Pistol Annies: Looking Back at Their Whirlwind Success
On the morning of April 4, 2011, nobody knew what a Pistol Annie was. Twenty-four hours later, they were all anyone in Nashville could talk about. One week later, artists like Josh Kelley were promising to buy four copies of the trio’s new album when it was available. Two months after that, it was the ‘Today’ show and ‘Good Morning America.’
On August 31, the group had the No. 1 country album in America with 'Hell on Heels.'
This summer, the trio was like a drug that America couldn't, and wouldn't, kick. Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley: three women with stories to tell. And boy can they tell them. Their debut album is courageously straight-forward. It's dark, raw and beautiful. It's a stinging slap across the face of a format that was slowly growing brighter and more pop-friendly.
Lambert admits she was nervous to debut the band that she refuses to label as a side project. The ‘House That Built Me’ singer knew she had the most to lose, coming off of a season of praise for 'Revolution.' A poor reception at the ACM ‘Girls Night Out’ concert (April 4 in Las Vegas, aired on CBS April 22) would have tarnished her star, while Presley and Monroe were unheard of to most fans.
“It’s nerve-wracking for me especially,” Lambert told Taste of Country. “I have a solo career and didn’t want people to compare it or say negative things about the project.”
Monroe remembers the moment they took the stage together for the first time as the group’s no-looking-back turning point. Blake Shelton introduced Lambert, who then brought out her girlfriends. Just before beginning ‘Hell on Heels,’ the group looked out over the audience, and perhaps even fought an urge to to turn back.
“My brain knew it, but my heart knew it when we stepped out onstage and we’re looking down at Reba and Martina and Carrie and the Judds for gosh sakes,” Monroe said in an interview with The Tennessean. “It was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ We hadn’t even played with a band before.”
The story of how the women met is somewhat of a modern day working-woman’s fairytale. Lambert and Monroe were longtime friends who would write music together. They’d talked about this sort of project, but things never solidified until Monroe mentioned Presley.
“I was like, ‘Miranda, do you know Angaleena Presley?’” Monroe said in the article in The Tennessean. “And she was like, ‘No.’ I was like, ‘Mute the TV.’”
“Ashley and Miranda had co-written a few songs that didn’t really fit on their solo albums, and they didn’t know what to do with them, but they didn’t want to give them away because they were great songs,” Presley told Taste of Country. “Ashley played Miranda some of my music and she loved it, and they called me at two o’clock in the morning, forced me out of bed and made me email them my whole record, and that’s all she wrote.”
Almost. The detail Presley skips over in this cliff notes version of the trio’s formation is that she was on the brink of emotional destruction at the time. If you’ve listened to ‘Housewife’s Prayer,’ then you’ve heard Presley’s story. It’s all true.
“I was going through a divorce and … I really was thinking of burning my house down,” she said. “I was thinking about how I could do it without the insurance company finding out, what baby pictures I would take and put in a safe deposit box. So instead of doing it I sat down, picked up my guitar and wrote the first line of that song, or the first couple of lines, and kind of put it away. Then I met Miranda and Ashley and I remembered … and next thing you know we were talking about gas, a gallon of gas and matches, and Ashley was talking about taking pills and washing machines. That song is about some of the low places I’ve been as a former housewife and divorcee.”
While a few songs were already written before Presley was called in -- ‘Beige’ was written the night they called -- Monroe and Presley would join Lambert on tour and write the majority between shows. Lambert’s success with the ‘Revolution’ album cracked open a door for the group’s style of music to squeeze through. Subtlety isn’t their strong suit, however, so with 10 songs about revenge, heartache, family dysfunction and men they love, the group stormed through that door like a herd of wild horses at a church service. Their performance of ‘Hell on Heels’ at the 'Girls Night Out' concert was too powerful to ignore.
The women told Taste of Country they have enough songs to record another two albums right now if they wanted to. Lambert is focusing on releasing her next solo album, so it will likely be another year before they get that opportunity. This time, they're signed with Lambert's label (now RCA Nashville), so they won't have to pony up the money to rent studio space on their own like they did with 'Hell on Heels.'
Things are better for Presley's personal life, as well. She met and fell in love with Lambert's tour manager, Jordan Powell. Recently they bought a home together. “My life has changed so much so fast,” she told The Tennessean. “Everything that I was praying for and hoping for when I was sitting on the couch that day is coming to fruition. It’s like I don’t want to blink, because I’m afraid it will all go away. It’s so crazy when dreams come true. You don’t want to believe it.”
Watch the Pistol Annies 'Hell on Heels' Video