Turning off all connections to the outside world, Asher Monroe embarked on a three-month mission to complete his upcoming album, Windows of Time, on a boat in Croatia. While that may sound intimidating to some, for Asher it was a creative haven that transformed his approach to songwriting.
“I immersed myself into the whole project. I put my phone away for a few months, I jumped into the water every day. It was really fun to use that beautiful scenery and the whole environment to inspire me,” Asher says.
Windows of Time will show a different side to the singer, as both lyrically and musically, Asher took it to the next level. He believes, “as an artist, you have to reinvent yourself. That’s part of, you know, growing and maturing. I don’t want to ever limit or pigeonhole myself to just one sound or one type of demographic.” When asked what will surprise fans the most, Asher replies: “I think what they’ll be shocked by is how I sonically took a leap to something that they’ve never heard from me.”
Grammy-winner Walter Afanasieff (known for collaborating with Mariah Carey and Celine Dion), acted as producer. For Asher, this was the ideal collaboration. Though he humorously reveals he did not let Walter know whether he was alive for those months of writing. “I don’t think he believed that I was gonna do it. [Walter] joked ‘I honestly thought you forgot’. I didn’t even call for those three months to say, hey, I’m working. Like he honestly didn’t know where I was,” Asher laughs.
Now let’s unpack what led to this method of writing. “My career so far has been a long journey and with anything in life, you have to build confidence along the way,” says Asher. For many of his earlier projects, multiple people were in the writing room, all simultaneously sharing ideas and concepts. While Asher admits that’s a cool way to create, as songs are written much faster, he concurs: “There was something that I was missing in terms of the emotional attachment to the songs. I didn’t feel a connection to music as I did when I do it myself.”
Those around Asher noticed the change in his songwriting skills. “You have a really untapped talent,” they would say, which propelled Asher to continue down this route. He eventually wrote all of the Windows of Time lyrics in Croatia, following five months of arranging all the compositions with Walter. Asher shares: “For me, it helped to get myself in a mental state that I was relaxed. I was more or less trying to just be a channel for this body of work. When I came back, I played Walter one of the songs, he started crying. That’s when I knew I came back with something like gold in my hand.”
Asher compares the recording stage of production to an athlete training in the preseason and eventually reaching the playoffs. “It was like game time. We’ve already done all the work of writing the compositions then I was able to accomplish the next feat of writing the lyrics. When I got back, there was no ifs or buts, I literally had to do this,” he says.
Many surprises awaited Asher, namely adapting to working from a home studio. “I had a great home studio, some would say it’s a top-notch studio, but there was still stuff that I didn’t realise I was missing like a lot of gear, speakers that Walter was used to producing on or maybe my mic,” he says. Asher was keen to emulate a very close and soulful sound on Windows of Time, which required very specific engineering. “When you hear a Sam Smith record you think to yourself, how are the vocals so present? So forward? All these questions had to be dialled in. So we started programming. One of the things I loved about Walter was he would never force to put in a sound just to do it. It had to magically fit within the song. I love that approach instead of trying to throw it all in. I think I used to have too much production in my songs,” he continues.
The first single from the album, ‘Midnight Masquerade’ released to great acclaim. Most recently it garnered attention from Sir Elton John, who commented on the latest episode of Rocket Hour that “it’s a beautiful record. It’s got an orchestra on it and not many records these days have big sounds on it and this has a very full sound.”
He’s right, of course. The track has a cinematic fairytale quality; imagine the ideal score for an epic fantasy series. Perhaps House of Dragon needs a new track for a montage? Asher admits: “When the bagpipes finally came on, in ‘Midnight Masquerade’, I was like, oh my gosh, that’s the sound that I wanted.” Referencing his Irish roots as an unexpected connection to the song, he says “weirdly enough, I wasn’t even going for that. Sometimes just one sound can completely change and alter the direction of a song.”
The orchestral pop sound is unique to Asher as the instrumentals playing on both ‘Midnight Masquerade’ and the latest single ‘Try Me’ elevate the songs. When it came to layering the sounds, nothing was off the table. Asher brought on a music director from Cirque Du Soleil to work on the less traditional instruments, like the mandolin or the xylophone. “I always felt like this project had a mystical and chanting element to it. So, I was kind of looking after people who had experience. One of the reasons why I say Cirque Du Soleil, is because when I’ve seen those shows, I’ve always remembered the music as being similar to what you hear on Windows of Time. Most listeners won’t know that there’s just random instruments layered into the project. There’s a lot of undertones in this album that kind of helped lift each song that are really rare,” he shares.
Throughout his career, Asher has collaborated with an array of musicians and when asked what he takes away each time, he confidently decides on one thing: experience. He explains: “It’s learning different methods and the way people work. So, for instance: James Fauntleroy. If you look up his credits, he has this very niche sound. I did a song with him that was completely written over him tapping with a pen or pencil on an empty plastic bottle. He made a whole beat out of just that and using his vocal instrument to kind of layer in parts like a beatbox. I thought that was so cool.”
Diving into a story about working with OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, Asher says: “He showed me how a song can be written on piano. He was telling me ‘You always start with the chorus’ because that’s the hook of the song.”
Chris Brown suggested to Asher to direct his own music videos, which resulted in more creative freedom in future projects. Asher took this on board and directed his ‘Geisha’ video, the set of which he also designed.
Essentially, it is all about developing as an artist as you can easily get stuck following the same path and rules with your music. Asher continues: “Sometimes, that’s literally what will happen. You can get so used to doing something one way that it’s like, alright, I’ve done it. It’s not exciting. What else can I do? So, I am always looking for new ways to inspire myself to really dig in. Because people don’t realize writing a song, it’s really from the heart. It can be written fast or slow, but you still really have to go to a place to be able to pull that out. And so, I enjoy collaborations, because I’m always learning new methods of writing.”
Asher also has a prominent acting career, spanning most of his life. He appeared in the Broadway adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, musical film Fame and even starred in Zoey 101. His recent credits include Parenthood and The Mentalist. All those opportunities played a part in Asher’s approach to music and he never wants to take any of them for granted: “Let’s say I didn’t have any Broadway experience or I didn’t do any theatre growing up. Maybe my sound sonically might be different. But because that’s my experience, that’s my trajectory. I think I’ve used that as my inspiration.” However, he admits that’s not always the case. Talk With God, the last album wasn’t heavily influenced by his acting. But that’s exactly what makes Windows of Time full-circle. The singer revives his theatrical background in the new record.
After all, it makes sense why Walter was the ideal partner for the album. He arranged various tracks for films, namely Aladdin (1992) and the Oscar-nominated ‘Go the Distance’ from Hercules (1997). Both Walter and Asher appear to love the drama that accompanies motion picture soundtracks.
Asher then takes our conversation down the unexpected route of wrestling. He can’t resist comparing his journey to how Dwane Johnson’s “larger than life persona” hails from his wrestling days. “He’s bringing it into his present. So, for me, whether I was in the boyband V Factory or I went into theatre or I modelled. In a way, all that helped shape a lot of the stuff that I do and the stuff that I’m into. I think instead of shying away from it and saying ‘oh, yeah, that wasn’t me’, it’s ‘no, it’s all part of my story,” Asher says.
Currently stationed out in sunny LA, but soon to be in London, travel plays an integral part in Asher’s process. In turn, music video locations are always adventurous. ‘No Regret’, for instance, was filmed in freezing Svalbard. So, what’s next on the bucket list? Asher cites Asia as a dream location for a future setting, particularly Thailand or Japan. He says: “I love Japan, one of my favourite places of all to really become inspired. I wanted to write every day when I was there. I don’t know what about that place made me want to write but I hope one day I get the opportunity to write an album there. Just completely immerse myself. So, I would love to shoot a video there.”
From our conversation, it is evident that Asher uses anything and everything to stir up a new idea. Even interior decorating proved to be a goldmine for ideas. He says: “I loved it because it brought my creative juices into something completely different than I’ve ever done. I enjoyed that process of designing a bookshelf and designing a bar. It’s fun to use my design skills in a completely different facet.”
Windows of Time is a product of this constant need to develop and chase new opportunities. The title itself reflects Asher’s mindset at the time. “When I say ‘Windows of Time’, it was a window in time because I might not ever do another album like that again,” Asher adds.
U2 frontman Bono gave Asher advice which carried him throughout this album, “Anything you do in your life Asher, go 1000% in that direction.” And he did just that. If Windows of Time is not enough of a statement, Asher is already looking ahead to bringing in a visual aspect to his live shows.
Asher ends our call with some advice of his own: “If I was encouraging any creative minds out there: Just go for it. Don’t be afraid of the outcome. Don’t be afraid of what people are gonna say about you; Let your guard down and go. I think what a lot of people admire about artists is that they’re not afraid to go to a certain place. And they maybe see something in themselves, either they emulate it, or they wish they could have done that. I think it’s always good to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions, to be able to not only inspire others but to not limit ourselves.”
Singles ‘Midnight Masquerade’ and ‘Try Me’ are out now.
Interview conducted by Olivia Gacka
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