It’s been 40 years since Glen Campbell released his album “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Four decades later, his youngest daughter, Ashley Campbell, released her debut single, “Remembering.” Today, she is honoring her father and moving into the spotlight as a musician and performer. You may have spotted Ashley playing banjo or keyboard and offering harmony on her father’s Goodbye Tour, which began after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011. Or perhaps you saw her turning heads in Rascal Flatts’ “Banjo” video. Or maybe it was her impressive strength and emotion you noticed as she spoke during a Congressional hearing, as shown in the documentary, I’ll Be Me. Her exuberant personality, unparalleled banjo skills and admiration for her father are only a few of the things that make this 28-year-old so lovable. Read on to learn more about today’s FACE of the South, Ashley Campbell.
Ashley Campbell: FACES of the South
You released your debut single, “Remembering,” in June as a tribute to your father. Describe what it was like writing this song. How does it feel to perform the song?
Writing “Remembering” felt as natural as having a conversation with my dad. I started the song when I was still living in Malibu with my parents after my dad’s Goodbye Tour ended. I was sitting in the living room and dad was walking around nearby. I started playing the walkdown in C, and the first line came to me. “Four years old running up the stairs to your bed. Thunder rolls and I pull the covers over my head.” And that was it for the moment. I recorded it into my phone and just had that for a while. Then, one day in Nashville later that year, I got together with my friend Kai Welch to write, and I played him what I had; we finished the song in the next hour or two. We’ve all got parents, and I feel like even though I was writing specifically about what I was going through with my dad and Alzheimer’s, the song goes further than me and my situation and touches a broader theme of growing up, growing old and growing in love. Performing the song is difficult sometimes because what I’m experiencing with my dad is still very real and very painful to think about. But I hope that by singing this song, I can help other people feel like they are not alone in what they are going through or just to pick up the phone and call their parents to say “I love you.”
You’ve spent a lot of time in the recording studio recently. What have you been working on, and when will your fans get a listen?
I’ve got about half an album recorded right now. I’m still trying to explore my sound, so that when I come out the gate with my first album, it will be something people can hear and say, “That’s Ashley Campbell.” I think we’re on the right track so far, and I can’t wait to get back in the studio and see how it all comes together. It’s all about experimentation and finding what works, gets you moving and makes you feel the music.
How would you describe your sound, and who has been the greatest influence on that sound?
I definitely want to incorporate my banjo/bluegrass roots with my love of classic and commercial country music. Dolly Parton has been a big inspiration for me because she is — and always has been — unapologetically Dolly. I feel like my most insecure moments in life are when I’m comparing myself to others or trying to live up to someone else’s standard. So someone who just is who they are, take it or leave it, is so inspiring to me. Dolly’s “Jolene” album is my go-to when I’m feeling lost.
A few questions about the Goodbye Tour: What is your best memory from the tour, and why? Was it a difficult decision to end the tour?
One of my favorite memories from the Goodbye Tour was from Portland, Maine. We had the night off before a show the next day, and we all had dinner at a lobster restaurant on the pier. They had live music (a guy with an acoustic guitar), and he started playing a waltz. My dad jumped up, grabbed my mom’s hand and started waltzing with her right in the middle of people eating their dinners. Everybody stopped to watch them get lost in the music. It was such a beautiful snapshot in time where we all felt like one big family, even to those of us who weren’t related. It was perfect. Ending the tour was not my decision to make. It happened naturally, not a moment sooner or later than it was supposed to.
You stepped up as a spokesperson for your father. What gave you the courage to stand up for him and the disease in a public way and in front of the Senate Special Committee on Aging?
Throughout the whole tour, I think I was able to do the things I did because I was doing them for my dad. I had a mission, to help him in any way I could, so being afraid or shy didn’t really factor into that. He needed me to help him sometimes during the shows, so I helped him. He needed me to stand up and speak on his behalf, so I spoke. He gave me courage.
As a continuation from the last question, what exactly are you lobbying for? What is the current funding set aside for Alzheimer’s research? What is your goal in appealing to the committee?
When I testified in 2012, the National Institutes of Health was spending $6 billion a year on cancer, $5 billion on heart disease, $3 billion on AIDS and only $400 million on neurological diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Today, I think the NIH has allocated $650 million to neurological research. So we are making progress, but when you consider that 5.4 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the money is obviously not allocated proportionately to need, especially when you consider that the $650 million is going to research for every neurological disease, so Alzheimer’s is getting nowhere near $650 million after all is said and done.
What advice would you give to those caring for family members with Alzheimer’s?
Patience. Understanding. Cherish them.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received and who was it from?
“Leave everything better than you found it.” — Steve Ozark
Steve was one of my closest friends, and we lost him to pancreatic cancer last year. You only had to hang around him for about five minutes to know that your day was going to be better because he was in it. I’ll miss him forever and try to carry on his motto by example.
When did you move to Nashville, and what pushed you to make the move?
I moved to Nashville a few months after the Goodbye Tour ended. The exact day was April 15, tax day; that’s how I remember the date. I got a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell in Nashville, so I moved out as soon as I could to start writing songs.
Do you have any favorite Nashville spots?
I am a lover of good food. So my version of soul food is really Seoul food (laughs). There’s this great Korean BBQ restaurant near my house called Seoul Garden. I eat there several times a week when I’m home.
What books are currently on your bedside table?
John Cleese’s autobiography, So, Anyway…, and the memoir of North Korean defector Yeonmi Park, called In Order To Live. I find other people’s life stories to be so compelling, and Yeonmi Park was so brave to tell hers.
You spent a lot of time on the road with your family. Would you ever sneak away to unwind? And if so, what did you do?
Last year, I went to visit some close friends in the south of France. I spent a month in the countryside drinking good wine, cooking and visiting village markets. It was the most at peace I had felt in a long time. It was like heaven to go somewhere where no one knows you and you don’t know anyone and you can just enjoy the beauty around you. To make new friends and experience new things was so rejuvenating. I have a pillow filled with dried lavender on my bed that I smell every night before I go to sleep, and it takes me right back to that feeling of peace and calm.
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding family, friends, and faith.
My dog, Frodo. My gym. My banjo.
Thank you, Ashley Campbell, for taking the time to answer our questions today. Keep up with Ashley on her Facebook page. And special thanks to the other Ashley, Ashley Hylbert, for today’s gorgeous photos!