A Conversation With Ashley Monroe
Pistol Annies’ resident “hippie” chats about the group’s new record, 'Annie Up,' as well as her acclaimed solo album, 'Like a Rose.'
PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY WARNER BROS.
Cowboys & Indians: You have been spending a lot of time with Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley promoting Annie Up. I bet you guys are a laugh a minute.
Ashley Monroe: Oh my gosh. The thing about us is that once we’re together working or doing press, we don’t separate. We just hole up together or go and have a slumber party at Miranda’s. But it’s so good to have people to share it with.
C&I: The three of you wrote more songs for the second album together than you did for the first. When and how did most of that writing take place?
Monroe: We never do sit-down sessions because there’s no way we could all focus if we knew we were supposed to write. But we’ve been on the road for a year and a half or more, and we can’t not get inspired when we’re together. Somebody will have a line or a title, and somebody will pick up a guitar, and we’ll write it. I remember one night after the show — which is not an ideal time for me, usually — we got back on the bus and started writing. We wrote three songs total, one after the other. We looked up in the middle of the third one and it was 2 a.m.
C&I: Is that how the jazzy first song on Annie Up, “I Feel a Sin Comin’ on,” happened?
Monroe: We wrote that on the bus; Angaleena thought of the title when we were getting ready for a show. We kept saying, “Let’s make it jazzy,” and I just started playing around, singing, “I feel a sin comin’ on ... .” We didn’t know any jazz chords, so we just wrote it a cappella with our finger snaps. And when we played it for our producer Frank [Liddell], he said, “Why don’t y’all just snap on the record?”
C&I: Music came to you as a teenager following a big personal loss, and you went through your share of struggles trying to break into the music business later on. How have those heartbreaks and challenges affected you as a writer?
Monroe: It definitely gave me things to write about. I didn’t know you could make a living off of songwriting, but I just knew I was really sad after my dad had died. The only thing I knew to do was pick up my guitar and let it out. I think I’m at my best writing sad songs, because when I’m happy I just want to go outside and skip or something. But with label stuff and other personal struggles, I’ve learned lessons and grown up a lot. I also have come to realize that I don’t have to have it all figured out. I’ll be learning until the day I die; I think that’s the point of life.
C&I: What’s remarkable about your sad songs is that they’re so direct and matter of fact. They’re not maudlin or melodramatic.
Monroe: I try not to get too poetic, and just speak it. Loretta [Lynn] and Dolly [Parton] have been a big inspiration in that way. Guy Clark, too, has taught me a lot in my experience writing with him. He believes in just saying what you mean, without too many frills.
C&I: The title track of your solo album, “Like a Rose,” draws so deeply from your personal story. Is it hard to sing sometimes?
Monroe: No. It’s amazing. It’s therapy. Every time I sing that, I’m reliving it, but in a good way. Every time I sing it I feel it ... in the core of my soul. [Laughs.]
C&I: Rolling Stone had a great description of Like a Rose in its review: “Nine songs, 32 minutes, no false moves.” Was it difficult for you and Vince Gill [coproducer of the album with Justin Niebank] to edit it down to something so short and sweet?
Monroe: I loved that line in the review! I have a zillion songs. So many. When I went back through my whole catalog — since I didn’t write specifically for this record — Vince helped me narrow it down. I get really excited about songs. I probably would have made a triple disc if I could have. But we ended up with the perfect mix, and I think the songs together make a complete record. For that, I’m very happy.
Ashley Monroe will play live with Train, Pistol Annies, and more this summer. Find her complete touring schedule at www.ashleymonroe.com.