You might know about Ashley Fayth, the Newfoundland singer-songwriter who is breaking out in Canada, the United Kingdom and parts of Europe.
But did you know she is a former journalist, who worked almost three years at the Clarenville Packet?
The experience helped shape the creative development of the talented performer, who was raised in Hickman’s Harbour, a fishing community on Random Island. Fayth first visited the UK nearly five years ago to study at Memorial’s Harlow campus. She met her husband, who is Welsh, on that trip. She spent a year in Australia, finished her degree in Newfoundland, then moved three years ago to Wales. At some point, it occurred to her that music meant more than a PhD in literature, so she switched to music, returning to this province and recording an album at Record Time Productions.
“Wonder Wonder” has been making a splash since its December 2011 release. Spearheaded by the hit “Peanut Butter”, the album has been generating incredible buzz for Fayth, who’s still a little overwhelmed by it all.
“Things are moving really quickly,” she said, in an interview. “We’ve got bigger and bigger shows every day, we’re getting lots of airplay, and the other day we made it onto Radio 2 (in the U.K.), a big national station with several million listeners. CBC is playing it across Canada as well.”
This early success is propelled by the quality of the music, but Fayth has also been helped by Robert Singerman, a recording industry executive she met at a music competition. “He really liked my stuff and he’s kind of been helping out along the way and facilitating a lot of the stuff that’s happened up to this point. And now everything is snowballing… it was a huge jump from doing nothing and suddenly having so many opportunities, and doing it as an independent artist, because I’m not signed.”
It was journalism that intrigued me. I invited Fayth to chat about how her work as a journalist in general, and in Newfoundland, in particular, informed her development as a songwriter. She responded to say it was a “pretty unique angle” and “one of the craziest things” she’s been asked, but she was “absolutely interested” in talking about it.
“I think (journalism) definitely had a huge impact,” said Fayth, who began writing freelance for The Clarenville Packet while in high school, returning to write full-time on summer breaks from university. In all, she estimates spending about three years working with The Packet. She also worked several months hosting live remote broadcasts with VOCM.
“The newspaper side of things, the print journalism, it just absolutely changed the way I interact with people. I hope this doesn’t give the wrong impression, but I became very comfortable with just walking up to people and chatting with them, even if there wasn’t that much to say. Also, it was such a good thing that I spent a lot of time interviewing people, asking questions and learning what questions to ask. That’s been beneficial, because now a lot of questions are being asked of me and I’m not usually stunned by what they ask.”
Fayth said the experience has given her a much better understanding of how various media work.
“I had no idea until I started working in print how important advertising was, for instance, and the balance between creativity and business. I think that was probably one of the main things I took from it – how essential that balance is to anybody who is working in any form of media… I’ve had to learn so much about the business side of music and to be honest, I get to spend about two percent of my time singing. At this stage of my career, so little of my time is spent writing music and singing and performing.”
Much of her work is very similar to the advertising side of the business, she said. “Most of it is dealing with people somewhat carefully and tactfully. I’m trying to understand money – don’t know if I ever will – and getting a grasp of how business works and how contracts work. I’ve never thought about it until you raised it, but it really has informed a lot of what I do.”
Journalism has helped her not only in dealing with people, Fayth added, but also in conversing on a wide variety of topics.
“When you’re in journalism, it gives you an opportunity to deal with loads of different people, and all different demographics, from artists to the lady down the street whose dog was just run over. You get to deal with everybody and everybody’s circumstances, and I think that’s really important. If I had gone into marketing or some other field, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet with as many different kinds of people… I learned how to talk to managers, to politicians, to kids, and others, and I think that’s really important because my aim as a musician is to really impact – and allow my music to heard by – as many people as possible. I think the stories I want to tell through my music are really universal and I want to be able to get that message out to as many people as possible, so I think it has definitely given me an edge on how to do that.”
Since songwriting is a form of storytelling, I asked if journalism helped in developing that skill.
“I’ve not really thought too much about that side of it, but I’m sure it must have. My writing changed drastically over the four or five years I was working with these companies. It does seem like such an unlikely transition, to go from journalist to musician, but I think maybe you are right – though I don’t know if my writing was influenced so much as maybe the story I was telling. A lot of the songs on the album, and that I’ve been writing recently, have just really gone back and I’m writing more and more about home. There are some things that have really stuck with me.”
One of those things was actually a person: Barbara Dean-Simmons, editor of The Packet.
“Barbara been such a huge, huge person in my life. She’s done so much for me. I guess I must have been 16 when I started working with her, and she just really took me on, under her wing, and taught me so much. She didn’t just teach me about what goes on in the office, but just so much about life in general. I know it sounds a bit ridiculous, but she always gave me stories that I think she knew would be the most relevant or would influence me the most. She sometimes sent me out on stories that I didn’t understand… I would come back and she would say, ‘Now what did you take from that?’ And really, I have taken so much from the stories that she sent me on. I definitely learned a lot about Newfoundland and culture and definitely a lot about storytelling, and I think she’s been massive in that. And I never really think to give her enough credit. She pushed me in a lot of ways. She definitely saw how that would influence my storytelling, because she is a wonderful teller of stories and she taught me to be able to tell stories and to get them to really affect people. It’s not just a story about a man who grows a vegetable patch, you have to look deeper than that and see what kind of emotions are going on and what kind of story is going on, and what he was doing for the last 10 years and why. And all of a sudden this kind of interview that you didn’t want to waste your gas to go out and do, suddenly becomes this amazing, possibly somewhat romanticized story that people do want to hear about. I think people will listen to any story if you tell it properly and tell it well.”
Fayth is now telling those stories extremely well through lyrics and music. If you like “Peanut Butter”, it’s safe to purchase the rest of the album – it is all that good. She is currently writing new music, with plans to return soon to the recording studio.
“I'll be doing some new recordings over the next year, and we can look forward to a more quirky, left-of-centre style… If anything, a bit more fresh and folky.”