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Pistol Annies Talk ‘Ball-Breaking,’ Burning Down Houses and Breaking Nashville’s Rules

Pistol Annies
Randee St. Nicholas

One song. One video. One high-profile television appearance. That pretty much sums up Pistol Annies‘ resume. So why are they the hottest new country act of 2011? They hardly deserve it … right?

“Others have worked harder, longer and been overlooked. They need to pay their dues,” a jealous critic may say. Go ahead, you try telling Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe that. Then listen to songs like ‘Hell on Heels’ or ‘Housewife’s Prayer’ from their forthcoming debut album. Does it still feel like they aren’t “deserving”?

The fact is all three have lived, loved and scorned. While the ACM ‘Girls Night Out’ performance was their official coming out party last April, the trio has been hard at work writing and recording for most of the two-and-a-half years they’ve been friends. Their first “single” hasn’t really cracked radio, but has far outpaced charting songs in terms of single sales. That shows loyalty. They’re stirring up passion in a way country fans haven’t heard since women named Patsy or Loretta sold out concert halls.

In a recent Taste of Country interview, the three women talked about their friendship and the stories behind some of the 10 tracks on ‘Hell on Heels,’ available August 23. It turns out they’re not as ornery as they seem, but we didn’t try to cross them the wrong way.

Country listeners first heard about this project about three or four months ago, but is this something you have been working on for a while?
Angaleena Presley
: Yeah, we actually met like two and half years ago. 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. 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.

Are you a little nervous about the overwhelmingly positive response you’ve gotten?
Miranda Lambert
: I’ve been excited. It’s nerve-wracking for me especially. I have a solo career and didn’t want people to compare it or say negative things about the project. So far, knock on wood, we’ve had really great reviews and really great fan response. It feels good to know what we thought was so great, other people do too.

Is there one or two songs on the album that directly come from a personal experience or something you lived?
Presley
: Yeah, I think a lot of the songs came from different aspects of our personal lives. For me I guess the closest song to my heart at the time we wrote the record was ‘Housewife’s Prayer.’ I was going through a divorce and … I really was thinking of burning my house down. 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.

And you’re engaged now, right? Does your fiance know that story?
Presley
: He knows it all too well [laughs].

How about you Ashley, which song is most personal to you?
Ashley Monroe
: I can draw from all of them. ‘Family Feud,’ I lost my father and the day after I had family members come and grab all of his tools. I saw how that can kind of happen … I’ve seen firsthand how cruel a family can be over possessions. All of them have a little bit of our own life experiences.

In a recent interview you talked about how working together was sort of like breaking the rules, or at the very least bad Nashville politics. Can you explain that a little further?
Lambert
: Labels sign you because they want to own your voice and own what you do. Ashley is on Warner Brothers, and I’m on Sony. And when we were trying to get signed, Sony wanted us and Warner Brothers weren’t thrilled that Sony had the first option. So there’s those kind of politics that you have to deal with, but at the same time we didn’t have a label when we did our first six songs. We recorded the first six songs on our own budget because we didn’t want to wait for all that to get ironed out. So we just kind of started this band, recorded these songs and got signed after that … normally that’s not how it’s done.

Are you surprised by the positive reaction you’ve gotten from men? That men love it despite there being a lot of man bashing songs on the album?
Presley
: There’s man loving songs on there too. We said, in an earlier interview … he said he was expecting there to be more ball-breaking than we actually did on the record and we said, “Well hey. We don’t just break balls, we like ‘em too.”

We know Blake Shelton is an honorary Annie. Who else in country music might be asked to become an honorary Annie?
Lambert
: Loretta Lynn and Ashton Shepherd so far [laughs].

Is that official?
Lambert
: Actually, we haven’t asked them yet, but Blake’s an ‘Andy.’
Presley
: Ashton knows. She’s on the road with us and we love her.
Monroe
:We adore her.
Presley
: We are big fans of her. She’s amazing. Great person. Great artist.

Is there a ceremony?
Lambert
: Yes, you have to have adult beverages. So we’re going to wait ‘til she’s not pregnant anymore [all laugh].

Watch the Pistol Annies ‘Hell on Heels’ Video

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