Her voice shot through the shadows, like a match struck in a dark room. It was thick with emotion, yet resolute, a velvet glove wrapped around a clenched fist.
But then, seconds later, it was exultant, defiant and sultry, like something Marlene Dietrich might purr in one of those old femme fatale flicks.
It was accompanied by strains of mournful-sounding cello, which curled itself around her words the way a python strangles its prey.
The dark room seemed to get even darker somehow.
It was a recent Thursday evening at the Downtown Cocktail Room, and singer/cellist Ashia was filling the dimly lit nightspot with her distinct blend of classical traditionalism, art pop unorthodoxy and the visual flair of a seasoned cabaret performer.
"My favorite artists, their music really creates an entire universe," the Polish born 20-something says over lunch a few weeks later, attempting to navigate a monstrous bowl of soup at Casa Don Juan. "That’s what I try to do as well."
A classically trained singer and cellist who performed in "O" for 41/2 years before leaving to focus on a solo career last December, Ashia is one of Vegas’ more compelling performers. The daughter of a bluesman and a mother steeped in the theater and ballet, she takes a multidisciplinary approach to her works, investing them with a rocker’s diffidence and a playwright’s sense of narrative.
On her striking debut, "Pay to be Loved," she inhabits her songs the way an actor portrays various characters, frequently changing the inflection of her voice, rocketing from a throaty baritone to a brassy falsetto from one note to the next, all while bowing her instrument instead of plucking its strings.
"I really love to just kind of sing with the character," she says. "Some people might get weirded out, but I love that. It gets more theatrical, instead of just being like, ‘Hi, here I am, I’ve come to sing some pretty melodies and be Muzak.’ "
To that end, no one will ever confuse Ashia’s repertoire — with its haunting waltzes and multilingual romanticism — with elevator music.
It’s a summation of many things — Tom Waits’ gritty character studies, Tori Amos’ classical revisionism, Bjork’s boundlessness — and yet its sound is as singular as its maker’s namesake.
"I was always really interested in many art forms, I loved theater, I loved painting and I loved drawing as a kid," says Ashia, who’s relocating to Portland soon but maintaining a home and a presence in Vegas. "Even now, I’m starting to bring things full circle, opening my mind up more like a child, like, ‘Oh, I can do theatrical things.’ There’s not just this square box that I have to fit into."
Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.