Following the widespread success of 26-year-old Ashley Henry’s Easter EP, the genre-blurring UK pianist returns in full force with his debut studio album Beautiful Vinyl Hunter, set for release in later this year on Sony Music. Offering a journey into the visionary mind of one of the UK’s most creative young talents, the highly anticipated 15-track album draws on a heady brew of influences from jazz, beats, hip-hop, punk and grime and features collaborations with an impressive collective of innovators including Makaya McCraven, Keyon Harrold, Ben Marc, Luke Flowers, MC Sparkz, Jaimie Branch, Binker Golding and Joshua Idehen.
With his starting point in the revived London jazz scene, Ashley has also just returned from a year-long world arena tour with Christine and The Queens as her keys player, opened for Loyle Carner’s UK tour in April and plays in his band regularly (you can watch him in Loyle Carner’s session for Mary Anne Hobbs on BBC Radio 6Music!).
Today he releases the second single off the album “Between The Lines” ft Keyon Harrold on trumpet and Manchester-based MC Sparkz in a few weeks.
We catch up with him to find out more!
Hi Ashley, thanks for taking time out for this interview.
No problem. Thanks for having me!
So you’ve been busy, touring with Loyle Carner, I just saw him perform main stage at Lovebox Festival on Friday. As always great show! What has touring with the rapper been like?
It’s been great! Because we’ve spent so much time together we’ve become a family. Ben (Loyle) is also very particular about what he wants musically, and he knew that my style of playing would work for his music so the whole process has felt very natural…
You have been on a number of tours this year, a year-long world tour with Christine and The Queens recently ended, how does touring effect your creativity and your creative output?
Touring with Christine and the Queens definitely changed my approach to playing music for the better! My role in the band was almost like being a producer in the studio every night, so it gave me a broader sense of clarity. And because her music is so minimal, you really need to have the discipline to refrain from overplaying and stick to the groove which a lot of players find hard to do surprisingly! So yeah I feel like when I started touring my music in between touring with Christine, I felt like I was playing it with a whole new set of ears. It’s crazy but really exciting! Opened new doors for me
How did you come to be a pianist, was it lessons through school, forced by your parents, in the family blood. What was your journey to becoming the known pianist you are today?
Music definitely runs in my family! I’ve been going to gigs watching my uncle play keys for Chaka Khan, Incognito etc. But my dad also plays piano as well as my grandfather! So I remember coming home from school one day and there was a piano in the house, and I remember watching my dad sit down and play really great classical piano. I was really young and tried to copy what he was doing with 2 fingers! So from then my dad decided to get me classical piano lessons because he saw that I was enthusiastic… but I didn’t get into jazz until my late teens so I’ve had a solid classical background throughout whilst trying to figure out loads of records by ear… so when I came to studying jazz, I felt like a part of me already understood it so I managed to pick it up really quickly
So you’re set to release your debut album Beautiful Vinyl Hunter in September, tell me about the creative process for a piece of work I sense has been some time in the making.
It was very intense! I basically booked a studio out for about a week and had all the musicians and special guests passing through the studio all throughout! Was a huge learning curve for me, especially self producing it at the same time… I didn’t rehearse much of the material either, I wanted it to feel organic and I’ve always trusted my instinct to pick the right musicians to bring my music to life. Can’t wait for everyone to hear it!
The album is touted as being a variety of genres from Contemporary Jazz to Hip Hop to Grime, what were the inspirations both musically and thematically for the album?
Musically, I wanted to be a lot more brave than I did in the 5ive EP and the Easter EP by leaning a lot more towards my musical influences but whilst still keeping the spirit of jazz throughout. As an Afro Caribbean growing up in south London, musically I’m very heavily influenced by music that has stemmed from sound system culture (grime, hip hop, garage, broken beat etc.) and I also wanted to celebrate how embedded Caribbean culture is now in British society. Especially in London! So my music is only going to be a reflection of that and tell that story
The first single Between The Lines, featuring Keyon Harrold on trumpet and Manchester-based MC Sparkz, is a great jam, its soulful, energetic and also toes the line between Jazz and Hip Hop, which has been a real trend of cross genre of late. Explain how you came up with the concept of the song and the process of making it.
During the recording session for the album, we recorded about 10 live beats and when we listened back to all of them, I knew exactly what beat to choose and which MC was going to work for it sonically. Myself and Sparkz have been making music for almost a decade now so we really understand each other musically and as people- I told Sparkz that I wanted to make a track about saying something without actually saying it and letting people read between the lines which is quite a common thing amongst British people… I sent the beat to Sparkz as he was away during the session and he sent everything back within a few days!
Was also a blessing to have Keyon on the track as we developed such a great chemistry musically and became really good friends in the process, and he’s also worked with some of my favourite rappers of all time! (Common, Nas, Jay-Z)
What is it like working and collaborating with people of different walks of life and talents?
For me it was a very humbling experience. In order for the music to work, everyone needs to get along and share that common ground with each other… some people on the session have never played together before but I just knew that it would work and the chemistry would be right. I also learnt a lot in terms of producing a record and feel that I’ve developed my ways of working in the studio even more to a new level
You have a show at EartH On November 19 along with some special guests to celebrate your album release, what can fans expect from your show?
Everyone can expect to hear the album played in full with some very special guests! It’s going to be epic!
All the best for the album release and launch party show. Thank you for your time.
Listen below to Ashley Henry’s brand new single ‘Between The Lines’ Out today.
Click here to grab your tickets to see him live at EartH on 19th November