Ash Costello: Beautiful Freak
The New Years Day vocalist is proud to be a weirdo
Ash Costello has just woken up as she sits down for our phone conversation. You can’t blame her for needing a rest – she’s just wrapped up filming a video for a yet-to-be-announced single from New Years Day’s forthcoming album, Malevolence, and as usual, she was the driving force behind the video’s creative aspects.
“New Years Day are incredibly hands-on with everything,” she explains. “Preparing for this has been really gnarly but I think it’s going to be the best video we’ve ever done. Me and the boys make everything – we find the props and have all the tools in my garage. I’m really handy that way. Even if we had a million dollars, I think we’d still do this, it’s really fun.”
Ash’s passionate creativity is no surprise, and its roots lie in her childhood. Brought up by a single mother with the help of her grandmother, a practising Wiccan and prop maker for horror movies, she fell in love with the goth aesthetic as a kid, and credits her “eccentric” family for her artistic tendencies.
“My grandma and my two uncles both did props and special effects makeup for horror movies, so I grew up in a house with a box of severed heads and a stack of Fangoria magazines,” she laughs. “My grandma would teach me how to make entrails from her nylons, and she’d put on movies like A Nightmare On Elm Street when she was babysitting me. It was just normal to me. I thought I was so much cooler because I do this stuff no one else does!”
A kid brought up in a modern-day Hammer House Of Horror was bound to attract attention at school, but Ash wasn’t – and still isn’t – someone to mess with. “I was friends with every group – the jocks, the goth kids, the cheerleaders,” she says. “But at the same time I did get shit. I didn’t cry about it, though – I’d give them shit back! This one girl who really didn’t like me stole a comic I drew and turned it into the principal, and it had pictures of people being killed in it. The school was going to expel me for attempted terrorism! They made me go to counselling; I went for one week and they were like, nope, she’s fine, she’s just a weirdo.”
Being labelled a weirdo is probably something most of us try to avoid, but Ash wears it as a badge of honour. With her Cruella de Vil-esque red and black hair, fondness for gothic styling and numerous tattoos, she’s the archetypal rock pin-up girl, and relishes the attention her look brings.
“I’ve toned it down now,” she laughs. “I’ve always wanted to stand out and be different – it’s not so much about self-expression, but if I didn’t shock somebody with my outfit, I felt I’d been lazy.”
Ash’s admirable confidence extends beyond her image – she’s not afraid to thrash out difficult subjects in her songwriting, and Malevolence is no exception.
“In the early days, I wrote a lot about heartbreak, breaking up with your boyfriend, the typical stuff,” she says. “Then a year or two ago it was more about family. My dad is estranged, so I finally opened up about that in Let Me Down. Malevolence has nothing about romance or family – it’s all about betrayal from every corner. Everyone has the capability to stab you in the back.”
Does she find it cathartic to turn life’s bullshit into music? “I have a love-hate relationship with songwriting,” she explains. “I have so many ideas, and the stuff I want to talk about is hard. I wanna say it in the right way, so I beat myself up over one line. It’s therapeutic once I’ve done with the writing, but it can be like hitting my head against a wall.”
Even over the phone, Ash is warm, genuine and open; interviewing her is more akin to having a natter with a mate you’ve not spoken to in a while. It’s like nothing is off limits – even her on-off relationship with New Years Day guitarist Nikki Misery. The pair had matching broken hearts inked on their hands a couple of years ago, but mercifully, Ash won’t be calling the laser removal clinic any time soon.
“That relationship started about five years ago, and I’m not sure what to call us right now,” she says, sounding cagey for the first time. “He and I have a very special relationship. Sometimes it’s not even off in a bad way; when you live this sort of lifestyle, you have to find unusual ways of doing normal things. But he’s one of my best friends, I love him. I want to murder him sometimes, though – if [horror movie] The Purge was real, he should be very worried!”
Another relationship is Ash’s life is the one she has with her fans. There’s no hesitation when she’s asked if she feels it’s her duty to be a role model – “Yeah, totally!” – and she’s not afraid to speak up about the darker side of the rock scene. In 2012, New Years Day famously left a tour with cringe-rock duo Blood On The Dance Floor, after Ash alleged witnessing “horrible things with underage girls”. She wrote a blog post at the time that detailed the allegations and her reasons for leaving the tour, and despite a backlash from some fans, she regrets nothing.
“It was my word against theirs, and I did get called jealous, a bitch, a diva [by fans],” she says. “But shit like that comes out no matter what – eventually people saw the truth. I’m really passionate about that kind of stuff; nothing pisses me off more than [bands exploiting fans]. It’s not the '80s, man, it’s not cool.”
The responsibilities that come with being in the public eye are something Ash takes seriously, and given her fierce commitment to both her band and her own individuality, it’s not surprising that fulfilling them comes naturally to her.
“Every band needs to have a message,” she says. “I have all these people following me, and this amount of power over these people, so I should at least do something good with it.” So what’s her message? “When you’re a girl in a band, you get told no a lot, and have a lot of doors shut in your face,” she says. “So I would say, develop confidence and a thick skin. It took me years to develop mine, but when you know what you want, stick to it.”
Her unflappable determination is what’s propelled Ash to the position she’s in now – as one of the strongest and most intriguing women in modern rock. But that doesn’t mean she’s about to take things easy.
“Have I achieved everything I want? Oh, hell no!” she laughs. “As soon as I achieve one goal, it’s straight onto the next thing. I put everything I have into this.”
Malevolence is out 2 October, via Another Century. Pre-order your copy here.