She’s a busy one, that Ashley Monroe. The 26-year-old country singer already has one of the most stunning albums of 2013 to her name with “Like A Rose” — and if that wasn’t enough, she’ll be serving up a second offering when Pistol Annies, her supergroup with Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley, drops its new disc, “Annie Up,” on May 7.
With Monroe booked to open for the great Don Williams at the Birchmere in Alexandria on May 20 (don’t miss it), and with “Like A Rose” coming out on vinyl this week (ditto), we spoke with her over the phone about the catharsis of singing sad songs for strangers and the joys of record shopping.
Check out an acoustic performance of Monroe’s title track and read the interview below.
A lot of folks seem to be talking about “Like A Rose” like its a debut, but you’ve been working hard in Nashville for many years. Did you approach this album as if people might be hearing you for the first time?
I realized that this album needed to be 100 percent me… I didn’t think about having a single. I didn’t think about much other than if it felt right. I would go over to [producer Vince Gill]’s house and it almost felt like a jam session, but a real important one… Every song felt so magical because of that. Everyone just played to feel the music.
How do you execute the balancing act between Pistol Annies and your solo career?
Us girls, we really can’t be separated anyway, just as friends and as songwriters. So we’re always around each other, and they’ve both been so supportive of my record, too. So this whole year will be about promoting both… And I’m the same person. I’m “Hippie Annie” [her nickname in the band] and Ashley, and you can’t be out there too much.
What’s the difference creatively? Do you feel more confident when you’re on stage surrounded by others?
I don’t feel more confident one way or the other, really. As long as I’m doing music I love, I’m confident in it. But it’s fun to get up there and share the stage with two girls, I’m not gonna lie. And if I fall or miss a chord or somebody else messes up, we’ll catch the other one.
Your voice is so good at surfacing sadness. How do you access those raw emotions with your singing? Is it something you’ve worked at?
It definitely comes natural, especially when I’m singing sad songs. I don’t really know how to explain it, but I kind of go away. I always have. And when my dad passed, there’s a lot of sadness right below the surface, and I think there will be until the day I die. So writing sad songs helps it. And when I sing them it’s pure therapy for me. I’m crying, in a way, through my voice and through these songs. I’m glad that I had Vince and my manager say, ‘Okay, we need some happy songs.’ You would have really been crying if you heard all the songs I could have put on there.
Wow. So there are more where these came from.
Oh my God, yes.
Live, does it feel like emotional whiplash to go from one emotion to the other?
Yeah, a little bit. I close my eyes when I sing the sad ones because I see a sort of story in my head. But when I open my eyes and see people singing back… it’s really encouraging to know I can get up there and sing what I know about and they get it.
I heard your album is coming out on vinyl this weekend in time for Record Store Day?
Yeah! One of my favorite things to do is sit around and listen to old records… You’re forced to listen to the whole thing. And it’s so cool digging through the bins trying to find them. I get giddy about records.