Since moving to New York, I’ve been introduced to a ton of local artists, both organically and at the hands of friends who’ve already been living here. In this series of interviews, Grrrls in the Five Boroughs, I sit down with inspiring womxn and queer femme musicians based in New York City to discuss their personal connections to music, their communities, and their favorite local hotspots scattered across their neighborhoods in New York.
Raised on a diet of Shania Twain and Pavement, Southern songstress Ashley Mayorquin graduated from acting school and migrated from Nashville to Brooklyn to pursue a career in music. After releasing an EP called Big Dumb Baby under her own name in 2021, Mayorquin adopted the Big Dumb Baby moniker as an official stage name and modeled her musical output after Fiona Apple and Stephen Malkmus. Songs like “Haircut” and “If Michael Was a Dog,” are set against a backdrop of zany guitars and dissonant ’90s indie scuzz with Mayorquin’s voice oscillating between husky melodic crooning and a whimsical spoken-word delivery that hearkens back to Liz Phair and Rachel Haden.
But Mayorquin’s serious knack for masterful storytelling is taken to new heights on her latest single “Jenny’s Place.” The song opens with groovy bass licks, crispy drums, skronky guitars, and lyrics that instantly transport listeners to the grimy student house she’s describing, painting a vivid portrait depicting its seven inhabitants, the kitchen mice, the lackluster band practicing next door, and the cigarette fumes emanating from the basement.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Big Dumb Baby to discuss her musical origin story, using humor to process morbid life experiences in her songwriting, and the vibrant community of people that have come into her orbit since moving to New York.
You’re a Nashville transplant. Would you like to tell me a little more about the time you spent there and what drew you to New York?
I grew up in Nashville and studied performing arts there before going abroad for a year. I started out as an actor, so there was always a possibility that I would go to New York. I think a big part of what drew me here was that everyone I grew up with and all of my closest friends ended up here. I felt pretty isolated in Nashville, and I wanted to be around people I could connect with. I also hate driving, so living here is very convenient in that regard [laughs].
What is the vision behind Big Dumb Baby and how does the music reflect that?
I was releasing softer acoustic folk under my own name before I started Big Dumb Baby, and then the project started to change after I shared my first EP with a friend. He ended up being really instrumental in helping me craft my image and aesthetic. He works in fashion, so he brought me to New York, got me a photographer, styled me, and convinced me to take the career side of music a lot more seriously. I didn’t end up releasing music under the name Big Dumb Baby until I put out my first EP. I was having trouble making the distinction between Ashley the actress and Ashley the musician. So adopting a stage name really helped. It also gave me a lot more space to move around and get more personal with my writing.
I know you’re a big fan of Pavement and their most famous song is “Cut Your Hair.” You have a song called “Haircut” that sounds very Pavement-esque. Was that intentional?
I love Pavement and my music definitely has a similar aesthetic, but that was a total coincidence. I write everything on acoustic guitar, so when I started writing “Haircut,” I didn’t have any idea what it would end up sounding like. But that was definitely something we thought about once we got to the production phase, because it’s a very playful tongue-in-cheek song and the lyrics have a lot of Stephen Malkmus-isms. So that wasn’t exactly intentional, but I definitely see the parallels.
What’s your relationship to songwriting?
I feel like sometimes I’ll have an idea for a song, and it will just happen. I don’t really labor over it. I think my best songs have been really easy. The song “If Michael Was a Dog,” started out as a joke when I was teasing my ex one day and kept singing to him: “If Ian was a dog, he’d be a very dumb dog.” But he thought it sounded really catchy, so I decided to put it out. I don’t really think about lyrics all that much until after the fact, and then I edit them later.
Are there any bands or artists you loved when you were younger that you still love now?
I actually went to Virginia recently, and on that trip, we all played songs that we really loved in our childhood. I told a story about how when I was seven I was given a karaoke machine that had an S Club 7 song on it, so I still love S Club 7. They’re like my Spice Girls. I definitely have a soft spot for that flavor of pop music.
I really love the song “Kentucky,” especially how spare the production is and how gut-punching the lyrics are. How did that song come about?
My brother has dealt with alcoholism and substance abuse for a very long time. He was doing fine for a while, but then at the beginning of the pandemic he relapsed and went AWOL for a while. It was right when everything started shutting down. When I finally got ahold of him, I found out that he was in Kentucky. So I drove all the way there to pick him up and brought him to rehab. After that, I went back to Kentucky to pick up his car and wrote the song in my head on the way home. I called my ex-partner and started singing to them over the phone, “Do you really wanna die in Kentucky?” and the song came together after that.
Are there any local artists you love that you’d like to give a shout-out to?
Absolutely. I love Shallowhalo. Their recent show at Sundown was amazing. I also really love May Rio, Razor Braids, Precious Human, and Frost Children.
Anything else you’d like to announce or plug?
I’ll be playing a show at Alphaville on March 3rd. I also have a new EP coming out on April 5th and there will be a release show with special guests, so stay tuned for that! Thank you for having me.
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