INTERVIEW WITH SANDY HITTESDORF BY JEREMY SAFFER
For Mother’s Day, we wanted to do something special with one of the most supportive moms in music. Starting off by shining a light on a mom that not only supported her daughter’s journey, but continues to do so to the fullest extent to this very day. We had the pleasure of speaking with Sandy Hittesdorf, mother of Ash Costello (New Years Day) about Ash’s history with music, some funny stories, and, of course, the amazing bond between Ash and her incredible mom, along with advice we should all take to heart. Ash also left a little surprise for her mom at the end of this interview.
What first got you into music?
My mom listened to all the oldies and the classic rock, so that’s pretty much what I listened to. It’s still my favorite to this day, other than New Years Day.
Are there any specific bands?
It’s a lot of one hit wonders and Creedence Clearwater Revival and Prince. Prince was later, though. Prince was when the kids were little, and they were in car seats. I’d listen to Prince on my cassette player, and they’d start kicking their feet. I thought, “Gosh, they really enjoy music.” Both of my girls liked music at such a young age.
Did you go to a lot of concerts when you were younger?
Oh, you’re going to crack up when you hear the first concert I went to. I didn’t go until I was 12-years-old and free tickets were being given out to the Osmonds, so my friends and my sister, we all went and saw the Osmonds at Angel Stadium and that was my first concert.
“WHEN SHE SAW GWEN STEFANI ON THE STAGE—ASH WAS 12-YEARS-OLD—THAT’S WHEN SHE KNEW THAT’S WHAT SHE WANTED TO DO.”
What were some of the bands and music playing in the house as Ash was growing up?
Michael Jackson and Prince, when they were really little. Classic rock was always on our radio. As they became teenagers, No Doubt and more music from that genre became the favorites. No Doubt was the big one. We had taken her to a couple concerts when they were little. I wanted to expose them to all different kinds of music, so her stepdad and I took her to see No Doubt. When she saw Gwen Stefani on the stage—Ash was 12-years-old—that’s when she got hooked and knew that’s what she wanted to do. We saw them at the Honda Center, and it was a pretty cool concert. It was when they were just popping and taking off. They were local to us, too, and Ash was really excited about that because she saw that her goals were reachable. They came from the same high school, and they all grew up in the same area. It was a huge turning point for her.
Was Ash always musically inclined when she was younger? Did she like singing back then?
Yeah, when she was little, just out of diapers, we started these mommy and me dance classes, and then when she turned two and a half, we went to a dance school called Orange County Song and Dance. They’re still around, and I put her in dance classes there. She did a half hour of ballet and a half hour of tap once a week, just trying to put her in different classes to see what she responded to and had the most interest in. The singing teacher, her name was Miss Sandy, she came to me when Ash was three-years-old and said, “I see something really special in your daughter. I want her to come to my singing classes.” I didn’t know they had singing classes, so I was like, “Okay, it will give her something else to expose her to.” So, I put her in the singing classes, and she just sparkled. Any show they had, any performance they had, she was amazing. I’m her mom and I thought the singing teacher probably says that to all the kids, but she really saw something in her and she always stood out. She always had the biggest smile on her and really enjoyed performing. Ever since she was little, she was in singing classes from age three until she got to high school.
“SHE KNEW SHE WAS IN TROUBLE. I STARTED STOMPING MY WAY TOWARDS HER, AND I ENDED UP GETTING PULLED INTO A MOSH PIT IN MY PAJAMAS”
Do you have any fun stories of young Ash getting into music and starting to perform?
We have one story that we laugh about, but this wasn’t about her performing. She used to like to go over and watch local bands at Chain Reaction. When she was 14, there were some kids from school, they had this band called Perilous, and they were auditioning for singers, so she went and auditioned and they accepted her. So, her first band was Perilous, a great group of kids from school and they wanted to go to clubs and watch other bands. She would look at the performances to start seeing how she could step up what she was doing, so she’d go to Chain Reaction a lot. One night I took her over there, I think she was 15, and I dropped her off with her friends in the band. I had to be at work at 5:00 the next morning, so I told her, “I’m going to be back at 9:00, so you need to be out front for pick up because I need to get home and get some rest.” I get to Chain Reaction at about 8:45, I’m in my pajamas in the car, and I’m sitting there and time goes on. It’s 8:45, 9:00, 9:15, 9:30, and I’m starting to get mad. About 9:40, I’m in my pajamas and I finally go to the bouncer and say, “I’m here to get my daughter. Can I go inside?” He said, “Yes.” He looked at me and could tell I was pissed (laughs). I walk inside and she was sitting on a rail near the front of the stage having a great time and our eyes met. She knew she was in trouble. I started stomping my way towards her, and I ended up getting pulled into a mosh pit in my pajamas (laughs). So, I’m getting pushed around and moshed with my pajamas and my slippers, and I’m trying to work my way to her (laughs). That’s a story we laugh about now. At the time it wasn’t funny, but we think it’s funny now.
How did you feel when you started seeing her perform in front of audiences? When did you know that this would be her path?
Probably her first ska band, she just loved it. She loved singing, she loved performing, and people would say to her and I, “What’s the backup plan? Do you have a backup plan?” I said, “No, This is it. There isn’t a backup plan.” When she toured with Marilyn Manson, I so wanted to put on my Facebook, “New Years Day with Marilyn Manson,” and put, “Okay, here’s the backup plan bitches,” but I didn’t (laughs). People would be negative about it—a lot of people don’t like to see people succeed. A family member told her she was chasing a carrot that she’s never going to catch, and she was really upset about that. Then I’d go, “Ash, you can’t listen to these people. Some people just don’t want people to succeed. You just have to keep moving forward and don’t listen to them. Surround yourself with people that will help you.”
“PEOPLE WOULD SAY TO HER AND I, ‘WHAT’S THE BACKUP PLAN? DO YOU HAVE A BACKUP PLAN?’ I SAID, ‘NO, THIS IS IT. THERE ISN’T A BACKUP PLAN.’”
What ever happened with Perilous? Was that her only band before New Years Day?
She started in bands when she was 14. Her first band was Perilous, a little ska band. She liked ska like No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, and she also liked Save Ferris. The band did a great job, and it was a great experience for all of them, but when they started to get to the end of high school and some started going to college, they all went in different directions. A few of them still have stayed in music, and all the kids are still doing really well from that band. After Perilous, she started another band called Face the Fact, and they wrote an album. They were playing locally and were doing really well. I was their roadie. I’d bring all the equipment to the shows. I’ve been to every seedy club in Orange County, even a few in Long Beach that were pretty scary. They played at one club in Long Beach when they were all probably 17 or 18, and it was a 21 and over bar, so they could only go in and play, then they had to leave. It backed up to this really seedy alley, and I thought, “Oh my god, this place looks like there’s going to be a drive by shooting.” It was horrible. I’ve been to every seedy club you can think of, but it’s all experience for her. It was all her starting to develop her craft over the years to get her to where she is today. We had a lot of fun, a lot of good memories. With the second band, she kept telling me this guy was coming to her shows, and he wanted to talk to her, but he didn’t want anyone else in the band. I was telling her, “Ash, you formed this band. You’ve done an album with them. The best thing for you to do is stay with them.” She would come home from another show and go, “Mom, this guy was at my show again, and he gave me a business card and told me he likes me, but he doesn’t really like the rest of the band.”
Was that what lead to New Years Day?
Eventually. Face the Fact all started fighting and having problems and not getting along. It started to not work well. I was at home watching TV, and there was a No Doubt Behind the Music on. I’m watching it, and Gwen Stefani mentioned one of the first guys that helped sign them. And I thought, “That sounds like the name from that card.” So, I went and I got the business card Ash had been given, and it was the same name. I told Ash, “Okay, you need to call this guy now. It’s time for you to branch off.” So, she did, and that’s when she got signed to TVT and she started doing really well with them. She started taking off, releasing new music, and that’s when New Years Day got formed. They loved her there. Great people, but they were involved in a lawsuit, they filed bankruptcy, and she got caught in between all that. She could write, but she couldn’t put anything out, she couldn’t perform, and she was caught in the label’s bankruptcy and didn’t know what was going to happen.
What did she do in the meantime?
It was a lot of waiting. She couldn’t even start a side-project. So, at that time, she got a regular job through a friend selling outdoor furniture, and her drummer was the credit guy. I walked in, and I’m like, “This is just really sad. This isn’t where you guys are supposed to be,” but it’s a part of their journey. She made really good money, and she did some other jobs. She got a job doing face painting at Disneyland at Downtown Disney, and she worked at Starbucks for a little bit. Those two years, she had different experiences.
You mentioned she worked at Disneyland. She was actually a cast member for a while wasn’t she?
Oh yeah, when she was 12, she auditioned for the Christmas parade. One year, they were going to use kids to be street elves and little toys. I took her and her sister down there. There must have been a thousand kids. It was two days worth of auditions. I didn’t want to take them because I thought there was no way they’re going to get this, and I don’t want to hear their crying. I don’t want to be there all day, but they knew about the audition, so they were both ready to go. I was like, “Okay, we’ll go, but I don’t want to hear you guys cry if you don’t get it. Try your best, be nice to everybody. Someone might look like the janitor, but you don’t know who they are. You still smile and say hello and you go in and do your best. I don’t want to hear you complain.” We went down there, and we were there probably nine hours including lunch and stuff, but they both got it. They both got hired for little street elves, and Ash was also a little toy factory child, so that was really cool. They worked Christmas, and then when she was 16, she went back and auditioned again, but they cut her because of her age. They said you had to be 18, and she told them she really appreciated the audition, she shook their hand, she started leaving, and the people that were doing the hiring, they said, “We have to have her. She’s just so cute.” So, she got hired back at 16 for the parades. She worked quite a few parades. And California Adventure, the first year that they opened, she worked the parade on that side. We lived three miles from the park, so that’s always been her second home.
“WHEN SOMEONE TELLS YOU NO, IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T HAVE IT. THAT MEANS YOU HAVE TO WORK HARDER AND YOU HAVE TO FIND ANOTHER WAY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. YOU KEEP TRYING, AND IF THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO, KEEP WORKING AT IT.”
The TVT shutdown must have been hard to deal with. What did you do?
That took about two years before she could finally start getting out there. It was devastating. She’s not an overnight success. She’s a hard worker and got told no quite a few times, but I said, “When someone tells you no, it doesn’t mean you can’t have it. That means you have to work harder and you have to find another way to make it happen. You keep trying, and if this is what you want to do, keep working at it.” She kept plugging away. She would go to all of these showcases, and they would love her, but never take her on.
How old was she when she started going on the road?
About 18, but I knew I had to let her go. I couldn’t tell her no. I had to let her chase what she wanted to do.
When they started touring, did you ever have any concerns?
Oh yeah, it was very scary for me because when she started touring, she didn’t start in tour buses. It was rental vans, and they weren’t the best rental vans. The way they would make their money is they would sell merchandise, and that gave them gas money to get to the next show. They’d each get five dollars a day for food, and sometimes she’d call me crying because she hadn’t had a shower in four or five days. I’d just be, “Hopefully, you get to the hotel soon.” It was very hard for her at such a young age to go on the road like that. She wasn’t playing big crowds then. She was playing in small clubs in big cities, areas that I didn’t know. It was very scary. I did a lot of praying every night going to bed that she’d be safe.
Was there ever a time where you two butted heads on anything?
Not with her band, no. I was always very supportive of her.
Are there any specific words of encouragement you can remember giving to Ash that had a huge impact on her?
I remember telling her, “I believe in everything lining up the right way, and I believe in luck, too. If that luck comes along and you don’t grab onto it, it’s going to keep going. You have to keep grabbing onto everything. You can’t just let things pass by, opportunities, you have to grab onto everything. You have to be smart about it.”
“SHE WOULD GO TO MEETINGS, AND I WOULD PARK OUTSIDE AND WAIT FOR HER BECAUSE SHE WANTED TO HANDLE THE MEETINGS BY HERSELF.”
Great advice! Did she take it?
Yes. She wanted to do everything on her own. She would go to meetings, and I would park outside and wait for her because she wanted to handle the meetings by herself. Several times we took trips, and I’d park down the street and wait and she’d come out like she was a big girl all by herself, then I’d have to pick her up and leave because she didn’t want to be seen (laughs). She wanted to handle a lot of it by herself, so I would talk to her about how she should handle herself in meetings and around people. She’s very good with people and helping out others. I remember we went to dinner with my best friend and her stepdaughter, and her stepdaughter had just broken up with a boy and was really upset. Ash was saying all of these things to her that were very encouraging and helpful. Things that would try and make her feel better. I was looking at her, and Ash stopped talking to her and looked at me and goes, “I did pay attention, Mom.” Then she turned back and started talking to her again.
What are your proudest moments in Ash’s career so far?
When she got on the first Warped Tour. We were sitting at home talking about Warped Tour, on and on about the Warped Tour for days. And I go, “Ash, who’s in charge of Warped Tour? Do you know?” And she said, “Kevin Lyman.” I said, “Get his email and email him. The worst that’s going to happen is he’s going to say, ‘I’m sorry we don’t have room for you,’ but maybe something will come out of it. Email him, tell him who you are, tell him about your band, and ask him for an opportunity.” She did that, and he emailed her back and put her on Warped Tour for two weeks. It was only two weeks, and it was her first time, but that was pretty awesome. She was on a little tiny stage off to the side, and so watching her go from two weeks on Warped Tour, touring in a van on Warped Tour in the hot summer, going from that to a tour bus and being on the main stage…oh, and you know what was an awesome moment, too? She did a cover song of Reel Big Fish’s “She’s Got a Girlfriend Now” when she was younger in her ska band. The second or third Warped Tour she was on, we were in Sedona, and we were on the band wagon, she looks at her phone and goes, “Mom, I just got a message from Reel Big Fish’s manager, and they want me to sing ‘She’s Got a Girlfriend Now’ with them on the main stage.” That was so exciting, to see her cover a song when she was 14 of Reel Big Fish, then the singer is asking her to go on stage and sing it with them. I got to go up onstage and watch it from the side. I got to watch their entire set with her, and then she got to sing with Reel Big Fish. That was a pretty awesome day.
That’s full circle for her. What is it like for you to attend a New Years Day show now?
Oh, I love it. I go to all the local ones unless I absolutely can’t get out of work. I have a jar at home where I save every ticket that I go to. I’ve probably got a couple hundred tickets in there. The fans are super nice and some of them recognize me. The band members and friends are nice. It’s like a big party when you go in and see everybody. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it.
It’s amazing how involved you are with supporting her and her career. What are some of your favorite New Years Day songs?
Well, I love all the new music, and I’m so glad I love her music. Her stepdad is her number one fan, too. He loves the songs, we enjoy it, and we love going to concerts, we love the music. One of my favorite songs is one of the first songs that New Years Day wrote. I also like “Angel Eyes” and the new “Skeletons” song. I like “I Was Right.” I wish she’d sing some of the old songs every once in awhile. I ask her if I can make her set list sometimes, and she tells me no (laughs).
Ash mentioned she might be pulling out some old ones when they are headlining, which would be very cool. People were asking for “My Dear” and “I Was Right.”
Oh! I love “My Dear.” “My Dear” showcases her voice at the beginning before the band comes in. I love that song. That’s one of my favorite ones, too.
How do you feel about the band’s evolution from My Dear up to the new album, Unbreakable?
I like it. I like where it’s going. I really like the new music. They’re growing and changing. You have to be able to grow and change. I did music in high school, so I’ve always tried to appreciate all music and learn about different music. I try to appreciate all of the music when we go and watch her. I try to watch the other bands and appreciate their music, too.
A lot of parents, especially those with children aspiring to be artists, tend to discourage their child from pursuing a career in art. If you could give any advice to a kid who has parent that doesn’t support their dreams, what would you say to them?
I remember one New Years Day show I went to with Ash at the Troubadour. We pulled up and we were on a side street waiting to find out what door she was supposed to go in, and there was a mother and daughter walking down the sidewalk. She had a black package in her hand and looked over and saw us sitting in the car, and the girl started screaming when she recognized Ash. We got out of the car, and Ash was so sweet with her and the mom. The daughter wanted to be a singer, and I could see on the mom’s face, she just wanted her to go to college. It was an awkward position, because I didn’t want to ruin the mom’s plan, but then there’s this child that wants to go with music, so I said to her, “You know what you could do? There are a lot of colleges that have music programs. Go to a college with music. Get a degree in music, and then get something secondary like business, so you know how to run your music. Don’t give up and keep moving forward.” Then the mom got a big smile on her face like, “Thank you for telling her that.” So, it was a win-win.
“I REMEMBER ONE MUSIC VIDEO SHE MUST HAVE HAD LIKE A HUNDRED EXTRAS, AND I WAS JUST, ‘OH MY GOSH, WE HAVE TO FEED THESE KIDS’ SO, I GOT A COUPLE OF THE OTHER MOTHERS, AND WE PITCHED OUR MONEY IN TOGETHER AND WE GOT FOOD. I JUST DOVE RIGHT INTO IT WITH HER.”
What is the key to being a supportive parent to an artist?
I feel really blessed that I got to go do so much with Ash and take her to a lot of her shows and experience it with her and watch her grow. That came first for a lot of years, and I worked full-time, but I’d get extra money and it would be like, “Okay, she needs outfits for the next tour,” so we’d go shopping. It was like, “Oh man, this is just killing me,” but all of my finances I put into her. I remember one music video she must have had like a hundred extras, and I was just, “Oh my gosh, we have to feed these kids.” So, I got a couple of the other mothers, and we pitched our money in together and we got food. We were in charge of catering. I just dove right into it with her. I’d call in sick from work and drive her to meetings because I didn’t want her driving to Los Angeles by herself. Just 100 percent into it and supportive.
Were there ever any difficult moments you had to deal with because of her career?
It was very scary when she was out on tour with Blood on the Dance Floor. She was calling me, saying things were going wrong. She was starting to feel like things weren’t right with that band, and she was calling me really upset. I can’t remember a lot of our conversations that we were having. It was probably about three or four days worth, and then they got kicked off the tour. I said, “Just come home, get in your van, and keep driving straight home.” So, that was pretty scary, because the situation she was figuring out was going on. That was a time in her career when they could have ruined her. She had a big fan base, and she came out talking about what was going on and writing about it and putting stuff on her Instagram about what was happening. She was getting letters from attorneys saying that you need to shut up or we are going to sue you. She also got some backlash from his fans back then, but the truth is all coming out now. She made it past that, but that time was very scary. Sometimes she’d come back from tour, and she’d be like the van broke down, so they rented a U-Haul, and they would have three sitting up front and the rest riding in the back. I’m like, “Ash, you guys are riding in the back of a U-Haul? What if the exhaust from the pipes were leaking back there? You guys could have died!” (laughs) That was pretty scary. Sometimes I think to myself, “I don’t need to know this stuff.” (laughs) Because it’s like after the fact, it makes my heart drop, like, “I can’t believe you did that,” but those were good times for them and they had a lot of fun. But as a mom, inside I’m just like, “Oh my god, it’s so scary.” The whole thing is scary (laughs).
Do you still have any worries or concerns when she’s on the road now since things are much bigger and better?
I still worry about getting into accidents and weather scares me, so I try not to watch the news when she’s gone because there’s nothing I can do about it. If I see she’s in Texas and I turn on the TV and see there’s tornadoes touching down in towns, I just get really worried, so I try not to pay attention to the weather because that scares me. When she was with Marilyn Manson in Europe, I got a call in the morning from her best friend’s mom, who I hadn’t heard from in two years, and she asked if I had talked to Ash today. I hadn’t heard from her, and she tells me I better turn on the news, and I saw the terrorist attacks. They just missed it. They just left Paris when the bombings and shootings happened. They were driving out of Brussels when Belgium was being closed down at the border. She was over there for two and a half weeks, and that was very scary. I was sick to my stomach until she got home.
Do you stay in touch now when she is on tour?
When she’s on the road, I’ll text her, “Good morning, I love you.” And she’ll say, “Good morning. I’m busy.” At least when I get a text back, I know she’s okay, but when she’s on the road, it’s hard for her to talk because she usually is in a club somewhere or she’s in the band wagon with the loud engine, so we do a lot of texting. She will do some FaceTime when she gets some down moments here and there. It’s so nice with cell phones that I can stay in touch with her. When she first started touring, she didn’t have a cell phone. I also look on her Instagram. That helps, too. I’ll look at her Instagram and I’ll see that she posted something 22 minutes ago or two hours ago, and it’s like I know she’s okay, she just posted something, so that helps a lot. I follow the band on Instagram, all the members, so when I see they’re posting stuff, I know they’re okay.
She posts pretty frequently, which is good.
Yeah, when she’s on the road, she posts pretty frequently. When she gets home, she has times where she doesn’t post things, but when she’s on the road, she’s pretty good about that.
I know she does a lot of advocacy for adopting pets and doing a lot of work for dog shelters. Was that a big part of her upbringing?
She had more cats back then. We had one dog when she was little, but I had a swimming pool, so it was hard to have dogs, because having to let them in and out of the house and having little kids and a swimming pool, I didn’t want to have dogs. We did have one dog, but when her dad and I separated, he took the dog and we got cats. Then when we moved from our house in Anaheim to this house, she still wanted a dog, but she was on the road so much, and I’m like, “You can’t have a dog because you’re gone all the time. You wont have time to bond with it.” So, she’d been asking for a long time for a dog, and we got my younger daughter a little tiny Chihuahua that was her therapy dog. I felt bad saying no to Ash because she was asking me all the time. So, she had a boyfriend and they had just split up and she was really depressed over it, so I’m like, “All right, let’s go to the dog shelter.” I was trying to cheer her up. We went to the shelter probably two or three times, and she loved the dogs, but there wasn’t that connection yet. So, we were planning on going back again, and it was Thanksgiving Eve, we went to Target, and we found a little dog at the Target parking lot and she fell in love. That’s how we got Gremlin, and we’ve had him ever since. I think he’s about eight years old now, and then Barnabus, one of her band members found him at two in the morning on the streets of Monrovia. Now we have two dogs—my other daughters dog and Gremlin. I get home from work and I could tell there was another dog in the house she didn’t tell me about, and I’m like, “Ash, what is this dog doing in the house?” And her stepdad’s like, “We can’t have another dog.” So, I brought the dog over to see if there was a chip. I called the city and I got him registered just in case anyone was trying to call and look for the dog. Nobody claimed him, and when he was found he didn’t have a tag, he wasn’t chipped, his hair was all matted. You could tell he was not cared for. We all fell in love with him. Ash fell in love with him. Now he’s sitting here on my lap right now. We still got him. It’s been about seven years (laughs).
She really loves rescuing dogs.
She’ll send me these pictures on the road, “Mom, I need you to go to this shelter right now. This dog only has a day left. You have to go get this dog.” I’m like, “Ash, we have three dogs. Please start posting to see if someone in the area can pick him up.” So, she’ll start posting, and she’ll get fans to pick up dogs and save them. She loves doing stuff for Rock and Roll Rescues, and she’s done things for Orange County Animal Control. She’ll go buy baskets and blankets for the dogs and bring it to the shelters. She’s a big animal lover.
If you could go back and give young Ash advice, what would you say to her?
Oh gosh, that’s a tough question, if I could go back and give Ash any kind of advice, I don’t know. This isn’t really advice, but if there’s something that I could change, when she was 14 and she was in a band, I wanted her to stay local and not go far away. I felt she was too young to be under the control of other people if she got signed to labels and stuff, so I kind of controlled it—being all local stuff, local talent shows at the schools, all of that stuff but just for experience. If I could change something, I probably would have let her push herself more when she was 14 as far as record labels, and I didn’t want her to quit high school. I wanted her to still go through high school. I think looking back, I would have let her home school and even do more with her music back then. But in terms of giving advice, I would tell her to give yourself all the attention that you give to friends, boyfriends, and people that come and go in your life. Give yourself more of that energy you give to others. She’s had a couple hard relationships, and she puts so much energy into them. They are all learning experiences, and you grow and you move on, but I would tell her to take that energy and put more of it into herself.