Ashley Monroe was still a teenager when she landed her first record deal, kicking off a career whose highlights include a string of high-profile collaborations —a Number One duet with Blake Shelton, “Lonely Tonight,” and an ongoing membership in the Pistol Annies — and critically-acclaimed solo albums like 2018’s Sparrow. She’s a unique kind of crossover artist, writing hits for mainstream-minded artists like Jason Aldean one minute and chasing her own Americana muse the next. Talking with Chris Shiflett during the newest episode of Walking the Floor, she covers the full spread of her career, from her childhood days in the church choir to her current U.S. tour.
Sparrow finds Monroe making peace with the personal battles she waged during her childhood years.
“I grew up fast, and there was a lot that needed to be resolved,” Monroe says of her adolescence, during which she lost her father to cancer when she 13 years old. She turned to songwriting as a means of therapy. Decades later, Monroe revisits many of those early songs on Sparrow, an album inspired by forgiveness, healing, self-resilience and the expansion of her own nuclear family. “Dave [Cobb] said he kind of felt a release of the pain as I was making the record,” she says, name-checking the album’s all-star producer.
She’s a proud fan of her own album.
Sparrow was recorded in January 2017 and released more than a year later, giving Monroe plenty of time to mull over the recordings in the interim. “I listened to this record nonstop, the whole time I was pregnant,” she admits. “I was driving around in my car. I joked to Dave that I was ‘Kanye Monroe’ because I loved myself so much. I just rode around, blasting myself, which I’ve never done before.”
Before earning an audience with her own music, Monroe built a career as a behind-the-scenes songwriter.
“My first cut was a song I wrote when I was 19, but I was in my early 20s when it got cut,” she tells Shiflett. “It was Jason Aldean, ‘The Truth.’ It was a Number One song on country [radio].” Monroe also co-wrote Miranda Lambert’s “Heart Like Mine,” which topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 2011. The two were both signed to Sony at the time, and they forged a friendship based upon a mutual respect of each other’s tunes. “At first, she didn’t like me because I was another blonde girl singer,” Monroe says of her Pistol Annies bandmate, “but then she liked my songs, so we became friends.”
Monroe and Lambert formed the Pistol Annies while smoking pot after a camping trip.
“Her and I hung out all the time back then,” says Monroe, who remembers taking a camping trip in Lambert’s Airstream trailer sometime back in 2011. After logging a day or two in the outdoors, the two headed to Lambert’s then-home in Oklahoma, where they spent an evening watching TV and listening to Angaleena Presley’s music. Lambert, who’d never heard Presley before, was impressed. Around midnight, they decided to call Presley and propose the idea of forming a band together. “She was like, ‘Why are y’all calling me up at midnight?'” Monroe remembers, laughing. “Miranda was like, ‘Do you wanna be in a band with us?’ And [Angaleena]’s like, ‘Y’all high?’ And we were like, ‘Yes, but we still want to be a band.'”
The secret to the Pistol Annies’ success? A genuine appreciation for one another’s opinion, as well as a lot of mutual respect.
“This [upcoming Annies] record more than ever, we are just in constant communication about the music,” explains Monroe. “All three of us have very distinctive sounds, but we’re all fans of each other. I like it when Angaleena is like, ‘I have a production idea,’ because I’m gonna like it and it’s gonna be different. We all really do equally contribute.”