Pistol Annies
Randee St. Nicholas

It's happy hour at the Timothy Demonbreun House, a dignified Nashville mansion with historical significance, and as Pistol Annies knock back a couple after a long media day for new album "Annie Up," the ladies are very much enjoying each others' company as they make a little history of their own.

Pistol Annies are made up of three maverick country singer/songwriters -- Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley -- at different positions on the upward trajectory of their respective career arcs. Even if the Annies are all successful as solo artists, particularly Lambert (who is clicking on all cylinders at radio, retail and headlining tours), whatever you do, don't refer to the group as a "side project."

"This not some kind of vanity project," observes producer Frank Liddell. "They're dead serious about it and they want it to succeed."

The three united under a common bond of fierce independence, a rebellious nature, and heavyweight songwriting chops, surprising (and overwhelmingly appealing to) not only the country music "establishment," as it were, but catching the ears of cynical music press and such artists as Neil Young, who casually tossed out in his new autobiography that the group are "writing their asses off."

That, Mr. Young, would be correct. The Annies' first album, 2011's "Hell On Heels" emerged rather quietly but didn't stay quiet long, simultaneously out alt.-ing alt.country, out roots-ing roots and out rocking country rock.

With insightful, masterfully delivered songs about love, lust, robust indulgence of a wide range of substances, and domestic dysfunction at all levels, the Annies were, and are, completely dialed into the consciousness of what a certain segment of young American adults are living today, and strikingly divergent from much of what is happening on the contemporary country scene today. Frank, insightful, sharp and totally engaging, songs like "Takin' Pills," "Beige," and "Trailer For Rent" tapped into the spectrum of frustration and celebration in a manner that recalls not only the riskier work of Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, or Lucinda Williams, but also brings to mind certain commentaries by the likes of Haggard, Cash, John Prine or even Young himself.

Still, Pistol Annies' perspective is proudly feminine. "It's inside insight into how women's minds work," says Presley. "Listen and take notes, boys."

More often than on the first record, all three Annies (and only them) are involved in writing the songs on "Annie Up," and much like last time, each are unfiltered doses of spirit, poignancy, romance, and sharp social observation. Hanging with Pistol Annies is, as Liddell puts it, "flat-out fun," and here we talk about the new record, their songwriting, and how their evolution as artists and people. Throughout, Pistol Annies show they don't take themselves too seriously, as long as you don't call it a side project.

Billboard: The first record seemed to come out of nowhere, but people are definitely paying attention now. Did you feel any pressure to equal or top the last record?

Angaleena Presley: If the songs wouldn't have come on their own, the way they did, then I don't think we would be sitting here right now.

Miranda Lambert: We don't want to force it, ever.

Angaleena: We say our A&R guy, his name's Jesus Christ. He brought us together, and he gave us the songs, and the time to spend with each other, and the music drives what we do.

Jesus shows up a few times on this record.

Miranda: We're all God-fearin' women. (laughter) We are! We cut our teeth on church pews. [Now] I don't go to church, really, because I get home at 4 a.m. on Saturdays.

Ashley Monroe: Yeah, so tired, might as well just talk to God himself.

Do you know the people you write about in these songs?

Angaleena: A lot of 'em.

Miranda: It's either us or somebody or somebody we know, pretty much.

The Annies' point of view is enlightening to a lot of men.

Miranda: My dad gets Redbook delivered in the mail every month, and I said, "Dad, why do you read that?" And he said, "I want to know the enemy." That's what Pistol Annies are doin."

Where do you think the Pistol Annies fit in country music?

Angaleena: We don't know where it fits, we just know it's true. That's the common thread, honesty, and ownin' it, and not being scared of it.

The new record features all co-writes with all three of you as songwriters more often than on the first one.

Ashley: We spent a lot more time together, that's what happened.

Angaleena: We were on [Lambert's] shows for a year, then we went out; we were together off and on for two years.

Are you able to write on the road?

Ashley: We can't not write on the road, which is interesting, because normally that's a hard place to write.

You're all three on a bus together?

All: Yes!

I bet those walls could talk.

Angaleena: We have a saying, "keep it on the bus, girls." But then we end up writin' a song about it, so, oh well.

Miranda: But we sing it pretty.

Ashley: If you put a melody to it, it seems less harsh.


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