Interview with Grace Askew
Nobody goes looking for home in a place like Cline’s Corners. It’s not there. People crossing paths in a place like this are coming, going or running away from something nobody’s talking about way out here on the fringe. It’s nobody’s home and they’re not hanging around long enough to watch the dust settle.
Photography and words by Heath Herring.
So what am I doing out here at the desolate, dustbowl junction of Route 66 and the road to Santa Fe? I’ve been here more times than I can remember. I’ve slept in this parking lot enough to call it a summer home. Somewhere between hobo and #VanLife, you find folks like me – the ones who roll in with the dust and roll out before it hits the ground. Some people hit the road as often as possible for the freedom and creative fuel you find in places like this. That’s us. I drive around the country doing my best to capture stories of all the interesting people and places I find along the way. As a matter of fact, this is a story about my friend Grace.
She’s a fellow traveler who frequents a favorite route through the Southwest, taking curiosity and creativity out on the road. I don’t meet a lot of people out here doing what I do. I’m sure you can imagine how excited I was to find out Grace’s summer tour overlapped with my travel plans out here in New Mexico. I was even more stoked when Grace agreed to meet up for a day of traveling around the desert, taking pictures and sharing stories. Can you guess where our paths crossed in New Mexico? You nailed it. The eternal dust haven of neon glory. 66’s electric red beacon in the night. Cline’s Corners. And as far as I’m concerned, Gateway of The West.
Traveler – Songwriter – Creativity Activist
What brings you way out here?
“This is the tour route I’ve come to know like a familiar face. I-40 West, brother. Freckling my hands for the past 10 years.”
Why life on the road, and why the Southwest?
“I grew up hearing the distant humming of the highway at night – a lullaby of sorts. I’d fall asleep to dreams of all the places I’d get to travel to one day. Touring feeds this part of my soul, for sure, and New Mexico is my favorite route to take. I’m out here at least twice a year.”
I know you mostly travel solo. Don’t you get lonely out on the road?
“When I’m out there, for weeks at a time, totally alone…I’m never truly lonely because those purple mountains and that red dirt feel like home. The re-birth and renewal that comes from waking up in a new town with new faces, every single day, truly revives me as an artist and teaches me the sanctity of creativity.”
Grace wears the Catera 5X Gun Club Hat.
I dig your hat. What’s the story on that thing?
“This route we’re talking about, right on the Oklahoma-Arkansas line is actually where I found my first Stetson. I saved up all my money from a tour when I was 22. On my way home, I walked into Tip Top Western Wear in Fort Smith, AR and there it was. The Catera, Gun Club edition. I still wear it on nearly every trek out, because it reminds me of the hard work I’ve put myself through to get to where I want to be today.”
“This hat has been with me from the national spotlight of NBC’s The Voice, to the throes of a rainy truck-stop-night outside of Denver, Colorado after a late dive bar gig. It’s seen it all. My Stetson represent empowerment and independence. It represents the importance of never forgetting who I truly am.”
Grace tours across the country alone in her Ford F350 diesel truck, Wanda. Wanda is a beast.
“Constantly traveling fuels my creativity, and the storytelling in my songs tends to reflects that.”
“This has been my process for years, but in late 2017 I felt the need for change. I wanted something more – something bigger than myself. A way to take things to next level. So began the 365 Songwriting Challenge.”
What is the 365 Songwriting Challenge?
“The 365 Songwriting Challenge is a self-prescribed, self-created DAILY songwriting challenge that I began on January 1, 2018 and haven’t stopped doing since,…that includes a daily LIVE performance of the song of the day on both my Instagram and Facebook pages. Once I reached day 365, I decided to keep going and I pushed the goal to 500 songs in 500 days. As of today, I’m in year 2 of a daily song performance – day 412.”
“I feel so lucky to be an artist in this day and age with the advent of platforms like Instagram and live streaming. With the help of deeply trusted friends, family and fans, a completely unique success can be carved out on my own terms. No middle man.”
“As a result of my creating a new song every single day, even while on tour, other artists began reaching out and wanting to tap into their creativity more. I began to realize what a deep need there is, in all walks of life, for the wisdom to know how to tap into self-expression and the courage to put it out into the world.”
“I wanted to foster a safe place, a haven for my fellow creatives to come and be heard and share what they too were working on – thusly forming the 365 Tribe, or as we put it on Instagram #365Tribe.”
What’s the 365 Tribe?
“We are a group of creatives who CHOOSE to show up for our creativity, every single day, NO MATTER WHAT. Because we love to do it. It is a safe place, a community, for creatives of ALL mediums to be heard and seen and to express their dreams, fears, and struggles with their peers.”
You’ve coined the term Creativity Activist. Could you elaborate on that?
“A creativity activist is someone who understands that in order to nourish and feed the seed of all creative endeavors, you MUST SHOW UP for it, every single day. No matter what. Art is never frivolous. Art is never a burden.”
“Human expression is a necessary part of the human experience because it unites and elevates our stories, and we are all storytellers. We all have something to say that needs to be heard.”
You’re sitting on hundreds of new songs. Where do you take it from here?
“I am in the process of cutting “Volume 1” of a four-part album series. It’s all being recorded at my home studio, Tumbleweed Ranch, in Eads, TN. I’m sifting through the best songs of each of the 4 seasons of the 365 challenge and releasing each album alongside photo books of images from my travels and the lyrics that were inspired by all the miles. Next step is the Tumbleweed Retreat – a fully-immersive songwriter’s retreat at Tumbleweed Ranch. I want to help other emerging artist find their creative focus, courage, and clarity and give them tools to continue on their journey in an authentic way.”