In the years since playing in her late father’s band and gaining exposure through the film, Ashley plotted her own career, culminating with the May 11 release of debut solo album The Lonely One. The 13-track collection delivers the picking skills and pop smarts associated with her surname, without sounding like a blatant rehash of Dad’s past successes.
Ashley’s musical journey began at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles. While studying theater, a chance role found her embracing a traditional stringed instrument. “I was in college when I started playing banjo, but I did take to it very quickly,” she says. “I got into a play, and they needed one of the actors to learn banjo for the show.”
Her developing skills as a banjo picker and on-stage performer sharpened while on the road with the family band. By performing with her dad, Ashley gained knowledge about show business from one of the greatest multimedia stars of his time. “The main lesson I learned from being with my dad and watching him on stage is to love what you’re doing and love the music you’re making,” she says. “The more at ease you are on stage, then the more you can have fun. The more fun you have, the more the audience gets engaged.”
That post-grad experience puts Ashley in a similar spot as Ben Haggard and Lukas Nelson. They’re all pursuing solo careers after years spent in their famous dads’ touring bands. “We all share a common background,” Ashley says. “I love what both Ben and Lukas are doing. I got to open for Lukas back in Glasgow. What he’s doing is pretty awesome.”
Like Willie Nelson’s son, Ashley carves out her own sound while still honoring the past. The Lonely One starts with “A New Year,” a pop-accessible song about making the most of a fresh start by remembering past lessons. On the same album, she plays an instrumental jam with Carl Jackson, her godfather and a longtime collaborator of her dad’s, fittingly titled “Ashley and Carl’s Breakdown.” Beyond revisiting the Campbell family’s musical ties, the song makes it seem downright flabbergasting that such a skilled banjo picker didn’t start playing when she was knee-high.
The years in between I’ll Be Me and The Lonely One bought Campbell time to further develop as a songwriter and performer, delivering a worthwhile album for everyone clamoring to hear more than just her 2014 soundtrack cut “Remembering.”
“I put my heart and soul into (the album),” she says. “It’s about four years of songwriting and lessons learned. I waited so long because I was learning about myself and my music. Everything happens for a reason, even delays.”
With this experience under her belt, expect a sophomore album to arrive well before 2022. “I’ll be making album number two at least by next year, for sure,” she says. “I’m writing songs now, and I’ve got songs that didn’t make it onto the first album that I still absolutely love. It’s probably already half-written.”