Ashley DiGrazia never had a question about what she’d be when she grew up.
“I think I knew when I was 3,” she said on the way to a recent show. “There’s probably a video of me at that age, saying I was going to do it for the rest of my life.”
DiGrazia uses the stage name Ashley Dawn and claims she began singing as soon as she could talk.
“I’d fearlessly perform for anyone who would pay attention,” she said.
She views the undergraduate and graduate degrees in music she earned as a kind of insurance policy.
“Hopefully I’ll be performing and that can sustain me,” she said. “But if not I will always have something to do with music. That’s realistic for me.”
During her time at U Mass-Lowell, DiGrazia and some friends — Sean Lebrun, Ken Budka, Brian Redmond and Tim Roberts — formed The Flip. The music majors initially focused on covers to gain popularity and improve their sound, but they soon started working on original material, producing the EP Runaway in 2010. It features tuneful pop rock in a Jack Johnson/Sara Bareilles vein with DiGrazia singing lead and dueting nicely with Lebrun on the lover’s dialog “U” and “Something Special,” a standout track supported by full-group harmony.
In 2011, they changed names and bass players, with Elisabeth Hodge replacing Redmond, though he continues to work with the band as an engineer at The Space in Lowell. As Merrimack — named after the valley they hail from — they’ve released a pair of singles, the sultry “You’re No Good For Me” and “The Fear.” A few choices are under consideration for a spring follow-up.
“We’re deciding whether it should be a funky tune with horns or an up-beat piano pop song,” DiGrazia said.
Live shows are 80/20 covers, with everything from the Standells’ “Dirty Water” to Lady Gaga, along with slow, scorching ballads like John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” as interpreted by Bonnie Raitt.
“People tell us we’re the youngest oldest band they’ve seen,” DiGrazia laughed.
But growing up on her dad’s Zeppelin and Stones, mom’s Madonna and her older brothers’ alt rock, she’s well-rounded and happy for it.
“The more you get to know people’s music, the more you can understand and use it in your own writing process.”
In addition to Merrimack, DiGrazia plays with an eponymous trio and occasionally gigs with area songwriter Matt Jackson.
“We have this weird musical chemistry that we’ve never had with anyone else,” said DiGrazia.
She and Jackson have a few original tunes together. In a recent fit of discovery, they made a gorgeous mashup of Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up” and Christina Perri’s “Thousand Years.” During one of the pair’s many sessions, they realized both tunes had the same basic progression.
“We started playing around, singing them over each other,” she said. “We said they’re both kind of popular right now so we should put them together for fun.”
Later, they learned Mraz asked Perri to open for him on his tour.
“It was so weird, like it was meant to be.”
DiGrazia taught middle school music for a bit after getting her master’s but left for full-time performing.
“Teaching is a huge commitment, and I find I love it to a fault. I have to put all my energy into it,” she said. “I do vocal coaching at The Space ... but basically the playing out is the focus.”