Pistol Annies Talk Recording, Songwriting and Girl Power
Originally published in our May 20, 2013 issue featuring George Jones on the cover with the title “Annie Means Necessary.”
It hasn’t even been two years since Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley took country music by storm as Pistol Annies with their debut Hell on Heels. The album was released in 2011 with little fanfare and promotion other than what the ladies did, but it grew into one of the year’s hottest.
Sure, the music was great—they’re three insanely talented singer/songwriters, but they’re also three women and three best friends. You can hear the chemistry and camaraderie all over Annie Up, the eagerly awaited follow-up to Hell on Heels. You can also hear Texas-sized attitude, Tennessee charm and homegrown Kentucky wisdom representative of the girls’ three home states.
It could be a little intimidating to walk into a room filled with the Annies’ big fashion, big hair and big personalities, but Miranda (“Lone Star Annie”), Ashley (“Hippie Annie”) and Angaleena (“Holler Annie”) also exude big warmth. You could even picture them opening a bed-and-breakfast . . . or a hunting camp together after they retire from making music commercially. “We’re together all the time,” Miranda admits. “Once a month. The longest we’ve gone was three months and we didn’t like it.” “It’s like not seeing your family,” adds Ashley. “There’s a constant text thread between all of us. If it’s not every day, it’s every other day. We’ve got to go back to each other.”
“We ain’t bashing no man. We love them, obviously. Where would we be without them?”
The Annies write all of their music—mostly with each other in some configuration, but occasionally alone—and while the songs are as real-life as anything that fell from the pen of Willie or Merle, they admit the tunes don’t always come from their own lives. “These songs come in our heads and we don’t know how or why,” says Ashley. “Harlan Howard said it best: ‘He writes the song, I hold the pen.’” Divine intervention aside, the songs didn’t come as quickly for Annie Up as they might have hoped. “We didn’t write anything for about six months,” admits Angaleena. “Then one night, little Ashley came in with all these beautiful, angely melodies and she just started spewing out these songs. Me and Miranda were like, ‘Get it down! Get your phone! Get your guitar!’ After that, it was on.”
It was worth the wait, ladies. Annie Up is a collection of experiences, starting with the opening track, “I Feel a Sin Coming On,” an ode to temptation. “That song, to me, is like a demonstration of everything we do,” says Angaleena. “From a cappella to rock-your-face-off to bluegrassy granny harmonies. To me, it’s an example of everything.” Miranda adds, “I feel like it’s ‘Hell on Heels.’ I feel like people are expecting a follow-up to that song and we delivered that.”
Not every song is full of such sass, though. The introspective “Dear Sobriety” addresses recurring alcoholism, while “Workin’ Man” extols the virtues of a relationship with, well, a working man. There’s also “Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty,” a humorous waltz about the daily process women endure to get ready to face the world.
Among the diverse collection of music, the anthemic “Girls Like Us” seems to be the Annies’ universal favorite. “When we wrote that, we talked about our moms and our aunts and our sisters and our girlfriends and women like Oprah and Reba, our heroes,” Angaleena explains. “That’s just a song that every woman can be like, ‘Amen, sister. We’re all in it together and we do make the world go around.’ It’s just such a good sisterhood song.” “It’s just celebrating women,” Miranda adds. “It’s not bashing men.” “We ain’t bashing no man,” echoes Ashley, who recently became engaged to Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks. “We love them, obviously. Where would we be without them?”
Another Annies favorite is the chugging “oh well” message of “Damn Thing.” The sprightly tune serves as a reminder to Miranda, who has earned the nickname “Plannie Annie” from her bandmates. “I try to control and plan everything,” she admits. “So ‘Damn Thing’ reminds me to calm down. You can’t do anything about it.”
With the runaway success of Hell on Heels and the excitement surrounding Annie Up, you have to wonder if the Annies are thinking about a third project. Sorry, not quite yet. Although Angaleena admits, “We’ve already thought of seven titles in our two days of press.” “We’re going to ride this one for a second,” says Ashley with a smile. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be new music. Ashley released her new solo project, Like a Rose, in March to rave reviews. And Angaleena is in the process of recording an album that she hopes will find a label home. Miranda, still riding high from her four ACM wins, is motivated for her next endeavor. “As soon as we finished Annies—we poured so much into it—but it inspired me. I couldn’t wait to start on my own record because it’s so damn good. I’m hoping I can steal some of those titles.”
If you missed seeing the girls on one of the 11 Pistol Annies tour dates last year, you’ll have a chance to see an even better show this time around. “We had a 70-minute headlining show with a 30-minute record,” Angaleena says, giggling. Miranda and Dierks Bentley’s Locked & Reloaded Tour will break in June so the Annies can do a month-long run. “Then I have to go back with the boys,” Miranda says with a sigh. “I’m begging them, ‘Y’all come at least three or four weekends to finish this tour,’ because I get so lonely after I’m used to being with them.”
Between chatter about their albums, songs and touring, the Annies act like three regular girls who you’d want to accompany you to lunch and a pedicure. A lapse in conversation reminds Angaleena to ask, “Ran, I want your peanut butter cookie recipe. I tried to make them two nights ago and they were awful.” Miranda reminds her, “You have to use crunchy.”