It doesn't take more than a few seconds to figure out what inspired "Grocery Store," one of the standout tracks on American Middle Class, the exceptionally personal solo debut of Pistol Annies member Angaleena Presley. Co-written with Lori McKenna, the song's first line describes exactly where the idea was born: "Standing in line at the grocery store, it's February as cold as it gets."
The tune is a tender meditation about a brief interaction with a little girl who's wearing no coat as her mother stands in line buying tampons and cigarettes. Presley, the daughter of a Kentucky coal miner, is a successful songwriter and artist these days, but she paid her dues on the other side of the cash register working at Walmart and at Winn-Dixie, the quintessential southern grocery store.
"I got the idea when I was pregnant," Presley tells Rolling Stone Country. "I found myself standing in line at the grocery store a lot. I've always been an observer. I've always felt that I was kind of hovering above every situation that I'm in, taking notes. But when you're in line at the grocery store, it's just this thing where, in this country anyway, you're just forced to stop. I think it's really neat that we all kind of have that in common. It's like this forced little moment of meditation that we all have in the middle of our hectic, crazy day."
Although looking back, Presley says the best part about her jobs in the service industry was "punching out at the end of the day… or the smoke breaks in between," she confesses now that she secretly loved the experience.
"It gave me the opportunity to meet all sorts of people from all walks of life, in every socioeconomic background you can imagine," she explains. "I got so many song ideas from doing that. I feel like I learned a lot. And just standing on your feet all day, you learn to appreciate your time off."
In addition to her grocery-store experience, Presley also did her time serving up burgers and fries at a McDonalds in eastern Kentucky.
"Hillbilly central," she calls this particular restaurant in the global franchise. "This guy came in… I felt like he was really from the country and maybe hadn't gone to a lot of fast food places. He came in and looked up at the menu and he goes, [putting on a thick, eastern Kentucky accent], 'Can I get a bucket of chicken?' I said, 'Sir, we, uh… do you mean a chicken sandwich?' He goes, 'No, a bucket of chicken.' 'Well, this is McDonalds. We don't really have buckets of chicken.' He goes, 'Yeah, I just need a bucket of chicken.' I said, 'Well, we have chicken sandwiches.' He was like, 'Well, can I get a bucket of chicken sandwiches?' I said, 'I can give you a bag of chicken sandwiches.' He was like, 'Well, alright.'"
In spite of the built-in challenges, Presley says she was drawn to one aspect of a service-oriented career from a young age, and doesn't seem all that eager to rule it out completely.
"I asked for a cash register for Christmas every year until I was 12 years old," she reveals. "Not like a play one, I wanted a real cash register. I don't know why. To this day, I still stand in line and I look over there and I want to push those buttons."
American Middle Class, featuring "Grocery Store" and 11 other tunes which Presley wrote or co-wrote, will be released October 14th on Slate Creek Records.