“It’s like going over to a friend’s house for a sleepover and then deciding to stay an extra day,” singer—songwriter Ashley McBryde describes the roughly three-month collaborative process over late 2021 and early 2022 that encompassed the recordings of her previous album Lindeville and her new album, The Devil I Know, out Sept. 8.
Lindeville found McBryde collaborating with a slate of fellow musicians, including Brandy Clark, Nicolette Hayford (a longtime McBryde collaborator who also co-wrote three songs on McBryde’s new album), Aaron Raitiere and Brothers Osborne’s John Osborne, to create an album that sketched the stories of blue-collar characters inhabiting the fictional town on Lindeville. But The Devil I Know veers toward introspection; the songs that govern the new album glean lessons from McBryde’s four decades of life.
“I started playing bars when I was 19 and definitely too young to be by myself, driving all over the f**king place and just being like, ‘I’ve never been in a city. This will be fine,’” McBryde tells Billboard. “The things I learned in those years, I wouldn’t trade for anything. They don’t make a college degree for things like that.”
The album’s focus track, “Light on in the Kitchen,” currently sits at No. 28 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, and sets the scene of late-night, heart-to-heart chats sitting around a dimly lit kitchen table. McBryde and co-writers Jessi Alexander and Connie Harrington drew on their own childhoods.
“I remember the way my mom and my aunts, the way their kitchens were,” McBryde says. “We spent so much time living inside Aunt Clara’s kitchen and Aunt Gloria’s kitchen and my mother’s kitchen. We played games, planned vacations and spent summers in those kitchens. I wrote ‘Andy’ [a standout from McBryde’s debut album] at a kitchen table. So the phrase ‘light on in the kitchen’ had more power than we had any idea about when Connie first said it.”
In the five years that have elapsed since the tattooed, Arkansas native broke through with the autobiographical, aspirational “Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” she’s earned a No. 1 Country Airplay hit for “Never Wanted to Be That Girl” (her collaboration with Carly Pearce), six Grammy nominations and one win. She’s also established an artistic range that spans crafting songs recorded by artists including Trisha Yearwood, Jelly Roll and Rodney Crowell, as well as the imaginative, collaborative album Lindeville.
McBryde’s approach to recording The Devil I Know with her band Deadhorse was old-school, with McBryde preferring to record as live as possible, unlike many artists who record tracks separately and repeatedly.
“My bass player, who has been with us about a year, was asking about our recording process,” McBryde recalls of recording the album in producer Jay Joyce’s studio. “I said, ‘We’re all in a big room together… apart from the drummer who does have to be kind of isolated, we’re all together and record everything live. We’ll do a song maybe four times and move on.’ I think Jay’s studio just feels like a womb. It’s just creatively nourishing. I didn’t realize it was rare the way we record together. Jay has even said, ‘You’re one of the only singers I work with who truly sings better when tracking live with the band.’ I had no idea that was special.”
Hard-edged truths about the brutality of the life of a touring musician spill from “Made for This”: the heady mix of Adderall and alcohol to key up and wind down, bathroom stalls that double as dressing rooms, and turning on the charm for the big record man “because he ain’t gonna call you twice.” “Learned to Lie” examines how readily habits and coping mechanisms become ingrained after growing up in a home filled with secrets, pain and half-truths. Acceptance and self-assuredness flows particularly on album closer “6th of October,” which ends with the advice, “Just live in the rhythms and the rhymes when you get ‘em/ The notes when you miss ‘em.”
Two other songs on the album, “Blackout Betty” and “Whiskey and Country Music,” have key ties to the making of Lindeville and The Devil I Know. The realization of the characters she writes about in songs such as “Blackout Betty” led McBryde to the ideation of Lindeville. “Whiskey and Country Music,” which McBryde wrote with Lee Thomas Miller and John Osborne and first debuted onstage at the Grand Ole Opry back in 2021, proved an essential moment when she knew Osborne was the right partner for Lindeville.
But when Miller first brought up the title idea of “Whiskey and Country Music” in the writing room, McBryde first balked, then took a chance. “I was like, ‘Hang on, none of us needs another whiskey song. But with the three of us in a room, the worst that can happen is that we write a good song, because none of us are willing to phone it in for the day. We got to lines like, ‘’Cause nothin’ takes the edge off when I’m going through it/ Like whiskey and country music,’ that’s just very true. If you play a Gary Stewart vinyl in front of me, every cell in my body would want to sit on the floor and drink at least half of a bottle, because I know it works.”
The Devil I Know will be released during a curious moment in country music — a time when country and country-adjacent songs from Morgan Wallen, Zach Bryan, Luke Combs and Oliver Anthony Music are setting records on the Billboard Hot 100. Meanwhile, an array of songs from more organic-sounding artists like Bryan, Tyler Childers, Turnpike Troubadours and Dylan Gossett, as well as rock-tendered songs from Jelly Roll, HARDY and Warren Zeiders, and sleeker songs from Alana Springsteen, have all made forays onto various Billboard listings. And of course, Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” and Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town” have both topped the charts while garnering both praise and backlash.
“It is an interesting time. If you look at some of the stuff that has caused the spotlight to be on country music, it makes it pretty embarrassing to be part of country music,” McBryde says. “And it’s sad that the phrase ‘alt-country’ gets stuck on Tyler Childers, because he’s one of the most country artists we’ve had in the last 10 years. But there are so many strains of country music. If you like something straight up the middle, that is good on radio and sells tons of mattresses and pickup trucks, we have that for you. If you’d like something that can make you uncomfortable and covers some subject matters that not everyone would cover, we totally have that.
“We have songs from a person who’s singing about pulling a row,” she adds with a pregnant pause, “but we also have that from people who actually farm crops. No matter what version of getting in touch with things that you need — or getting out of touch — we have that.”
McBryde is gearing up to introduce her fans to more strains of what country music is and can be, when she launches her 30+ city The Devil I Know Tour in October. She will bring a unique array of opening acts, including “Wild as Her” hitmaker Corey Kent, Bella White, Will Jones, Harper O’Neill, Kasey Tyndall, Zach Top and JD Clayton.
When the time came to select openers for the tour, McBryde was sent a potential list of around 30 artists, and she made sure to select based solely on the music.
“I don’t want to get myself in trouble, but when they sent me all of the submissions, there was a suggestion that was made at one point that said, ‘Take a look at their streaming numbers and maybe their TikTok followers; if you don’t know where to start with the list, start with those,’” McBryde says. “And I’m so glad I did, so I could mark those people off my list, because it was the least palatable version of anything I wanted.”
With the remaining artists on the list, McBryde solicited the opinions of her band and crew members; They divvied up names, each listening to a few songs from each artist, and then discussing their favorites.
“It was such a cool way to do it, because I had never heard Will [Jones], but a couple of guys were like, ‘I go to his set at The Local [in Nashville]. He’s fricking awesome,’” McBryde says. “My fans love music, they love to consume good music — and not just what is handed to them out of mainstream radio. They enjoy discovering artists, and I thought with this set of openers, we have such a beautiful bouquet of music.”
She continues, “Fans are going to die over Zach Top’s voice and how sweet he is. And if you’re not already familiar with Kasey Tyndall, you’re seriously behind — I love this girl and her music. And the audacity of guys like JD Clayton, Zach and Will, the audacity to play actual country music and wear a cowboy hat, and it not just be part of a costume — with balls that size, they need to be on my stage.”