At first glance, Electro Pop group Beauty in The Breakdown is a funky, fun band with a lot of enthusiasm. What you don’t see is the years of hard work and determination that have gone into creating the breezy sound. In fact, vocalist and percussionist Chastity Ashley has been in the public eye since 1997, when she appeared as the house drummer on the short-lived Keenan Ivory Wayans Show. Just a teen at the time, the Latina beauty had already dedicated years of persistence to her craft, particularly with the African djembe drum.
Born to a Spanish/Native American mother and Mexican/Philippino father in East Los Angeles, Chastity was raised with love and support from her family as she pursued her goals as a percussionist. She attended The Musicians Institute in Hollywood, and toured with the likes of Motley Crue and Aerosmith. Eventually she landed a gig playing with one of her childhood idols, iconic British band Duran Duran. Chastity has also played with the likes of Mark Ronson, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Ben Harper and Cypress Hill.
Although Chastity has minimal spare time as she works with Beauty in The Breakdown on their upcoming project, she does find the quality time to take in movies. In fact, she finds inspiration from the films she loves nearly as much she draws from musical influences.
In this edition of UrbLife’s Movie Buff, we find out more about Chastity Ashley’s unique style, family ties and much more! Read on…
What would you say are the top movies that moved you, or impacted you creatively?
Chastity: 1. The Color Purple
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, Danny Glover
That’s my favorite movie of all time, ever. The reason for that is because it has every single type of human emotion that exists in our paradigm. It has loss, love, music, empowerment, feminism being knocked down… It addresses race, lesbianism, and it speaks about relationships. It covers every aspect of what it is to be alive, and the main factor is that righteousness always conquers in the end. I love it.
2. Pulp Fiction
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman
I love this film. I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan. The soundtrack really guides the elements of the characters. I just love the dialogue in regard to how intellectual everybody is, despite all the craziness that’s being encountered, and how you can see the bad and the good in all the characters.
Directed by: Rober Zemeckis
Starring: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey
It’s incredible because I’m a total space and science nerd. The fact of being able to dream of human civilization beyond ours on another planet fascinates me completely, and [author]Carl Sagan’s take is on that and how Jodie Foster is able to really bring that to life being a woman too. I relate to her character so much.
4. Coming to America
Directed by: John Landis
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall
One of my all time favorite comedies – I can literally quote that entire movie! You learn something about it each time you watch it. Everything about it is just brilliant. I’m a huge Eddie fan, so that was definitely one of my all time favorite comedies for sure.
5. Like Water For Chocolate
Directed by: Alfonso Arau
Starring: Marco Leonardi, Lumi Cavazos
It’s all in Spanish, and its one of the greatest love stories because the protagonist in the movie basically is not allowed to live with a husband as long as her mom is alive. It’s a tradition in her family that the youngest daughter has to watch over the mother until she dies, and she can’t marry. She finds the love of her life, and she can’t marry him so he decides to marry the sister just to be close to her. Talk about true love, right?
6. Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams
I’m a huge Star Wars fan, I’m a nerd. It’s one of my favorite ones. The whole concept of space and life outside of our solar system fascinates me tremendously.
7. Good Will Hunting
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver, Stellan Skarsgard
Robin Williams and Matt Damon… I love the fact that a kid from [the hood]wants to fit in. He’s so brilliant yet sensitive in a world he can pretty much dominate on his own, but it comes down to just wanting to be loved. Everybody just wants to be loved. It doesn’t matter what you have, money, nothing. It all comes down to wanting to be loved. I love that being the premise ultimately.
8. Silver Linings Playbook
Directed by: David O. Russell
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker
I love Robert De Niro in that movie. Obviously I’m a love buff, because it talks about somebody triumphing, and not being completely down for the count. I could watch it over and over again.
How was it for you to play with such an iconic band as Duran Duran when you’re creating your own thing as well?
Chastity: It was really an honor. I was a little girl when they were hot and doing their thing, and my parents were pretty young and they loved them. I didn’t really get to know their music until the ’90s, “Ordinary World” and those tracks. The interesting part for me is it wasn’t until I started playing that I realized how many hits they actually had. It’s like Hall & Oats like “they sing this too?!” [laughs]
It was seeing someone you highly respect and love, then being put onstage together and formulating something beyond just somebody you just see in a magazine or on a CD. I thought it would be so much more nerve racking that it was, and when I was able to sit and listen to what they had to say and what they were creating, it made me feel right at home. I think they do that with their music, but more importantly as individuals, they never once made me feel like I was just the percussionist. They made me feel like one of them. That in itself made me feel honored to be a part of it.
I wanted to play drums, and my mom told me drums are for boys… so I played flute. Was your family supportive in you playing drums? What were your early influences?
Chastity: My family was ridiculously supportive which I count to this day like “How did you even allow this to happen?” My parents did not have a lot of money. My dad was working a couple of jobs, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. I got into playing drums because in East L.A. there was a big Latin sound coming from it. Carlos Santana would play concerts in the park so there would be all this percussion and I would say “That’s awesome!”
I went to my dad and said “Dad, I want to play drums like that. That would be so cool.” And he said “As a matter of fact, my good buddy is a drummer and plays all different types of songs. Let me ask him and we’ll see if maybe he can lend you a couple of his drums.” His buddy came down and gave me a snare, a high-hat, and a kick drum and that was all. He said “If you can learn on this, you can learn on anything.”
We had a two bedroom little house. The living room was maybe like 20 feet away from my bedroom – and when people are first starting to play drums, it’s horrific! [laughs]I would play for hours and hours and it was so flipping loud, so the fact that they allowed me to do that, I owe so much to them. I would not be where I am today and toured the world if they had not let me obnoxiously play my drums for hours on end when I was 10-years-old.
I was really lucky that they let me spread my wings and fly. Especially growing up in different households… you never know what different souls feel [hearing]“That’s for boys or girls aren’t supposed to do that. Boys aren’t supposed to be dancers. Girls aren’t supposed to be drummers.” Who created that cliché anyway? Whatever the soul wants, the soul is going to attract, and there’s nothing you could do about it. It’s like when you go to a record store. You can’t just point at a record and go “I am going to love this.” No, it has to choose you. If it doesn’t, then you just send it love and move on because it’s not your ultimate connection.
What would you say are your key influences into putting Beauty in The Breakdown together?
Chastity: Well definitely Duran Duran was really a big influence on me, because before this I played in a hardcore rock metal band. Funny thing is, before that when I was 14, I played real hippie music like Dave Matthews Band style. I’ve always loved Pop music, but I’ve always been picky about the Pop music I like. My mom is really into Expose and Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam and my dad’s [in to]Duran Duran.
With me, I loved Madonna and No Doubt. I was a huge No Doubt fan. That kind of Pop music really moved me. Gwen Stefani was the kind of woman who stood for independence and she could be a girl who hangs with the guys but still have her femininity and be able to let her hair down and get crazy and rock out like the boys can still empowering women. No Doubt was a total big influence for me, for sure as well.
I fused all of these different types of music together. I love Peter Gabriel – I really love that cool and collect, rock steady. I love DJ Shadow and the kind of beats he creates. He’s been a big influence as well. All of those souls who have influenced me greatly, turning it into what I do and then putting my own, and then vibing on which is implementing percussion in the forefront for me to create the music I want to create.
World music moves me, and the power of the drum can turn on a certain emotion in you that you never knew existed.
What do you want people to know most about you as an artist and as a woman in this stage of your life?
Chastity: As an artist, the reason I play music and the reason why I do it has never been about being famous, it’s never been about being rich, it’s always been about being in love with playing my instrument and being in love with singing. The kind of feeling that it has over you and the kind of feeling that it draws up in you.
Every time in my life I can imagine a song had an influence on that part of my life. It’s like every song has had my own soundtrack and you can’t put money on that. As cheesy as it sounds, I truly do it for the simple love of doing it, and from wanting to inspire others to do the same for themselves.
And as a woman, for other women to see that something that might not be the norm for what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate. What’s appropriate is whatever speaks to your heart. For me it was playing the drums. It was hard, I was judged, I’m sure I still am, but that’s okay because it’s none of my business what other people think about me. All I can do is love what I do and love myself. That in itself will attract the positive things that I want in my life and in turn will hopefully inspire people at the same time.
I want women to know that if you want to be a truck driver, then heck yeah, be a truck driver. You want to play the guitar, play the guitar. Be whatever it is you want to be. Don’t have a plan B. As long as you focus on plan A it will always and will be the only plan. Also for people to enjoy each other and to focus on the good things you see in people rather than the bad. I try to highlight that in the writing style. It’s not about being a bad bitch. I mean yeah maybe when I get down on my drums I get super aggressive and really gritty but it’s a positive aggression. It’s not showing off, it’s more of a belief; it’s more of a connection for me.
I don’t want girls to think that everything has to be focused on the exterior, even though it’s important. For me, the reason I like to look nice and have style is for artistic expression, but it doesn’t have to be the only focus. The inner beauty is so important along with the exterior beauty, and I like to balance the two. That’s why the Instagrams and the Facebooks and reality television, it’s a surfaced thought process that influences our youth.
They think: “I gotta look good and make sure my hair is done and my lips look good. My face is flawless..” and they are forgetting the most important part which is, “Who am I when I look in the mirror? Who is that soul? When I take away all my clothes and cool shoes, who is that person? Do I love that person? Is that person cool?”… and if you can say that, then right on. Then put on that funky hair and be funky, put on the eyelashes and blow kisses into the wind.
I’m all about that. The inner beauty, external beauty – you have to balance that and take care of yourself. You gotta feed your soul the good stuff. Don’t treat your body like a carnival. [laughs]
Find out more about Chastity Ashley and Beauty in The Breakdown at BeautyInTheBreakdown.com and follow them on Twitter @BITBmusic and @ChastityAshley, on Instagram @ChastityAshley and Facebook.com/OfficialBeautyInTheBreakdown
Watch Beauty in The Breakdown’s “Around the World” and their lyric video for “It’s Not Too Late”
Great interview. I also loved Like Water for Chocolate, and Coming to America… classic movie. Thanks for introducing me to Chastity of Beauty and the breakdown.