Pistol Annies

The Pistol Annies never schedule or regulate a new album. Friendship and a love of strong stuff (country music, men, good times) is the currency that bonds songwriter/artists Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley; the records happen when the time is right.

“The universe tells us when it’s time,” offers the dark-headed Presley.

Monroe picks up, “And we all just know. Then there’ll be a song that starts to percolate, something starts to swirl that sort of proves it.”

Swirl it did when Lambert texted her friends a verse of what became ‘When I Was His Wife.’ Presley was on tour with Brandy Clark, and sent a verse back ten minutes later. Monroe responded with another verse almost as quick.  “Miranda got ’em, did a work tape,” Presley laughs, “and we were out of the chute.”

Out of the chute and straight onto the open road. Interstate Gospel is the third album from the iconoclastic keepers of a traditional country flame. And it’s not just the music — though with a band of Matt Chamberlain on drums, Glenn Worf on bass, Frank Rische and Dan Dugmore on guitar, Fats Kaplan on steel, guitar and dobro and Chuck Leavell on piano they were going deep – but the fact that Gospel unflinching attacks the real life, frayed at the seams realities country music used to be about, speaks volumes to the truth the Annies are seeking.

Whether it’s the plucky post-divorce ‘Got My Name Changed Back,’ the adrift in what we’re supposed to want ‘Best Years of My Life,’ or the throw down church sign redemption of the title track, the Annies are indomitable. High spirited, unflinching, throwing down a gauntlet that epitomizes modern women in their best and worst moments, a lot has happened since 2011’s gold Hell on Heels and 2013’s Annie Up – and it’s all here.

“We make a record when we want to,” explains Lambert unapologetically. “We sing about what we want to. It’s not, ‘Well, what’d we do last time?’ It’s, ‘Hey, what’ve you been doing?’ Okay. Let’s write about it.’

“Even though we are all individuals, we all have the same basic message of telling the truth and not hiding who we are.”  There are knowing nods all around. Beyond the time between albums, there’s been a lot of life and miles under the tires – and they know it.

“There’s just the daily ins and outs of stuff, but things have happened, too,” Lambert says. “Two weddings, a divorce, a baby and a baby on the way,” Presley continues.

“In five years,” Monroe concludes. “And it all gets reflected in the way we write. I think we’ve always been strong women, so now we’re in an even stronger state of mind from overcoming some of the hardest – and most joyous – things you can go through. And it’s all in there.”

All that, and more. From the truth in advertising slow country ‘Leavers Lullaby’ to the gleaming heartbreaker ‘Cheyenne’ through regretting the life not lived tug of ‘Milkman’ straight into the canny camaraderie of ‘Stop Drop and Roll One,’ these are real moments, real people, real emotions.

So real, it’s almost just scooped up off the floor.

Monroe smiles as she recounts, “We’d just finished a song out at the farm, and Miranda said, ‘Girls, we’re on fire I think…,” and then she said, ‘So stop, drop and roll one!’ And then our friend Amy, said, ‘I hope we leave this honky tonk covered in men’ when we were all out for one of my birthdays. She’s single, and she really was ready to be covered in men!”

“It’s just a bunch of women getting wild, letting loose,” Presley says. “They might be married, single, at the end of the night they’re not sure.”

Monroe picks up, “On that same trip, Ang woke up and literally said, ‘Get this thing off me! Where the hell is my bra?’”  Lambert laughs, and marvels, “These are actual conversations. All we do is write a melody to them.”

It’s a little more complicated than that. For the women whose harmonic influences run the gauntlet from the Indigo Girls to the Louvin Brothers, Diamond Rio and Restless Heart to The Beach Boys, it is also the frisson of a great band playing live and trying to get the magic to happen in the moment.

“As a songwriter, knowing a comment became a song that became this record,” Lambert begins, “it’s a beautiful thing to see that come together. From her saying, ‘Where’s my bra?’ to it turning into the recording of ‘Stop, Drop & Roll One,’ it came a long way. When we hire a band, we hire people who love music as much as we do, and who want to be a part of it. They know we’re songwriters, and these are our stories, so the music needs to follow that.”

…read the rest of the story in Issue 91.