Ashley Monroe: Still Comin' Up 'Roses'

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The life of a country star ain't all glitz and glamour -- or, as Ashley Monroe might put it, weed and roses. The singer-songwriter, otherwise known as "Hippie Annie" in her other band, the Pistol Annies, found herself forced to cancel several shows last month due to a decidedly unromantic ailment: a kidney infection.

When she showed up to hang out with the Ram Country team at Michigan's Faster Horses Festival just a few days after visiting the hospital, however, you'd never know the spunky, smiling Monroe had been ill. "It was bad," she admitted, but "I’m better than ever."

She's also raring to go, for the fun reason that she'll be playing the festival with some of her favorite buddies, including her fellow Pistol Annie Miranda Lambert (who, as a matter of fact, ended up taking the stage that night with Monroe). "Right when it hit noon I texted Miranda – I put two clap emoticons and said 'wake up.' Like, 'c’mon, it’s time to go!'”

It's been "time to go" for a while, in terms of Monroe's solo career; a time that finally arrived in full force last year upon the release of her album Like A Rose. Monroe had started out pursuing a musical career as a teen, writing a slate of songs for other artists on the way to creating her first studio album, Satisfied, which went unreleased until 2009. Her unique vocals caught the attention of such admirers as alt-rocker Jack White, as well as Lambert, who famously drew her into the Pistol Annies (along with fellow songwriter Angaleena Presley).

Upon finally receiving a new record deal, Monroe discovered that all good things come to those who wait, as Like A Rose almost uniformly charmed critics across the board and landed her on numerous all-genre best-of lists for 2013.

"I was really excited when Like A Rose came out...I was just happy when it was released," Monroe clarifies. Then when I started remembering 'oh gosh, there’s gonna be reviews of it'...the Washington Post was the first review I read, and it was like 'perfect score' or whatever. And I just started crying. I just felt so relieved. And to be able to be in Rolling Stone magazine and things like that, that’s beyond my wildest dreams. So yes, I’m very humbled by it and very appreciative of it."

She further explains that she herself was surprised by the extraordinary (and cross-genre) response to her record. "I wasn’t expecting anything. I didn’t know what to expect! But I was very happy," she says. "I think music, no matter what genre it is – when it speaks to you, it speaks to you. And I love to collaborate with people who are not necessarily in country music ‘cause if you like music and it makes you feel something, then you like it. So I was very honored to have some of the people I did recognize Like A Rose."

Monroe is currently at work on the follow-up to the album, and she couldn't be happier with how her new music is progressing. "Vince Gill is producing it again; we have 11 songs recorded and we’re gonna go in and do some more. It will probably be out early next year.  I’m so proud of it already; I got to hear one of the tracks the other day with Alison Krauss singing on it and I just wept. I was just like 'wow, I just can’t believe I get to make music for a living.' I can’t wait to share it."

When asked if there are any surprises in store on the new set, Monroe demurs. "I don’t think there are any surprises, but we’ll have to see," she notes. "Everything’s progressing naturally. More than anything I’m just excited, anxious – nervous kind of, but just more excited to get new music out there for everybody."

Another set of music that is sure to be on fans' minds is the possible release of another Pistol Annies record. "Hippie Annie" doesn't have much to confirm on this end, but she does offer a bit of hope: "We don’t have anything planned right now – we never have had anything planned," she laughs. "We’ll just make a record and put it out when we get together, so that’s how it’s continuing to be. Angaleena has a new record, I think it’s coming out in the fall. And Miranda just put out hers, and then I’m going to be putting out mine. That was always the plan all along; we all are solo artists as well. But anytime you get the three of us in a room together, there will be songs written and there will be things happening. So hopefully there’s much more to come!"

The busy Monroe can count on one thing for her calendar, however: A romantic getaway with her new husband, baseball pro John Danks, to celebrate their first wedding anniversary in October. She explains that the pair are both, as one might expect, extremely busy, but are making their dual schedules work.

"Married life is good. We don’t see each other a ton, and I guess it’s good to miss somebody. It makes you appreciate them," she notes. "I got a little tipsy the other night and said, 'We need to go to Hawaii!'So I booked a trip to Hawaii. We're gonna go there for our first anniversary. Kauai – that’s where went for our honeymoon."

We can't think of a better way to recuperate from a long summer of touring, recording, working...and kidney infections! Can you?

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