A year ago, Ashni Davé quit her job and moved to Queens. It’s every artist’s biggest dream and greatest fear, foregoing steady employment to pursue a passion. As risky as it sounded, though, Davé knew it was something she had to do.
“I realized if I didn’t try now then I would regret it later. That sort of trumped the fear of doing it and failing, which was what held me back throughout my life,” said Davé. “And I sort of knew I wanted to do this since I was five: It was just a matter of admitting it to myself.”
Davé grew up in the Hudson Valley and had a connection with Vassar as a child, attending SASA Fest with her sister Shivani Davé ’15 every year to perform. She went to Brandeis University, where she got her B.S. in policy and biology. It was there where she started working on the songs that would make up her EP “Mask,” which she released in January.
“They started as simple piano-vocal songs I wrote, most of them in college. I agreed to do a demo-type deal right after school, so it started as a really simple project. But when I decided to pursue music full time, I latched onto this project and started working toward it full-force,” Davé explained. Davé said making the commitment to putting out an EP inspired her to experiment with different sounds and styles. The effect is a collection of four songs that are distinct yet cohesive, providing the listener with an emotional and musical arc.
The first eponymous track “Mask” begins with recurring and haunting “ahs,” setting the tone for what’s to come. Following is “Hot Neck,” a slower song that feels like “Mask’s” postscript, “Let Me,” a moody and soulful track, and finally “Miss You,” a melodic ballad offering emotional respite.
“At first I wasn’t sure where each one was going, but as I added to it I realized, for example, I wanted one song to be more electronic or dark, one to be a ballad, one to be acoustic. It was about the emotion behind each song and the musical interpretation behind it,” she said. Originally Davé said she intended to have seven songs on “Mask,” but she ended up deciding to cut three of them. “I wasn’t happy with the direction they were going and I could hear that in the songs. So I settled on these four and I ordered them according to emotion and musicality.”
Davé showcases most of her material at the same few venues, having carved out a niche for herself in the cutthroat music scene of New York City.
She said, “I’ve developed relationships with the booker, sound guys and bartenders. You know the room, and you get a feeling for what the sound is in the room. My favorite venue to play is Rockwood because the sound is excellent and they really care about the artist and have just been the best to work with. The rest is trial and error: You try different venues, you get a feel for what the crowd is like.”
Having previously performed at her own alma mater, Davé said she’s excited to play a show at a college again. “I’m super excited. I think it’ll be a lot of fun to play for college students. It’s a different vibe when it’s a small campus and I remember college shows being a blast.”
Though “Mask” has only been out for a few months, Davé is already looking forward to her next project. This time, she said, she’ll have more experience under her belt. “I’m always writing new material and thinking about how I want to go about developing my sound for both the live setting and for an album, and I definitely want to do a longer album. I’m still thinking about what I want the aesthetic to be,” she said. “I’m still learning all the time.”