would lay down a really simple guitar and vocal with the intent of building it up from there. James is a drummer, but also he played bass and keys a lot on the record, so he would send me versions, and we would just go back and forth from there. I ended up recording the majority of my vocals, guitar, and some keys at home and sending them. I would say that COVID really slowed down the process for this album. At first we were just waiting it out like a lot of people. When it became clear that the social distancing and everything was going to be going on for quite some time, we made the decision to work remotely and it worked really well. It gave me a good reason to upgade my home mic setup, so that’s been a plus.

AH: And related to the last question, what was the easiest part of the recording process? The hardest? How was this song in particular to record?

AR: I would say the recording process overall for this record was pretty laid back and fun. Having unlimited time at home to track vocals and try out harmonies was great. I personally enjoy the recording and creating process, and I can very easily lose track of time holed up in my little room, so for me, it wasn’t a problem.

Most of my previous albums have been tracked live in the studio with minimal overdubs, so this felt easier to me, but I do love going into a studio and collaborating in real-time with other musicians. This was the first time I went to record an album with only acoustic versions of songs, so that in and of itself was different, but I felt like James and I were on the same page pretty easily with the production ideas for the songs so they seemed to come to life pretty naturally. The hardest part of recording remotely was keeping the Dropbox folder cleaned up! My drive is always full, so I would send tracks all kinds of ways via email, WeTransfer, Dropbox, you name it… that was probably kind of annoying!

“Set You Free” was a bit of a long process. Like I mentioned, we first tracked this song in 2019. We had sent it off to Jason for guitar, and he sent back all of these incredible parts, and then James did his thing, and we got a good mix and left it while we went to work on more songs. When we came back to it, it had been over a year since I had really listened to it. I loved the song and the instrumentation, but I felt like my vocals weren’t up to par with the rest of the song anymore, so I ended up re-tracking them, just a few months ago, actually, and changing some of the lyrics and the melody in chorus quite a bit. That really brought the song together and got me really excited about it again. It felt like changing the melody of the chorus opened the song up and made it feel free. I really got inspired by that and decided to name the album “Set You Free” as well.

AH: If you had to describe your music using only five words or adjectives, how would you describe it?

AR: This is very hard. Honest, hopeful, dreamy, and melodic Americana

AH: Time to share: what is a secret about this song, or about your album, that you’d like to tell our readers that they can’t learn anywhere else?

AR: I’m really excited about this album, I’ve been working on these songs for quite some time. One thing that’s really different for me this time around is that I haven’t been playing these songs out anywhere. Under normal circumstances, I’d be playing shows and the songs would be evolving with time as I perform them. So I guess a bit of a secret is that it’s a bit nerve-wracking this time around to be releasing a whole album of songs that I haven’t really road-tested! The album has 10 songs, and it comes out on June 18!

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“Set You Free” is a loping, intricate tale of endings and new beginnings, with interweaving guitar work and lyrical release.

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