Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley and Shawn Biggs
This isn't about the physicality of a person, because looks and appearances shouldn't have any bearing on music. Shouldn't is the operative word. With that said, everything about Ash Reiter is understated upon first glance. She was shy around us strangers, hushed and tentative when she arrived for a visit in San Francisco, where she was staying with her mother at the end of February during the time when we were there recording sessions during the Noise Pop festival. Reiter was one of those people not playing the festival that we felt deserved some tape. She walked in with her guitar and a calm look - just comfortable clothing, nothing that said she was a songwriter. There were no eccentricities to speak of - just a regularly fitting pair of jeans (who does that??), a ruby red shirt and a small, but noble pendant hanging from her neck.
Her soft face looked as if, during her earlier childhood years, that it could have contained a couple archipelagos of freckles - one on each cheek - that probably invited pinches from older ladies and gents who smelled like the Great Depression and cigarettes. She had/has hair that could have either been redder or blonder depending on the degrees and exposure in direct sunlight. She looked to have been genuinely happy - probably no matter what, no matter when.
Then she has a beer - pretty sure she had a beer. She starts singing and that's when you've got to realize that she's been illuminated, a few times over. She's done most of it herself and when she does, we'll do the shaking - of our heads and of our skin, almost eerily right from its glue. She's given herself all the permission she needs to just retreat into beliefs that she can gain something from, not be taken by. She's allowed herself to think about things in a manner that is a little more spectacular than most - led by her curiosity and what seem to be listening skills to be envied. She's gained knowledge from those who have seen more days, been amazed by what they believe in - blessed waters and guardian angels - and then made those thoughts and her own roommates in songs.
She took the time to get to know her friend's grandmother, hearing her speak about all of the miracles that she'd claimed to have seen with her own eyes - owing them to certain angels, of names that get directories of Catholic churches and schools named for them - and had the inclination to later offer this line in a song about the conversation or what she gleaned from it, "I've seen stars cut down to sparks and I have watched the angels tear the world apart," making it her own. She allows doubt not only to creep in, but to take its shoes off and enjoy a nap on the couch in her sun room. She might even feed doubt when it wakes up - lemonade and cornbread or something else just as nice as a seeing its way to the door snack.
To suggest that she's seen angels tear a world apart is not par for the course. It's an extension of something very analytical and probably more right. It's an idea that could be supported by those gardeners and landscape artists who know the value in controlled burning to bring back native grasses and plants to an area that they've been ripped from. The complete, fiery destruction of the land can and will lead to invigorated growth and rebirth. Maybe that's what those angels are doing.
Reiter sometimes assumes that there is no ground control - a bird flying all day and night looking for a place to rest, no answers for the angels and their ways. Her voice holds likes a candle that sometimes catches a gust from a breeze - thrushing a couple of times with some flapping sounds as it passes - and then gets strong and orange again, standing erect and pointing toward the sky. She has a talent for being open to opening up and for just letting everything in through the windows to orbit around the bright bulbs or turn around and leave the way it came. She gets the experience and she dines.