We were lucky enough to be front and centre during the press conferences at the recent C2C Festival in London. Ashley Monroe stopped by to talk to the media about ‘The Blade’, UK audiences, songwriting, Vince Gill and the buzz about that potential Pistol Annies reunion – and you can read what went down below.
For The Country Record: There’s been a lot of issues with women on country radio in the US, for some time now. Do you think the tides are changing?
Ashley: You know, the whole issue with women on radio – obviously I want women to get attention – but I’m more about really good music getting attention, whether it’s a woman or a male, transgender, whatever it is! I’m all for good music. Hopefully there’ll be more women. I just want radio to sound really really good when I turn it on, whether it’s a boy or a girl.
Think Country: You inspire so many with your songs, so who inspires you?
Ashley: You know what, I listen to all kinds of music. I always say I like anything from Emmylou to Eminem. And that’s true; I really do like all kinds of music. I think I’ve just drawn from everything I’ve listened to over the years, and that is somewhere in me, and that’s where I write from. I love Bonnie Raitt, I love Dolly (obviously), I love Black Crowes, Eagles… goes on and on. All kinds.
Sounds Like Nashville: It’s so impressive to me to arrive here and see the fans flocking. Can you just talk about what it means to US country artists that country music has such a big presence here?
Ashley: Country music does have a presence here, and I was told that everyone here, they listen, and they’re just so respectful of music and I really do feel that way. So I’ve been giddy about getting here for a long time and last night when I played – you could tell everyone in the whole rom was listening. There was not anybody who was talking. It’s just so respectful, it makes me wanna just play here all the time. It’s really refreshing to have an audience really listen and care about your words, not just a beat. I don’t have that many up-tempo songs, so I need an audience like you guys, that listen!
Chris Country Radio: What was the last song or album that you listened to and you just thought, “wow, that’s really special”?
Ashley: There’s a band called Dawes in the States. They have an album and a song called ‘All Your Favorite Bands’. I just think that’s one of the most well-written songs ever. Actually that whole record is really really well-written.
For The Country Record: Any news on the Pistol Annies reunion?
Ashley: You know, we never really separated, but we did have a slumber party the other day, and we wrote two songs that night, so we’re still writing songs that we’re really proud of. I think it’s – we don’t have plans, but I feel it’s probably coming back around cause we’re starting to miss each other a lot. Hopefully we’ll all get back together.
RW Publicity: Could you tell us where exactly you were brought up and how the music of that region would have influenced you?
Ashley: I was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, so it’s East Tennessee. Dolly is from Sevierville, so that’s 45 minutes away. It’s in the heart of the Smokey Mountains, so there’s this Appalachian lonesome something that just breathes in the air there, and I always had that, and always heard melodies from the time I was really really young. I would go to Dollywood, that was my Christmas present, season tickets to Dollywood. All my family, we lived on the same street, most all of my family. A little dead-end street. Very idyll, very country. Someone yesterday – I was dressed up – they said, “You look glossy.” And I was like “Am I?” Nobody would even know what that meant where I’m from! And they would laugh if I told them I was glossy. But it was a nice compliment!
Danse Floor Magazine: You have a long story with Vince Gill. How did you meet him and what did he teach you about country music?
Ashley: Vince Gill, actually he got hold of a couple of my demos – before I even had a record deal, so I was 15 years old in Nashville. Dad had just died, mom and I had just moved from Knoxville. He heard who I was, and called me, and said “Hey kid, I heard your stuff, I’d love to take you out to breakfast.” And I was hyperventilating cause Vince Gill’s on the phone! So I said, “Okay, I’ll meet you in the morning!” Well I didn’t have a driver’s license, or a car, so I called him the next morning and said, “Vince? It’s Ashley. Is there any way you can come pick me up and take me to breakfast?” And he was just laughing. He always tells that story. Since then he’s put me under his wing always, and he’s so proud of me. You know, Vince is good – he makes those subtle changes. He’s taught me that you don’t have to do a lick every time. Cause we both can do those licks all day long, and I pick and choose where I do ‘em… he’s taught me a lot of things about country music.
Sounds Like Nashville: So this is like the best girls’ trip ever, right? You and Miranda? Did you get a chance to see any of the sights or do any touristy type things? Or is it all work?
Ashley: So far, well we did walk around to stay awake on our first night here, and drink and shop – only to stay awake, see. Not just for fun! Not really all of it yet, but we have a day off here in a couple of days so I think we’ll wander around then. Drink and shop some more.
BRFM/HRM: As you’re in the UK, do you get to listen to a lot of the UK country music acts? What do you think of the country music scene?
Ashley: I haven’t! I’ve been re-learning my own songs! Make sure I can sing ‘em right! But I’ll dig into it.
RW Publicity: Can you maybe just say something about the whole album, and what you were trying to do? Because they’re very different songs, aren’t they?
Ashley: Yeah, they are, and I named it ‘The Blade’ because all of them kind of have an edge to them. I’m not good at writing fluff I don’t guess. But all of them are very autobiographical, and I have lived every single word of every part of that record. That’s why I’m really really proud of it.
RW Publicity: You’ve done some things where you’ve worked with Chris Stapleton, the Striking Matches who are very popular here.
Ashley: So, Sarah and Justin and I wrote ‘Dixie’ and ‘From Time To Time’ together, Jessi Alexander and Chris Stapleton and I wrote ‘Winning Streak’ and ‘If The Devil Don’t Want Me’… me and Miranda and Jessi wrote ‘I’m Good At Leavin’’… lots of co-writes with my favorite writers who happen to be really close friends. Vince and I wrote ‘The Weight of The Load’, another example. I’m not good at bragging about myself – or even talking about it!
Chris Country Radio: One of the songs that we play people and that we always get a great reaction to is ‘Weed Instead of Roses’. And I was just wondering if because of the content of the song, there was ever any pushback against that in the States?
Ashley: I would say yes, everyone was a little hesitant to play it. There was this one radio station that, “Oh yeah we love it! We’re gonna put it on the air right now!” But he thought it said ‘weeds instead of roses’. Which is what my pappy, my grandfather thought too. He was like “We love that Weeds Instead of Roses song,” and then I noticed it came off their playlist, and I thought I bet he really listened to the words! I wasn’t even gonna cut that song, I wrote that and was like, “Maybe Gretchen [Wilson] will cut it!” Cause she was you know, doing rougher stuff. She didn’t cut it, and I played it for Vince – almost just, I don’t know, I just thought he would laugh – and he goes, “I’m not gonna produce your record unless you cut that song.” And I thought, “I don’t know what Amy Grant is gonna think about this song!” Let me just tell ya, she likes it.
RW Publicity: Tell me about ‘Winning Streak’.
Ashley: I’ll tell you this interesting story. Writing ‘Winning Streak’ – there was a day that Jessi Alexander and Chris Stapleton and myself were writing, we’d started ‘Winning Streak’, had that title and Chris started playing and it was pouring out. We got to the line that said “Damned old devil won’t buy my soul.” And then we thought, “That’s a cool idea!” So we finished that song, and then we wrote “If the devil don’t want me… where the hell do I go?” So we kind of split off of that and wrote two that day, that made the album. Which was nice.
It seems like if somebody is looking for harmony vocals, or a duet, it’s either Karen Fairchild or Ashley Monroe. Does your phone ever stop ringing?
Ashley: (laughs) I’ve done a lot of collaborations. For a while I thought my name was “featuring Ashley Monroe”. But it’s just Ashley Monroe! I have collaborated with a lot of people, and it’s interesting because from Jack White, to Train, to Blake, and Miranda, all these different kinds of music. But I never really see genres, I always just see if you love a song, if you love that person, collaborate with them. But maybe for a little bit I’ll just be ‘just’ Ashley Monroe.
UKcountrymusic.net: There was a bit of a running joke last night about how Lori McKenna was the only one without a smoking or drinking song, so was the crowd reaction much different between here and the US to those kinds of songs?
Ashley: There’s different kinds of crowds in the US, I assume there are here. A lot of crowds are wanting it to be their party and to clap and sing along, and when I get in front of them they kind of look at each other like, “uh oh!” Cause it just doesn’t work, and that’s fine! But crowds like last night, they are definitely in the US as well, but wherever they are, listening crowds are my cup of tea.
Think Country: You have a lot of humour in your songs. I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about the humour and how you like to bring it into the songs?
Ashley: Well, I really have had a hard life. There’s been a lot of dark times and there’s been a lot of just bad, bad things. And I really love having a sense of humor because it makes all of that, it just makes it a little easier when you have a sense of humor about life. And you go, “You know what? That happened, but I’m gonna make a joke about it.” So what I do with my songs is I’ll write something really really sad and then I’ll give you just a little comic relief. Then I’ll rip it up again! So I like writing that way. Sad, laughing, sad, laughing. Maybe it’s bipolar, but whatever! (laughs)