Maxine Ashley arrives for our interview wearing black-and-blue socks imprinted with marijuana leaves, black sneakers from the discount chain Conway, and a Grateful Dead T-shirt over a black hoodie. Her hair is half florescent pink; she has a faux leopard-skin coat with a hood with ears, tattoos on her fingers and arm (among other places), and a marijuana-leaf earring in one ear. Despite her stoner skate-punk veneer, Ashley’s natural beauty is hard to hide; it’s the 19-year-old singer’s voice, though, that has begun to get her noticed outside of the Soundview section of the Bronx, where she grew up (and still lives with her parents). Her first proper single, “Cookieman,” has already been licensed for a Lanvin commercial—ironic considering that she complains in the song about how hard it is to get your music heard—and Pharrell Williams recently signed her to his I Am Other imprint. Ashley grew up in a musical family: Her father, Freddy Colon, a former bongos player, is a chorus singer in the salsa band Los Hermanos Colon; her mother, Selina Colon, is a salsa singer who goes by the name Sol. When Ashley was 13, she began posting homemade videos of herself on YouTube singing songs by the likes of the Beatles and BeyonceÌ. The clips caught the attention of the British label Xenomania, and she spent the next few years moving back and forth between New York and London, working to build her own repertoire. Though she made a guest vocal appearance on Italian DJ Alex Gaudino’s “I’m in Love,” which reached No. 1 on the U.K. Upfront Club Charts, an album never materialized. But on the same day that Ashley returned from London in 2011, her mother received a phone call from Williams’s office. “We didn’t believe it was really him,” says Ashley. But after meeting with her, Williams offered her a deal. “When I put those songs on YouTube, I wasn’t thinking I was gonna get picked up or discovered,” says Ashley. “I don’t consider it work,” she says. “It’s my life. It’s what I want, and I’m gonna get it.”
PHOTO: MAXINE ASHLEY IN NEW YORK, JANUARY 2013. DRESS AND BRACELET (ON RIGHT): TOMMY HILFIGER COLLECTION. EARRINGS, NOSE RING, BRACELETS (ON LEFT), AND RINGS: ASHLEY’S OWN. CHOKER AND BRACELET (ON RIGHT): VERSACE. NECKLACE: EDDIE BORGO. HAIR PRODUCTS: KLORANE, INCLUDING GENTLE DRY SHAMPOO. HAIR: TAMARA MCNAUGHTON FOR KLORANE. MAKEUP: KARAN FRANJOLA FOR CHANEL/MAREK & ASSOCIATES. MANICURE: JACKIE SAULSBERY FOR CHANEL/KRAMER+KRAMER. SPECIAL THANKS: FAST ASHLEYS.
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