Interviews

Published on November 2nd, 2019 | by Percy Crawford

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Ashley “Slim” Stevenson: Street Performer, Viral Star and Unapologetically Authentic

Ashley “Slim” Evans video covering, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” has reached 23 million views on YouTube making her a viral sensation.

The internet can be a cesspool at times.  In many instances, cell phone cameras are used to capture people at their most vulnerable moments and posted on the internet (particularly social media) for the world to see. Not for the feint at heart, the uploader doesn’t care who they hurt, they don’t care about feelings or opinions. Just record, upload and watch the carnage. However, there are instances where the internet can be a remarkable tool and cell phone cameras can unknowingly capture special talents and a viral video of that talent could be life altering. 3-years ago, a video was shared of a tall slim woman, sitting in a Chicago subway playing her guitar. As if her guitar playing abilities wasn’t talent enough, she opened her mouth and the biggest, projecting powerful voice came out singing, “Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” Maybe the person shooting the video had heard her sing before or maybe it was just a feeling of something special about to happen. For whatever reason they started recording, we thank them. The video has reached 23 million views in 3-years, in comparison, the original version was uploaded 10-years ago and is currently at 27 million views.

It was a pleasure to catch up with, “Slim” to discuss how the viral video has changed her life, the positive and negative feedback in the comments section on YouTube and her much-anticipated studio album.

You are everything that’s right about the internet. A great talent being discovered by going viral. How are you doing?

Ashley Stevenson: Not too bad, not too bad, just kind of taking it one day at a time. Making moves, not too big yet (laughing) you know. Taking it one day at a time.

What a talent you are. How did that viral video change your life?

Ashley Stevenson: It changed things in a way of, I got more exposure. I got to know people on a level of, “Is that you from the videos?” So, I thought that was pretty cool. People would see me in the subway tunnels and recognize me. It kind of opened up some doors in terms of getting me some gigs. Sometimes you think like, “Ah man overnight.” I even went on Channel 9 News [WGN Chicago] and got to perform. That was so cool because as a kid, I grew up watching that channel; Saturday morning cartoons and the sitcoms on there. Even the news that I watched as a kid with my mom was that station, so it was pretty cool. It was an honor for me to be able to do that. That was a direct result from that video. It’s easy to think, “Ah man, I done made it,” but sometimes that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s just steppingstones for something bigger in the future. Sometimes you have to appreciate those moments no matter how small they are.

That was an accident, right? You didn’t go out there with the intent of being filmed when you were performing, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”

Ashley Stevenson: I didn’t even realize it was being recorded. I try to be in a zone when I’m playing. Sometimes people are going to take pictures, or they record me. I have no problem with that. But yeah, that particular time, I wasn’t aware. I didn’t know who the man was when I realized it went viral. I count my blessings from that because at least I got exposure from that. That was cool.

You are amazing with that guitar. Do you remember when you first picked up a guitar?

Ashley Stevenson: Thank you! I started playing maybe when I was 11-years old. Nothing too serious. Just tried it, picked it up, I had no idea what I was doing. My dad played the guitar, but he was always on the road a lot, so I ended up kind of teaching myself and just kind of fiddling around for a few years. I wasn’t really looking at anything that I should have been looking at as far as to gain the technical knowledge. It took me years to realize that, I played with my thumb for like the first 5-years. And then I realized cords and cord progression. I tried to not get too technical in it. It pretty much developed from things I would hear and it just kind of went from there. I had no idea the technicalities of it. I just pretty much express music to how I’m feeling, what I’ve heard and what I’ve picked up along the way, that’s pretty much my form.

I love your covers because it’s not revolved around one genre. You perform a number of different genres. That said, who are some of the musicians you listened to coming up and who did you draw your inspirations from?

Ashley Stevenson: Ah man… so when I was younger, I listened to a lot of alternative. That was mostly when I hit junior high. But before that, I actually grew up on a lot of Christian music, Michael W. Smith was a pretty big inspiration. Even Whitney Houston. I sung a couple of her songs for the talent show. Just songs like that. my mom was ultimately the biggest inspiration. When you’re a kid, you don’t really have much of a choice. You feel like it’s being forced up on you. To put it lightly, she was very vocal. When you’re a parent, you want the best for your child. I didn’t really understand that growing up, but as I look back, I’m like, “Wow, that helped me develop.” Whether I wanted to do it or not, I realized the importance of it as I got older. Not that I do that now. I practice when I want to practice unless it’s a bigger cause than myself, but if it’s me, I work better under pressure. Even if it’s an album… I’ll wait to the last couple of weeks (laughing) or week to fully write it because I work better under pressure. Some songs take months and years. But I liked Aerosmith, Green Day and even Lil Wayne. A couple of his albums; The Carter III, “Sky’s The Limit.” Man… it really did help me. He used a lot of intelligence in his rap. Even, Common, I’m not trying to compare them or nothing, but it was so poetic in a way; a lot of his old school stuff. Nas had some pretty cool stuff. Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony… man. Celine Dion, Josh Groban and even a couple of, Dixie Chicks and stuff like that. It kind of varies.

When you go into the subway to perform, do you have set songs that you want to perform in your mind or do you perform what you’re feeling at the moment?

Ashley Stevenson: I just perform whatever I’m feeling at that moment and sometimes I’m intertwining songs. I’ll be in the middle of a song and another song will pop in my head and I just intertwine it with that one. And sometimes I will extend a song. So, it just depends on what I’m feeling. I usually don’t know what song I’m singing until I’m singing it unless I have a gig, and they requested certain songs. But mostly, I like going off my own vibe because I feel like you never know when somebody needs to hear a certain song. You never know when somebody needs to hear that. I’m hoping and I’m expecting that something is gonna tell me to sing a certain song. Now, that may not always be the case, but I’m hoping when it counts, that’s what it is.

I’m not just saying this because you’re on the phone, but I very seldomly like a cover or remake better than the original. Your version of, “Landslide” just vibes so much better and that’s no disrespect to, Fleetwood Mac’s version, but I really vibe out to your version. What promoted the subtle changes you made to the song?

Ashley Stevenson: Ah man, it’s just the feeling I got to sing it that way. And some songs are closer to the original, but it just depends on how I’m feeling or what I was going through when that song meant the most to me. At that time, that was like… it was both of those things. I’ve been through things… some songs you will listen to and it’s like, I don’t know if I’m feeling it the same way as when you’re going through something and you hear that song. Then it takes you through a whole other wave and a whole other world, and that’s how I felt and that’s how I interpreted it. Every time I’m doing a song it’s different. Even when I’m in the studio and I need to be doing something an exact way, it’s something in me. It’s very hard for me to do something twice the same way. Ultimately, it was a feeling versus what I heard.

That video is up to 23 million views. How does that make you feel that to have so many people tune-in to that performance?

Ashley Stevenson: You know, I think it’s pretty cool. I remember when I finally put myself out there a little bit more as far as the internet. I realized the importance of it and even if I wasn’t doing it for myself, I’ll do it for the people that actually are trying to listen to my music. That means more to me than not trying to put myself out there as much. So, finally doing that, I was happy when I got 90 views, 100 views, so for that to reach 23 million, that is really something to me.

The internet can be a scary place, you said, you put yourself out there more. Are you shy, more reserved than putting yourself out there or is that just not who you are?

Ashley Stevenson: I used to always have my guitar, and someone was always like, “Sing this.” I would always put myself out there as far as music, but never to the point where I’m wearing costumes and stuff like that. Or where I long to be the center of attention, no. When I did the talent show, that was my moment to be like, “Hey man, this is me.” You go to school and you gotta learn, you gotta go to class and do this and I respect that, but on the same note, it’s not who I am. And when you grow up, you’re expected to have these grades and you’re expected to behave a certain way and I understand that, but I’m a very outgoing person. But at the same time, I’m very lowkey. But I standout being who I am and how I express myself and what I wear. I mostly sew my own clothing. I be tailoring stuff that I get at the store; mostly the thrift store. And I just kind of tailor it and put my own spin on it. Ultimately, I stand out whether I want to or not. But on this level, it was a totally different feeling because I wasn’t used to the good and the bad. You get a lot of people that are like, “You really reached me in a way that I didn’t realize I could be reached at that certain moment in time.” That’s like, wow, for somebody to say that, means a lot to me beyond words. Even to take the time and listen to my expression to how I interpreted this song… I thought that was really cool.

But of course, you get people that don’t have nice things to say. And that’s not even the problem, the problem is, a lot of it derives from false things. Nobody’s perfect. I don’t expect anybody to be perfect. I’m not perfect. I try to work with somebody, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, and I try to treat people the way I would like to be treated because that’s what I believe in. That’s not only how I was raised, but as I got older, you have to make your own decisions on what you learned as a kid, and I believe that you should treat people the way you want to be treated. And even if you don’t know how you should be treated, how would you want somebody that you loved to be treated? We’re all kings and queens down here on the level of… don’t get me started talking about, God. But all I’m gonna say is, we’re an extension of something that created us is what I believe. So, I feel like we should treat each other as such and sometimes that’s not always the case. I read some of the comments and it’s like, “Wow!” It’s so crazy how somebody don’t even know you and they pretend like they do just to say false things. But that’s just what they’re on in their life. It’s not personal at the end of the day. And as personal as it may seem, this is something that they are going through and even if I don’t fully understand it, I have to accept it. I think that a lot of good and bad has come from that, but it’s not going to scare me from putting myself out there if not for myself for the bigger picture.

It’s interesting that you say that because a lot of subway performers including you, get tagged with “Homeless singer wows audience.” Is that offensive?

Ashley Stevenson: You gotta take things in stride, but it’s not even the fact that it’s like, “She’s homeless.” They tend to assume, oh you’re down in the tunnel, so you’re either homeless, a drug addict or both, right. At that point in time, I was going through a lot. I could have even been homeless looking back. I don’t believe I was, but I was like living with my mom and my friends. It was kind of a bumpy road. So, when they say homeless, no I wasn’t houseless, but I didn’t have my own home and that’s what I wanted. I was just going through some things emotionally, mentally and the way the world was progressing, it was just kind of sad to see and sad to encounter. I don’t mind if they say, “Look, she’s homeless,” if I am. It’s like, “Okay, yes I am.” It’s just sucks when they say, “She dresses that way because she’s scared people are going to try to rob her.” No, this is who I am, this is how I roll, and this is how I dress. No, I’m not a drug addict. Ultimately, I just wish people would get to know me for me. Don’t get my wrong, I might blaze up some herb from time to time, but I’m working on it.

I don’t care what somebody is doing, I feel like it’s the person and who they are. I just hate when people say false accusations when they don’t know. They wouldn’t know if I was homeless, so I hate when people assume that. I don’t care if that’s the truth then that’s the trust and I would just have to respect my own truth and I have to respect other people’s truth. But not their own version of truth. I done seen people say, “Oh, I gave her $500.” And I’m like, “Well damn, is it in the mail?” I never seen it. Nobody never gave me $500. You really just gotta take that in stride and let it roll off your shoulder. Even if it hurts you and makes you cry sometimes, you gotta let that go because if you hold on to that in a bad way, then you become what you end up getting hurt by. So, I don’t want to be like that. The world has enough of that already and I don’t want to do any more harm that what I’ve done when I was younger. I didn’t realize that there is a better way of thinking and living. And I’m not trying to paint myself out to be a monster, I’m just saying, I’m not perfect. Sometimes you have to be at your own bottom to realize, this is not what I want in life and this is not the aftermath that I want to pick up. Some people feel like you just leave it the way it is because there is nothing you can do about it and I’m like, nah, there is something I can do about it because I can change who I am. That’s what I did. I’m still not perfect, but at the end of the day I feel like, my heart will tell me the difference between right and wrong.

What put you in that subway that day because that’s what started all of this?

Ashley Stevenson: Man, I been doing that for like the past 6-7 years. I was doing it every day. Within the past 4-months, I done moved out of Chicago and working on my album, so I haven’t been bussing. But before that, I’ve been doing it every day. I may miss a day or two, but I try to be there 5 or 6 days a week. Not only because it was my only income, but there was also just a piece of me down there that needed to be down there.

When can we expect a studio album from you?

Ashley Stevenson: By the end of the year or I’m hoping no later than mid-January you will be having the biggest piece of me, my album, “Freedom.”

I appreciate your time. You are truly an amazing talent and I expect big things from you. Is there anything else you want to add before I let you go?

Ashley Stevenson: Man, thank you for your time. I know everybody is different, but I really do appreciate your aura and your spirit. It’s cool. This is technically like a collaboration and I don’t do that often, so when I do, I really hope in my heart that it was worth it. And it was beyond worth it. Even for you to take the time to do this with me is beyond worth it, so thank you!

Be sure to subscribe to Ashley Stevenson’s YouTube channel, Slim Freedom. Also, follow her on Instagram at ashleyslimstevenson and be sure to search and like her Facebook page Ashley Stevenson.

 

 



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