By: Estella Pan
|(l to r): Seth, Justin, Phillip, Jonathon, and Ashley
Forty5 South is comprised of five all-around talented
guys – Ashley Bowers (lead vocals/acoustic guitar), Seth Gordon (bass guitar), Johnathon King (percussion), Phillip
Lemming (background vocals/rhythm guitar), and Justin Tapley (background vocals/lead guitar) – all of whom hail from
Jackson, Tennessee. Don’t mistake youth for naivete: though all are in their twenties, these are five of the most dedicated
individuals I've seen in the country music industry! Their namesake is the highway that runs through their hometown. Ashley,
who phoned in for our interview, says they ultimately chose the name because "we wanted to stick to our roots and have more
of a hometown name with us. I can't remember whose idea it was but we all liked it." Ashley, Jonathon, and Seth attended the
same high school, while Phillip and Justin had played in various bands together. After an Open Mic Night in Jackson, Ashley
says, "Justin and I met there; I thought he was a great guitar player, so I told him I was putting a country band together.
Pretty soon, there were five of us and here we are three years later."
Now, Forty5 South is well on their way to crusin'
into the Top 40 with their current single "I've Been There Too." Ashley is the solo writer on the emotion-charged ballad,
and he says the song is really "a picture painting of the relationship I have with my dad. My father's still alive, though,
but that's where the inspiration came from. I wrote it in less than thirty minutes." Noticing that he also wrote the majority
of Forty5 South's current album We're Country So We Can, (and their debut project Too Much Too Fast as well),
I was curious as to when he began writing songs. Ashley says, "I was probably nineteen or twenty before I actually had enough
confidence to write songs. The more I got into it, the more I liked it. After I got the first two or three songs out of me,
it started becoming more natural." Of the tunes he's written, does he have a favorite? "Probably 'A Mile Away.' That one right
there is 100% from personal experience."
|Forty5 South with Bret Michaels
One of the biggest career thrills for Forty5 South
(so far) has been working with Bret Michaels on their current album. Ashley raves about the former Poison frontman: "He's
a very cool guy, very laid back. He knows the ropes – he's been in the business for over twenty years. I was intimidated
when we first got in the studio to work with him and when I first met him, just because he'd done so much. First thing he
said was, 'Hey, I'm not here to make this project something it's not. I'm just here to make it the best we can for you guys.'
To me, that really meant a lot, because I've seen so many projects go in as one thing and come out 180 degrees from what it
went in as. That's the one thing I didn't want to happened; I wanted us to make a record that we could feel confident about,
and that's what we got." Bret actually pulls multiple duties on Forty5 South's album – he has producing credits on the
project; he also sings with the guys on the title cut "We're Country So We Can" (he also directed AND made a cameo appearance
in the video for the single). Ashley reflects on the experience of their very first video shoot, "We had a blast!! It was
really, really fun! We were all nervous and shy toward the cameras [at first], but we got used to it. Bret did a great job
directing; he's directed movies before, so he knew what he was doing there, too!"
So, which album is better, in Ashley's
opinion? [NOTE: Too Much Too Fast was released in 2002] "I'm not saying that the second one is better than the first
one. But, I feel like the band, as a whole, has matured so much [since] the first album." The obvious logic to this would
be that "we had almost two and a half years more experience going into the second album than we did the first one." Having
been in this band for the last three years, I wanted to know if Ashley had ever considered a solo career. "Before I got this
band together, yes, because that's just how I thought it would work out. But, being in a band is really cool! These guys are
my buddies; we're a family, and I wouldn't trade anything in the world for that! We're all in this together and giving 100%;
they all want it just as bad as I do."
These guys are not only passionate about their music career; they are equally
as faithful to meeting their fans as well. According to Ashley, "I think it's very important to try and make contacts with
every single fan out there. They're the ones that make or break you. To me, it's very important to do that. Every time we
have a show, we hang out to shake hands and sign autographs, because I think it's very important to realize how important
they are. Without them, we wouldn’t have our song on the radio. We wouldn't have made even our first album if it weren't
for our fans." [NOTE: Visit Forty5 South's official website and you'll find journal entries posted by members of the band.
The guys also post on their messageboard every now and then.]
When asked to share something interesting about himself
and his bandmates, Ashley enthusiastically quips, "This is gonna be fun!" He starts with Seth. "[He] is the baby of the group.
He's only 22, so I don't have any dirt on him yet." About Johnathon, he offers, "He is definitely the prankster! But actually,
he doesn't just play pranks on us. He usually does things to himself on accident! He's a very cool guy – probably one
of the best drummers I've seen in my life. But, he's bad news waiting to happen!" He elaborates, "One time he locked himself
in the bathroom bus for like four hours; nobody could figure out how to get him out! He'll fall out of his bunk – he
rolls around in his sleep really bad – or he'll lock himself in his hotel room somehow." I also learned that Justin
has a degree in graphic design and does a lot of the band's artwork, including album designs. Finally, something interesting
about Ashley? He pensively replies, "I'm not sure." However, the band's publicist informs me that "Ashley is a diesel mechanic
so he can also work on the bus, and he has before when it has been broken down." In addition, "at least 3 band members can
drive the bus. Forty5 South has literally criss-crossed the entire country over the last twelve months, and they were driving
their own bus for most of the thousands of miles."
I've certainly had the "ride" of my life with this interview! Next
time you're at your local music store, make sure to pick up copies of Forty5 South's albums! (Or, if you'd preferred not to
leave the comfort of your home, you can hop onto the guys' website and purchase copies there.)