I showed up at the University of Winnipeg to find local musician (and long-time friend) Ashtyn Walker to talk to her about tunes, playing tunes, and her new ‘duality’ music and art project called U&I / perspective. Ashtyn is a wonderfully talented, go-getting, radiantly positive human being, whom I admire, more than she knows. In the centre building I found her at the top of some fancy escalators, and we headed off in search of somewhere quaint and quiet to chat. We opted for a little spot on the floor at the end of a row of library books and got down to it.
Sean Guezen: What drew you to music, singing and playing the piano in your life?
Ashtyn Walker: I think because I’m an only child my parents were really, really awesome about giving me all the opportunities that they could, so as a child I tried a little bit of everything that I was interested in. So I was kind of spoiled with experiences instead of things, right? My mom is very musical so I got that interest from her. So through piano lessons, and vocal lessons, and I did some musical theatre, that sort of solidified my interest in music, through experience.
Who are you listening to most these days?
My biggest musical influences currently would be Alanis Morrisette, Jessica Pratt, Christine Fellows, and Regina Spektor especially, who for sure would be a large influence for what I would consider to be my style—but that is ever changing.
Yeah, haha. I’m also extremely influenced by sort of like the 60s, 70s genre. There’s this one band that I have been into for quite a while, but like steadily, and they’re called The Ace of Cups and they’re like an all-girl band from the 60s, and they only ever put out one album but it’s awesome. And I think it’s things like that, um, different, strange artists and pieces of music that I’m drawn to and inspire me.
I was going to ask you who your musical heroes are, so obviously Regina Spektor is one of them—
I’m a large advocate for the Beatles and have been since like, junior high, when they did that American Idol special where it was only Beatles songs and that was the theme. I was like woah these are great!
Haha, from American Idol?
Totally! That’s how I got started, because we used to watch that all the time.
So that goes with your first question, it was also like a strange familial influence. For sure, The Beatles—they’re very near and dear to my heart. And I think I’m drawn to female musicians. And that’s a very broad category, but sort of just as a whole, it’s a case of identifying with the musician or the things that they express.
So how was playing at Shine On Festival?
It was awesome! So great. I went to my first Shine On last year, and I mean, I didn’t play but it’s my favourite festival. I don’t know if I should say that! I don’t want to picks favourites…but I am. I played the last tweener set on Sunday afternoon (this year) and it was like this beautiful warm day and everyone was just really receptive to what I was putting out.
That’s exactly what you want.
Yeah, and I played one song from my U&i / perspective set list that was super well received.
Speaking of that—kind of a broad question, but, what is U&i / perspective?
I think that’s one of the things we had the most difficulty figuring out. We had this conceptualised idea but we were like, “What is it,” you know? It is, a duality based gallery. As in, I have written songs and my friend and visual artist, Danielle Friesen, has created pieces and then I have written songs about her pieces and she has basically created my songs visually. And the gallery is based on the theme of the feminine experience. Of the self, versus the collective. So, sort of like my feminine experience versus our collective feminine experience.
How would you describe Danielle’s work?
Danielle has a very unique style that she displays in many different ways. So I feel like with everything she creates I always think, “Oh yeah. Danielle made that.” I’m always super into it. She uses different methods, different materials—
She’s such a versatile artist.
Yeah, that’s exactly the word to describe her. She’s versatile. So I think everything she creates is very heartfelt, which is the word I think I want use to describe her work. Everything is very strong, and very emotional, very heartfelt.
In terms of your own music, can you tell me what kinds of songs you’ve written for this project?
For each song that I wrote—I wrote the first six just based off my own ideas—and now I’m working on the last six based on Danielle’s pieces. So my first six I wrote, I did a bunch of research actually. I had some ideas, but I did some research into feminist theory and current issues that are happening to see how I relate to them, because that’s part of the theme. Me in contrast to everyone. I guess the songs that I wrote are very word heavy, and they are strong, and opinionated and idea based. While some of them are definitely lighter, music and accompaniment-wise, and others are very direct and blunt. They all try and get across a clear message, but some seek to get across a stronger message I think.
Yeah, I mean, it can’t be all heavy or all light—
You have to know your balance.
So how did U&I / perspective come about?
It’s kind of a good story actually, this was the first time that I was showing Danielle my new apartment that I live in on my own currently, and so I told her to wait outside and I went in to turn on the lights, but they weren’t working. So long story short, hydro had turned off my power. And not because I wasn’t paying, because I do! They thought I was the last tenant or something crazy. So we went and got a bunch of candles, grabbed a pizza, because we were going to make food but we didn’t have electricity so we got a bunch of beer and sat in my living room. Danielle had planned to make me this art piece, so she gifted it to me, and at the time my friend had a venue and we were like, “I wonder if maybe we should do something?” So that’s sort of how we came up with the idea. We both got the idea at once and started staring at each other with our mouths opened because we had this idea but we didn’t know what to say.
I love that story, haha. So for people who want to come out to the gallery and performance, what can they expect to see, hear, and take away?
I guess it’s important to note that our gallery is in two parts. The first part is an afternoon, and it’s an open walk through gallery where you can come and go as you please. Danielle’s pieces will be displayed, and my lyrics will be displayed beside the pieces. The second part in the evening will all look the same but we’ll also have a performance as well. I think that what people will take away from it, or what we are trying to promote, is thought. I hope that people leave and think differently. Even if everyone leaves with one idea that they didn’t have before, that’s completely and totally our goal. Just to think about it. And even if you don’t change your mind on certain things, just to have that moment of individual pensive thought.
That is awesome. So as kind of a wrap up question, what would you say feminism means to you?
I’m going to take that question as— how do I identify with feminism. I consider myself an intersectional feminist, which is basically that I acknowledge my own oppression as a person that identifies as a female but I am also acknowledging that there are different types of oppression. For instance, I experience a different type of oppression than an indigenous woman or a transgendered woman. So I think that for me, feminism grounds me. There’s so many ‘isms’ in the world, and I just wrote a song about that actually that will be in the gallery. There are so many things to consider. When I think about feminism and what it means to me, that’s acknowledging things like the low rape conviction rate, and the stigma of public breastfeeding, and it’s acknowledging the ways that we talk to each other at a very base level. How do I interact with others—sorry I could talk about this forever.
But, I think something that founded my belief in feminism is that feminism is for everyone. That’s very important to me, that I’m not holding myself to a higher or lower standard than anyone else because of feminism. Feminism is for everyone because it’s the feminine qualities that we’re all looked down upon for, right? And for anyone who identifies as a male it’s that, “Men shouldn’t cry.” “Men shouldn’t have feelings,” because those are feminine qualities—using air quotes.
Thank you for stating that, so it translates over in writing, haha.
Yeah, I think that is why it’s so important to me, because I identify with it very strongly. Everyone else can also identify with it in a different way than I do, but in an equally important way.
U&i / perspective is happening on October 15th at the Rudolf Rocker Cultural Centre, on 91 Albert St. 3rd floor. Tickets are $10 at the door. (Contact Ashtyn or Danielle on their Facebook page to buy ahead of time)
Gallery Drop In: 2:30 – 5:00
Musical Performance: Doors at 7, Tunes at 7:30
(This was Blog Challenge number 2: Do a 10-question Q and A with someone you admire.)