When Grace Askew was in her 20’s she was exploring her identity vicariously through the “rough n tumble” lifestyle of her songwriting heroes - Blaze Foley, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Tom Waits. That’s no easy group to keep pace with. Today, she’s a wife and mother and has almost 3 years of sobriety under her belt. The best part, she never had to hit a rock bottom to get there. When our new women’s boots arrived we immediately thought of Grace and sent our friend Heath Herring out to shoot her near her home in New Mexico. Here are some of those shots and a conversation that followed.
What does it feel like right before you take the stage? What have you come to expect, and what still surprises you?
Right before I go on to perform, I am a buzzing ball of energy, funneling my nerves into a persona that happens the moment I step onto the stage. It still is a curveball with each audience what to expect, but I’ve performed enough times to know that I have to let go of the attachment to their responses (or lack of responsiveness) and just do my best. You really have to not care about who you are off stage and be completely in-the-moment with the songs. Now that I think about it, gigs are probably some of my life’s most “Zen” moments.
You’ve spoken about “chasing down songs” before. Tell us more about that?
I don’t believe in sitting around, waiting for inspiration to strike, that doesn’t exist. Neither does “writer’s block,” that’s just an excuse. Truly professional writers understand that in order to become a great writer you just have to write, a LOT, and be willing to suck in the beginning while always remaining open and observant to the world around you. I’m just daring to suck every day, for the sake of the song.
How do you stay comfortable on the road?
The road actually makes me saner, more clear-headed. I’m one of those people who constantly needs to be doing things and diving into the world, creating, to maintain some sort of sanity. It certainly helps to have my Ford F350 King Ranch truck/chariot “Wanda” too. She’s got nearly 250,000 miles on her, but that diesel keeps humming and she makes me feel like Queen of the Road.
Tell me about a few of your heroes and how they’ve inspired your journey.
My early 20’s had me going through the backroads and beautifully forgotten towns of Texas a lot for solo tours. The soundtrack to those miles became some of my sound’s biggest influences–Guy Clark, Blaze Foley, Townes Van Zandt, Karen Dalton, and most importantly, Tom Waits. There’s something about the loneliness and darkness in their music that inspired me to embrace my own “road dog” life (or “Tumbleweed Woman” life, as I’ve deemed it) even more, purposely picking out the seediest motels and becoming fascinated by the neon-glowing stories of truck-stops. But their lifestyle of being– self-destructive artists–drinking and chain-smoking is, unfortunately, an aspect that I thought made them great and I mimicked that behavior. Looking back now, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
You have a new song out called “No Rock Bottoms.” Is that more a mantra? A hope? An experience?
It’s an anthem of my nearly three years of sobriety, learning the hard way how to treat my creative gifts and approach my everyday life. Taking care of myself has become a priority in order to honor my Muse and properly serve the song. No more wasting time, just a straight and narrow focus on what truly matters–my craft. Don’t get me wrong, there are always going to be demons and inner battles–artists are born a bit more tormented than the rest [chuckles]–but “No Rock Bottoms” speaks to taking it one day at a time, and never giving up on fighting for your legacy. We all have a bigger purpose.
What is it about the west that has you firmly planted there now? Why aren't you in Memphis? Or Nashville? How does your space play into your journey with music, motherhood, sobriety, etc.?
I’ve lived in Nashville twice and it’s never clicked for me or held my interest for long, and Memphis is home, (I’m a 6th generation Memphian) ….so, naturally, I’m going to want to leave eventually. There is something about the Southwest, and New Mexico specifically, that always opens me up and brings me far more inspiration. The vast spaciousness somehow impart more creative clarity. My roots will always proudly be in the Delta, but the red dirt of New Mexico that I now call home has never felt better. Also, now being a mother to my 8-month-old son, Wolf, a different kind of strength is being tested. It’s tough as hell to balance career and family, so I have a newly held admiration for working mothers and mothers in general. This has been a tough year, especially those of us who travel for a living, but it’s been a really good time to turn my focus on recording and releasing new music and starting-up a long-held business dream of mine to consult artists. I now offer one-on-one Zoom consults to my fellow artists who seek mentorship and guidance in their own artist journey–something I always wish I had, but now can offer others, after 15+ years of living and breathing music.