Ashley McBryde Previews Her 2021 CMA Awards Performance With Carly Pearce

Ashley McBryde
Q&A
Daniel Meigs

Ashley McBryde has a busy night ahead of her at the 55th Annual Country Music Awards. The guitar-strumming storyteller is up for three trophies (Female Vocalist of The Year, Single of the Year, and Song of the Year), and she’ll also share the stage with fellow nominee Carly Pearce to perform their new hit “Never Wanted to Be That Girl.”

The show, hosted by Luke Bryan, features a stellar lineup: from Gabby Barrett, Thomas Rhett, and Keith Urban to Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, and Dancing with the Stars’ Jimmie Allen. Aretha‘s Jennifer Hudson is also set to make her CMA debut. McBryde, who won the CMA in 2019 for “Best New Artist,” is excited to be in such good company.

We caught up with the busy singer-songwriter, who’s currently on tour, at CMA Awards rehearsal in Nashville ahead of country music’s biggest night.

How would you sum up this year in country music?

Ashley McBryde: It has been a really strange year getting back on the road. We realize how quickly we miss our loved ones, but also realize how much we miss being with our fans. It has just been a whirlwind. I feel like we haven’t been home at all this year.

You suffered a concussion in September after falling off a horse. How are you feeling these days?

I’m still dealing with some confusion. There are certain words I can’t think of at times. The dizzy spells don’t go away from six months to a year. I had to postpone four headlining shows. I was really feeling off-kilter. I love what I do for a living so much that nothing was going to keep me off that stage. What I told my manager was as soon as I was able to walk across the stage, that is exactly what I’ll be doing. Seven days after I was able to walk unassisted. I practiced all day. Then we got to the show that night. I limped, but I did it.

Fast forward to today where you are preparing to perform “Never Wanted to Be That Girl” with Carly Pearce. The song, about a two-timing man, and its music video have certainly struck a chord.

I loved making that video with her. It was about 14 days after the accident…The subject has been done, but I think it’s important to keep it going in country music. For this song to have a performance moment like this is so freakin’ special. The response so far has been gut-check and gut-punch. I hear that a lot. People are loving it. Some people are saying it’s so sad. It kind of is, but this song also has two women opening their eyes to the behaviors they didn’t want to exhibit. And never in any part of the song do we call the guy a piece of crap or one another a piece of crap. We just say, “This is a position I never wanted to be in.”

Ashley McBryde

Brent Harrington/CBS

Women in country music have been fighting for equal airplay and opportunities. Where do you think we are in moving the needle?

There are still miles to go, but I think as an entire genre has been doing the right thing. Women are making phenomenal music and being phenomenal entertainers this entire time. We’re starting to see that more in airplay, being present on charts. Meanwhile, while that pendulum is slowly swinging back, us chicks in country music do a good job being there for one another. It’s not that we don’t compete. We like to challenge each other, but we do a good job we show up for each other too.

You have three nominations. What does it mean to you to have “One Night Standards” and “Never Will” resonate?

When you said the word nominations right now, I got butterflies. It’s just joy and excitement. When you look at the nomination thumbnail pictures with Miranda [Lambert], Maren [Morris], Carly, Gabby, and my face. I remember when it was Faith Hill, Sara Evans. I was so amazed at the women in country music. Now I’m in that category. It seems wild.

Is there a special place you put your awards?

Everyone I have gotten so far is in my guest bathroom on a shelf. That’s mostly because no matter who comes to your house, at some point they need to wash their hands and used the restroom, so everyone has to look at them. It has been a running joke in my family, so that’s where they go.

Do you have a show that keeps you company on the road?

I’m guilty as everyone else of watching Forensic Files as I try to go to sleep. I don’t know why we choose that. The show that has been talked about the most on the bus and that we are most looking forward to is the new season of Yellowstone. It’s so deserving of our obsession.

What is the one piece of advice that stays with you?

The first one was Terri Clark. She said to me, “This is my phone number. If you ever need me, even if it’s three in the morning, call me. I’ll answer the phone.” Sure enough on a radio tour, it was really late at night. I couldn’t sleep. I was feeling under the weather, which I knew was from lack of sleep. I called her, and she answered the phone. Her advice was to drink more water, less alcohol, and get proper sleep. She has been wonderful. Since that has happened, I have had the luck to give other female artists my number where if you make my phone ring, I’ll answer it.

Who is your dream collaboration?

If I can collaborate with anybody, it would be Cher. She has had hit songs in every decade of her career. She has been making phenomenal music for a long time. If I can do a Crossroads and sing “Just Like Jesse James” or “If I Can Turn Back Time” or “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves,” it would be incredible.

What can you tease about your performance with Carly on CMA night?

Carly and I are really different people. She is tall. Her hair is a little lighter colored. She is a little on the softer spoken side. I walk into every room really loud with burnt curly hair and covered in tattoos. We play off that when we perform. You can expect us to stand a good distance apart but still be really clear we mean this story together.

As a fan, is there any other performance you are excited to see?

Jennifer Hudson is performing on Wednesday. I can not wait!

55th Annual CMA Awards, November 10, 8/7c, ABC