Ashley McBryde is ending 2020 on a high note.
In the midst of awards show season, the singer has found herself with multiple mentions at every ceremony. She was nominated at the 2020 ACM Awards, which took place this fall, after being pushed back from its usual April run date by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Next up, not only is McBryde nominated at this week’s CMT Music Awards, but she’s also performing during the show, and she’s a first-time host alongside Kane Brown and Sarah Hyland. Then, in November, she’ll be in the running for three trophies at the CMA Awards, including a hard-won mention in the Album of the Year category for her second major-label album, Never Will.
Released in early April, Never Will coincided with the onset of the pandemic, arriving at an uncertain time for the country music industry as well as the world at large. McBryde found herself faced with a rapidly evolving crisis: She knew she wouldn’t be able to tour in support of the album right away, but no one could guess at how long the shutdown would last. But, the singer explained recently to Country Now, pushing the album’s release date was never an option.
“We knew we didn’t wanna halt the release,” McBryde recounts. “We weren’t sure how long this pandemic thing was gonna last, but we knew it was gonna be a hot minute, and people would need something to listen to while they were isolating.”
McBryde is no stranger to holding fast to her dreams through tough situations. She’s made staying the course a core tenet of her artistic identity, releasing songs like her breakout fan favorite, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” about the payoff that comes from perseverance. But just like any other artist who suddenly realized early this year that touring would no longer be an option, McBryde was thrown for a loop by the pandemic.
“Yeah, at first it was complete crap. I didn’t even play guitar for over a month,” she acknowledges. “I would just look at it on the wall and be like, ‘Play it for who? Why?’ Just, super depressed.
“Which was just loss, and we all felt that,” the singer continues after a pause. “Whether you’re a barback or a monitor engineer or an artist, you felt that loss, and we had to grieve it. But once I realized this was not going to be a two-month ordeal — this was going to be an eight-month ordeal, at least — I thought, ‘Well, gosh, I can’t let myself stay lazy.’”
So McBryde got back to work, any way she could. She started livestreaming performances on her social channels, and dubbed the series “All Cooped Up.” She donned a green dinosaur onesie and sang kid-friendly songs to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She gave a virtual performance from the stage of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Most recently, she signed on for the Country Music’s Hall of Fame’s Big Night at the Museum show, taping a performance of herself playing Loretta Lynn’s guitar to help raise funds for the museum.
When it comes to songwriting, she’s been no slouch, either. “We did a retreat a few weeks ago, all safe and isolated, for five days. We wrote 13 songs,” McBryde notes. “Right?! Who knew that was going to happen?!”
Then, there’s been the commercial and critical success of Never Will — a level of success that McBryde wasn’t necessarily counting on, after she had to cancel her tour following the album’s release.
“When you’re not able to tour in support of the record, you’re really worried that it’s not gonna reach everybody you want it to reach,” she admits. But she put out the album’s first single, “One Night Standards,” and it exceeded any release she’d ever sent to radio before.
“The single went farther than any other single I’ve had so far. We got a Gold single, and a No. 1 in Canada, and a Top 10 in the United States,” McBryde explains. “…When it’s doing this good, without touring behind it? I can be proud that ‘One Night Standards’ and Never Will, both as a single and a record, are able to stand on their own two feet — that people are finding it, and it’s finding the right ears.”
Now, she’s looking ahead to follow-up single, “Martha Divine,” a villainous country banger that hearkens back to timeless themes of murder and revenge. And while some artists might be nervous about sending a song so grisly to country radio, McBryde knows better. After fighting hard to rise to the top, bucking expectations at every turn in her career and surviving a global pandemic, putting out a song about killing her dad’s lover is the least of the singer’s worries.
“I figured we’d be ok with the song,” she laughs. “Because country music, thankfully, does have an amazing history of things getting dark and things being a little Southern Gothic sometimes. There’s nothing like a good ol’ murder ballad.”
The song’s music video, though, was a little trickier. “I thought for sure they were not gonna let me do it,” McBryde admits with a chuckle.
The second installment of a three-part mini-movie sandwiched between the videos for “One Night Standards” and “Hang in There Girl,” the clip for “Martha Divine” follows McBryde and a red-haired female friend. Together, they work to hide the body after the friend catches her dad’s lover in a motel room and attacks her with a shovel.
“I asked if we could show the actress, you know, hitting [the woman] in the face with the shovel. And they were like, ‘Well…she can swing the shovel at her,’” McBryde remembers of the logistics behind her video’s dark vision. “And so she did. And then when they brought the body, the dummy, for us to drag out of the hotel room, I was like, ‘Oh, you guys! You just leveled up!’”
Once again, however, McBryde’s perseverance and fierce dedication to her artistic identity paid off. The first portion of the video, for “One Night Standards,” is going into the 2020 CMT Music Awards with three nominations, including a mention in the top category of the night, Video of the Year.
But McBryde’s story has always been one of resilience. Whether that means coming into the country mainstream on her own terms, releasing music her own way or even navigating a global pandemic, she doesn’t give up. She never has, and as the singer promises in the title track of her album, she Never Will.