Ash Vapor is a Columbia-based DJ, model and makeup artist. Locally, you’ve heard her vocals on Charleston punk band Anergy’s newest single, “Society.” Even before that powerful performance, however, this somewhat shy songstress had already decided to step out of the shadows and pursue a solo career. This was a big feat for Vapor, who grew up with cystic fibrosis, a potentially fatal lung disease.
Still, for as long as she can remember, Vapor has been drawn down this path. “I really had an outlet for my sorrow watching Fantasia as well as when I first heard Evanescence and Within Temptation,” she said. “I also grew up playing Zelda games and the intensity in that was quite a relief as well. I don’t think I would’ve even begun to understand music theory if it weren’t for that beautiful moment that I played a recorder and realized I was playing their soundtrack.”
At a certain point, some of her early heroes morphed into mentors, most notably Amy Lee of Evanescence. “We first met through a Make-A-Wish [Foundation] trip I had back in 2008. And we always check in on each other.” This sort of personalized input had a huge impact on Vapor’s own development as a singer/songwriter.
Yet, in terms of her own style, Vapor is hesitant. “This is always difficult to grasp, given all of my influences. I suppose lately I am more into goth alternative, industrial metal, shoegaze. I am so inspired by all sorts of music, regardless of how much I may know. I listen to bands like Curve, Deftones, Dead Can Dance, wishing I could achieve such a gloomy and beautiful atmosphere in my own tunes.”
In part, Vapor credits her recent momentum to the tight-knit group of local musicians who encourage and challenge each other. Prior to the lockdown, she was finding plenty of audiences for her original material onstage. “If you want to achieve success in the arts here you definitely can start and develop as long as you need to,” she said.
Being involved in the recording process has been an eye-opener for Vapor. “When you perform live, you can get away with more than you can in the studio,” she said. “For example, when I recorded with Anergy for ‘Society,’ I realized certain aspects of recording require more focused input. I was yelling, ‘Society! Society!’ and when it got played back the ‘suh’ was missing so I sounded like I was yelling, ‘Ziety! Ziety!’ and I really had to give every single thing I had to annunciate that syllable.”
Although Vapor has had some breaks, she acknowledges that her transformative journey is far from over. After all that she has been through, Vapor still believes music-making is what matters most in her world, and she’s determined to take it as far as she can. That said, she probably measures success a little differently than most.
“For me, I’ve had my illness, cystic fibrosis, my whole life and have already had to live quite differently from others with routines to stay healthy and strategies to still get what I needed done the best I could with how quickly I can go from amazing, decent, to awful in health,” she said. “To me, success is finding genuine happiness and sustainability. If I can take care of myself and loved ones and even strangers enough whilst pursuing my passion, then that’s my heaven on earth. If I can grant any amount of happiness, safety, and relief to others so they can make the best for themselves then I’ll feel quite happy with life.”