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Ashley Cooke Dumps a Cheater, and Stakes Out Her Own Artistic Turf, With ‘Your Place’

Mr. Nimbus | 12/21/2023

Some of the most important learning experiences happen outside of the classroom, in a school of life where people trade hearts and dreams and bodies — and find out that not everyone deserves those gifts.

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Ashley Cooke knows more about the school of romantic hard knocks than she prefers.

“As a young person growing up and falling in and out of love — and what you think is love, and what actually isn’t love — I think it’s easy to get so caught up in it,” she says. “I put up with a lot of stuff in different relationships that, if you listened to my whole debut album, it’s a lot about relationships and about toxicity.”

Shot in the Dark, which Big Loud released July 21, amasses two dozen songs in that general vein. One of those tracks — “Never Til Now,” featuring a guest appearance by Brett Young— earned Cooke her first gold award from the RIAA on Dec. 5. But “Your Place,” inspired by a major disappointment, has real potential at becoming her first radio hit. It boasts an easy, singalong hook; the kind of lyrical flip that historically plays well in country; and an innate believability, thanks to its connection to one of her harshest real-world lessons.

Cooke dumped a boyfriend when she discovered he had cheated on her, and even though she was definite about closing that particular door, he kept pestering her about maybe getting back together. Cooke had a hook, “It ain’t your place,” logged into the “note graveyard” — as she calls it — on her phone, and the idea lined up perfectly with the boundary-drawing abilities that she was developing.

“You basically kind of regain your power,” she observes, “by saying, ‘Hey, you know, you don’t get to know those things anymore. You’re the reason this thing broke. You should already know that this isn’t your place anymore.’”

“Your Place” was the first idea she offered during a co-write with Jordan Minton (“Best Thing Since Backroads”) at the Nashville studio of songwriter Mark Trussell (“Good Time”) on Aug. 16, 2022. It was that rare moment when an idea was immediately obvious, but surprisingly untapped.

“It felt like something that we hadn’t heard before,” says Minton. “But also we could see the road map for the whole song when she said it.”

Cooke had a melody in mind even before she introduced the idea, so when they buckled down, starting with the chorus, Trussell began developing a chord progression beneath the topline. The passage never quite resolved, moving from the four chord through six-minor, five and the one, though Trussell played a different note on bass, keeping the sound unsettled. Played on acoustic guitar, it sounded unintentionally like it derived from 1990s alt-rock. “I liked the emotional intensity of those chords,” Trussell says.

The chorus started with three half beats — “It ain’t your…” — before Cooke found her “place” on the downbeat of the measure, leading the singer from a hazy uncertainty into defined firmness. Thus, “Your Place” melodically mirrored the lesson the song embodied.

“It has a little runway into it,” observes Minton. “It makes the whole chorus feel more conversational. She’s not belting the melody out. It’s a very kind of subdued, conversational melody, which makes it just felt like she was talking to the person.”

When they attacked the opening verse, they populated the story with loads of furniture — both songwriter “furniture” (physical objects that create a sense of scenery) and literal furniture. They included a spare key to the guy’s front door, a Jeep in the driveway, a toothbrush on the bathroom sink and a whole neighborhood reference: “Haven’t been to your side of town in weeks.” It ranged from the intimate lavatory to the larger community, those details strengthening the double meaning when she scolds the guy at the chorus: “It ain’t your place.”

Verse two shifted from objects to behaviors, with the singer warning her ex to stop reaching out to her family or to her, because, of course, “it ain’t your place.”

Finally, they fashioned a bridge, determining that they needed to reinforce the song’s message a little more strongly. Cooke wanted to do something with the cliché “You made your bed, now lie in it,” and they batted around ideas for a bit until Minton blurted out the solution: “You made your bed, and I ain’t sleeping in it.” In addition to emphasizing the song’s message, it served a full-circle function, returning to the literal furniture concept from the opening verse.

“The bed is just even closer zoomed in to that same point, ‘I’m not staying at your place,’ ” Trussell says. “Sometimes on a bridge, you want to say something different. And sometimes in a bridge, there’s not something else to say, but maybe you can say it in a more cutting way or a deeper way. In this case, I guess it is a little bit more cutting because it’s more zoomed in.”

Trussell developed a demo with several guitars, a simple drum part and an atmospheric keyboard —  a spare production that showcased the crafty lyrics but wasn’t particularly hooky. Many members of the team weren’t immediately enthusiastic about it, but as Cooke piled up tracks for the album, she kept insisting “Your Place” was important. She finally cut it during the last session for the project, on Nov. 14, 2022, at Nashville’s Ocean Way.

Producer Jimmy Robbins (Kelsea Ballerini, Maddie & Tae) endeavored to keep the final recording pared back, much like the demo, pulling it together while fighting a bad case of food poisoning. “It was horrible,” he recalls.

Drummer Nir Z, bassist Jimmie Lee Sloas, guitarists Kris Donegan and Ilya Toshinskiy, and keyboardist David Dorn used tremolo tones and pulsing parts to create a sense of movement without distracting from the message. They increased in intensity at just the right moments to enhance the song’s development.

“There’s not a ton of tracks on the record, but there’s enough there that the chorus lifts and kind of helps you feel the dynamic change,” says Robbins. “It’s not a super-rangy song where the range does all that work for you.”

Cooke recorded her vocal at Robbins’ place in one of the first sessions he held after moving to a new location. “She’s so good on the mic, and gets everything she needs to so efficiently,” Robbins says. “But this one in particular, I think we did, top to bottom, like probably three or four takes and probably most of it was the third take. She’s very good.”

Big Loud released “Your Place” to country radio via PlayMPE on Oct. 29, setting Dec. 11 as the official add date. It’s been satisfying on both a creative level and on a personal one.

“In a weird way, writing ‘Your Place’ was kind of my line in the sand of ‘Hey, I’m going to turn a new leaf and not deal with those kinds of relationships anymore,’ ” she says. “Singing that song every night on my headline tour, you feel that power kind of being put back into who you are and your worth and your respect for yourself. And it’s cool to see people in the crowd also responding to that.” 

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Written by Mr. Nimbus




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