Ashley McBryde's new album Never Will is full of ghosts — but it's far from haunted. And as McBryde releases the follow-up to her Grammy-nominated Girl Going Nowhere, the plan doesn't quite look like the team envisioned at the start of the year.

Yet now more than ever, McBryde's special brand of musical therapy might be exactly what people need. Never Will certainly became the album McBryde needed to make for herself.

"All of this would rub my grandmother the wrong way," the singer-songwriter tells Taste of Country.

The child of a strict and deeply religious family, Ashley McBryde has endured deep personal tragedy since her long-overdue ascent beginning in 2016. In June 2018, McBryde lost her older brother, Clay, to suicide. She also learned of her father's terminal illness. Only a few months later, she lost her friend and co-writer, Randall Clay.

"I think half of the songs I've ever written I wrote with Randall," McBryde says.

Her losses manifest themselves across Never Will in both expected and unexpected ways. There is, of course, a touching tribute to her brother called "Stone." The band cut the song on his birthday, and McBryde had everybody look at pictures of him while recording.

But then there's also "Shut Up, Sheila," a song written by Nicolette Hayford and Charles Chisholm that basically tells off an overtly religious character named Sheila who urges folks to grieve the same way she does. It was a song that resonated with McBryde on several levels.

"Yeah, the same girl that wrote 'Bible and a .44' is now willing to look at you and scream, 'We don't sing 'Amazing Grace,' we don't read from the bible, we just go about letting go in our own way,'" McBryde says. "That comes from a few places — I do sing 'Amazing Grace,' but when we lost my brother, that's not where my head was. It's ok to stick your fist in the air and and go, 'I'm sorry I just do this in my own way.' The only time there's ever a problem is when you try to make somebody grieve the same was as you."

Ashley McBryde Opens Up About Her Late Brother

The final song on the album, "Styrofoam," is basically the extra Southern version of "Red Solo Cup" (albeit much more scientific), but its presence on the record carries sentimental undertones. McBryde wanted dearly to get a song from the late Randall Clay on the album, but the three best candidates at the time just didn't quite fit the rest of Never Will.

So, assuming producer Jay Joyce would never go for it, McBryde busted out Clay's solo write, "Styrofoam."

"I knew [Joyce] would say it was very well-written and very silly and we're not doing it," she says, laughing. "But he said, 'Absolutely we're doing it.'" It's a perfectly enjoyable song made all that more meaningful.

And while McBryde exorcised some former demons with the success of "Girl Goin' Nowhere," Never Will title track "I Never Will" shows she's not fully read to leave those former detractors in the past.

"We didn't mean to write it as the sequel to 'Girl Going Nowhere,' but it just kind of came out that way,'" she says. "The same people who said I was a girl going nowhere, as soon as I started playing in bars they said, 'Well those are just bars.' And then as soon as I had some success, they said, 'Well I bet she turned into an a--hole.' And then when I had even more success, they said, 'It's all going to go to your head.'"

Then of course there are the murderous "Martha Divine" and the eerie rocker "Voodoo Doll," which McBryde and a troupe of songwriters on retreat actually wrote on the same night as "Sparrow," if you can believe it. All songs that deal with their own special form of grief and longing.

So what should you do if you can't channel your grief into art? "Nashville is a creative community that is really muzzled right now," McBryde says. "But I think my answer to that is the same for somebody who has experienced loss — help somebody else."

"It took me awhile to figure that out," she explains. "I would get really into my head about losing my brother. Of course I'm in therapy — of course I have a counselor. But when was the last time I counseled someone else?"

With Never Will coming out during a time of isolation, uncertainty and loss, McBryde might just be counseling quite a few more people than she knows.

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