From 'Sass Pancakes' to 'Hi, It’s Me', the 23-year-old has been on a journey from angsty teen to empowered "working bitch". She talks to HUNGER about music as therapy and her development as an artist.
“I’m always making noise,” says Ashnikko, laughing. “But this year I’m hoping to just be as loud as possible.” Ashnikko is dancing around the HUNGER studio and screaming “Can you fucking hear me?” at the top of her lungs, with her lyrics, “Stupid boy thinks that I need him”, blasting from the speakers.
“I wrote it after a break-up when I felt like, ‘This is it. I am just so fucking sick of men having any control over me, it makes me physically ill. I want to be entirely in control of my own career and my own life,’ and so I wrote those songs. I am really proud of this project, and it feels like me.”
Born in North Carolina and raised in Latvia, she started her career as a rapper very young. She’s said in the past that forging a career in music as a young woman surrounded by sexist attitudes in Estonia was hard. Hard is an understatement. She received regular death threats. At 18 she moved to London.
Ashnikko’s tastes and influences have evolved: “From the ages of 18 to 23, you just change so much. I think about Sass Pancakes as an embarrassing teenage phase. But I’m still proud of it. I think of her fondly, like a cute little sister.” For a fanbase who have watched her grow from song to song, that intimacy is vital. In fact, Ashnikko cares so much about her fans she put her actual phone number on billboards as a hotline, telling them to call her instead of their exes. Her internet presence is major, with lyrics turning into memes and full-on movements. “Dick tastes like Yankee Candle” spurred a whole merch collection of penis-shaped tentacle candles into existence (in collaboration with illustrator Venus Libido), as well as an entire Twitter following begging to find out just which scent she was, in fact, describing (Alfresco Afternoon, if you must know).
Ashnikko’s upbringing was tumultuous, and definitely identity-forming. “I think it was loneliness that probably forced me into making music.” Now based in London, she looks back at her time in Riga and says that she and her brother were bullied and misunderstood. Her formative years at school were “a very lonely process”. But from this sadness sprung opportunity and inspiration, mostly thanks to a Hello Kitty-sticker-clad pink iPod Nano: “It was a sick device, iconic. My aunt downloaded “Bucky Done Gun” by M.I.A. onto it, and I just lost my shit, I lost my actual mind. Arular changed my life. I just felt so much power, confidence running through my body like an electric current.”
After discovering that music could affect people in such a poignant way, Ashnikko started to make her own. “I think I just made music to gain some sort of confidence boost then. That’s why I find it really hard to write sad songs because music for me is therapy.” This is true for both the musician and listeners. Ashnikko creates conversations with her lyrics that can have an impact on whoever is taking them in. “Invitation” was crucial in opening up the dialogue surrounding sexual assault. “I didn’t want it to be one of those ‘socially-conscious’ songs,” she says. “I wanted it to be an informative song, but a song that people could dance to and feel some sort of emotion about. I wanted to make a song that people could scream along to.” Vocalising the everyday misogyny and fear women suffer, it seems to encompass the anger and pain of a thousand victims, giving them a space to be angry, but also hope to feel less alone.
“I get especially triggered when the media talks about rape cases. All over the world, women are telling their stories and saying, ‘Please believe me, you disgusting pieces of shit, this is my experience, this is how it is for all of us. We all get harassed’ and nobody seems to believe us? And that just makes me want to scream, “Can you hear me? Can you hear us? Are you blocking your ears on purpose?’ That makes me so mad. I’ve been very angry the past few days about this in particular. I’m so fucking mad. I’m really angry that, for some reason, the right-wing are starting to gain power again.”
What does sound mean to you?
It makes you feel something in a weird space in your chest. I just found a Ty Dolla $ign song yesterday, and it just hit me in that heart space. Sound can evoke so much.
Who would you like to hear less of?
I’d like to hear less men talking about vagina-owning-people’s reproductive rights, that’s it. I don’t want to hear it anymore. Not one bit, not one word. Get out.
Who would you like to hear more of?
I want to hear more queer artists in the mainstream.
Are you a listener or a talker?
Oh, I’m a talker, obviously. I’ve been talking your fucking ears off. I talk all the time. I think I should listen more, I’m so bad at that. I don’t know, I’m a dickhead but I’m working on it, you know? I’m working on listening, but I love to talk.
What sound brings you comfort?
I’m just trying to think of something witty, but I don’t know. ASMR, I love ASMR. I’m crazy, but it’s truly a wonderful experience for me.
What sound makes your skin crawl?
The sound of men talking about vagina-owning-people’s reproductive rights and just their rights in general. I hate that sound, it makes my skin crawl and it makes me so livid.
If Donald Trump was a sound, what would it be?
A really wet fart, like a shart. Donald Trump is a shart on a hot day. He’s golfing in 100-degree weather and he just sharts his pants and that’s the sound. I wish him nothing but sharts his whole life. In really important moments I want Donald Trump to shart his pants during sex, during speeches, in meetings. His whole life, I want him to always shart his pants, I hate him.
Your headphones are in, what are you listening to?
Probably that Ty Dolla $ign song that I found the other day. He has such a sexy voice, oh my God. What else? Oh, the Banks album, because it’s great, or my own songs because I’m a narcissist, and I listen to them over and over again until I hate them.
What do you think has been the most powerful movement this year so far?
#Me Too and Extinction Rebellion probably. Extinction Rebellion because we’ve all got to live on this planet. I think it’s very important that we preserve our beautiful Earth so that we can all continue to live on it. What’s this about Boris Johnson voting against a climate change bill or something? What the fuck? It’s insane. We’ve just had the hottest day on record in the UK. That’s wild. In our daily lives, I feel like maybe we don’t ever really see, because we live in cities, and it’s kept away from us, but it’s really bad. I went to a nature reserve in Namibia like two years ago, and the way we treat wildlife and nature is fucking ridiculous. It’s gross. Anyway, I’m sorry, I can talk for a hundred years so you just gotta cut me off at some point.
Ashnikko’s latest video, for track “Working Bitch” is out today. You can check it out here.
3 December 2019