“Meet the Vans” by Kassi Ashton – Billboard
How the hell did Erykah Badu end up on a country single?
Well, the neo-soul “On & On” singer didn’t exactly reappear in a surprise context, but Kassi Ashton’s debut radio single, “Dates in Pickup Trucks,” sounds a bit like Badu. Put it in place of slinky phrasing and behind Ashton’s rhythm; syncopated drum programming of the recording; and his request at the end of the opening verse—”You know exactly where my phone is/Call him”—which unwittingly recalls Badu’s dismissive command, “You better call Tyrone.”
Ashton grew up in country music in California, Missouri, a rural community southwest of Columbia. But she wasn’t gender-exclusive.
“I sing naturally behind the beat based on what I grew up listening to,” Ashton says. “Because not only were we playing classic country at my house, but we were also playing soul music. Really, I classify it as powerful women – like a woman looks like she’s slamming the shit on you. That’s what we were listening to. »
“Dates in Pickup Trucks” is a much sweeter plot than the story might imply, a plot inspired by Ashton’s grandparents, Carl and Juanita Meisenheimer. Juanita, laughing happily, had told Ashton in a phone call that she had cooked dinner and taken a romantic, nostalgic ride with Carl, driving down the back roads of central Missouri in their truck. It was a cheap night out in a city with few entertainment options, and it was an experience Ashton knew firsthand.
But she also knew “Dates in Pickup Trucks” required some thinking out of the tailgate, so she kept the title until a writing appointment with Luke Laird (“AA,” “Tequila Little Time”) and David Garcia (“Meant To Be,” “Drinking Alone”) at Garcia’s studio in the Berry Hill neighborhood of Nashville. feel like ‘My tractor is green and my cow is mooing,'” she laughs. “I knew they would be the people who could make it sound fresh.”
She also expected them to resist this title, although they did their best to hide their doubts when she cast it. “For the past five years, every time someone says ‘Pick-up’ in a co-write, everyone rolls their eyes,” says Laird. “But the way she did it, I was like, ‘That sounds good. I do not care. We just started talking about where she grew up, and I mean, it’s very similar to how I grew up in Pennsylvania.
They adapted his idea to a counter-intuitive musical foundation. Garcia had a hip-hop-leaning percussion track, and Laird used a 1963 nylon-string Martin guitar to shape a progression full of major seventh and minor seventh harmonics, essentially pairing the small-town tale with the big city agreements. “If you break it down, it sounds more jazzy to me,” Ashton says. “It’s not just GAD, GAD.”
In fact, it defies the standards of music theory by never settling into the fundamental key signature chord. The progression dances around this tonic, but skipping it creates a tension that never fully resolves. “I’m a huge Babyface fan,” Laird says. “It just feels like it could fit into this world.”
They took a fairly classic approach, constructing conversational verses that highlighted the boredom and lack of opportunity in a one-light town. They created a contrast with a more upbeat and unique chorus that embraced small forms of good-time escapism, including a “little sumpin’, sumpin’ in a Sonic cup”, yet another example of “Pickup Trucks” giving a new twist on another cliched image.
“It’s a real thing. She did,” Laird said. “In fact, my wife [Creative Nation co-founder/CEO Beth Laird], as I understand it, she used to do that too, in Winchester, Tennessee. Pour a little something, something into a Sonic Cup. So if you walk into a Sonic on a Friday night and the kids are in there, [they’re] not just drink strawberry lemonades.
Meanwhile, that “You know exactly where my phone is / Call it” line helped Ashton get a piece of advice she picked up while watching Cardi B judging a talent contest. “Someone was rapping, [and] she goes, ‘Where are your quotes?’ recalls Ashton. “She’s like, ‘Girls want quotes for Instagram captions.’ And I was like, ‘Ooooooh, shit.’ You have to think like that.”
Garcia oversaw the fundamental music as they worked on the demo that day, mostly applying elements programmed around Laird’s original nylon-string guitar. “One thing that David did that I loved was the bassline in this song,” Laird said. “It’s not just the typical 808 bass that a lot of songs have now. It’s like a synth bass, like something that could have been on a Michael Jackson record.
Before it was finished, the three writers wrote a “rich in harmony”everything is fine, everything is finebackground hook that remained on the final recording, featuring some of Garcia’s lineup and the nylon-string guitar. They sent the tracks to other Nashville musicians who added parts on their own, including Derek Wells’ electric guitar solo and additional acoustic material from Bryan Sutton. Ashton also called for steel guitar to provide atmospheric sonic coverage and offset the track’s R&B leanings.
Ashton sang it as a tour opener for Maren Morris in 2019 and Jordan Davis in 2020, and it really stood out in the set. “My DMs were filling up every night, [asking], ‘What’s the song “pickup truck”?’ she recalls.
Originally, Interscope/MCA Nashville planned to release their first radio single in early 2020, but with COVID-19 complicating their ability to support it in person, the label dropped plans for a single until ” Pickup Trucks” finally airs on country radio via PlayMPE on February 4. Universal Music Group President and CEO Mike Dungan asked Laird if there were any changes he thought he could make to help him win over the programmers, and they remixed it without the guitar solo. .
” Until now [my] radio tour, when I tell them the song is 2 minutes and 45 seconds long, they are exuberant,” says Ashton. “And I like the way it’s going because you don’t have a break to think. The playback stops and you think, “Oh, I have to play that again.” ”
Ashton brings back the guitar solo when she plays it live, and she also keeps all that Badu-ish phrasing behind the beat, posing a challenge to the band. “My guitarist knows: Keep the rhythm right. Be as stubborn as possible with the tempo,” she says. “Hang on and just let me dance.”