Friday, April 12, 2024

Q&A: Aslin on her evolution as an artist, opening for her idol and her next album

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Featured photo courtesy of Aslin

Story by Shamani Salahuddin

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In high school, student musician Gyllian Mullen dreamed of performing on Broadway. After visiting New York City for college tours and experiencing her first Broadway shows, she decided that getting in character eight nights a week was not her cup of tea. Around 17, Mullen discovered indie rock artists Phoebe Bridgers, Soccer Mommy, Clairo and Snail Mail and realized that was the music she wanted to make.

From these inspirations, the artist Aslin was created. Aslin began performing in her hometown, Portland, Oregon, and later enrolled at New York University, majoring in music business. The artist transferred from NYU her junior year to pursue songwriting in Nashville. 

Since attending Middle Tennessee State University, Aslin has signed with student-run label Match Records, opened for her music inspiration Phoebe Bridgers and is continuing to make moves for her career in the future.  

Q: Your website shows that you chose your stage name after your father’s previous last name. Did he have a big influence on your relationship with music growing up?

A: No, he’s tone-deaf. He’s really not a musical person. I started playing piano because he was trying to learn how to play piano and had all these books out, but he’s awful. … I mostly just wanted his name in some area of my life. And so that seemed like a good [way].

Q: So, how did you get into music?

A: I think it was probably just born because my sister was a big athlete, and she was really good, so my parents were really focused on all things sports with her. So, I just kind of wanted something to distinguish myself, you know. I wasn’t as talented in sports, so I picked up guitar because my sister was gifted at guitar and never played it.

Q: How has attending MTSU helped you perfect your craft?

A: What I felt was really different about NYU was it was a very “everybody’s on their own” mentality. Everybody’s their own artistic director, their own producer, their own brand. I really liked that coming down here, everybody was so about collaborating because Nashville is a very collaborative city, it feels like. New York is very “you’re doing it on your own.” I feel like Nashville is very much community-based in how they do music business, which I think is great.

Q: How did it feel opening for your idol, Phoebe Bridgers? 

A: Well, I mentioned earlier that she was one of the reasons I started writing music, so I remember there being rumors about who it was going to be. I would talk to my mom about it, and we’d gossip and be like, “It would be so cool if that’s what it was,” and then it ended up happening. It was crazy. Yeah, it was a really hectic week. We were rehearsing before we even knew if we were going to get the gig because it was so last minute. But, yeah, that whole day was probably one of the best days of my life. I don’t know if it’s going to top that for a long time.

Q: Everyone’s music taste evolves from when we’re younger, just beginning to listen to music, to when we’re older and discover our own style. If you were to name an album that encapsulates when you first started writing music, what would it be?

A: Trying to think of a good one. … Maybe Haley Hendrickx. She’s from Portland and has a really like garden sound. So, her album” I Need to Start a Garden.” I would say that’s a pretty good one. Yeah, it’s indie, it’s folky, it’s softer. I started listening to it when I first started making music, and I still go back to it now. So, I would say that’s a good one.

Q: Do you think your musical influences have changed since you first began writing?

A: Yeah, I do think they’ve changed. Honestly, though, I think recently, I’ve been going back and realizing that I’ve kind of been distracted from what my sound actually is. When I started making music, I knew I wanted to do this storyteller, singer-songwriter, indie, folk kind of project. I think, going to NYU, I really started loving Grimes and Charli XCX and a lot of really techno music and stuff like that because that’s what the city felt like. And I was like, “Well, it’d be so cool if I can make like Grimes music. I would love that.” Not that I can’t do that at some point, but I think that I started trying to make the project of Aslin into other things, where now I would like to keep Aslin as this one folk indie project. And if I wanted to venture into doing Grimes stuff, I can make it a separate band or a separate something else.

Q: Your website said you want to transition to a more rock sound. What does that look like for you? 

A: I’m moving back to Portland this summer, and I have band members there from going back and playing shows throughout the years. So, right now, I’m trying to focus on more acoustic performances and writing, and I’m working on an album. And then when I go back home, I’ll be able to gig it and play it. The upcoming album is a lot more Americana and bluegrass. So, live performances for those songs are just pretty sparse. But I’m thinking about the project after this project, and it is going to sound more “rocky,” and I think it is going to be more of a fuller rock sound.

Q: So, is that the next big project you’re working on? The album?

A: Yes. It’s called–no, I really don’t feel like I should say what it’s called yet. It’s got a lot of bird imagery. … I’ve never released covers before in my entire release history. I’ve released 10-11 songs and never done a cover, so the next song I’m going to be releasing is going to come out, I think, in the next three weeks. And it’s a Gillian Welch cover. The rest of the songs on the album are two originals and then two covers. And so that’ll be coming out, around July, around the time I move.

Q: Many people dream of starting their own music careers and playing in New York, but most don’t make that happen. So, when you look back on your journey and where you’ve been, what thoughts come up for you? 

A: I don’t think I give myself any credit for doing any of those things. … It makes me feel better about myself. I think the hardest thing for me to get over was the idea that a dream is sometimes just a dream, and it’s not what’s in reality what is for you. And that was a really hard lesson to learn. Like, I very much wanted to be like Rachel Berry. Have you seen “Glee”? So, I wanted to do the Rachel Berry thing so badly. I think it’s okay to step back and be like, “That is definitely out there for somebody, but it’s not me.” I’m figuring out my own path, whatever it is, but you know, you follow your heart … when I came to visit Nashville, I was on the plane, flying in, and as the plane was going down, I like felt something in my heart. I was like, “I know, I need to be here. I don’t know why, but I know I need to be here.” And now, having moved here and gone through everything that I’ve gone through. I totally know why, and I’m ready to move again.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young musicians today? 

A: I’m thinking a lot about it because I’ve actually been reading – right after this meeting, I’m going to talk about this exact thing for my thesis … I think the biggest issue right now is that we’re in an attention economy, where getting people’s attention is hard, and keeping it’s harder. I kind of wonder how much having TikTok and having these things [social media] means that people are catering to what they think people want rather than just being themselves. I’ve seen that a lot. I really, for the past two years, thought TikTok was going to be my way of making it. I was like, “I’ve got to figure out TikTok. If I’m going to make it, I have to be on TikTok,” I don’t. Nobody does. I can have a career for 60 years and never be on TikTok, but if I choose that … For me, I know what I want to be saying in my music and how I want it to sound. And I think, like I said, I kind of got distracted from that. Because I thought that if I could get people’s attention, then I’d have it forever, but you have to keep it, and I don’t like posting on TikTok three times a day. So, find what works for you. If you’re not one of those people that likes content creating, then you don’t have to do that to be a musician. It’s harder, but you can find other ways.

Q: Despite that, do you still post on TikTok? 

A: No, I do not. And now, seeing what’s happening with Congress and all the legislation going around it, I’m like, “Well, what’s the point?”

Shamani Salahuddin is the Assistant Lifestyles Editor for MTSU Sidelines.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Destiny Mizell and Assistant Lifestyles Editor Shamani Salahuddin, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Instagram at MTSUSidelines or on X at @MTSUSidelines. Also, sign up for our weekly newsletter here.

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