"We come on all kicking and screaming and for three songs we'll punch you in the face…": Ashley McBryde on making country music for rock fans

Ashley McBryde
(Image credit: Katie Kauss)

She's a little bit country, a little bit rock'n'roll. She’s Grammy-nominated Ashley McBryde from Waldron, Arkansas, and she’s on the crest of a wave


You cut your teeth playing country music in biker bars. That sounds kinda dangerous. 

There were probably some times when it was, but I don’t think I picked up anything heavy equipment-wise in the entire time I played those places. There are some bad examples, of course, but for the most part bikers are the first to offer assistance when it’s needed. 

The rock’n’roll is certainly turned up on your third album, The Devil I Know

Since Shania Twain crossed over, the boundaries between the two genres have definitely blurred. Country music and rock are very closely related due to their subject matter and demographics – both are appreciated by hard-working people who take no shit. 

Who were the artists that set you on that path? 

I was really lucky to have grown up in the nineties, so I adored Patty Loveless and Trisha Yearwood, but I also loved bluegrass, in particular Alison Krauss and Rhona Vincent. It wouldn’t be too long before I found Lucinda Williams and Kris Kristofferson. 

And what about rock music? 

I had access to an oldie station that played Janis Joplin, The Beatles and The Lovin’ Spoonful. There are aspects of my voice that don’t lend themselves to country, and that rock station was where I found another home. 

It’s been a speedy rise. With just five years as a recording artist, you’re headlining Hammersmith Apollo. That doesn’t happen too often. 

I hopped onto the radar at the same time in the United States and overseas, but my acceptance in the UK was much faster. When I started to play there in 2018, everybody knew all the words from YouTube. The demand has grown really, really quickly.

Has the ‘green-eyed monster’ responded, even within the apparently genteel world of country music? 

I haven’t heard anyone talking nastily about our success, but if I do then I’ll tell that person that somebody only tries to tackle the person that’s got the ball. We’re good at keeping our heads down and the blinders on. We pride ourselves on being six people that play our instruments; we don’t use backing tracks, what you see on stage is the people that play on the records. 

Do you have any backstage rituals? 

Yes. Before going on stage we get in a huddle and chant: “Let there be joy, let there be togetherness, let there be rock’n’roll.” 

The song Whiskey & Country Music, which was co-written with John Osborne of Brothers Osborne, suggests that you might enjoy the occasional tipple? 

My nickname has been Blackout Betty for a couple of years. But, having said that, I haven’t had a drink in five hundred and two days now. I needed to step back. 

Sorry, didn’t know that

That’s okay. I’ve drunk enough bourbon to sing about it for the next hundred years. That song says: ‘Nothing takes the edge off when I’m going through it, like whisky and country music’. Even without a drink in all that time, I still know it’s absolutely true. 

Tell us about your live show. How rock-friendly is it? 

Oh, anyone that finds out about us through Classic Rock magazine and comes to the show, you’ll be absolutely fine. We’ve played for crowds whose only exposure to country has been through the radio, but we always win them over. We come on all kicking and screaming and for three songs we’ll punch you in the face… and then we let go. It’s totally rock-friendly. My drummer plays the drums like he’s digging a ditch. If you’re still in your seat at the end of the night, you haven’t got a pulse.  

Ashley McBryde’s UK and Ireland tour begins in Southampton on January 17 and ends in Dublin on January 28, with US dates to follow. Get tickets.  

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.