‘Fantasy’ gives way to country reality
THE UNION LEADER – Sunday Dec. 12, 2008
By JIM FENNELL
The New Hampshire Union Leader
Ashley Alexander said she grew up idolizing Reba McEntire, so it was fitting for the Manchester native to end her recent performance celebrating the release of her solo CD, “Heaven on Earth,” by covering a McEntire tune.
After all, that’s what you do when you’re a country singer.
The idea that Ashley is now singing country may be a bit of a surprise for anyone who remembers Fantasy, the pop duo formed by Ashley and her sister Arsha. They were named the Best New Artists of the Year for R&B at the Los Angeles Music Awards in 2003-while they were both attending Manchester Central High School- and seemed more likely to end up in Los Angeles than Nashville.
But Ashley, now 22 and a recent graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, said McEntire was her idol when she was young. She went to see the country icon in concert and even sang her songs in early talent contests she entered.
Ashley said she became more comfortable embracing her country roots after she enrolled in Berklee. Maybe that’s why she was willing to record a couple of country tunes on a demo CD she made with her former Fantasy producer. That demo led to “Heaven on Earth” a country pop CD recorded in Nashville.
Jerry Marcellino was the executive producer and the man who put the project together. In addition to being the producer and co-writer for Fantasy’s self-titled debut CD in 2001, he’s a family friend who began working with Ashley again while she was in Los Angeles doing an internship in the marketing department of a music company last year.
“He asked me if I wanted to do a demo while I was out there and it kind of snowballed from there,” Ashley said.
She headed to Nashville to record “Heaven on Earth,” making three weeklong trips to record the CD at Manzantia Studios.
“It was very relaxing,” she said. “Not the crazy world that L.A. and New York can be.”
Ashley said her first extended time in the studio without her sister was different. The two had success as Fantasy, opening for acts such as Lenny Kravitz, O-Town and Nick Cannon. Now, she’s on her own.
“It’s been very different,” Ashley said. “We shared the stage for so long.”
Arsha is a senior at Hofstra University majoring in sociology with a minor in music. Ashley said the two still talk often and while they no longer perform together as Fantasy, Arsha joins her sister on stage on occasion.
“When I first started recording, I’d always go to her and ask her opinion,” Ashley said.
For now Ashley remains in Boston, working for Cafe 939, Berklee’s student-run coffee house and music venue where she held her CD release concert last week.
She continues to evolve as a musician and is now trying to expand as a songwriter.
She wrote one of the songs on the CD, the love song “Your Kiss,” with Beeb Birtles, one of the co-founders of the Little River Band. Birtles is a partner of Bill Cuomo, who co-produced the CD and also co-wrote several of the songs. Ashley also wrote for a project she is working on with Gabrielle Varner.
“I was shy about writing,” Ashley said. “It can be a scary thing, getting your feelings out on paper.”
Ashley is also trying to market her CD, which doesn’t have the luxury of being backed by a major label. She has two websites (www.ashleyalexandermusic.com and www.myspace.com/ashleyalexandermusic) and is also selling the CD on CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com/ashleyalexander) and iTunes (www.itunes.com).
“It’s definitely hard,” Ashley said. “There’s no right or wrong way, you just have to follow your heart.”
She continues to sing for the cover band Classic Groove in addition to doing her own shows. She and her band played New York City for the first time in November, and she has a show coming up on Saturday, Dec. 27. at Milly’s in Manchester.
She also has help from her parents; she said they both hand out CDs to anyone they meet.
“I get e-mails from people I don’t know telling me how they like the CD,” Ashley said. “It all helps.”
She said she considers herself a singer first, but is comfortable being labeled a country singer. That may mean a detour from her plan to move to Los Angeles.
“I still want to explore the L.A. music scene, but Nashville seems like the logical thing,” she said. In the meantime, she is doing what she can as an independent artist to make it.
“It may be hard and it’s a long process,” Alexander said. “But it’s a wonderful journey.”