Profile: Ashley Condon
by Jane Ledwell
It wasn’t Ashley Condon’s plan to launch a full-length album of songs (Can You Hear Me, with many collaborators) and a brewery (Montague’s Copper Bottom Brewing, with her husband Ken Spears) within weeks of each other in one busy fall.
Ashley has found two ways to deal with surprising synchronicities: hard work and relentless planning. “It took six years to bring the brewery to reality,” Ashley says. “We pushed through so many resistances.” But the result of the hard work is, “A work ethic is showing up in all aspects of my life,” building not only a brewery but Ashley’s sense of herself as an artist: “I am enjoying owning being an artist 360 degrees,” she says.
But Copper Bottom Brewing right now is “all-consuming.” When Ashley met her partner Ken nine years ago, he was a huge craft beer fan, and she was “a middle-of-the-road Keith’s drinker.” She says, “He joked about having a brewery someday,” but as they built a home on PEI, and he built a career as an electrician and Ashley “was moving towards music, and doing it full-time,” the joke became a dream and gave way to a business plan for the first craft brewery in eastern PEI.
Two years ago, Ken suggested Ashley be part of it in a bigger way—“but I was touring as a musician,” Ashley recalls. “I had all these other things going on…”
Soon, it became clear to her it could be “a marriage of both our passions.” Ashley says, “As an artist, I like the sustainability of owning a business that stays in one place. There are trends in music that come and go, but there is no time of year that people don’t sit to drink a beer.”
As an artist, she also says the Copper Bottom space “is like a canvas, and … the colour palette is endless. We have had people approach us for so many kinds of purposes.” While music is at the top of that list, they want a space for all art forms, “an eastern space for projects to happen.” The brewery has already welcomed knitters, birders, runners, and musicians.
Ashley hasn’t yet gotten out to promote her latest album, Can You Hear Me, via live performance, but something is brewing. “I was really thoughtful about this record,” she says, “I worked really hard on the record.”
After a lot of collaborative writing, beginning with David Francey, producer of Ashley’s last full-length album, The Great Compromise, and continuing since, the singer says, “Really, for the first time in my life, I feel like a songwriter. I feel excited about … writing a song many can sing with conviction.”
The album, she says, is “a step outside the really personal.” She worked with Dale Murray as producer and says, “The production is very tasty, very warm, very inviting. There are a lot of musical ‘moments,’” where the track was kept “even if the vocal was not perfect—if the performance was interesting, and the feeling was there.” The album “is a representation of me in a place and a time, the only way it’s honest.”
Ashley says, “Music feels fun again, and I’m eager to play, and that was a feeling I was starting to lose. I was tired of the grind...
“I will get out to support this record in a way that works for me,” she promises. But she’s looking for more impact: less touring, more build-up—“almost a business plan for a tour,” she laughs.
The combination of new album and new brewery made for an appealing story for national media, about what Ashley calls, “the changing landscape of music industry artists taking other roles.” For Ashley, the story is fundamentally about touring artists “getting back to your community.”
She says, “There’s so much value in building something in the community. It really fills my cup, growing something important.” Ashley reflects, “I’m passionate about showing artists that other paths and other journeys”—far from being a distraction—“only make you better as an artist. They make you realize how much work goes into creating something special.”