There’s going to be a hell of a show at Cafe Nola on Friday night, this much we know for sure. Rhin is set to rock your face. Middle Kid is set to rock your face. And a local band with more momentum than an Olympic sprinter, Cheshi, is going to perform as well. We recently caught up with the band’s namesake, Ashli Cheshi, to talk about what it’s like to be one of the buzziest bands around, the amount of depth that goes into her band’s songwriting, and how she got into writing music in the first place. The fun kicks off at 9:30 Friday night. If there’s one thing to fight through the snow for this weekend, it will be this. Trust us.
You guys are one of the buzziest bands around. We keep hearing how quickly you’ve ascended through the Frederick music scene to be one of the best acts to see live. To what do you attribute that quick rise in popularity? Have you felt that same surge internally or is that not something you pay much attention to?
I do pay attention to the buzz. This is my passion and it’s great to see it being well received, more and more. I think part of why we have had a successful start is because we are all dedicated musicians, and very passionate about what we do. The other band members, Evan, Matt, and Trevor, have a lot of experience in music and have been in other successful local bands. So, they definitely bring a lot of knowledge and skill to the table. For me, that’s perfect because this is my first full band project.
Your bio on Facebook says that you “bring light to controversial ideas in hopes of sparking a catalyst for change.” Can you talk a little about some of those ideas about which you are most passionate? Are there issues you guys have consciously sought out to address in song? Why those in particular?
In life, and as a songwriter, I seek to understand a deeper part of the individual “self”’ in connection with the world as a whole. I seek to understand the way that we, as humans, desecrate or enhance the world and ourselves. I’m regularly questioning the connection humans have with god, and through music, I sort of delve into spiritual experiences I have had. My songs don’t try to answer anything, though. My goal would be that the audience would be inspired and motivated to question more about their own habitualized American lifestyles. Other topics I have written about include the feelings of coming out; mother nature and our destruction of her; and the effect that “following without questioning” can have on someone. I’m working on a song right now about a soldier that unknowingly kills the second coming of Christ.
Tell us a little about yourself. Being the band’s namesake and all, when did you first start to play music? Then subsequently, when did you first start to write music? Also, how did the decision to form a band come about?
I grew up in a rural town, in central West Virginia, where there weren’t many youth outlets. I was always drawn to music and art as a source of expression, because I didn’t have to depend on anyone but myself to create something. I took piano lessons for a very short time, taught myself how to play guitar on a broken acoustic with three strings, and from there I started to sing. At first, my mom and I would sit on our porch swing, learning covers together. By around the age of 15 or 16, I started writing. A lot of my friends at the time were musicians in bands in the area, and I was inspired by them. The kinetic need to express myself at that young age didn’t need much thought or intent. I created to create.
After getting my BFA in Shepherdstown, I moved to Frederick with my girlfriend. I was playing music here and there, but it was strictly acoustic. After a while, though, something changed. I wanted a fuller sound as well as something that could be dynamic and intense. I felt that alone, I didn’t have the power I wanted to get out of my songs. So, finding a band was the logical next step for me.
Who are some of your major influences and why?
Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Nico, Sharon Van Etten; they all have this awareness as songwriters that I look up to immensely. They don’t just cruise through the songs, they feel their words. I respect that more than anything.
In your opinion, what are some of the best venues in and around Frederick to play at? Do you have any memorable shows so far that stick out to you? Which ones?
The Halloween Show at Blue Side was pretty cool. I’ve had some of my most well received shows at Guido’s. We have played at Cafe Nola a few times and the atmosphere and reception is always great. The FNP building is also a cool venue. Hopefully we will be playing there in the future. But there is a definite lack of venue opportunities in the Frederick area that aren’t bars. With that in mind, DIY venues, house shows, and all ages shows are crucial to a local music scene. This is especially true in Frederick where venue options are limited.
Where do you see the band Cheshi in, say, five years?
To the cosmos! Cheshi will be in a giant tree house somewhere after their world tour!
Who are some of your favorite local artists and why? Can you give us names of some bands we need to check out that we haven’t seen yet?
My favorite up and coming Frederick bands are Middle Kid, who we will be playing with on January 22, at Cafe Nola! Luna, who is just about to release an album. They are great. Also Heavy Lights, who have been such a supportive inspiration, both musically and as friends. Adrienne Smith, who has always been super encouraging of my music. I look up to all of them. Lilac Daze, my drummer’s band, are a force to be reckoned with for sure. There are so many creative and amazing local artists.
What’s your perception of the music scene in Frederick? What are some differences between here and other places, like, say, even Baltimore? Do you see it growing?
I think that there is an energy here that has yet to be fully utilized. I think that can only happen when there are more venues that exist for the music, first and foremost. Like I said earlier, I would love to be involved with more all ages events and DIY kind of shows. Projects like the (Frederick Playlist/Flying Dog) Frederick compilation, and the Frederick MusicShowcase are wonderful and I fully stand behind them. It’s important to be inclusive as a music scene. We are all in this together, as Frederick artists and musicians!
What are your plans for 2016?
Cheshi has a big year ahead. We plan on getting our first EP recorded (maybe even a full album) and taking our first tour. Get ready world.
And, of course, what can we expect from the show at Cafe Nola?
Tons of energy and noise!