Ashley McBryde Stocks Her ‘Kitchen’ With Life Lessons and Independent Aspirations on New Single
People don’t come with an owner’s manual, but if they did, the checklist might look something like the words in Ashley McBryde’s new single, “Light On in the Kitchen.”
Much like Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” written by Lori McKenna, “Kitchen” is a compendium of wisdom handed down from a mother to her kids. But where “Humble” was relayed from Mom’s point of view, the advice in “Kitchen” is seen through the recipient’s eyes. And those eyes may well be teary.
More from Billboard
Gwen Stefani, Alanis Morissette & Shania Twain to Perform at 2023 CMT Music Awards
Old Dominion's Matthew Ramsey Fractures Pelvis in ATV Accident, Band Postpones Shows
Jana Kramer Speaks Out Following Nashville School Shooting: 'It All Just Feels Too Close to Home'
“Mom and her sister and I are really close, and we say it to each other, just to remind one another that we’re on each other’s minds,” McBryde says. “Instead of just saying, ‘All right, I love you. I’ll talk to you later. Bye,’ we’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m going to leave the kitchen light on for you tonight.’ I don’t know why it’s so stirring. It tugs on something.”
That something is the stuff that successful families are made of: the generational mentoring, the caring for relatives, the sense that there’s someone offering protection. Those are the nuts and bolts of love and connection.
“Light On in the Kitchen” arrived in the world at a time when connection was being tested. McBryde wrote it with Connie Harrington (“I Drive Your Truck,” “Mine Would Be You”) and Jessi Alexander (“Don’t Think Jesus,” “Never Say Never”) on June 9, 2020. It was three months into the pandemic, 15 days after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and eight days after the Trump administration used chemicals to disperse a crowd of protesters for a controversial photo op in front of a Washington, D.C., church.
“I just remember that being such a dark time,” says Alexander. “It was dark for me, just being stuck at home and feeling like I’m lost. I mean, songwriting is such a part of who I am. It was a weird time, but what a beautiful light’s come out of it.”
They masked up and met in person to write two songs in Midtown Nashville — “It was tumbleweeds down Music Row,” Alexander recalls. Harrington got one of the day’s titles from a story in The Magnolia Journal, a quarterly magazine published by Chip and Joanna Gaines, co-hosts of HGTV’s Fixer Upper. The “light on in the kitchen” line resonated with her own experiences.
“If I have guests that get up in the night, I want them to be able to go to the kitchen because that’s where everything you need is,” she says. “No matter how little your kitchen is, or how many people are there, and how much room might be elsewhere in the home, everybody ends up in the kitchen.”
Alexander threaded a simple chord progression as they began to fashion a series of homey thoughts from the top “left-hand corner of the page,” says McBryde. “I love it when songs happen this way.”
The verses provide details on smart self-care, the first two choruses feature hints at building relationships, and the final chorus changes a few lines to focus on living independently if that right relationship never quite appears. Significant time spent alone, oddly enough, improves the chances of living successfully with someone else.
“Until you really get along with yourself, and reconcile your demons, and learn who you are apart from anybody else, you won’t be at your best and optimal,” Harrington reasons. “Everyone needs to do that, in my opinion.”
After a parade of images and hurdles — pancakes after midnight, runny noses and weight issues, among them — that last chorus encourages listeners to stand up for themselves: “If somethin’ tries to hold you back/Get up and give it hell.” It’s an example of a mentor plotting their own obsolescence.
“As a mom, if you’ve done a good job, they don’t need you anymore,” says Alexander. “That’s the ‘light on in the kitchen’ for me — my daughter and I and my sons actually had this conversation the other night: ‘Always, you can call me. There’s nothing you can say that would keep me from helping you if you needed it.’”
When producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Miranda Lambert) heard “Kitchen,” McBryde’s team already had it scoped out as a likely single. Joyce felt pressured to make it radio-friendly, though he fought that tendency. “It’s hard not to think that way,” he says, “particularly if they put that on you.”
They cut “Kitchen” at Joyce’s Neon Cross Studios during February 2022 in East Nashville using McBryde’s band: electric guitarist Matt Helmkamp, mandolinist Chris Harris, bassist Chris Sancho and drummer Quinn Hill. The challenge was to make the supporting arrangement interesting without distracting from the lyrics. McBryde had already finished recording her Lindeville album, and knowing it would be released first, they had freedom to take their time in getting “Kitchen” right.
The mandolin brought a bluegrass element to its folk foundation, while Helmkamp applied a contrasting blues guitar to the proceedings. Those instruments deftly bracketed the song, though McBryde eventually recognized an unintended symbolism. “It’s a big guitar and a little mandolin,” she says. “And it’s a big woman and a smaller girl having a conversation.”
Hill’s percussion part relied mostly — if not entirely — on the snare and kick drum, dialed intentionally into a thinner sound. “I think I’m filtering the top end of the drums,” says Joyce. “They’re very dark and sort of muffled, so they’re not getting in the way of the vocals.”
McBryde recorded the bulk of her vocals live with the band, getting a more cohesive performance out of the entire ensemble. “When somebody’s really singing, then the players play better,” Joyce reasons. “There’s a million questions that are answered naturally in your own mind — how hard to play, when to play, when not to. When somebody like her is really performing, it just makes it easy.”
It was not necessarily easy for McBryde, who wrote “Kitchen” with the longest notes — on the phrases “trust yourself” and “love yourself” — in an uncomfortable section of her voice. “I don’t know where other women’s vocal break is, but the difference between chest voice and head voice is just right there on that damn line,” she says. “It’s so on-brand for me to be like, ‘Here’s the line, I’ll put my toes on it.’”
McBryde topped off the recording with finger-picking on acoustic guitar. She performed it live for the first time on Feb. 24 at TempleLive in Fort Smith, Ark. During the day, she sang it for her mom, though it took three tries before she could get through it. McBryde held it together onstage that night, introducing it to fans a day after Warner Music Nashville released it to country radio via PlayMPE. “Light On in the Kitchen” occupies the No. 41 spot on the Country Airplay chart dated April 1.
As a contemplative ballad, it’s a bit unusual as a first single from a forthcoming album — but it speaks volumes for its long-term possibilities.
“I didn’t see that coming,” McBryde says. “I’m so happy for that to be the life that this song lives — to not only be on the album, but also to be the song [about which] we say, ‘This is the foot that we’re going to stick forward.’”
Best of Billboard
H.E.R. & Chris Brown 'Come Through' to No. 1 on Adult R&B Airplay Chart
Anne Wilson's 'I Still Believe in Christmas' Crowns Christian Airplay Chart
Frank Sinatra, Eartha Kitt, Eagles & More: Here Are All 37 Holiday Songs on This Week's Hot 100