Ashton Mills challenges the status quo with his debut beat tape, CALABASEMENT
Toronto, ON – Central Canada is full of amazing artists who are paving their own path to success outside of the stereotypical confines that the industry has drawn around them. At only 23, Toronto-based producer Ashton Mills has accomplished more than many of his peers in his field, and at an impressively early age. His work with Jazz Cartier, Drew Shirley (of Switchfoot), Amir Obé, Eli Sostre, and Grammy-nominated engineers Simeon Spiegel and Randy Urbanski, have quickly made him an artist that you won’t want to pass on. We refer to him as an artist, rather than singer or producer, because his technical abilities and approach strike further than any one talent.
For these reasons, the announcement and release of his independent beat tape comes at a career defining moment for Mills. CALABASEMENT sets out to move and engage audiences – but will also help them reconsider what is possible for Canadian artists (and specifically producers). There’s no longer only one method of reaching audiences, and, in fact, artists are finding new ways to reach their fans in more direct and personal ways. CALABASEMENT is a sonically colourful project that appeals to all of the listeners’ senses, and accomplishes everything it sets out to. From the vivid and aesthetically pleasing art directed by Ashton, the striking photography shot by Maria Bokhari, to the energizing 4-track list – there is little room to criticize a project that has been curated with such care. To classify it as contemporary trap might be a disservice to its’ layers, and you really need to listen to the project in full to understand why.
Catch our conversation with Ashton below where we talk about curation of this new tape, how he views his music, and what he hopes to accomplish.
“I wanted to create a multi-levelled body of work with a dynamic experience – something that you’ll be swimming in once you hit the spacebar.” – Ashton Mills
Ashton Mills: Q&A
HipHopCanada: Congratulations on CALABASEMENT and thanks for speaking with us about the project. What did this tape mean to you, and what did you hope to accomplish with it – creatively or personally?
Ashton Mills: Thanks for showing love to the kid. I appreciate that. I created CALABASEMENT to be a showcase. A lot of producers are creating this 2 dimensional sound that repeats for 3:30 and I wanted to create a multi-levelled body of work with a dynamic experience – something that you’ll be swimming in once you hit the spacebar. My hope is to continue to build with artists and creatives who can recognize that.
HipHopCanada: Artists often view their own music differently than critics or their audience do. How do you define or characterize your sound?
Ashton Mills: I can’t label or generalize “my sound” as a whole, really. It’s project specific. The sounds from various projects could differ but my standard is the same. When talking CALABASEMENT, you can hear that this project is dripping with the rage.
HipHopCanada: It’s my understanding that you’re often labelled as a producer first, and that’s how many people have come to know you. How do you feel about that title, and do you see yourself as more of a creative?
Ashton Mills: CAL ABASEMENT was written to showcase what I can do as a producer. The other projects I’ve worked on have been as a producer/songwriter so I’m cool with it in that sense. In general, I don’t know how to feel about it. I know in a lot of cases when working with an artist, the “producer” isn’t just that. There’s engineering and songwriting involved. The producer is the backbone and muscle of the project and not everyone (including some artists) recognize that.
HipHopCanada: One thing that struck me with this project was how you’ve curated a sensory – rich experience – from the aesthetic and visuals, to the sequencing of the track list. Did you always have a clear vision for the finished product?
Ashton Mills: At the beginning stages, I knew that everything from the finished audio, photography/design, promo material, and even down to details like the track list or captioning needed to be flames. The audio was really just how I was feeling at the time. I wanted the visuals to represent the same level of rage, angst, and flex in the music. I had a general vision and as I got further down the creation process it became clearer. My photographer Maria Bokhari and I work great together and she helped bring my ideas to life.
HipHopCanada: Many listeners know you from your work with artists like Amir Obé and Eli Sostre. Do you find that your sound differs from tracks for artists, to tracks made specifically for yourself, if at all?
Ashton Mills: For sure. The same standard of excellence is there within every project, but the sounds and the approach we use might be different depending on what the vision is.
HipHopCanada: Some people might say that those artists are pushing the boundaries of their respective genres. Do you feel like you’re an innovator, and is innovation something you consider when you create music?
Ashton Mills: Of course. I feel like creation without innovation is pointless. I’m not here to create some cookie cutter shit, haha.
HipHopCanada: What track holds the most meaning to you on this project, if you had to pick?
Ashton Mills: Ah, thats tough.. Every track has those special moments that make you feel something but for me it would probably be $10K X2. I wrote it right after two songs I had wrote for two different songwriting competitions had won $20,000. I remember jumping around the studio by myself when I made it. In the outro/bridge I recorded these crazy guitars and keyboards over some super heavy drums and then it transitions into this peaceful section with my vocals. That whole section makes me feel like I can do anything.
HipHopCanada: What was your creative process like, and were there any external variables that inspired this tape?
Ashton Mills: I just translated what I was feeling in my life at that time into music. I’m from Alberta, so moving to Toronto without knowing anyone here was tough. I didn’t have any friends or family in the city. The company I was working for was bought out so I got laid off and money was tight. I had everyone back home in Alberta pressuring me to just come home. I felt like I needed to prove that I’m actually capable of making it in this industry – both to my family back home and to myself. Then $10K X2 won those competitions. That felt like a confirmation that I must’ve been doing something right. I haven’t stopped pushing and working. I’ve got a point to prove every day.
HipHopCanada: Sonically, what kind of sounds (or genres) are you influenced by?
Ashton Mills: I always take voice memos of sounds that I hear that inspire me. Toronto is a cultural and musical melting pot so this city inspires me everyday. Various people like Mike Dean, Travis Scott, Frank, Kanye, D Mile, and Nat King Cole – to name a few.
HipHopCanada: What can your fans look forward to in the coming months?
Ashton Mills: You’ll see my name on some bigger projects coming out but most importantly – don’t sleep on these vocals.
Stream “CALABASEMENT” below.
Photography by Maria Bokhari
Art Direction by Ashton Mills
Tags: Ashton Mills