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Ashe on Enlisting Finneas for a Doomsday Duet and Why She Stans Olivia Rodrigo

With "Till Forever Falls Apart" arriving, Ashe also talks about why One Direction fans have flocked to her, whether she'd ever collaborate with friend Billie Eilish and the merits of platonic love.

Ashe
Brent Campanelli

Ashe co-wrote her new single, “Till Forever Falls Apart,” with producer Big Taste the day before Los Angeles and most of the U.S. went into a COVID-induced lockdown in March 2020. The timing was (and, sadly, still is) perfect, given the song’s subject matter. Set against an apocalyptic backdrop, “Till Forever Falls Apart” is a somber acceptance that life is fleeting, but worth every moment if you spend your time with those you love.

“If the tide takes California / I’m so glad I got to hold ya / And if the sky falls from heaven above / Oh, I know I had the best time falling into love,” Ashe sings in the song’s chorus.

“The day before we were ordered to go into lockdown was the day I wrote this song,” Ashe tells Variety. “That’s definitely in the song. You can kind of feel it, like ‘Oh, the world is definitely on the edge of falling apart.'”

Though at first the song was solely Ashe, after sitting on it for a few months, she began to think of it as a duet. And Ashe already had someone in mind to help voice her love letter to doomsday: Grammy-winning songwriter and producer Finneas O’Connell, the brother and musical partner of Billie Eilish, and Ashe’s friend of four years.

“I was like, if someone is going to be on this song, it needs to be Finneas, and if he won’t do it then I’m not going to put it out with anyone else,” Ashe says. “He had heard it and loved it and texted me like, ‘I’m in the studio, I’m writing a second verse right now and this song’s amazing.’ He finished his verse and his vocals in maybe an hour, sent it back to me, and I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ It was always supposed to be us doing this song together.”

Though the song can easily be interpreted as describing romantic love, Ashe and Finneas think otherwise. As Finneas sings during his verse, “So this it it / That’s how it ends / I guess there’s nothing more romantic than dying with your friends.”

“I think because Ashe and I actually are true friends and we’re both in very public relationships, I didn’t want to write about something that wasn’t honest,” Finneas says of the inspiration for his verse. “So I thought I’d just write this song about this friend who I love deeply in the way that we all love our friends.”

“So often romantic love isn’t ‘I’ll love you forever till I die,'” Ashe adds. “It’s much more like, Finneas is going to be in my life forever, and I’m going to love him forever til I die. The song is much more like a friendship love; it’s deeper than romance.”

Ashe knows firsthand that “till death do us part” isn’t always the case. Back in 2019, Ashe put her heart on the line for her megahit “Moral of the Story,” which describes her experience getting divorced in her 20s. The song was featured in the second “To All the Boys” film and went on to amass more than 388 million streams. Finneas produced the song, as well as Ashe’s double EP of the same name. But the two actually first met at the most mundane of places: a crosswalk in L.A.’s Highland Park neighborhood in the summer of 2017.

“We met at a crosswalk and that was like, you know, the length of a crosswalk, probably about 30 seconds,” Finneas says. “And then we did a session together a couple of months later and just got along great and made each other laugh and wrote a song we really liked.”

That song was “Wrong Side of Myself” for Ashe’s debut EP, “The Rabbit Hole.” And so a beautiful friendship and musical partnership began.

“We inexplicably sort of fell in love with each other. We just sort of got each other,” Ashe says. “And I still am confused, and I’ll tell him to this day, I don’t know why we’re such good friends. We have a lot of different tastes in music and our personalities are actually really different, but we couldn’t be more intrinsically connected.”

Lazy loaded image
Courtesy of BT PR

As for “Moral of the Story,” Finneas knew the second he heard it that the song was going to blow up. Production-wise, he added some string parts and a more intense bassline, spruced up the drums so that they “swelled into each of the kicks and the snares” and sang some harmonies.

Finneas says that Eilish even made a lyrical contribution to “Moral of the Story,” suggesting that the words in the second to last chorus be changed to “engaged” instead of “in pain.”

“I play Billie pretty much everything I ever work on, and there’s that down chorus part and she was like, ‘It should be engaged,'” Finneas says. “I remember being like, ‘Oh, duh. Of course.’ So, smart Billie on that one.”

But the song had a slow burn, until it appeared in “To All the Boys: P.S. I Love You.”

“As soon as I saw that ‘To All the Boys’ scene, I remember calling Ashe. She was sitting with her boyfriend and I was like, ‘This is going to change your life,’ and she was like, ‘I don’t know,'” Finneas says. “And I was like, ‘No no no, I do. This is going to change your life. Like, this is going to be a crazy moment.'”

That mix of new age production with Ashe’s jazz-infused vocals and honest lyricism made “Moral of the Story” instantly relatable to anyone has ever fallen in and then out of love.

“Anyone can resonate with that, whether you’re in your first love relationship in high school or you’re 60 years old and met someone and it didn’t work out,” Ashe says. “I think it’s sort of just an age-old tale, and then I just got really specific into my own story and somehow that was relatable. I was married, and it didn’t go so well. It was really toxic and abusive and I was like, ‘I’ve gotta get out of this thing.’ I blew up my entire life by filing for divorce, and then I had this record that changed my life forever.”

Indeed, it did. Ashe has been pursuing music professionally since she graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2015 (where she majored in production and orchestral writing), but mainly as a songwriter and featured artist. It’s only recently that the 27-year-old decided to sing her own songs — a notion that she is still getting used to. She moved to Nashville after college and began penning songs for other singers, most notably Demi Lovato’s 2017 single “You Don’t Do It for Me Anymore.” It was during this time that Ashe also began appearing as a featured artist on a slew of dance and EDM tracks from artists like Whethan and Louis the Child. But, deep down, Ashe felt empty.

“I think I was just slowly discovering that I was only going to feel really fulfilled if I was singing my own songs,” Ashe says. “Being a featured artist on someone else’s track, I think I saw a window of like, ‘Oh, this is a good way to get in’ without sort of putting your neck out too much, you know? So like, if the song doesn’t do well, it’s not on you. That sounds kind of savage, but it is what it is.”

But once Ashe hit her groove in the EDM space, she found herself doing more and more and not getting the credit she felt she deserved.

“I was the one singing the song and writing the song, and I wasn’t producing the record but I was like, ‘You’re standing on my back right now.’ And I felt like I wasn’t getting any of that credit,” Ashe says. “I think it took getting a little fed up of other people being like, ‘Write on this record,’ and it’s like, ‘Why don’t I just do this on my own?'”

Ashe signed with the independent record label Mom + Pop in 2017 and started on her path as a solo artist, but didn’t truly reap the rewards until “Moral of the Story” took off in 2019. Though the “To All the Boys” franchise was its catalyst, Ashe felt it was important for the song to have a life separate from the film, and that’s where former One Direction member Niall Horan came in.

Ashe and Horan released a re-imagined version of “Moral of the Story” in June 2020, with Horan writing a new verse to add a different perspective, and the song once again soared. The collaboration earned Ashe an additional 92 million streams and a new fan base among the Directioners.

“He sang on the song and I was like, ‘Whoa, this is like butter; this is amazing.’ And then it came out and it was like I opened this can of worms that I had not a freaking clue what was gonna happen,” Ashe says of her collaboration with Horan. “[His fans] are so nice, I got so lucky. And I could not be more grateful.”

Though Ashe is quick to note that she enjoys keeping her list of collaborators small, she says she’s always wanted to work with Post Malone, though she doesn’t know “what the heck that song would sound like.” As for Eilish — who already made that small contribution to “Moral of the Story” — Ashe says there’s a possibility, but it would have to be the right time.

“I couldn’t have more respect for her, and if there’s a world in which it makes sense, then I would love to do that,” Ashe says. “I think we both stand on our own so well… but that would be cool. I would be down, for the fans.”

Now, Ashe is experiencing a full-circle moment with once again being featured in “To All the Boys,” this time for the franchise’s last film, “Always and Forever.” Ashe wrote the song “The Same” specifically for the film and took it on as a creative challenge to have variations of the same lyrics play in two scenes dealing with completely opposite emotions.

“In one scene, they’re in love and they’re about to have sex for the first time, which is really exciting, and then it goes to this moment where they break up,” Ashe says. “I wanted to be able to use the same lyrics or basically the same lyrics and tell a completely new story.”

With songwriting being her number one passion, Ashe is happy to see it come back into the forefront of music with songs like Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License,” which she absolutely adores — so much so that she made a TikTok mashing up the song with “Moral of the Story,” since they’re in the same key.

@yourmomashe

🥺💔 #driverslicense meets #moralofthestory

♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

“I love her. It was like I had no idea who she was on Thursday, and then on Friday I would take a bullet for her,” Ashe says of Rodrigo. “The music pendulum kind of swings around in genres, and I think it’s swung away from songwriting for a long time, and it just feels like the pendulum’s swinging a little bit back towards a world that I love the most.”

Ashe plans to draw on the resurgence of storytelling with her upcoming debut album, which is set for a spring release on Mom + Pop. Of the record, Ashe says she’s most proud that it “doesn’t sound like anybody else.”

“You can hear a lot of my influences — Carole King, the Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds.’ But it sounds like me, and I have no idea if people are going to like it, but I love it,” Ashe says. “If there’s anything ‘Moral of the Story’ and that whole process has taught me, it’s if something happens to become a hit, you better like it because you will be singing it for the rest of your life. So on the off-chance this does really well, I’ll be happy to sing it for the rest of my life.”