In conversation with Ashley Gilmore ahead of this weekend’s Soulshine Festival
I had the pleasure of recently meeting with Ashley Gilmore and chatting with her about her upcoming show at Soulshine. I remember seeing her a couple of years ago at The Forest Jam Festival, and hearing her strong, smooth and sultry voice beckoning me from my tent where I was having a siesta. She was (and still is) such a presence, both on the stage and in convseration. This girl doesn’t have a silver spoon story. Rather her story is of resilience, faith and the insistence on believing in the power of love. For real.
RMC: I know you’ve played many shows and festivals, and I also know that Soulshine holds a special place in your heart. Can you tell me a bit about why you love it?
Ashley: I have a little joke; when people ask me if I’m playing Soulshine, I usually say, “I AM Soulshine.” (she’s laughing) I mean, there are a lot of us that ARE Soulshine. It’s all about the relationships there. It’s a builder of relationships of people who really want to save and change the world … and want to be the light of the world. My fanbase is completely through being open, honest, vulnerable, and creating community. The last show a couple of weeks ago, there were over 100 people there — people who relate to me. Soulshine is about that: relating to each other. I remember the first time I went there. I remember every path I walked. I remember every set of eyes I looked into; I recognized myself in every person. There was such a oneness. It’s more than a festival. Soulshine’s not flashy; you don’t have to wear a costume and get shiny. Literally your soul shines … as you are. It’s more than a festival.
RMC: Many of your songs come from personal experiences … and are “spiritual” by nature. Can you tell us a little about what you hope your music conveys to people?
Ashley: My music is about unity, grief, forgiveness, overcoming, and rising. I recently found this quote and loved it. “A person is still worthy of the love heaven has to offer now, even when they are a mess.”
RMC: I know you’ve had challenges with overcoming addiction and having a shaky start in life. Can you share a bit of your story with us so we can get a better picture of who you are and where you came from?
Ashley: After my parents split, I ended up with Children’s Aid and went to a foster home when I was 11. My mom was dealing with addiction and depression. I moved around a lot from group home to group home. When I realized I wasn’t going home, I started running away.
Fast forward the adolescent years: running away, living in shelters, living out of a backpack, partying, getting into the club scene in Toronto. Music got left behind because it was just about survival. My dad was a musician and toured and played sessions, so I was always musical. I took piano lessons, and persuaded my piano teacher to play and let me sing. It’s always been about the singing. After my mother died of an overdose, that reconnected me with my family, and I started to settle a bit, tried to go back to school. Couldn’t do it. I started going to karaoke bars when I was about 20, all the time. People used to come up and ask me for my autograph, because they told me I was going to be famous one day. There was a little voice that said, “One day it’s gonna happen.” I was dating a guy who was awesome, and he bought me a guitar. It sat for nine years, I was so scared of it. My neighbour started dropping off CDs he made, with folk singers from the 70s he loved, and my favourite CD was the one with Alison Krauss and Robert Plant; I loved it.
RMC: When did you start playing and writing???
Ashley: That same neighbour taught me the guitar. I still don’t understand theory, but I know the shapes and use a capo. Then I learned rhythm, then singing while playing … it was hard. The first song I wrote was “Confessions of a Wicked Woman” and started writing songs that were book titles in my room. I started going to open mics, then shows … then a festival where I met Daniel (Salij), and he asked me to be in his band. We (Elemaria) wrote and recorded our album during Covid, then broke up because a couple of the musicians moved. Daniel and I still play together and support each other.
RMC: Yeah, I see that both he and Nick Kus are playing with you at Soulshine. Two of your exes. How did that happen?
Ashley: My purpose for creating the music is salvation. And for me, that includes forgiveness. So I really have to show up and live that.
RMC: Your song “Elly Bird” was such a hit last year at the festival. I remember seeing people quite moved when you sang it. What’s the story behind it?
Ashley: It’s a universal song that changes the way people think about “God”… the word God to me, is love itself. I believe there’s a perfect plan and purpose for you … if you can just open up enough. It’s about a loving God….you don’t have to be religious to hear that. So many people want to hear it, and they listen to it on repeat when they’re going through a rough time.
RMC: I see, it really is about relating for you.
Ashley: It’s 100 per cent about the relationships … that’s what my shows are about. I’m more of a “catcher” of songs … versus a “songwriter.” I catch a song, then I write them down later. The song usually starts with a feeling, then a surrender, and the song comes, heals me, and then I hope it heals everybody.
You can “catch” Ashley’s show at Soulshine this Saturday night at the Shine Stage at 8:30 p.m. After speaking with her, words that come to mind are: “real,” “raw,” and “resilient.” This woman has soul, and she shines, so Soulshine truly is a perfect venue for her.