There are plenty of adjectives that Ashnikko admittedly avoids when describing her music. It’s not quiet. It’s not soft. And it’s never really been sweet, but she’s working on the vulnerability stuff.
On a personal level, too, it’s almost easier to understand 24-year-old Ashton Nicole Casey by examining how she doesn’t describe herself. She’s not a rising artist with an expiration date. She’s not affiliated with any one genre, although pop holds a special place in her heart. She’s not a social media aficionado, despite her fart-centric tweets and TikTok’s ability to launch her tracks “STUPID” and “Daisy” into the universe. And, more than anything, she isn’t Disney Channel star Allisyn Ashley Arm from Sonny With A Chance. People actually think she is for some reason.
What Ashnikko is, however, is a perfectionist. Everything she releases has to be tailored to her vision. And even the music that meets her requirements might make her cringe while listening back a few years later. But it’s all part of a charge she’s helping lead, a position she’s found herself in accidentally, of young artists dismantling pop music—and the industry as a whole—and helping to create a generation of alternative rebels. Ashnikko may be one of them, but she’s not trying to be. She’s just trying her best.
One of music’s most disruptive voices just released her first full-length project, DEMIDEVIL. She’s calling it a mixtape, partially to avoid the commitment that comes with the “A word,” but she doesn’t really care how listeners refer to it. Ashnikko only wants them to listen, with a hairbrush in hand, staring at themselves in the mirror. Just as she does.
It’s gotten a lot easier to research you these last few weeks. Not in a weird way. You’ve even got a Before They Were Famous video on YouTube.
With the wrong picture of me as a kid. I messaged the guy, and I was like, “That’s a Disney Channel star. What the hell are you doing?” I’m starting to think maybe I should have been a child star.
I have no questions about that specific photograph, so we’re fine, but has it been easy to adapt to this attention in a year, aside from people asking you about that photo?
I’m going to give you a hard “kind of.” I’m going to give you a real hard “no.” It’s been weird. It’s been a strange one. I’m adjusting slowly. I feel like I will probably never be used to it. It’s weird. Makes my insides go “eeeeeeh,” but I’m super grateful that people listen to my music.
I found this video where you discussed that this all started with a diss track over a Lil’ Kim beat. What did that girl in high school do to deserve that treatment?
My parents put me into a public Latvian high school, so there was a natural exclusion from the very obvious language barrier. And then there was the exclusion of teenagers just being dicks. So I just had a lot of pent-up teen aggression, and I needed an outlet. It actually was over Pharoahe Monch‘s “Simon Says.” I had just heard Lil’ Kim do a version, her Nicki Minaj diss. I was like, “That’s sick. I’m going to make a diss track.” So I did about this girl in my class.
Your work specifically has been described as alt-pop. You have said that you can’t really narrow down your sound to a genre. But I’m still curious as to what effect alternative music and culture—and I know you’re wearing the blink-182 shirt right now—have had on your life and your career.
I’ve been listening to really powerful, very musically authentic artists since I was real small. And I love pop music. Pop music lives in a tiny little space in my heart. I get really stressed when people try to ask me what genre of music I like. I really have no idea. But I’ve been listening to people like M.I.A., pop punk like Paramore, Björk, Missy, Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj [and] Joan Jett.
Is there a moment in alternative culture that you look at as, “I love this record” or “I love this era of this group”?
Paramore will always do it for me forever. Hayley Williams‘ voice is just perfection. It was crafted by angels, and the Riot! album will forever be perfect to me. No skips. A beautiful, beautiful album.
Without stressing out too much and without talking about what your sound is, what isn’t your sound? How would you not describe it?
It’s not quiet. It’s not soft. It’s not very sweet. Those are the adjectives that I would not put on my music, for sure. I have a very hard time being vulnerable in my music, which I’m working on. I’m working on that aspect of my songwriting.
How far into that are you in terms of opening up a little bit more with vulnerability?
There are one or two vulnerable songs on there, like just a smidge, a little smidgen of emotion and softness. And it feels a bit strange, but I’m working on it. I find it easier to write soft, emotional songs for other people.
A lot of it’s very, as you said, not soft, not quiet. It’s very adventurous, so I’m curious as to when in your life you started really embracing this side of yourself, musically or even style-wise. Has it always been something that you’ve prided yourself on? And is there a moment you can point to where you’re like, “That’s where I started realizing I can do my own thing”?
The music I was making as a teenager was trash, the music I was making four years ago even: trash. I only came into my own [and] blossomed about two or three years ago. I got a little taste of independence, and the music I was making just fell on me. The heavens parted, and a ray of sunshine shone through, and the goddess said, “Hey baby, this is it. This is the music we’re supposed to be making.” It’s felt pretty good since then. I still have a hard time listening back to old projects, kind of cringe a little bit. Even projects [that are] a year old. I’m still like, “It’s not perfect,” but it feels very authentic.
When you look at this past year, are you glad “STUPID” was the track that introduced you to so many? Sometimes people get a certain feeling when they stumble on that one song.
I’ve never gone into the studio with the mindset that I’m going to make a hit. But I think something in me was a little bit disappointed that that was the one to pop off because I had so much other music that I was much more proud of. And that one just felt like the wild card that I threw on that EP. And I’m glad that now my beautiful, sweet “Daisy,” my heart, my pride and joy, momma’s baby, is doing her thing. She’s having her moment.
I know you spoke about how you created Daisy as this badass character capable of anything. And I’m curious about how much of yourself you see in this character, if any?
I would love to be like this badass vigilante who drinks straight whiskey, but I’m not. I’m her sometimes. I don’t know if you can hear my rasp, but I was drinking tequila last night to celebrate Trump not being president anymore. So sometimes I channel her a little bit, but I would be so exhausted if I was her all the time. She’s a facet of my personality that I have exaggerated or created this comic book character of.
One aspect of your creativity is extended to social media usage, which you are absolutely hilarious at. But you said in the past that it does stress you out in a sense. I’m curious as to if this is something that you’ve adapted to in a way.
I totally wish I was the type of artist who could just live in the woods and send a hard drive by carrier pigeon straight to my label and just be like, “Peace out, y’all” and not be on social media. That would make my brain a much nicer place to be. But unfortunately, I realize how necessary it is to promote my music and connect with my fanbase and just be an artist. So it’s about finding balance.
And do you find it funny that it’s not something that you’re super into, but people are really drawn to it?
My mom, the other day, was like, “You talk about farts too much.” And I do. I talk about farts a lot. And honestly, if that’s my legacy, I’m proud.
I’m going to read you one of your tweets here. On Jan. 26, you tweeted, “Been laying on the floor all day playing with my belly button.” Again, this was before the pandemic. So I don’t know if there was some foreshadowing there. Do you feel as if these little everyday feelings and this realness can resonate with your fans?
It’s very hard for me to read into the tweet, “Laying on my floor, playing with my belly button,” but I’m going to try to dissect it for you. I feel like they enjoy knowing that everyone is real and flawed. And I am very real and flawed. And sometimes I like to play with my belly button. So I try to be as real as possible and keep it very real on Twitter. I hate Twitter, but also I love Twitter, and no one is going to make me stop talking about sports. No, not even Jesus.
We talked about this character that you built. Are there more of these characters that fans can expect on the mixtape?
So my mind has 150 different tabs open, and I want to create a comic book and my own cartoon series and write a musical about female anatomy. I think DEMIDEVIL has some characters on there. They’re all quite similar. They’re all sisters, for sure.
And I love this cover. Is this more of a Thomas The Tank Engine situation or like a Jay Jay The Jet Plane or what?
Jay Jay The Jet Plane is something I’ve been getting a lot. And honestly, that’s so creepy, and I love that. I didn’t even think about it, but it was inspired by The Last Airbender. I’m not even a huge Avatar fan. I was just like, “I need the flying creature.”
What about this project felt like a mixtape?
I don’t care what anyone calls it. If someone wants to call it my album, they can call it my album. But I think for me, I am not ready to commit to the “A word.” So I just called it a mixtape because, in my head, I always imagined with the album that each song would blend into the next, and there would be this story arc… Obviously, I’m a perfectionist. So I think if I had it my way, I would be making like 10 more mixtapes until I’m ready for my album because of my fear of commitment.
Where you are right now, at this point in your career, a lot of people might see you as a new artist. Do you like the label of “new artist” at all?
If I hear the keywords “hot, fresh, young, rising artist,” I’m going to throw my laptop into the ocean, and I’m going to turn into a dolphin and swim to the horizon. And that’s where you’ll find me. I’ll make all the music from the ocean. I hate those words.
What about them leaves a bad taste in your mouth?
I always get told, “You don’t want to lose your momentum. You only get to be a rising artist once.” It’s like, what, am I going to expire like milk? I’m always making amazing music. Shut up. Stop putting pressure on me.
Are you glad that you’ve taken on this role of somebody who’s helping lead that charge of rebellious young people in music doing their own thing?
I want all those words that you just said on a sash, like a Ms. America sash, and I want to wear it, and I want to think about the gravity of those words and how important they are because I sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by that. And I’m super grateful that some kids look up to me. But I am just trying my best. So I gotta wear that sash.
I know you’re very excited for the full-length, and I’m excited for it. What’s your ultimate message from this project in particular, in this era of your career?
When you think about an era when you’re in it, your brain breaks. I’m hoping that people take good things out of this. I try to make music that people enjoy singing in their mirror because that’s why I listen to music. I listen to music as a little pep talk to myself in the mirror. And I go, “It’s just me and you, baby.” And I take my hairbrush, and I still sing in my hairbrush, and I just dance in the mirror and have a great time. It’s all a ritual, and that’s what I want people to take from this project. This is what I want people to take from all of my music. I want them to feel themselves and have a good time—and sing into their hairbrush.