By: Alyssa Bardol –
Accomplished guitarist Ashlee Juno, who acted as the touring guitarist for Fifth Harmony’s “7/27 Tour”, and now as Camila Cabello’s touring guitarist on Bruno Mars’ ongoing “24K Magic World Tour”, she has a fascinating story to tell.
In our new interview, Juno opens up about the feeling when she first picked up a guitar, the first song she learned, her humble beginnings in Chicago, and being on one of the hottest tours of the summer.
Last time you were in Missouri was last fall with Fifth Harmony, playing for a considerably smaller audience than you’ll be playing for tonight (Aug. 9th) at the Sprint Center! How have things changed in the last year for you and your career?
What’s interesting is that behind closed doors, nothing has changed. I have been doing the same thing I’ve been doing for the past seven years: working hard and practicing a lot in hopes to be ready for any opportunities that come my way. And with that, more opportunities keep coming because of the same thing I have always done in trying to stay prepared and ready for every opportunity that comes my way.
At what age did you first pick up a guitar and what inspired you to do so?
I picked up at the guitar at the age of 22, which is really late. A lot of people come from musical backgrounds, but I had a different journey. I was a social worker working with teenagers who were addicted to drugs, trying to help them get back on their feet and get back into society. One of my clients was a 15-year-old heroin addict who just loved playing guitar. I used the guitar as a way to connect with him like, “Why don’t you show me a couple of chords and we can exchange information? I’ll help you, and you help me.” I had no idea it would completely change my life. That was about seven years ago, and I have been playing everyday since he showed me those chords. It sparked a fire, and I haven’t been able to put it out since…. And I don’t know that I want to!
What song were you first impressed with yourself for playing?
Purple Haze! Everyone knows the intro to that song, so the first time my hands could make that sound, I was really impressed.
When did the transition from guitar playing being a hobby, to something you dedicate yourself to as a career happen?
It was about three years after I started playing. I would wake up early, I would stay up late, I would play on my lunch break… My coworkers used to always joke with me saying “girl, you’ve gotta eat!” And all I wanted to do was play! I just loved it so much, and I fell in love with it. After a while, it felt like work was getting in the way of me playing, and I didn’t like that idea. There are the things you’re supposed to be doing, and the things that you want to be doing… So, what if the things I wanted to be doing were the things I was supposed to be doing?
After doing some more research, I saw that two of my favorite musicians, John Mayer and Quincy Jones, went to Berklee College of Music. I thought, “well shoot, if they went to Berklee College of Music, I want to go to Berklee College of Music!” I had no idea that you had to actually know what you were doing to go to that school! I started googling things and started learning different concepts that were part of the audition requirements. I didn’t tell anyone I was going to audition because I didn’t think I was going to get in, but I auditioned, I got in, and then I decided I belonged onstage. After leaving, I started posting videos online instead of just playing in my room. When people started commenting and the videos started to go viral, I thought I might be onto something, and the rest is history. I got a call to go on tour, and the calls kept coming.
How did your upbringing, such as family life and growing up in Chicago, shape you into who you are today?
I actually come from very humble beginnings. My mom worked so hard to provide for me and my siblings; she was a single mom and we never had much. I think that when you come from the mentality of day-to-day survival, you don’t have the capacity to dream. You’re just trying to survive and focus on what’s in front of you. I think, in a way, discovering music and the guitar was the first time I experienced passion. Coming from that survival instinct and passionate nature is a lethal combination. Anyone who can balance those two things can do anything. Surviving is a desire to live. You want to make it to the next day. If you take that principle and apply it to what you’re working toward, it’s like, “I have to get this. If I don’t sleep, if I don’t eat, if I don’t get to hang out, I have to get this because there’s no other option. There’s no plan B, there’s no tomorrow, there’s just now.” Coming from those situations that forced me to either thrive or get left behind. It made me tough, it made me resilient, and it gave me a backbone. I am either going to die, or I’m going to get it. I’m not going to quit.
Now that you play for such large audiences on an international scale, what does your typical gear set up look like?
I don’t over complicate my gear. Right now, I’m using the Kemper Profiling Amp. I absolutely love it. I come from individual pedals which can be a pain because if one component goes wrong, the whole board doesn’t work and you have to troubleshoot all of that. The thing I love about the Kemper is that it’s very consistent, and in every room, it sounds the exact same. I know when I hit the button what kind of tone I’m going to get before even playing, and as for guitars, I am a Fender Strat girl! I love them and have more of them than I need. I also play Taylor 812CEs and 612CEs.
Being on tour with Bruno Mars to accompany Camila Cabello must be incredible. What’s your favorite tour memory so far?
Honestly, one of my favorite memories so far has been going to Walmart. After a couple shows, we’ve gone and every time we go, I think we’re going to get kicked out! We’re riding in the carts, we’re on the little kids’ bikes, we’re on the pogo sticks… Just random fun. We have found the balance of having the serious responsibility of being onstage every night, but coming offstage to be a family that genuinely enjoys each other’s company. We have so much fun together and that translates onstage.
What does your typical day on the tour look like?
A typical day does not exist because no two days look the same. Every day there is some new kind of something, but typically, we don’t sleep. We stay up way too late. We eat cookies at 3 AM even though we should not be doing that. Mostly, we prepare for the show. We have catering, soundcheck, makeup, and sometimes camera crews follow us around to get the behind the scenes shots. Truthfully though, no two days look the same.
I wake up early and work out and practice guitar a couple of hours before I even see anyone. I like to take care of myself. My mental health, my physical health, my spiritual health… And still practice. I probably practice more now than ever because I take this responsibility very seriously. As a musician, your job is to support the artist and help create the atmosphere. I want to do whatever I can to contribute to that.
What is your opinion on the gender gap in the music industry?
I haven’t put much thought into that, but there are cultural norms in everything, and in general, music has been traditionally a male dominated field. Those limits are in our minds. I think anyone can do anything, male or female. I don’t think of myself as a female guitarist… I just think of myself as a guitarist. Girls can do anything guys can do, guys can do anything girls can do, and may the best man win.
Last but not least, what advice do you have for young girls with the desire to pursue their dreams of being in the music industry?
Build your craft when no one’s watching and grind with integrity. Everything else, like networking and showing off your work, is just the icing on the cake. The foundation is being a hardworker. I have been grinding for years now, and it brings me to tears to see that it’s actually paying off. I always felt like I was the person that would go the extra mile, and that’s a very lonely road sometimes. Of course you want to go hang out and go do this or that, but I “missed out” on a lot of things to stay true to my craft. Whatever you want, you can do it, but you just have to be willing to put in the work. You cannot compete with the best in the world if you haven’t put in the work that they have.