If there’s one thing you can be sure of these days, it’s this: You can’t be sure of anything these days. Like countless others, Ash & Eric have learned that lesson firsthand over the past couple of years. But along with the hardships, being forced to let go of so much has helped the Massachusetts folk duo recognize and appreciate what they truly hold dear: Their relationship, their music, and their resilient ability to keep hope alive in dark times. All of those are fuel that fires their upcoming album Sure, a DIY project that arrives May 6. They recently introduced the LP by premiering their bittersweetly soothing single Autumn Hymn HERE. Today, they introduce themselves by tackling my pointless, piercingly personal questions. I’m sure they wish they hadn’t. Read on:
We’re Ash & Eric L’Esperance. 30 & 38, respectively. We’ve been touring since 2015 and we live in Worcester, Massachusetts with our 16-year-old black cat.
What is your musical origin story?
We both grew up in very musical homes. Eric’s parents played in church since they met around 1980, and even toured around churches on the East Coast until his third sibling was born. He had 14 aunts & uncles who all played instruments and every family gathering was basically a huge jam circle. My dad toured with a cover band when I was really young and played on weekends until I was in college. My first experiences in the studio were with his band, and my dad booked my first shows in clubs around New Haven when I was 13. We met when I was in college, both recruited by a young hipster church as music directors, basically. We started playing together and the musical and personal chemistry was undeniable. We got married within a year and released our first record six months after our wedding. We were recording and performing under The Promise is Hope since 2015, and changed our band name to Ash & Eric in the fall of 2021.
What’s your latest project?
Funnily enough, I’m answering these questions on behalf of both of us right now because Eric is literally in our studio (the second bedroom in our tiny apartment) finishing the mixes on our upcoming album. The record comes out on May 6, and Eric really is the mastermind behind the entire thing. He engineered, produced, arranged and mixed everything. While sometimes the idea of a DIY record can sound like a sub-par effort, I believe this is Eric’s magnum opus. I couldn’t be prouder of his work and the way these songs turned out. This music is the best we’ve ever released. We also were deeply inspired by Beyonce’s Lemonade and The Lumineers’ III, so we made a film to accompany the record. We’ll be releasing it in instalments over the next few months. The first bit drops on March 1, so we’re really excited about that.
What truly sets you apart from other artists?
I think a lot of musicians say their fans are their No. 1 priority, but our listeners really are the main focus behind everything we do. When given the choice between pleasing the industry gatekeepers and doing right by our fans, we pick our fans every time. We aren’t a huge band, but we have a community behind us that sustained us through two years of financial disruption, via Patreon and donations in our weekly livestreams. We also really try to pay that generosity forward. With our fans, we raised $10,000 during COVID for various nonprofits, and continue to donate 10% of our band profit every month to local organizations here in Worcester. We’re a community band. We couldn’t do it without the people surrounding us, so our vision as a band is always guided by how best to take care of our community of listeners and our community at large.
How will my life improve by listening to your music?
Besides community-building, our other north star as a band can be defined by our motto: “folk that makes you feel stuff.” One night after a show, a grumpy gentleman came up to us to backhand compliment our music. He said, “You know, it was nice, but it just … made me feel a lot of stuff.” So, whether you like it or not, we think you’ll be changed after you listen to us or see us play. We make music that allows you to feel your feelings; something we don’t get a lot of opportunity to do in our super-distracted, consumerist world. We write as honestly as possible, and hope that honesty and vulnerability helps people slow down and examine what’s going on in their own lives and internal worlds.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you have given?
On our very first tour in 2015, we were paid $300 to play in a cafe in Accident, Maryland, population 300. There was absolutely nobody there. We played for three hours in the middle of the day for the sound guy. He offered to pay us double to play another hour and we said no, but we’d keep playing if they gave us a place to sleep. We were in the mountains of Maryland and it was snowing. They put us up in a model house with no furniture, so we slept in sleeping bags on the only carpet in the entire place. Everything about that day was the weirdest tour experience we’ve ever had and we still joke about it all the time. On a rough tour day, we’ll still say, “Well, it’s better than Accident.”
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen?
We’ve seen Glen Hansard (The Swell Season, The Frames) live more than anybody else and his shows are so incredibly entertaining. He’s 51 and he plays his ass off for three hours usually. We’re in our 30s and get exhausted just watching him. The last time we saw him in Boston, we were wandering around Fenway around midnight and ran into him coming out of the venue. He said, “You look familiar” and it was the most starstruck either of us had ever been. He then complained a bit about the belligerent Boston crowd and gave us his full, genuine attention for a 20-minute conversation. I would recommend his shows to anyone; even if you’re not familiar with his music, you’ll have a really great time.
What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
We’re both really into R&B and hip-hop. Alicia Keys was my first major influence, and I listen to Beyonce at least once a week. We’ve been really into Little Simz and Kendrick Lamar lately, too. I think listening to hip-hop allows us to enjoy music in a more pure way than listening to singer-songwriters. We’re always somewhat in “work-mode” when we listen to folk. It’s hard not to think, “I want to write a song like that.” or “Maybe we can produce our next album like this.” Listening to hip-hop is nice because we know we’re never going to be able to create those sounds and those songs. There’s no competition, no comparison. Just the pure joy of listening. We also both admittedly had long emo phases in the early 2000’s, but who didn’t?
What words do you hope people use when they describe you?
Honest, tight and heart-felt.
What useful (or useless) skills do you have outside of music?
I do our taxes, which are always super complicated. (Any musician will tell you.) Running a creative business is always so, well, creative. It’s nice to do something really monotonous and technical sometimes. Eric is a great mechanic. He’s bought a few Volvo 240s that hardly drive and gets them in working order. He’s driving a 1990 right now that literally didn’t run when we bought it. He also roasts coffee, so we buy raw green coffee beans and he has mastered the art of creating the perfect medium roast with a popcorn popper over the stove. It makes sense he’s such a good engineer; he’s great with mechanical detail.
What do you collect?
Since Eric’s not here, I will air my marital frustration without consequence. He’ll read the interview and we’ll work it out. Much to my frustration, we — Eric, really — “collect” guitars and recording gear. I am so grateful we have them. Owning all of our own gear is the best investment we’ve made, but our apartment is 900 square feet and none of it is small.
If money was no object, where would you live?
London. I have extended family in England and I got to take Eric a few years before COVID. We were completely obsessed with the cafes, pubs, bakeries, and the public transportation. It’s just so dang expensive. Although, we’d save a lot if we had free healthcare.
What would you like to be reincarnated as?
Our cat. She gets free heat, sleeps all day, and doesn’t contribute a penny. It’s quite the life.
Which historical event do you wish you had witnessed?
Johnny Cash’s Folsom shows. How amazing must those have been.
What’s your idea of perfect happiness / total misery?
We’ve been thinking about this a lot, as both of us have discovered mindfulness in the past year. I think we thought, for a long time, that being professional musicians — having our “dream job” — would be the pinnacle of perfect happiness. You know, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Then, after doing it for a couple years, we discovered it’s hard some days, and lovely other days. Like any other job. We’re probably a bit happier than people who work jobs that they hate, but we’ve realized our work isn’t necessarily the be-all, end-all of happiness. True contentment comes from quality time with each other and our friends, traveling, gratitude, being present … all of those things we all know we should be focusing on. COVID admittedly helped us realize that, even when the “dream job” gets taken away, we can still find a lot of contentment in the everyday.
What are your pet peeves?
We live in a city that is trying to gentrify and it really bugs us. Every day, we walk a couple miles around the city and complain about how little it seems the city cares about the people who live here. All of the new buildings being built are full of vacant luxury apartments while the families can hardly afford health insurance. It sucks and the battle feels like David and Goliath a lot of the time, when you’re up against city bureaucracy trying to please the developers.
What’s your greatest regret?
We got married really fast. Neither of us regret getting married, but it was all a whirlwind. We were so focused on how badly we wanted to be together forever that it feels like we never got the chance to date. We’re learning how to do that now, eight years in.
What’s always in your refrigerator?
Vegan cheese and miso.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
We’re both incredibly serious and hard-working. It has served us well; the music we create and the career we have are both served by those personality traits. However, it’s hard for us sometimes to have fun. We’re working on it, but the last couple years haven’t been the easiest time to start getting more spontaneous!
If you had one day to spend as you please without any consequences, what would you do?
I would just watch soccer all day and have all three meals delivered to my door. Eric would honestly mix all day. That’s basically what both of us are doing today, minus the food delivery, so I guess you’d say we’re living the dream. A nice hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire wouldn’t hurt, either.
What was the worst job you ever had?
Eric worked for a state government agency when we met and he was miserable. I actually gave him an ultimatum when we started dating. I told him that I wouldn’t marry someone who worked 9-5 in a job that they hated every moment of. He was so miserable every day coming home, it just didn’t seem like a life I wanted to live. So he quit and we became musicians. Around the same time, I worked in a box office of a performing arts theatre. It sounds a lot more fun than it was. It was honestly just a customer service job, helping people log onto the website all day. I got free tickets to cool shows, though!