Ashton Shepherd has had quite the ride through in the music industry over the first several chapters of her career, all the while proving one thing, “This Heart Won’t Break.”
Between 2007 and 2011, the Coffeeville, Alabama native earned three top 25 hits from two top 20 albums released on MCA Records.
Soon after, Shepherd decided to leave MCA Records to release her music independently, finding great success with her first single as an independent artist, “This Is America.”
More recently, Shepherd is once again getting nods from the likes of Rolling Stone Magazine for her newest single, “This Heart Won’t Break,” which is serving as the lead single for her upcoming, yet-to-be-titled album.
But to understand how she wrote those later chapters, it is important to flip back to chapter one, where she was shaping her sound by digesting artists such as Keith Whitley, Patsy Cline, Patty Loveless, Dolly Parton, and Alan Jackson, and forging her own path by beginning to write songs at six years-old.
“Looking back, what I feel like captured me about music was the peacefulness and freedom inside the expression of happenings and emotions in true life, as well as expressing what my mind could create with my imagination,” says Shepherd.
That peacefulness and freedom of expression continuously led her to be drawn to a career in music.
“I feel like I had multiple moments where I thought ‘a music career is the career I want’ for many different reasons,” says Shepherd. “I’d say that want and desire was just always there in my heart and soul, and it grew with experience and time.”
As Shepherd continued to hone her craft as both a singer and a songwriter, an avenue presented itself where a career in music was a legitimate possibility; recording a three-song demo produced by Lorrie Morgan’s piano player, who was impressed by Shepherd’s performance as an opener for Morgan.
That demo would made its way into the hands of several big names in country music, and eventually landed her a record deal.
“Once the demo was recorded, I made a phone call to a lawyer’s office in Nashville that I found on Google to ask them about a production agreement I was given in the process of recording the demo,” says Shepherd. “This sweet lady, Yvette, liked my music and befriended me. She worked for the legendary Jerry Kennedy, who is in the Country Music Musician’s Hall of Fame. This led to me meeting his son, Shelby Kennedy (who I consider a true friend and someone I wouldn’t be here today without his belief in me) who took me to multiple publishers and record labels in Nashville including Universal Music Group. I played for UMG in the office of their president, Luke Lewis, and was offered a full record deal then and there.
“I was so excited I couldn’t think straight. I was just thrilled and in awe that this dream had come true.”
Shepherd’s debut single, “Takin’ Off This Pain” was sent to radio in September of 2007, allowing her the surreal opportunity to hear herself coming through the airwaves soon after.
“This first word that came to my mind was ‘Wow,’” says Shepherd. “It was a feeling of accomplishment, gratefulness, and a feeling of being so proud to be believed in in such a manner.”
After “Takin’ Off This Pain” peaked at number 20 on Billboard’s country chart, Shepherd’s next single, “Sounds So Good,” was released from her debut album of the same name on MCA Records.
“Sounds So Good” became Shepherd’s second consecutive top 25 single; both of which were written solely by Shepherd, making their success even more special.
“It was absolutely more special to me to see and feel and be inside of that success, because those were songs I wrote and crafted myself,” says Shepherd. “That’s a wonderful feeling as a singer/songwriter.”
Shepherd and MCA Records looked to keep momentum going with her sophomore album, Where Country Grows, released in July of 2011, featuring a more contemporary sound than her debut effort.
“It was intended, I believe, for Where Country Grows to be a step closer to contemporary than Sounds So Good,” says Shepherd. “Intended more so by MCA, who I could sense were wanting me to explore different writing methods and to have a little bit different material than my first album.”
The move looked to initially pay off, as the album’s lead single, “Look It Up” climbed to number 19 on the country charts. However, after the album’s second single, “Where Country Grows” stalled at number 42 on the charts, Shepherd began to feel a shift at MCA Records, but had no shift in confidence in her music.
“I had feelings of disappointment rather than failure. It didn’t ever feel like failure to me at that time, because I knew MCA chose to let it fall off the charts from the position it gained rather than choosing to continue promoting it as they did my other three successful singles,” says Shepherd. “I didn’t feel like it was because the song lacked anything or I lacked anything, so I didn’t really have doubts. The doubt that creeped in for me was months after; not understanding how this happened and not being able to make sense of the logistics of ‘Why’ when everything had been so very successful. It just didn’t add up. That did cause me to doubt myself some personally, but I can honestly say I never doubted my music.”
Soon after “Where Country Grows” fell off of the charts, internal shifting began at MCA Records, drawing Shepherd to leave the label.
“Luke Lewis, who signed me, left the label, and many changes were made inside this swap, including merges with other labels done by MCA and UMG as a whole,” says Shepherd. “It changed the foundation that my albums and the music I released were built upon.”
There was no period of dormancy for Shepherd, as she released her first independent album, This Is America in 2013, which brought about pressures and excitement that she had not felt before.
“The pressures I felt consisted of wanting This Is America to be successful in the entirety of the release itself, but I didn’t feel pressure to achieve milestones already achieved,” says Shepherd. “I did feel pressure to keep myself reminded that I was releasing an album on my own without the mass funding a label like MCA provides. I felt pressure to educate myself in all facets. And I did. Otherwise, I mainly felt excited and grateful to know I had fans that were going to support me, no matter what label I am on.”
That support from her fans has driven Shepherd to steadily continue to release music since Where Country Grows; having released both This Is America and Out of My Pocket in the years since her last major label release.
“My fans, first and foremost, are the reason I continue to release music. My fans are the driving force behind me knowing my music makes a difference to them, and can make a difference to whomever does listen and whomever else becomes a fan of mine,” says Shepherd. “They have motivated me when I couldn’t motivate myself, and that has kept me going.”
Fueled by motivation from her fans, Shepherd released her most recent single, “This Heart Won’t Break” in May of 2019. It serves as the lead single from an album that is set to be released in the summer.
“I chose ‘This Heart Won’t Break’ as the lead single because well, it won’t. My heart felt broken in the last few years of my life to a fault. I don’t mind admitting the down side to where emotions in life can take us,” says Shepherd. “My fans have stayed with me, watched, and they’ve noticed where I’ve been, because I am personal with them to a degree that I feel helps them know none of us are alone. I feel like this song speaks true volumes for myself or anyone who has felt heartbroken and then healed. I healed to find I was stronger than my heart ever being broken, and that feels inspirationally empowering to me as I hope it will also to the listener.”
Shepherd says that her new album is something unique to her, both lyrically and musically.
“This album is different kind of special. The music is coming from a place I’ve never been before,” says Shepherd. “It’s coming from areas of my life through experiences that I have placed on paper with words and sang and recorded acoustically that now will be on an album that is adding to the chapters of my music.”
Shepherd hopes that listeners hear that same emotion and power after listening to the album all the way through.
“I hope people take away to remain solid, look to God, not to lose hope, and to continue on moving forward,” says Shepherd. “I hope it’s as relatable as ever, and brings comfort somehow to my fans, and most importantly, I hope it’s the album they want to hear. I hope it is satisfactory to them in holding upside my other releases.”
With the release of her new album, twelve years after “Takin’ Off This Pain” was released as a single, Shepherd says she has gained a new level of confidence in herself.
“I feel like where I’ve grown the most and the biggest thing I’ve learned is to not give up,” says Shepherd. “Not giving up means I’ve learned that being responsible, disciplined, and making effort doesn’t consist of blaming myself, beating myself up, or belittling myself from the inside. I’ve learned it’s okay to want and need to be loved. It’s okay to feel like giving up, but to not let myself through prayer and holding tight to the blessings God gives.”
Shepherd plans to spend this newest chapter of her career by doing what she loves: making music and growing as an artist.
“I plan for the rest of 2019 to do what I love to do: to make music, sing music, and write music that expresses; to make music that translates to my fans and those who have yet to hear my music,” says Shepherd. “I plan to keep my eyes wide open for all opportunities that come about; from television opportunities to book writing to further promoting my brand ‘#AshtonShepherdCountry.’ My goal is always to further my knowledge, and to continue to grow in all categories possible.”
*Images courtesy of Ashton Shepherd Facebook Page*