The Pistol Annies Aim for the Top

By Deborah Evans Price. 

201112131750 The Pistol Annies Aim for the Top

The Pistol Annies: Miranda Lambert, Angeleena Presley and Ashley Monroe. Photo credit: Randee St. Nicholas.

From the Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings supergroup The Highwaymen to Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt’s famed Trio, friendship and creative chemistry have inspired some of Country Music’s most successful collaborations. Debuting with their chart-topping album, Hell on Heels, The Pistol Annies is the latest group of distinctive personalities to forge an enigmatic new act.


“We all have something to say as individual women and as individual artists,” Miranda Lambert said of herself, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley. “You put all three opinions together and all three lifestyles and what we’ve all been through, and it just felt like that we were saying something that most people think and don’t actually say. I’m like that in my solo career. I take risks and I’m honest in my music and we just carried it out with this Pistol Annies project.”


“All three of us have different influences, but they all three have the same characteristic—honesty,” Monroe added. “Miranda loves Merle (Haggard). I love Dolly and Angaleena loves Loretta. We’re all very much inspired by the three of them. If you go back and listen to their records, you can relate to what they’re talking about.”


Although record companies sometimes encourage artists into collaborations that look commercially promising, that was not the case with The Pistol Annies. “Miranda and I have known each other for seven years,” said Monroe. “One night we were at her house and I asked if she’d ever heard of Angaleena Presley. I’d written with her a few times in Nashville. She said she hadn’t, so I went and got my computer and started playing her some stuff. She flipped out. She said, ‘That’s the girl! That’s our missing link!’ It fell together as easy as that.”


Presley said the collaboration felt natural from the beginning. “We sat down and wrote these songs and we didn’t overthink it,” she said. “We didn’t have any method to the madness. It’s just songs from three different girls’ perspectives and I guess a lot of people can relate to it.”


“The chemistry was there from the very beginning,” Monroe added. “We just started writing songs. We just sat down and were inspired. That’s how it happened. We weren’t trying for anything. We were just looking to write real songs about real things.”


Before teaming with the Annies, Monroe had released a digital album, Satisfied, on Columbia Nashville in 2009. Presley has recorded an unreleased album and is looking for a deal. Lambert, of course, is an established headliner with multiple hits under her belt, including 2010 CMA Song of the Year “The House That Built Me” (written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin).


The Pistol Annies’ album, Hell on Heels, was released in August, two months ahead of Lambert’s fourth album,Four the Record. When asked if she was concerned about how their debut might affect her latest solo outing, Lambert responded, “That did cross my mind, but I thought if it (Pistol Annies) was that organic and felt that right, then it had to be right. The music came so easily to us three, and the chemistry that we had made me realize that I needed to put my hesitation aside and let the music lead and just see what happens.”


The result was a No. 1 album. Hell on Heels was initially a digital-only release, and the demand from fans caught the label by surprise. When brick-and-mortar retailers began clamoring for physical copies, Sony Music Nashville rushed to oblige. Lambert said the trio was taking a little vacation in Mexico to celebrate the album’s release when they received word that it might debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. “It kind of shocked me to be honest,” she said, “because we didn’t have product. It was just digital.”


“The great thing about The Pistol Annies project is it came from a very musical place,” said Gary Overton, Chairman/CEO, Sony Music Nashville, noting that Lambert’s manager Marion Kraft first mentioned the project to him. Intrigued, he asked to hear music and the trio came by to play some songs live. “We first talked about doing four sides, but the music kept flowing. It was cool and there was a sound, so we ended up making a whole record. Then we said, ‘Well, there’s really not stuff on here that we thought was immediate go-to-radio, so let’s put it online and see what’s out there.’ And it was like bang, a No. 1 Country album. It just shows when there is great music and great artistry, people will find it.”


Overton noted The Pistol Annies album has further enhanced Lambert’s profile in the industry. “I think a lot of the industry has really gained a huge appreciation for Miranda,” he said. “At a very tough time in our business, she scanned 1.4 million on the Revolution album, which is very difficult to do right now. But in the meantime, she wrote a new record and did this side project, which is a No.1 Country record. I think a lot of people gained even more respect for her artistry.”


Working on the project was an enjoyable process, and in that spirit the trio adopted pet names, dubbing themselves Lone Star Annie (Lambert), Hippie Annie (Monroe) and Holler Annie (Presley). The only outside writer who contributed to the album was Lambert’s husband, Blake Shelton, who co-wrote on “Family Feud” and earned the nickname Pistol Andy.


“The girls had come to our house because we wanted to spend some time together, pick out the songs and to maybe write some more,” Lambert recalled. “We were sitting at the house and Blake had cooked us dinner. None of us are great guitar players. We have different styles, but Blake was there and he’s such a great guitar player, so we handed him a guitar and said, ‘Play something. We want to write a song.’ He ended up working up this really cool melody. We just wrote it together, all four of us, so he snuck one in on it.”


The album boasts a diverse cache of songs from the sassy “Bad Example” (Lambert and Monroe) and humorous “The Hunter’s Wife” (Presley) to “Beige” (Lambert and Monroe), a poignant tale of unplanned pregnancy. “You’re gonna laugh. You’re gonna cry and you’re probably gonna give your husband a good talking to,” Presley said, describing the contents of the album.


The title track, “Hell on Heels,” written by the trio, captures their feisty spirit. “It just felt like that was, in a nutshell, what we’re about. It’s a catchy title and catchy phrase,” said Lambert. “It makes people go, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ I just feel like it encompasses everything that The Pistol Annies are.”


The album also includes more somber fare such as “Housewife’s Prayer,” which Presley began writing when she was going through a divorce. “I was real broke, real depressed, desperate and didn’t know what I was going to do,” she said. “I thought about burning my house down, taking the money, getting me and my little boy an apartment and having a new start. But instead of doing that, I picked up my guitar and started writing a song about it. I played it for the girls and they helped me finish it.


“I like ‘Housewife’s Prayer,’” Presley continued, “because it represents a time in my life that was one of the hardest times I ever had and it reminds me that I had the strength to get through it. It reminds me to make better choices and not go back.”


“Lemon Drop” is also a slice of Presley’s life. “That’s a true story,” said Presley. “I was going home to Kentucky and my car broke down. I pulled over and saw my muffler had come halfway off. So I opened the trunk of my car, clipped a guitar string off, tied it on, drove on home and then drove back to Nashville. I drove around a while with my muffler tied up with a guitar string, so that’s where that idea came from. That whole song is what my life was then, trying to make it, struggling and keeping the faith.”


“Boys from the South” originated with Lambert. “I was driving home from the airport real late one night, trying to keep myself awake,” Lambert recalls. “I was going from Texas to Oklahoma and I was thinking, ‘Man, I love where I live, going home to Blake, my cute Southern boy waiting at home on me.’ I just thought it would be a cute song.”


Fans got a chance to see The Pistol Annies live when they opened dates on Lambert’s 2011 tour, and there are plans for more shows. Lambert is hoping that exposure in Pistol Annies will fuel the solo careers of her two pals. “I just want the world to hear these people,” she said of Presley and Monroe. “They need to be out there because they are great. I hope that this helps to build their individual careers as artists and they can go and do their own things, release their own albums and will always still come back and do Pistol Annies stuff. I just hope that the world hears us together and hears us individually.”


At press time, Monroe was working on her Warner Bros. debut and Presley was looking for a deal. “I’ve been in Nashville eight years and I don’t know how many times I’ve been told I’m too country for Country,” she said. “I did one record with (producers) Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke. People loved it, but people were scared of it. We’re still shopping it, but I have complete faith that we’ll get it out there. If you liked The Pistol Annies, you’re gonna like Angaleena Presley. I hope that The Pistol Annies sets a precedent for me and Ashley and every other artist who is writing songs from their heart and can’t find a place for them.”


All three women agree that they plan to make music as The Pistol Annies for a long time. “One of our goals is for each of us to have our own tours and to stop every month and do a Pistol Annies reunion,” said Lambert. “We’re hoping to be making music together until we can’t sing no more.”


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© 2011 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.


Miranda Lambert’s Revolution Tour Rolls Into Indiana

201105231035 Miranda Lamberts Revolution Tour Rolls Into Indiana

Miranda Lambert's Revolution Tour Rolls Into Indiana

She Sings New Material, Brings the Pistol Annies Onstage. That Miranda Lambert, she’s a pistol. In more ways than one. At her concert here Thursday night (Sept. 8), she fired a few shots at the lack of beer at the venue (which is on a college campus) and the tabloids that “really pissed me off.” And, of course, don’t forget her bullet-riddled hits like ”Kerosene” and ”Gunpowder & Lead.”

At the same time, she’s almost girlish when she bands together with the Pistol Annies, her new trio with singer-songwriters Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe. During their four-song set, the women couldn’t stop cheerfully throwing their arms around shoulders and playfully punching each other for comic effect.When you go to Lambert’s The Revolution Continues tour, you’ll see a lot of different sides of the country star. There’s the sassy Miranda, as on ”Only Prettier,” which opened the show with a big response. ”Famous in a Small Town” shows she’s comfortable and down-home. When she told the audience she’d spent the day driving around in a van, going to a tanning bed and Sears, you could almost see the thought clouds above fans’ heads that read: “She’s one of us!”Lambert is also fond of the songs that can be depressing (“Dead Flowers”), introspective (“More Like Her”) and powerful (“Bring Me Down”). Although she’s the reigning CMA female vocalist, she also clearly loves her rock ‘n’ roll, as evidenced by her covers of “Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hoochie Koo” and, yes, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

She acknowledged the venue, the Hulman Center, wasn’t selling beer (“I’m very, very, very sorry”) and told the audience they could at least take comfort in the fact that they were at a Miranda Lambert concert and that, hey, tomorrow’s Friday, and they can go somewhere where they’re selling beer. Maybe it’s because it was a school night or that college kids are always cash-starved, but the last 10 to 12 rows all around the Hulman Center concert venue were essentially empty. However, every merchandise line before the show stretched about 50-people long.

About an hour into the show, Lambert told the crowd she’d just come back from a stretch with her new husband,Blake Shelton. And that’s when she mentioned some tabloid stories were getting her goat. She didn’t elaborate but said we could all help her take out “rage on all those people” via her new single, “Baggage Claim.” She especially dedicated it to the ladies, and on the last line, she caustically demanded that the do-wrong man “come and get your sh–.”

Then she reached pretty far back into her catalog for “Brand New Strings,” a bright tune about making your way through the ranks of country stardom. She’s come a long way, that’s for sure.

And then it was back to the future. Obviously thrilled to be playing in an arena, Monroe and Presley joined Lambert on three songs from the Pistol Annies’ recent No. 1 country album, Hell on Heels. Presley stood in the middle — and she has the stage presence to own it. Monroe, who is on the highest-allowed dose of Prozac, according to one lyric, tends to float around the stage, while Lambert’s demeanor falls somewhere between the two. They concluded their too-brief set with a rowdy cover of Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City.”

Because the lighting was the only special effect during this set, they had to rely on just the music to be entertaining — and they easily pulled it off. After reminding the audience she’s been scraped over the coals lately, Lambert noted, “That’s why I bring my girls … because they’ve got my back.”

After Monroe and Presley exited the stage, Lambert announced that her own solo album, Four the Record, was coming soon. When the remark brought mediocre applause — remember that nobody was drinking — she paused and demanded, “Be more excited!”

She unveiled one more new song which she hopes will be the second single. An up-tempo number titled “Mama’s Broken Heart,” it relies on a musical hook reminiscent of a carnival attraction. The song is about the temptations of drinking too much, smoking too much and cutting off all your hair after a breakup — and that’s not what mama would do now, is it?

Naturally, she delivered terrific versions of ”The House That Built Me,” underscored by a digital scrapbook of childhood photos, as well as ”White Liar,” the inescapable hit that went on to become her first No. 1 single.

“Cheers with water, y’all!” she said when she returned for an encore. “I’m not drinking water, by the way.”

Next time, she said, she’ll play somewhere with beer.

Always in tune, Little Big Town opened the show with a nice mix of recent material and familiar favorites. Newcomer Charlie Worsham, a singer-guitarist, opened the show with a six-song set.

Pistol Annies – Hell On Heels

201108252128 Pistol Annies   Hell On Heels

Pistol Annies - Hell On Heels

Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley Talk About Their New Band

The Pistol Annies have stepped out with Hell on Heels, the intriguing, acoustic-leaning debut album from Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley.During an interview at the Station Inn in Nashville, the talkative trio explained about forming the band, finding inspiration in their songwriting heroes and feeling a true connection to the music — and each other.Q: When did you decide to become the Pistol Annies?

Lambert: Two years ago, they had written together, and Ashley and I had been friends for a real long time. … When we decided to have a girl band, I had never actually met Ang before we decided this, but I based it off her musical abilities — that I would like this girl, we’re going to be awesome.

Presley: They called me in the middle of the night. They had been together, writing songs, and they wrote “Beige,” which is on our record. And Miranda’s like, “Well, I wouldn’t sing this. And Ashley’s like, “Well, I wouldn’t sing this. What are we gonna do with it?” And then she played Miranda [the song on] my Myspace page … and I was like, “Are ya’ll crazy? It’s 2 o’clock in the morning.” And Ashley’s like, “Email us your record.” And so I did.

Monroe: Next day, we said let’s start thinking of names!

Miranda, how are you carving out the time to take on a side project just as your solo career is taking off in the way that it is right now?

Lambert: Well, it’s kind of working out perfectly because we finished our record at the end of the session of me doing my new record, which comes out in November, and ours comes out in August. So we really worked the timing out, and the girls come on tour with me. I’m already out a lot, and I already have buses and production and a crew and a band, and so we just do a Pistol Annies set in the middle of my set. It kind of seemed perfect. It’s a great way to build a fan base, a great way to get comfortable together onstage and it’s not costing us much money on our own. I’m a little bit spoiled at this point. I don’t really want to go back to a van necessarily so …

Presley: We’re real spoiled ’cause we’re getting to skip that step.

Describe the woman you are singing about. Who is that woman?

Monroe: I think we’re singing about a real American woman that’s a housewife, that pays the bills, that raises her babies, puts food on the table. … There’s a song called “Housewife’s Prayer,” and the first line is, “I’ve been thinking about setting this house on fire.” It actually paints those thoughts, and she still carries on and is still gonna make things work.

It sounds like a lot of these songs would be similar to something Loretta Lynn would be writing if she were your age.

Presley: I grew up a few minutes from where she grew up, and I’m a coal miner’s daughter. And she’s my biggest hero, so that’s probably me slipping in. But they have Loretta Lynn in them, too.

Would you agree with that observation?

Lambert: Absolutely.

Presley: We love her, so much. Miranda’s friends with her!

To me it seems like there’s an old-time feel to this album. Why do you think that is?

Lambert: I think it feels old-timey because, I think, a lot of the music that we love is not new. A lot of the music we love has this honest feel. … My biggest influence is Merle [Haggard]. And with Loretta and those songwriters, like Hank Williams, they didn’t have a filter. They wrote about what they knew about — which was their life that was hard. And I feel like because of the influence we all had with those type of songs and those type of songwriters, it felt natural to go that direction.

How much of this came from your own experience or people you know — referring to the problems of the “real women” the songs refer to?

Presley: A lot of it came from our own experiences. “Housewife’s Prayer,” I came up with that idea when I was sitting on my living room couch. I had just gone through — or was going through — a divorce, and I was contemplating burning my house down. Because I didn’t know what else to do. And I was going over, “Now, how can I do it, and the insurance company won’t figure it out, and what should I do? What do I want to save?”

And then I snapped to reality, and I was like, “No, do not burn your house down.” So I picked up my guitar and I wrote the first line of that song, and I shared it with these girls, and they were like, “Yes!” Then the way that the song went on, it’s almost like Miranda’s personality. She’s like, “Yeah, a gallon of gas and the matches.”

Monroe: We can be soft, and we can be fiery — same as her solo stuff. She can play ”The House That Built Me”and make you cry, and then play ”Gunpowder & Lead” and make you cry in a different way.

Presley: Make you run for your life. … In tears.

What’s the best part of being in a band instead of being out on your own?

Lambert: I like a lot of things about it. I guess in this band, I’m getting to relive things I might have missed along the way. … You’re right. My career is at a really great place right now, and I feel like I’m glad that I chose this time to get to do something like this. Because when I first started, we were solo, and it’s so go, go, go, you almost miss things that you should have enjoyed because you have to look at the next thing. With this project, I’m getting to get excited all over again about every little thing that’s happened that’s good for us. And I’m so excited about a lot of what happened with me, but I missed a lot of it in the early days because I had to stay so focused to work so hard.

Presley: For me, I think it’s the friendships, because when I met these two girls, I felt like I had found family that was lost out in the world. I mean, just having the relationship where we can write together, they understand me like nobody ever has. And not that I don’t love my family — they understand me — and my friends. It’s just something about the creative process that we can share together, that it’s just a different thing. And I love hanging out with them because we can drink beer, we can do our nails and then we can write a song. I feel like I found my people, you know?

Monroe: Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say. It’s like family. We fight with each other, and we love each other, and we’re with each other, and I miss them when I’m away. And then you get to share. And then on top of being really great friends, then you get to sing. And it’s like, “Oh, we can harmonize together. Oh, we can rock together, too.” That’s two really huge pluses.

Lambert: One of our goals is for you to ask us this question in 10 years — and for us to have the same answer. We don’t ever want to get burnt out. We want to keep it about the friendship and the music and never let any of the business or the politics or the greed get in the middle of what we have because it’s too special.

What kind of reaction do you hope people will have when they hear this music?

Presley: I hope they feel how I did when I was growing up, how I felt when I heard a song I could relate to — like songs that helped me get through things, helped me get through my divorce. … A good song is like something you can lean on, and I hope people can lean on these songs on this record.

Monroe: We want them to cry, that’s what we want.

Lambert: We want them to cry, party, scream, jump up and down. All that.

Track List:
01. Hell On Heels
02. Lemon Drop
03. Beige
04. Bad Example
05. Housewife’s Prayer
06. Takin’ Pills
07. Boys from the South
08. The Hunter’s Wife
09. Trailer for Rent
10. Family Feud