La Jolla native uses music to keep brother’s memory alive

Growing up together in La Jolla, Ashley Gramins and her brother Brad Kirn always talked about recording music together.

Kirn went on to front the successful San Diego band Kirn Kounty. Gramins moved first to San Francisco and then to New York, singing with numerous bands and working in both theater and the corporate world. Music was a huge part of both of their lives, but they never got around to recording together before Brad Kirn passed away at his La Jolla home in September 2005 at the age of 33, a victim of a brain tumor.

The tragedy came in the middle of a 20-month span in which Gramins also gave birth to her two children. The whirlwind period was the wakeup call Gramins needed, she said, to inspire her to finally record her own album.

“I thought, it’s time for me to stop saying ‘I’ll do it someday,’ ” she said.

The result is “Mama Rocks!” a new album by Gramins that was released in April. The album includes two of Kirn’s own songs, “Reach” and “Through the Wind.” She said the recording process was a therapeutic experience that helped her get through the most difficult time of her life.

“One of the things I learned was that when you lose somebody, a lot of your plans can die with that person,” she said. “This (album) is a way to carry out those plans the best possible way I know.”

Gramins, who currently lives in New York, describes the album as music for adults and children. It is fun music that will keep children’s attention, but with a big, sophisticated sound, she said. The album was produced by Jeff Klitz, who is currently the music director for the upcoming production of “Carmen” at La Jolla Playhouse. It was recorded in a live setting at the famous Avatar Studios in New York.

“It was a lot of fun to record,” she said. “It’s got a sophisticated, full band sound - that was the vibe that we created together.”

Gramins’ life in music began at a young age in La Jolla. She started singing in the gospel choir at La Jolla Presbyterian Church. Her first solo came in a concert at La Jolla Elementary School, and she became involved in theater while at La Jolla High School. Her brother also started early, and was friends with local musicians Mike Andrews and Gary Aguirre. Andrews and Aguirre, who is now known as Gary Jules, went on to their own careers in professional music.

“There was a lot of creative talent in La Jolla,” she said. “How could it not be inspiring, just with the beauty of it.”

She went on to attend the University of Utah, starting out as a voice and drama major. She said she never connected with any of her voice teachers and eventually switched majors. After school, she took a job with an advertising agency in San Francisco, where music came back to find her again.

A member of the company’s creative department overheard Gramins speaking over the office intercom and asked her to attempt some voiceovers. Her interest in using her voice was rekindled.

“As much as I tried to do something more practical, it always came back to me,” she said.

She auditioned for a regional theater in Marin County and started singing in “a bunch of bands,” Gramins said.

She moved to New York in September 1999 to try and make it as a Broadway actress.

“I was 31 when I came, I didn’t know anybody,” she said. “I just wanted, when I’m old and in my rocking chair, to know that I’d experienced it. I just needed to know that I’d tried it.”

Gramins only pursued her theater dreams for a short time before returning to the corporate world. Then, music found her again.

She met four other co-workers with a love for music, and they formed a band called The Fifth. The band eventually made it far enough to perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of Fortune Magazine’s Battle of the Corporate Bands.

Then, in late 2005, came the loss of her brother and Gramins’ realization that it was time to record her own album.

“The CD was made out of love and dedication and to honor my brother, who I just miss absolutely dearly and was one of my best friends,” she said. “It’s just a way to be close with him again and keep him alive.”

Gramins’ album, “Mama Rocks!” is available on iTunes and at A CD release party will be held in La Jolla in July at a location to be determined - see for more details.