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Interview: Ashnikko, 8 April 2023

This last Saturday morning, two of our 95bFM team headed to the Cordis Hotel to speak to Ashton Nicole Casey, also known as Ashnikko, a rising star in the hyperpop and TikTok pop sphere. Ashnikko was in Tāmaki Makaurau for the last leg of their DEMIDEVIL tour. Just days previously, the artist had released ‘WEEDKILLER’, the titular track off of their new album, to much hype across the internet. Stella and Molly spoke to Ashnikko about their experiences touring and what fans could expect from the new release. 

The first two singles released from WEEDKILLER (out June 2), ‘Worms’ and ‘You Make Me Sick!’, herald a development in Ashnikko’s sonic and visual aesthetic. Released in March, the singles' production styles and lyrics have far heavier apocalyptic overtones than previous works. Stella asked whether WEEDKILLER marks a turn from Ashnikko’s more autobiographical lyrical style and if the new album draws upon experiences outside of this realm: 

“Much of what I write is autobiographical…(but) I dramatise a lot”. Ashnikko emphasised that whilst the inspiration behind this album still comes from personal experiences, this was an opportunity to work more with hyperbole. For example, ‘Super Soaker’ draws upon being trapped inside a fairy circle and being trapped under a person’s spell. The experience of being so entrapped by another person’s allure that you would do anything for them.

Molly asks about the hallmark hecticness of Ashnikko’s instrumentals. Even from ‘Hi, It’s Me’, they established a hard sound woven into more delicate melodies. So, where does that sound design come from? Ashnikko describes themself as a “backseat producer” but raves about the “musical wizard” that is their producer Raf Riley. “I know what I want.”

The throughline in WEEDKILLER is a strong narrative - Ashnikko told Stella and Molly they were inspired by writing science fiction short stories and that she’s writing a graphic novel to accompany the new album. 

The project's narrative begins with an ecological system on a fictional planet, where a beautiful forest is populated by “feys” (fairy-like beings). Disaster strikes when AI-controlled machines (the weedkillers) arrive and begin eating the planet, very much reflected in the cover art. Ashnikko says, “(The) Weedkiller represents a lot of enemies.” 

Their prose influences include Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman, the Sandman graphic novel being a stand-out in their catalogue of favourites. WEEDKILLER is an offshoot of such thinking, inspired by the world-building abilities of such creators. They’ve taken inspiration from the Dune soundtrack, making the sound design for the most recent album cinematic in scale. And their unique sound design has continued even while on tour- Ashnikko talks of recording birdsong during a days-long hike in Japan between shows.

These influences are apparent in the central nature of the production style of WEEDKILLER. Riley’s use of percussion is much more spacious than in previous Ashnikko collaborations - think UMRU with a trap spin. The titular track, ‘WEEDKILLER’, utilises gunfire samples over powerful kickdrums (a nice touch including a bullet shell falling from the chamber of the gun). 

Think industrial bass a la UMRU with a trap spin. Ashnikko’s vocal style on Weed Killer is closer to a heavy metal death growl than previous works, harking back to her version of 'Cry', released a few years ago, where she learns from Employed to Serve in a very sweet video session. 

Ashnikko grew up reading lots of science fiction but also writing a little bit of fanfiction (we don’t talk about that, though). The new album's premise fits inside a larger narrative that will be explored in subsequent releases. So, listeners might not immediately grasp this narrative from this most recent release, but it will become clear as more work comes out. Look out also for the accompanying graphic novel!

And what insect would Ashnikko be if they had the chance? It’s a line call, but something that flies- more gnarly than a butterfly. At the suggestion of a large native moth from Aotearoa, they seem enthused. “[I would] definitely be a moth. In New Zealand.”