An afternoon spent hanging with the Pistol Annies is pretty much similar to the scenario in the band's latest video, "Hush Hush"--lots of laughter and girl talk. As the three women glam up for a special secret show in a tiny California desert town--all three traipsing in ultra-femme jeweled flip-flops--the conversation bounces easily around everything from current dress styles to eyeliner to sharing each other's things on the road ("Well, obviously not bras, we have three different sizes here").
This is a girl's club, for sure, where boys are allowed but will be hard-pressed to keep up. However, despite all the fun going on, the undeniable fact is that it's pretty hard to find a group of artists currently busier--or more business-minded--than the Pistol Annies.
In addition to running a packed promotional circuit for their highly anticipated sophomore album, Annie Up, the Annies individually have more going on in 2013 than anyone has a right to juggle.
The trio's cornerstone, Miranda Lambert, has been enjoying a massively successful run --including her current post as both the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music's female artist of the year. Then, of course, there's her role as half of country's reigning couple (with husband Blake Shelton). Ashley Monroe is riding high off the glowing critical acclaim for her recently released solo album, Like A Rose--and, she's in the midst of planning a wedding to Chicago White Sox starting pitcher John Danks. Angaleena Presley is one of Nashville's top songwriters, balancing work with her role as a newlywed (she married Lambert's tour manager, Jordan Powell, one year ago) and mom to a young son.
That said, how on earth do any of them find time for the Pistol Annies--which has of its own accord grown from a side project to a highly successful outfit in its own right? "I guess we just don't have a choice," laughs Lambert. "We make the time because we get together and every time we're in the same room or on the same bus or in the same vicinity of each other, we always end up writing a song or five.
"We feel like it would be harder to ignore it than it would to just go the extra mile and work extra hard and do this, 'cause it just feels right," she adds.
"And we like each other," notes Presley, with a smile. "I mean, we miss each other when we're not around each other!"
Monroe offers that she feels the group has allowed all of them to express themselves a bit more daringly overall: "When we're together, we're like, oh, we probably wouldn’t say everything that we say on our records if we were going to do it by ourselves. But since we're all together, we get a little bit more courage."
Lambert also points out that their singing chops have grown and gelled as a unit during the process of making Annie Up, something she's considerably proud of. "As a group, our harmonies are really good--we sound like a unit now," she explains. "Our first record, we were just girls writing songs, singing together and that's what it was. This time, we spent two years singing together on the bus and on stage and, you know, writing songs together and I feel like now, we actually sound like a band...we actually got that compliment from our producer in the studio."
"We've learned to follow each other, you know?" agrees Monroe. "We can kind of all tell now where the other one's about to go and it's a lot stronger than it was on our first record."
One other thing the Annies' tight-knit camaraderie has offered to the artists individually is much-needed backbone and support for the long weeks spent away from home--and from their beloveds, all of whom have time-consuming careers of their own, to say the least. Lambert notes that she thinks "having your own thing" helps "keep it interesting" in a relationship, but she admits juggling personal and work time can be grueling.
"It's really hard sometimes to spend weeks at a time apart because you sometimes have to put up that wall of defense just to protect yourself from being too sad," she explains. "Then you see the person and you have this little bit of a wall up and you're like, hey nice to meet you again...You have to, like, [not] waste your whole time dreading leaving. I had to teach myself that."
Presley agrees. "You just want to maximize every second, every second. But then you realize--well, wait, I've been with three girls and 50 crew guys and I need time for me, too. So it's like you also have to figure out how to have time for yourself, so it gets confusing."
"So, it's really hard, but I think it just somehow makes you stronger," states Lambert. "And also you have to rely on each other. Luckily on the road we are a family, so we all lean on each other when we don't have the person we're in love with."
"We're backups," laughs Monroe. "We take the punches!"
Like all families, however, the three strong--and headstrong--songwriters have had to learn how to resolve conflicts and live together in close quarters for long periods of time, be it in a tour bus or a recording studio. "We are like sisters, and that's the truth, whether it's just hanging out or if we're working or whatever," explains Monroe. "We respect each other, so we all listen to what the other ones say. But it is like family--and you know, you put three strong personalities on a bus, there will be some conflict. But the good thing about is we resolve it right then. We'll yell and say everything we need to say, and then we'll start bawling about five minutes later, and then we're stronger than we were before."
Otherwise, the three "sisters" are remarkably, well, sisterly about sharing their things while out on the road together. Presley relates: "I'm probably the worst, I'll show up in a T-shirt and Miranda's like, isn't that my T-shirt? And I'm like, yeah," she laughs. "She's like, 'ah, you can have it.'"
At the root of it all, the Annies agree that this time around, they've kept their minds set in one place--delivering music their fans will get into. "We're kind of in awe at our fans of the variety that we've attracted," says Monroe. "We love it. We love all of them, that that many people can relate to what we're singing about."
"We had some girl come up to us the other day in L.A. and she was like, 'I came to your show by myself. I'm a heavy metal fan only, that's all I listen to, except for y'all.' And we're like, okay, that's a little bit different," Lambert laughs.
"We thought about the fans a lot more," Presley notes. "We were playing every night and I think we were inspired by how they react--because you don't really know what they're going to do until you play them the songs.
"It was so fun seeing big cowboys sing 'Hell on Heels' with their beers. We were like 'What else can we make those boys say?" We can't wait to sing 'Being Pretty Ain't Pretty' and seeing, like, cowboys sing that song!"
These girls may be growing up and calming down, but at heart, they're still rebels.
"We're settled down but we'll never be tied down," says Monroe with a grin.