It happens very rarely that an artist has such a strong creative vision from the get go that you’ll remember immediately upon hearing or seeing them for the first time. Ashnikko, however, is one of those few and far in between artists that manages to capture you right away. With her striking blue hair, and her deceivingly sweet yet explosive pop songs, she’s hard to forget. Single “Daisy” garnered major radio support and has already received over 61 million streams on Spotify alone.
While she’s nixed her plans to release her mixtape so close to the US elections, pushing the release date back to her birthday in 2021 instead, Ashnikko hasn’t been sitting still. She’s just dropped a Halloween project: “Halloweenie.” It has become somewhat of a tradition for Ash. It’s a perfect mix of provocative, blunt lyrics and unexpected, catchy melodies with just enough hints of horror and mystery that has people fascinated, and has kept them fascinated for three years in a row now. “Halloween is far superior to all other holidays, hands down. I put out the first Halloweenie and then I kept getting harassed online to make another one and here we are! Three years deep and I’m not stopping – I’ll be 103 years old making Halloween songs about my puss.”
She assures me she’s got enough material for all those new iterations to come. While this year’s version takes a Halloween-angle to Twelve Days of Christmas, Ashnikko says that “there are endless amounts of spooky, haunted shit to take inspiration from. I feel like I’ll never run out of ideas, I’m always panicked and terrified of something.”
You probably wouldn’t expect it based on these replies, but at times it almost feels as if Ashnikko wields her bluntness as a weapon – a shield to keep you at a distance. Because as electric Ashnikko may be in song, effortlessly mixing punk with bubblegum and unafraid of anything odd, she’s initially rather shy when I talk to her. Perhaps it’s just another extension of the duality and polarity that can be observed on her new mixtape Demidevil. Befitting of the name, the mixtape showcases Ashnikko’s ability to be both sharp as a razorblade and quick-witted, as well as vulnerable and fragile. Yet it’s not the songs that led her to the name – it was her fans.
After releasing stand-alone track “Tantrum” earlier this year, which has the word “demidevil” incorporated in the lyrics, Ashnikko was already intrigued by the concept due to its mythological connotations. But then. “Some fans were calling themselves demidevils and I thought that was really cute, so when I was thinking of names for the mixtape, I was like – basically, a demidevil is half human, half devil, and that fits the themes of the mixtape very well. Because there are some more soft, human elements to the mixtape, but there are also some hard, devilish, rage-filled songs on there. It’s about having both sides – the vulnerability and the toughness.”
She smiles as she recounts how she went “actually, that’s a really good title,” upon seeing the name pop up all over her fans’ online pages. Nevertheless, Ashnikko, whose real name is Ashton Casey, stresses that this was an extraordinary exception to her usual creative process. Her artistic integrity dictates that she listens to nobody but herself – not even her fans. “I do like to know what the fans are thinking and what they gravitate towards, and what they like. But, for the most part, I think listening to what other people want from you is a recipe for mental illness,” she explains. She takes a moment to consider her words, then adds that in the end, it’s really quite simple. “It’s just, you can’t be what someone else wants you to be. You have to like – in order to make good music, it has to come from an authentic place. It’s why I write most of my songs myself, for me, with me in mind and everyone else comes secondary.”
It also allows her to be in control of what she does and doesn’t share. With a carefully curated artistic persona, Ashnikko acknowledges that “the fans know one side of me very well” – the side she is willing to expose through song. Hidden behind jarring lyrics, dark humor, and well-placed rage at the patriarchy, are still parts of Ash herself. In a way, it’s both a parody of the male gaze, as well as an accurate portrayal of how women struggle with celebrating their own diverse range of emotions. For example, the final two tracks on the mixtape “Good While It Lasted” and “Clitoris! The Musical” stand in sharp contrast to one another. “Good While It Lasted” is a ballad – vulnerable, emotional, and soft. “Clitoris! The Musical” is a short, and extremely hilarious well-written track, which shows off Ash’s versatility. She tells me that the end of the mixtape is meant as “a bit of a private joke with myself.” She grins, “My one vulnerable song, I follow up with ‘Clitoris! The Musical.’ For the one second that I’m vulnerable, I can’t be vulnerable without laughing about it. So I feel like that’s my own little inside joke – I can’t just end it on a vulnerable note, I have to end it on a laugh.”
It’s quite daunting to share your stories with others in such a public format, even if you’ve decided to write just for yourself. “I’m pretty picky when it comes to who I work with,” Ash admits. “It’s hard for me to bring in new people – I guess I’m shy about my songwriting. It’s mainly – the majority of these songs were written with my best friend Oscar or my constant collaborator Slinger. I work with them quite a lot.” She giggles as she scrambles to look through her own tracklist, rattling off some of the other people she’s worked with. Still, she’s quick to stress that she’s very involved in the writing process. “I don’t take pitch songs or anything.”
It doesn’t necessarily mean though that all her songs are 100% autobiographical. In fact, Ash tells me that she likes to “create characters” instead. “An ex will call me up and say – you wrote this song about me! Me, me, me, me,” she emphasizes with an eye-roll. “I’m like, wow, songwriting is storytelling and I’m not going to write a song about exactly what happened – I’m going to embellish it a little bit. I’m trying to tell a story here, trying to entertain. I’m not going to make it boring. So I like to draw inspiration from all sorts of experiences that I’ve had, it’s not just about one person. When someone gets hurt about having a song written about them, I tell them – it’s not necessarily about you, it’s more about my experiences with people like you, with little embellishments here and there.”
She points to her song “Hi, it’s me” as an example, where she actually took inspiration from stories her friends told her. “My best friend was dating this absolute fucking garbage man, and she was just telling me about him. The song was a mixture of me talking to myself, but then also me talking to my best friend.”
Her desire to be involved in every part of the creative process can also get in the way sometimes, she tells me. “I’m a real bad micromanager, I love to control every single aspect and have a really hard time relinquishing control to other people.” Nevertheless, it’s also something to treasure – especially in an industry that’s usually so unforgiving about forcing women into a straitjacket.
Feminism is something that Ash is (rightfully) passionate about, and it’s one of the reasons why she’s so aware of how she presents herself and her art, and who she involves in her career. “I’m trying to build up my team with lots of women, lots of queer people. I think that’s the energy that I feel most comfortable around,” Ash starts. “With videos too, I mainly work with women. I have an easier time trusting them. I just don’t really like –,” she cuts herself off, but she doesn’t really have to finish her sentence in order for me to get the sentiment behind it. I prefer women doctors and dentists over men, too. Instead, she gives me a recent example. “The music video for ‘Deal With It’ was canceled because of coronavirus, so currently we’re struggling to find out what’s going to happen with that. But, it was going to be directed by a woman. It’s really unfortunate that we can’t make it happen now, and I’m so sad, but I’ll definitely work with her in the future. I had a really cool concept for it, we were pretty far ahead with production, so I guess we’ll just have to save that up for another song. My track ‘Stupid’ was also directed by a woman, I think.” She pauses there, before adding with a grin. “Hold on, let me take a trip down memory lane and look back to some of my older videos. Yup, mostly women.”
Moving away from the male gaze, especially when it comes to expressing your sexuality is another important cause that Ashnikko fully supports. She’s even toyed with the idea of releasing her own range of sex toys – no pun intended. When I ask her about what she makes of the controversy earlier this year surrounding the release of “WAP,” considering the topics of her own music, she stresses just how important it is for women to take control of their sexuality. “I feel like a lot of us had our sexual awakenings in music, or maybe that was just me?” She giggles, before continuing on a more serious note. “I heard a lot about sex in songs and thought “oh my god, what’s that?” But I think a lot of those songs were very ‘male gaze-y,’ almost like submissive, and like – I don’t know. A lot of those songs were by men. I just think it’s important to hear songs by women, like with WAP, where women are talking about their pleasure. How it makes them feel. And yeah, I feel like sex positivity is a very important part of feminism. And I think if I had had more sex-positive music as a young person, I feel like it would’ve maybe – who knows what type of person I would’ve been, but maybe I would’ve come out as bisexual a lot sooner. Maybe I would’ve had like less shame around my own pleasure, I feel that it’s just really important,” she confides.
Nowadays, Ash prefers being as blunt as can be when it comes to sex in her own songs. “Someone said the other day, they were trying to be mean, “this is like reading someone’s diary – a sixteen-year-old’s diary,” because of how blunt and straight to the point my music is. I just don’t want my sexuality to be shrouded in mystery. The female orgasm is already so elusive in media and in real life when it’s not actually elusive. It’s a very straight forward concept that the patriarchy likes to paint as very difficult and elusive, basically saying that it’s not a priority – when it should be a priority. Because it’s pretty straightforward – ‘make me come.’ So my pleasure, not even with a partner – also on my own. I love masturbating, it’s an important part of my own self-care. My eyes were opened up to the benefits and many wonders of sex toys when I was like 21, 22? Something like that. I only learned more and more about, even this year and the past few months. My sex toys collection is extensive, and it’s a very important part of my mental health and self-care, for sure.” She laughs when I tell her it’s also a very safe way of getting there in COVID-19 times, agreeing wholeheartedly. “When things are tense and stressful, it’s good to release some of that tension.”
In a way, her music serves a similar purpose. One of the elements that make Ashnikko’s music stand out, is its unapologetic use of anger, resentment, and rage – something that is usually missing from your average pop song nowadays. It’s both empowering, as well as stress-relieving to shout along to “Deal With It,” which samples Kelis’ “Caught Out There.” Ashnikko is incredibly excited to have the iconic lyric scream “I hate you so much right now” feature in her track. “It’s an amazing song that shaped me as a young woman. Legendary Kelis is one of my favorite artists, so having a sample from her on one of my songs is a huge thing for me.”
There are a couple of other artists featured on the mixtape that Ashnikko is more than happy to highlight. For one, there’s the song L8er Boi, which is a new take on Avril Lavigne’s iconic punk-pop anthem. Excitedly, Ashnikko tells me that it’s her favorite song on the mixtape. “Her team rarely clear the use of ‘Sk8er Boi.’ I think they’ve actually never cleared it before – I’ve never heard an interpolation of the track, I was like, surely someone’s done it? But I think they’re very picky as to who they let use it, so I was very blessed. Thank you Goddess Avril for letting me do my version of ‘Sk8er Boi.’ I love you and appreciate you. Hopefully, she loves it and wants to work with me in the future, because I’m obsessed with her.”
“Slumber Party” features Princess Nokia, another artist that Ashnikko had been dying to work with. “I’ve been following her for a long time, since my Tumblr days. She’s always been so artistically authentic and so fucking cool. She’s always been so cool. I really like her and her lyrics are just so – cute and creative and bossy. She’s to me, it feels like, a very multifaceted artist. She shows many different sides of herself. Like, very tomboy and very feminine and very, like, nerdy and cute, and then dominating and powerful. She’s all of those things, which I really like in an artist. It was really cool to have her on the mixtape,” Ash explains.
In the same way that these artists played a role in shaping Ash’s own life, perhaps Demidevil will end up shaping another young woman out there upon hearing it, too. Ashnikko loves hearing these stories from her fans. “I love it when people take my songs and attach their own meaning to them. I think that’s just the life cycle of the song, and that’s really beautiful. I kind of like that the song is no longer mine anymore, that it has become someone else’s song. I have songs from other artists that to me, are my songs, and I attach specific meaning to them. And when I hear them, I’m immediately taken back to a time in my life or a memory. But the fact that music is so emotive, and can hold so many memories for each individual person is pretty cool,” she explains. “I have a select few songs that remind me of how horrible it was to be a teenager, I have a few songs that remind me of certain heartbreaks. I have a select few songs that remind me of when I was sleeping with loads of people at once. It’s just a lot of memories attached to songs. Kind of like scents, like when you smell something and then you’re immediately taken back to particular memories.”
There’s one exception to this process, though, and that’s when the memory is so sad – it keeps you from listening to that song or artist again. “I’ve had a few people say, I can’t listen to you anymore. But for the most part, I’m like a breakup queen, so it’s fine. I’m who they go when they’re going through their breakup,” she jokes.
On a lighter note, some of her fans can also go to her for their Halloween inspiration. Her unique, other-worldly aesthetic offers great costume potential, and Ash loves to see it. “Iconic! Showstopping! Breathtaking! Legendary! I love them all. I can’t wait to see this year’s costumes. My favorite thing ever is going out on stage and just seeing a whole front row of blue hair and pigtails. It makes me want to cry thinking about it right now.”
Whether she gets to tour it or not, the one thing she wants people to take away from this mixtape most of all is just some enjoyment. “It’s not that deep, it’s just a bunch of songs that I love. I hope they love them, I hope everyone has a favorite. I think for people to like them is all I’m expecting. My expectations are non-existent because I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment. I just want to put it out there and I want to put more music out right after.”
Her brutal honesty offers yet again some nuance to the confidence she exudes, befitting of a perfectionist who is both really proud of what they’ve achieved, but also endlessly critical. Perhaps there’s no escaping that dichotomy within the music industry, particularly for women. When I mention this to her, she retorts bemusedly that I really shouldn’t get her started on misogyny, as “we’ll be here all fucking day!”
“Women in music are,” Ashnikko starts, before almost immediately cutting herself off. It’s important for her to phrase it right, so she takes a moment to gather her thoughts on it. “There’s no room for mistakes. You have to be perfection, all the time. I feel like there’s just no room for error. You have to be on all the time. Whereas a lot of men are given a lot of leeway, a lot of second changes, they’re given a lot of room to grow and find themselves. I find it frustrating. The other day, I was talking to my friend about how men when they reach a certain age in the entertainment industry, get seen as respected and established. Whereas women will get to a certain age and they’ll be too old and irrelevant, which is just exhausting. Maybe they’re not chart-topping anymore, but still, have some fucking respect.”
She pauses again, letting out a frustrated sigh. “There are some people – ugh, it makes me want to throw up. Some things will come out of some people’s mouths, men and it’s just a very sobering moment. We’re in 2020 and you’re still allowed to say what you just said, and I’m still being treated the way I’m being treated. And here we are, and this is why we need feminism.”
It’s also why Ashnikko decided to postpone the release of her mixtape, in order to focus on making sure misogyny is no longer festering in the White House. In a way, it’s her taking care of her own mental health, and ensuring she’ll be able to fully enjoy the release of her mixtape in the way she’d initially envisioned.
She tells me that she tries to not let the misogyny of the internet seep into her brain, or the effervescent need of others to compare her to other female artists and put her in a box. “I think being an artist in the age of social media is very tough, if you aren’t well equipped to handle it emotionally and mentally, then it can be very catastrophic and destructive for your mind. But that also goes in general. If you aren’t taking precautions to look after your mental health, then it can be very destructive,” she starts, before turning towards her own experience with such commentary. “People online like to compare you, they’re more comfortable with an artist when they can compare you to someone else. But yeah, I’m not trying to let people compare me to other artists. There’s space for us all, you know? I just surround myself with beautiful feminists. I only try to be around people who are going to support me and allow me to be my very complicated and multifaceted self.”
So what’s the next big thing that people can support her on? First, the delayed mixtape release. “I’m going to enjoy it and savor the moment, but I do want to keep on putting music out. I’m really proud of this body of music, but there’s also much more to come.”
Pun intended, as the last track, “Clitoris! The Musical” with its 1 minute and 37 seconds run time will most likely get a sequel. “I’m writing a musical on the Clitoris, I’m going to flesh that out. This is more like the ending of the movie, like a scene after the credits, that shows you a little clip of the sequel. There’s going to be a full version, maybe with an orchestra – but this is definitely not the final version!”
She’s also got plenty of other surprises planned. Ash doesn’t want to give too much away, but promises “there will be goodies and snacks” in the run-up to the mixtape release. “I know my fans, amateur private detectives they are. One clue and they’ve solved it entirely,” she laughs. “But, I’ll give you three words: blue, fart jokes, demidevil.”
Oh well, nothing like a bit of mystery and edging.
On cover: Ashnikko wears full look by Colin Horgan, Earrings: Lucky Little Blighters, Shoes: Rombaut