Ashley Monroe Interview: ‘Like a Rose’ Singer Talks About Love, Music and Being Born With an Appalachian Soul
With Ashley Monroe, it’s barely a cliche. Superstar singers are throwing themselves at her. There was a duet with Ronnie Dunn early in her career. Train’s Pat Monahan and Vince Gill have also come calling, and she regularly writes with rocker Brendan Benson. Monroe’s voice is one successful musicians have wanted to warm up to for over a decade.
It began when she was 15, at the Pancake Pantry in Nashville after Gill picked her up for breakfast. She couldn’t drive, so after accepting his invitation she had to call him back to tell him how to get to the house she and her mother had just moved into. “He heard some of my songs somehow and I don’t even really know how,” Monroe tells Taste of Country of a first meeting that would eventually lead to the legend co-producing her ‘Like a Rose’ album, in stores now.
Maybe that’s when the now 26-year-old’s luck began to turn. Monroe admits she’s lived a difficult life — including the death of her father when she was just 13 — but there’s no pity party happening. The album’s title track serves as a shockingly honest autobiography, and more than a few of the other eight cuts borrow heavily from personal experience. Through this she’s emerged both confident in the gift God has given her, yet still humble — astonishingly humble. One never gets a sense that she’s bought into the hype of her solo career, or her success with Pistol Annies.
“If I ever feel completely comfortable pulling up to Vince Gill’s house and not aware of who he is than maybe I should go be a waitress,” she says during an conversation that explored the depths of her album, her engagement to Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks (there’s no timetable for the wedding, yet) and what it’s like to sing a love song with her best friend’s husband.
ToC: Everyone is loving your album so far. It’s been nothing but positive reviews.
Ashley Monroe: I know, I’m so relieved. I’m obviously excited about it and very proud of it, but every artist wants everybody else to love it, too. So when I started seeing the early reviews come in, I took a deep breath, like, “Phew.”
Did you feel you had to make a conscious effort to make an album that separated you from Pistol Annies?
No, ’cause when we’re together it’s three individual artists that make it what it is. When you separate us, we’re still who we are separately. And this record is definitely who I am.
What are the two most personal and revealing songs on ‘Like a Rose’?
Umm … ‘Like a Rose.’ ‘Morning After’ is probably another one. Every time I sing it’s like a knife in the heart, but in a good way. But, I love it.
I started it when I was 17, I had that “nothing hits, nothing hurts like the morning after.” I remember I had just been thinking about how that can pertain to a lot of things. Obviously your first (time) with alcohol, partying too hard and waking up. But also heartbreak. And waking up the morning after and realizing, ‘Oh my God, that wasn’t a dream.’
When you listen to this album and some of the material from the Pistol Annies album, it sounds like you’ve lived a really difficult life. I mean, we just wanna give you a hug at times.
[laughs] I’m fine. Don’t you worry about me. I heard Loretta Lynn say the other day “You gotta live life to write a song about it.” If I hadn’t have gone through what I’ve gone through, I’d be really boring.
I feel like everything I write about is a gift I need to share because there is somebody out there going through a similar thing that might need to hear it. I know music helped me a lot. And still does.
Your voice has a real natural sadness. Even the happier songs sound a little bittersweet. Does the voice create the singer, or is your style more of a product of songs that you write and enjoy singing?
I don’t know. When I sing I go somewhere else, every time after I sing I’ll ask, “Did I do OK?” Because I feel like it’s like my soul squeezing out of my vocal chords. I don’t sit there and think about “I’m gonna do this next …,” I just sing. I sing from my heart and my heart’s got a little lonesome in it. I think being from east Tennessee you’re kinda born with a little lonesome in your soul, in your blood. You know you’ve got that Appalachian soul.
How many times can you sing a song before the emotion is muted?
It’s not happened yet. And that’s the God’s honest truth. That’s why I like singing songs that I wrote. I see it in my head and I feel it and I never lose it. I never do.
Would people who know you describe you as an emotional person?
At times, I think. I think every woman is an emotional being. But no, I don’t know. That’s a tricky question. I mean I laugh and cry like every other human. I won’t have like a meltdown in public and fall on the floor or anything. I’m pretty stable [laughs] — in public, at least. Or until my hormones get going.
Is it odd to sing a song like ‘You Ain’t Dolly (And You Ain’t Porter)’ with your best friend’s husband?
[laughs] No. Not at all. Me and Blake are buddies. We are tight. And he and Miranda … we’ve all been through so much together. That’s like a little family. So no, not at all that’s the perfect person to sing that, and she knows it too. She’s excited.
Who’s more intense: Country music fans or baseball fans?
Baseball fans! Good lord! I feel like sports fans get mad at you easier than country music fans. It scares me. I’m glad that country fans don’t get mad every time I mess up.
What’s the last non-music job you held?
Never. I played at a show in Pigeon Forge when I was 11. Yodeled and sang and got paid. And that’s the only job, but it was music.
You never had to serve coffee or wait tables?
No, I’ve had a hard enough time, I don’t need to throw a waitress story in there.