Pitman: Once a Fairfield Idol winner, local songwriter gets back to the basics

Ashley Brandenburg is back writing and performing music, something that she hadn’t done for nearly a decade because she couldn’t.

The Fairfield native grew up loving music, and obviously still does today.

She recalled starting to write her own songs when she was 8 years old, obsessed with some of the Queens of ‘90s Country, like Shania Twain, The Chicks (then known as The Dixie Chicks) and Faith Hill. Her parents, Sonny and Kim Brandenburg, fostered that love of music as she said, “I was just around music a lot.”

Credit: Stringer

Credit: Stringer

The first song she sang that she wrote was at a school event in the 8th grade. “Always and Forever” was performed in front of a filled gym at the old Fairfield Middle School, and her dad accompanied her on the guitar.

“It just solidified the idea that ‘I love doing this,’ and I want to continue doing it,” she recalled.

Then, in 2005, as a 17-year-old high school rising senior, she decided to try out for Fairfield Idol, a short-lived singing competition hosted by the Butler County city capitalizing on the American Idol format.

“I think it was just pushing me out of my comfort zone to the next level,” she said. “If I’m going to be serious about this, I was like, ‘Let’s try it.’”

Credit: Jen Weaver/Cox News Service

Credit: Jen Weaver/Cox News Service

She won that year, performing at the city’s Red, White and Kaboom Independence Day celebration. It’s a night she still recalls 18 years later.

“It was the most fun I had performing, to this day,” she said. “I still just love that night.”

She spent the next few years performing locally, and in 2012, she signed with BE Music and Entertainment, recording two albums (Love Like This in 2014 and Sure of Nothin’ in 2015). Brandenburg said that time of her life “was crazy.”

“I was playing the Blue Bird Café, which is one of the most famous stages in Nashville among writers, and I opened for several Grammy winners (Dave Barnes, Josh Kear, and The Warren Brothers) at the Franklin Theater down there,” she said. “It was a whirlwind when I was down there.”

A decade after winning Fairfield Idol, she stopped performing. Stopped writing. Writer’s block wouldn’t allow the words to come out. She needed to focus on her herself, her children, her husband’s health.

It was overwhelming, and so, the words stayed trapped.

And then, eight years later, they were freed.

This summer, Brandenburg said, the words flowed out again as her family is in a good place now. And as an independent artist (her contract ended in 2015), she doesn’t have to write for anyone else, stay in a genre, or be a big star.

Ashley wrote for Ashley.

“I never thought I’d get back into it,” she said. “But something this summer just clicked, and I just started writing. I conceptualized this album called Golden Age that’s coming out in a couple of weeks, and I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Brandenburg said they have a saying in the music industry that “if you don’t make it by the time you’re 30, you might as well stop trying.”

Basically, she said, forget that.

Now 35 years old and still living in Butler County, commuting when necessary to Nashville, she’s comfortable where she is in life. And on Nov. 10, the handful of songs on her new EP called Golden Age (produced by Grammy-award-winner Scot Sax), and she wants people to hear them, so her thought was, “‘Let’s just do it,’ and we did.”

“It was really freeing,” she said on the decision to resume her music career. “When you’re in Nashville, they put you in a lot of boxes.”

Labels are irrelevant to her now. She’s just a musical artist writing for herself, and not for other people.

“I think I got burned out a little bit by the industry, and I think the time off served me well,” she said. “When it clicked this summer, I was like, ‘How about we don’t pick a genre. How about we don’t write for anyone else? How about we don’t co-write with anybody? I just went back to how it first was when I first started ― me, the piano, writing whatever I want.”

Back to the basics.

More details

To find more on Ashely Brandenburg or where to find her music, which will be on all the major streaming services, visit facebook.com/ashleybrandenburgmusic.

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