Q+A with Ashley Armstrong, Folk Singer + Member of Vine-Based Band “Dear Ears”

About a month ago, I met Ashley serendipitously in Charlotte, NC, where we both live. That serendipity is a beautiful theme in her life. The most obvious example is the birth of her band, Dear Ears, which she founded with two women she happened to meet on Vine. Together, they make emotive, folk-inspired music. In addition to being a singer, Ashley is a fighter and a friend. She battles Crohn’s disease, and still makes joyous art through the struggle. She’s also very connected to other members of the Vine community, who often remix and share her work. In many ways, her approach is childlike in its generosity and earnestness – and this openness we find endlessly inspiring. Readers, you’re in luck.

The Basics

  • Age: 24
  • Location: Charlotte, NC
  • Field of Interest: Music, singing, social media networking
  • What Inspired You Today? I’m a big fan of folk music! It gets me up and going everyday so I always listen to it in the car on the way to work. It sounds silly, but the bands I listen to are very upbeat and positive, and it inspires me to have the same outlook on my day.
  • What’s Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? I think my favorite thing about myself would be my tenacity. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2009 and it has been a tough journey with finding the right medicine to keep it under control and learning how to take care of myself. I get a 3 hour long IV treatment every 6 weeks to keep the disease in remission (my next treatment is tomorrow actually) and I am restricted on what I can eat and physically do. The illness itself has been hard on me physically, mentally, and emotionally, but I have learned how to use this setback as fuel to do the things that I love. I was scared to post my music on Vine because I didn’t know how it would be received, but I want to do the things that scare me. It was the same way with meeting other Viners in New York. I’ve always figured if I could master this illness I can do anything, so that’s what I’m going to try to do.
  • What Are You Currently Playing on Repeat? Oh man, I’ve been listening to The Sheepdogs nonstop this week. Their music is very positive and laid back, with a rock’n’roll vibe. I’ve also been listening to Atlas Road Crew, String Cheese Incident, and Shakey Graves.

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Questions + Answers

You met your Dear Ears band mates on Vine, which is just incredible. Could you walk us through how that happened?

Sure! It’s funny how it all happened. I saw Leslie post a beautiful piano cover of Sail by AWOLnation on Vine and I loved it, so I posted my own Vine singing over her piano. Whitney then saw my Vine collaborating with Leslie and posted her own Vine harmonizing with my Vine. (Follow Ashley on Vine at AshleyStrongarm and on Twitter, too.)

It sounds complicated but it ended up turning into a beautiful collaboration where Whitney and I harmonized to Leslie’s piano. After that, Whitney messaged me on the app about how well our voices meshed and said “let’s be friends!” It was an awesomely straightforward way to start a friendship and I loved it! She has been one of my best friends ever since.

Whitney then introduced me to Leslie and we all video chatted pretty often after that. They are both so kind and talented. Our friendship gradually turned into a Vine band and it has been the most rewarding experience. It is really easy to work with them both and I absolutely love the music we have created so far.

Being in different areas must present unique challenges when writing, recording and promoting your music. What are some of those challenges, and how do y’all handle them?

Whitney lives in New York, Leslie lives in Michigan, and I’m in NC, so the distance adds a few challenges. But the three of us talk almost daily in a group chat about music ideas, lyrics, and just life in general. We send a lot of audio files back and forth where we are singing bits and pieces of songs we are working on. Technology definitely makes it easier to work together from different states.

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We are also planning another trip to New York to work altogether on a full length album. Once we are all in the same area, it is really easy to crank out songs.

Risk-taking is an essential part of a creative life. Does risk-taking come naturally to you?

I don’t think it [risk-taking] did at first. I originally didn’t post music to Vine because I wasn’t sure what the feedback would be like. After posting some full-length songs to my Facebook page for friends and family, I decided to give it a shot, and the feedback was overwhelmingly kind!

People say it all the time, but Vine is an incredible community. Everyone is so supportive and encouraging – it fosters a lot of creativity. Sure, there are still people who post random hateful comments, but I’ve learned to just ignore them.

Traveling to meet other Viners was the biggest risk I have taken so far, and that took a leap of faith. I flew to meet Whitney, and I had to just hope everything would turn out okay. That ended up being such an incredible experience that I try to travel as often as I can now to meet other friends from the app.

What unexpected lessons have you learned about the music industry since started your band? What advice would you give to those considering a career in music?

Good question! We have had to learn how to budget, for one. Whitney, Leslie, and I have been putting the money we make from our EP into the making of our album, so money management has been a big lesson.

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I’ve also learned the power of networking. I would have never met my bandmates without networking on Vine, and we continue to meet amazing musicians, singers, producers, etc. on the app. For anyone considering a career in music I would say don’t underestimate the power of social media. You never know who you will meet, how big of an audience you will reach, or what doors might open for you.

Who inspires you?

Whitney and Leslie both inspire me daily! I love seeing what they post on Vine because they are so talented. Whitney comes up with the most honest and raw lyrics. Every time I hear what she writes I get goosebumps. And Leslie has such a sweet and lovely voice and plays almost every instrument known to man. I continue to learn so much from them.

I am also insanely inspired by Kayla Christine. I met her on Vine and she is also battling Crohn’s disease. Talking to her about her illness and her outlook on life has really impacted the way I perceive my own disease. She is so positive, and determined to turn her personal battle into something good. I have yet to meet someone as at peace as she is, despite her health condition. I met her at a time where I was starting to feel really tired – tired of my treatments, my body’s needs, being different, just mentally tired. We talked for over an hour about it, and she really helped me get to a better place. She’s a rare human in the best way possible.

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+ Have You Dealt with a Serious Illness, and Learned to Overcome It? What About Pursuing your Passions in the Company of Friends from Social Media? Let Us Know How Ashley’s Story Resonates with You in the Comments Below!
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