DIARY - 27 MAY 2013 - ASHLEY MONROE FEATURE
MONROE - BELATED BLOOMS
only 13 when daddy died/ Mama started drinking, and my brother just quit
trying/ I'm still bouncing back, heaven only knows how I came out like
a rose." - Like A Rose - Ashley Monroe-Jon Randall-Guy Clark.
Monroe has plenty of major strings to her bow - and they don't just
include writing with expat Novocastrian Catherine Britt when Britt
was living on the edge for five years in Nashville.
And, like Britt, her first Nashville produced disc withered on the
vine and failed to burst from the chute when it was due.
But the Tennessean hung in, joined the Pistol Annies, and is now blooming
- like a rose.
She and Britt, with whom she wrote Call You Back Town and Down
for Britt's self-titled fourth album, shared dreams to write with
the best roots country tunesmiths in Music City and blaze her own
her debut hit Like A Rose penned with Texans Guy Clark and Jon
Randall - third of six times wed Lorrie Morgan's four ex-singing spouses
- she's front and centre in the cred country posse.
She expands on her long stemmed floral fantasy with Give Me Weed Instead
Of Roses - a satiric stab at trad romantic stimulants.
Born in tiny Corryton, just east of Knoxville, Ashley grew up on the same
street where most her family members lived.
A cousin to country legend Carl Smith - first ex-husband of June Carter
Cash and father of Carlene Carter - she received a Patsy Cline cassette
tape in her Christmas stocking, not long after she learned to talk.
It cemented her love for emotionally-charged country music and gave her
the desire first to sing, then start writing.
At 10 Ashley was singing Amazing Grace in church when she forgot
the words and ran off stage.
She recovered quickly and was a regular performer at a theatre in Pigeon
Forge - near Dollywood.
When she was 11 Monroe won a talent contest singing I Want To Be a
Cowboy's Sweetheart and two years later her father gave Ashley her
But it's a tragic reality rooted loss that fertilised the Knoxville girl's
second solo album title track produced by Randall sidekick Vince Gill
and Justin Niebank.
At 13 Ashley's life was shattered by the death of her father, Larry, from
pancreatic and liver cancer.
She retreated and found solace in song-writing during her grief.
Ashley didn't spend much time with kids her own age because they couldn't
understand her sorrow.
She admits her relationship with mother Kellye, who had a son five years
older than Ashley, suffered as well, although they're now best of friends.
"When I was 13, my dad got sick," Monroe revealed on the eve
of her album's release in Australia.
"He got pancreatic and liver cancer. He was only 40, and three months
after he was diagnosed, he passed away. When that happened, my life as
I knew it went completely opposite. Nothing was stable. My mom was devastated.
I had this dream, and I knew my dad believed in me, and I just thought,
'I can't give up. I can't crawl into a dark hole and just give up. I have
to keep going, I have to.' So we stayed in Knoxville until I was about
15. Finally, I told my mom, 'We need to get out. We need a fresh start.
I'm going to write songs. I'm going to sing.' We knew nobody in Nashville
or knew nothing about the music industry - nothing. Looking back, it's
almost like I feel my dad was kind of guiding us, like yelled, 'Hey, you
two blond girls, go this way.' Because it's just amazing how I met some
really great people that are still a part of my career. Brett James was
one of the first writers that I wrote with, and that's who I wrote The
Truth with. I think it was my daddy up there kind of helping us out."
DRIVING ME OUT OF YOUR MIND
battle I'm fighting's already been fought/ the man I'm losing's already
been lost/ I've been down this road, I've seen all the signs/ she's driving
me out of your mind." - She's Driving Me Out Of Your Mind - Ashley
So how did
Monroe hook up with two time Aussie tourist Guy Clark who also wrote with
Britt before she boomeranged from Nashville to Newcastle?
"I hold him so high up on my dream list," Monroe explained.
"His publisher was like, 'yeah, he'll write with you.' I was like,
'Oh gosh, now I've got to bring in a great title! I've got to show him
I can really write. I can't just go and sit in front of Guy Clark and
stare at him.' Guy is just cool. He doesn't try to be cool. It's intimidating
to be around him. He's this tall guy and he's just got this thing about
him. I started to get nervous and when I get nervous I talk even faster
than I normally do. So I was like 'well, Guy, I got this one idea da da
da da da." As soon as it got silent, he'd say, 'Hmmm.' Not in a mean
way, he was just taking it in. So I would say, "Well, I've got this
other idea." He said, 'Well, just tell me about yourself. So I start
telling him my whole story. But look at me, I came out like a rose."
Guy's reply: "Well, let's write that."
Gill sang harmony on the song.
Some details, like transplanting the song's main character to North Dakota
from east Tennessee, are fictional.
KNOXVILLE TO NASHVILLE
backtrack to the arrival in Nashville of the descendent of the Carter
Family and bluegrass sire Bill Monroe.
Monroe, now 26 and engaged to Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks, chose
writing and singing for her supper as a teenager.
"Yeah! The first record I made when I was 17," Monroe recalled.
"Labels merged and plans didn't work out, but plans never work out
as planned. But I never stopped making music. I never had a backup plan.
I never thought maybe I should just write, or maybe I should. I just kept
going. I thank God that I didn't overthink it because there was a plan
after all, for me to make another record and for it to be with Vince Gill,
and here it is. And for the Annies. That was the most unexpected, unplanned,
magnificently, beautifully-timed thing ever."
Ashley scored a songwriting contract shortly after arrival in Nashville
and two years later, she signed to Sony Music.
Radio programmers couldn't fit her music to their format.
Her Sony album, the boldly traditional Satisfied, remained largely
unreleased and Ashley and the label parted ways in 2007.
In 2009, the disc was made available via digital retailers.
So it was her writing - replete with bucket, not glass metaphor - that
provided sweet solace.
"Yes, I've always described it as my bucket filling up," Monroe
"Right now I'm in the emptying stage of the bucket. I go live life
and absorb all these things whether it's song titles or melodies, then
all at once it'll just come spilling out of me. I've been in a spilling-out
stage for year. Out with the Annies, we wrote our second record on the
road. Literally, I can't even stop myself. We wrote one last week. The
record's done and I hear this melody but I can't stop it. I love it though,
it's such good therapy. It feels so good when you've written a song you
listened back and you can't believe it."
INSTEAD OF ROSES
we've been together for a long, long time/ you get home from work and
then we just turn out the lights/ lately I've been dreaming you in leather,
me in lace/ let's put up the teddy bears, and get out the whips and chains/
give me weed instead of roses/ bring me whiskey instead of wine/ every
puff, every shot, you're looking better all the time." - Weed
Instead Of Roses - Ashley Monroe-Sally Barris-John McElroy.
reached back to her embryonic Nashville era for Weed Instead Of
Roses - she wrote it with Sally Barris and John McElroy when she
was just 19.
It's Ashley's plea to her partner that if he wants to get romantic
she prefers him to woo her with something other than the old stand-by.
She substitutes the organic herb superb for long-stemmed flowers that
will soon wilt and die.
Producer Gill - husband of Christian singer Amy Grant - immediately
fell for the song's humour.
"I talk to myself a lot, in my head," Monroe explained.
the way to this writing session, I heard, 'Give me weed instead of roses.'
I got real tickled. Sally's just a beautiful writer, a beautiful singer,
beautiful soul from Minnesota. But she's real dainty. John is not dainty.
He's hard-core. So, I went in and I said to them, 'I just heard the craziest
thing in my head: 'Give me weed instead of roses.' John was like, 'I love
it!' and Sally said 'Oh, that's funny.' So we wrote this song and it got
on one of the compilations to Vince, who said he wouldn't do the record
unless we cut it. I was like, 'What are you and Amy doing'?'"
"Trust me," Vince replied with a broad smile.
"Them Christian girls are freaks! You've just got to marry 'em to
The herbal refreshment referenced in the tune is not the only lyric likely
to loosen buckles in the Bible belt.
There's also whips, chains and sexy underwear are all part of the adventure
the singer plans for herself and her man.
"We were laughing that whole co-write," Ashley recalled.
"I was saying, 'Let's just go there.' People are either going to
love me or hate me for it. But I'm going to sing about what I'm going
to sing about. If people can't laugh at it or take a joke, they can listen
to something else. I honestly never expected to have it on a record, but
then Vince co-producer with Justin Niebank heard it and said he wasn't
going to do the record unless it was on there. Every time I sing it, I
laugh, because it's about things everyone knows but doesn't talk about."
the man is gone/ what a damn cliché/ and my mama says/ looks like
I've gained some weight/ landlord's at the door/ he says the rent can't
wait/ but I'm a dollar short/ and two weeks late." - Two Weeks
Late - Ashley Monroe-Shane McAnally.
co-write with Shane McAnally on Two Weeks Late pushes radio boundaries
in a similar vein to Eric Church hit Two Pink Lines.
And it shares a similar theme to fellow Pistol Annies singer Angaleena
Presley tune Knocked Up, also cut by Trick Pony singer Heidi Newfield
and Hunter Valley roots country chanteuse Kirsty Akers.
The version by Akers, who opened for Texans Hayes Carll and Steve Earle
and Jace Everett on their Australian tours, is accompanied by a humorous
Ashley also wrote another poignant pregnancy song Beige on the
Pistol Annie's Hell on Heels.
"I'm not pregnant or anything," Monroe explained.
"But I was thinking about that the other day: 'How weird to have
two songs co-written about being knocked up walking down the aisle.' Now,
no, I've not personally been knocked up out of marriage, but I know and
have seen a lot of people who have. But then I thought, 'I sang at my
cousin's wedding when I was 11, and she was pregnant walking down the
aisle.' And there were some other things. Like I said earlier, I'm a sponge,
and there's a lot of life I've witnessed in my life. "
Monroe draws on reality for all of her material.
"I can't even begin to tell you all of the things I've seen and been
through at 26," Monroe said of The Morning After.
"But I really feel like I've been given those experiences so I can
write about them and tell people 'Life goes on. I started The Morning
After when I was 17. My dad had died and my mother left and I was
living with my brother, who was partying out of grief. So I was introduced
to this world of numbing the pain - and also the consequences of it. People
can relate to that; a lot happens - and you deal with it."
Monroe expanded candidly on her writing sources.
"I make up stories in my head all the time but I've never written
them down," the singer explained.
"But I write a lot of story songs. Any song I'm singing, I sort of
see it like a movie in my head. That's why a lot of times I close my eyes
when I'm singing. I've had people tell me before, 'open your eyes.' I
do, but sometimes when I'm so deep in a song, like Morning After,
when I'm singing it, it almost physically hurts because I feel it so much
and I see the same scene in my head every time. So if you see me closing
my eyes, it's because I'm living it.
down to sleep at night until the craving for you wakes me up/ I reach
out to grab you, gotta have you, yell until I had enough/ and you got
me now." - You Got Me - Ashley Monroe-Karen Fairchild.
wrote the dark reflection You Got Me with Little Big Town
star Karen Fairchild who sings on the album version.
"That one means a lot to me because it's depending on something
that's no good for you," Monroe said. "Whether it's drugs
or relationships or whatever. The melody and the first verse came
to me in my sleep. The next day I was writing with Karen Fairchild,
so it made sense for them to sing on it. I'm so happy they got to
because of like a choir of angels singing about addiction. It's
about an addiction to something - one thing or another, whether
you're stuck in a bad relationship or alcohol or whatever it is.
And you try to hide it and fight it but you're kind of saying, 'alright,
you got me.' "
doesn't resile from writing from the heart.
"Now it's actually harder not to," she explained.
you get everything out of your head about what everybody else is going
to think, will radio play it - and I hope they do, I really do - once
you shed all of that and just be who you are, that's who I am. That's
taken a lot of growing up. I've come into myself musically and as a woman
and I hope to keep growing. If you don't grow, you die.
Monroe and Gill kept the recording organic.
"We just got the band in a circle and started playing the songs,"
"And once we felt like we had a feel for it, I'd do my vocal live
- I never went back in to do a second vocal. Everyone put everything we
had into the songs. There was a buzz in the room. We all had fun - it
felt like a big old family, the way records used to be made."
USED - MATERNAL MEMORIES
I'm not some bright and shiny/ polished-up car that's sparkling new/ right
off the salesroom floor/ yeah, I've got some dents and bruises/ I've been
dropped and there's a scar/ where my heart was broke before / but in the
end I'll be worth a whole lot more used." - Used - Ashley Monroe-Sally
baring is Used - the second tune on this disc - penned with Sally
Barris at 19.
That was also inspired by Monroe's mother when she became a widow at 38.
"She was feeling down low," Monroe recalled.
"And she wasn't feeling pretty, and wasn't feeling young, and was
feeling that she was going to be alone the rest of her life. I thought,
'Well, she's worth it. The things I've seen her do, she's such a strong,
beautiful woman. She's worth so much more to me now.' "
Used first appeared on Satisfied - the debut album Monroe
lost in label-merger limbo in 2007 and finally released in 2009.
Monroe released two solo singles Satisfied and I Don't Want
To - a duet with Ronnie Dunn.
She also collaborated with Brett James on The Truth that became
a #1 hit for Jason Aldean.
"Jason, it still gives me a chill. Sometimes I forget I wrote it,
and I just sing along," she confessed."
"It humbles me, really. I'm just so blessed and fortunate to even
have amazing artists to consider - to even record - one of these songs,
and then to be able to get it out to that many people. Oh, I love it!"
He sings his butt off! He and I have the same manager so as soon as I
could get an advanced copy of Jason's album Wide Open. I did. I
listen to it all the time and forget that I wrote it. I literally just
listen to the song and listen to him sing it, realizing, 'Oh, my gosh.
I'm a part of this?' He's an amazing, amazing singer."
It's a far cry from her radio tour at 19.
Monroe sang Used to a radio station program director who burst
Wiping away those tears, the program director explained, "It just
doesn't fit our format."
Yes, it was too real - a heartfelt song about loss and erosion that makes
That ain't fairy floss country.
"The first stop on the tour, we were on the tour bus in California,
and this lady from the radio station came up, and I sang a couple of sad
songs," Monroe says.
"She looked at me and said, 'What are you so sad about? You don't
know sadness. You're too young.'"
Here in the unlucky radio country Monroe wouldn't get past the corporate
chain gate-keepers tucked up in their tuneless towers.
Monroe made quite an impression on her elders. Parton wrote her a sweet
letter. George Jones asked her to open some tour dates. Vince Gill took
her on as a co-writer before she even had a driver's license.
you can't stay long when you're living on the run/ and the high sheriff's
lookin' for you/ never shot nobody with a loaded gun/ but I found me a
lover or two/ well I almost got caught in Tulsa town/ had me one foot
in the grave/ ah they're gonna die trying to track me down." - Monroe
Suede - Ashley Monroe-Vince Gill.
Pistol Annies success also eased the pain for the entire Monroe clan.
topped country charts for a single week in 2011, with Hell on Heels,
a collection that landed at or near the top of numerous year-end best
thing I learned was in watching the audience reaction to the Pistol
Annies," Ashley says.
"It reassured me that it's OK to talk about honest things. They're
like me, they want to hear it. Seeing men and women enjoying and relating
to every single word that we were singing, even parts like 'I've been
thinking about setting my house on fire,' gave me more confidence
about letting people hear these songs. You just tell them the truth,
and some will hate it and some will love it."
< Ashley Monroe & Catherine Britt
also helped her personal maturity.
"I've grown up a lot in many ways; I'm not a little girl anymore,"
"But I've also learned that my dreams are coming true and any time
I complain about too much going on, I just have to remind myself that
this is what I wanted and I couldn't do anything else ever in the whole
world but this. So I really hope it works. But if this one doesn't, I'll
Ashley also wrote outlaw road song Monroe Suede - that shares a
melodic memory with Bobby Bare hit Miller's Cave.
Monroe's song tells a fictitious tale of a tearaway teen daughter of a
Pentecostal church pianist and a drunken father in a stolen pick-up truck
on the run in Tulsa, Oklahoma, from a high sheriff.
In Bare's song - penned by Cowboy Jack Clement - the protagonist shoots
dead two cheating lovers in Waycross, Georgia, and drags them to Miller's
Cave where he hides out from the law.
DOLLY AND PORTER
probably see me country singing on The Voice someday/ yeah and I'm the
guy they wrote about in 50 Shades of Grey/ why don't you come on back
to my place, and have your way/ oh baby that sounds tempting, but I just
can't stay/ oh, we won first ?rize cowboy, let's just split the dough/
honey I will always love you, but we'll never know." - You Ain't
Dolly And You Ain't Porter - Ashley Monroe-Vince Gill
with Gill to write a memorable duet name checking the late Porter Wagoner
and long-time duet and TV show partner Dolly Parton - a throwback to pure
bliss of traditional country.
And, to maximise marketing appeal, her duet partner is Blake Shelton -
singing spouse of fellow Pistol Annie Miranda Lambert - and one of the
most successful judges on The Voice.
The tune is highly reminiscent of Hayes Carll's satiric duet Another
Like You that features Cary Ann Hearst.
That video features grizzled comedian-actor Brett Gelman known for HBO
shows Funny Or Die Presents and The Life Of Tim, TV host,
lawyer, actor and former Bill Clinton political strategist James Carville
and Republican power broker wife Mary Matalin.
In the Carll song The View is the TV show name checked - in this
one it's The Voice and the 50 Shades Of Grey book.
So has Monroe read the fantasy fuelled E L James book?
"Yeah, on an airplane, in one sitting from L.A. to Nashville,"
"Vince came up with that line, the little knucklehead!
Does the book live up to all the hype?
"Oh, once you get to the middle it's all the same thing," Monroe
"It's a cool story but there's other stuff I'd rather read. But it
was an easy read for a flight. I laughed, I giggled a lot when I was reading
high profile with the release of her CD and Pistol Annies second album
Annie Up will help - rather than harm her.
Especially with publishing royalties pouring in on from historic projects
in her lean years between projects when she wrote Heart Like Mine
and Me And Your Cigarettes with Miranda Lambert.
"Me and Your Cigarettes was actually called Your Cigarettes
and Me and there was a whole another melody, but I had these words,"
"I went to her house in Lindale, Texas, right before 2007's Crazy
Ex-Girlfriend album came out. We were sitting on her back deck and
she finished it with me. She liked the idea. She called me the day they
cut it, and she goes, "I just wanted to tell you that Blake Shelton
and I were kind of fiddling with it, and it's kind of changed a bit. It's
still our words, but it's a different beat, and we've changed it to Me
and Your Cigarettes." I went to the studio and heard it and was
like, "Oh, please. This is amazing." She was like, "I hope
you're not mad." Are you kidding me?"
Equally rewarding was Heart Like Mine.
"She and I went to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee together," Monroe
"I'm from East Tennessee, so I took her to Dollywood. I was like,
"You've got to go to Dollywood." We got a little cabin in Gatlinburg,
and we were sitting on the porch there picking on guitar, and I kept hearing
things. She was like, "Oh, my God. Bring me a steak knife so you'll
shut up!" She's tougher than I am. She had a steak knife next to
her. We were like, "Let's write something really honest." All
of it's true to her life. Being around Miranda all the time, she's taught
me a lot without knowing, just me watching, how to be a businesswoman
as well as a singer and writer."
Monroe never fell out of demand as songwriter and backup singer in the
She worked with Jack White, Dwight Yoakam, Guy Clark, Chris Isaak and
Mat Kearney, Lori McKenna and Chieftains.
The songs she was writing and storing, some hard-edged, some bluntly comical,
are as direct and daring as Loretta Lynn's were in the 1960s.
In 2008 she cut a highly praised EP with singer-songwriter Trent Dabbs
and later she sang background vocals on an album Jack White produced by
iconic country-rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson.
And just to prove how versatile she is, Monroe also contributed vocals
to Bruises on 2012 album California 37 by Train.
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