From the opening line “I was only 13 when my daddy died,” it’s clear that Ashley Monroe’s sophomore Like a Rose is going to be an emotional listen. The next half-hour, however, reveals it to be so much more: From the outlaw “Monroe Suede” and the self-explanatory “Weed Instead of Roses” to the tongue-in-cheek Blake Shelton duet “You Ain’t Dolly (And You Ain’t Porter)” the record offers equal doses of heartbreak and exuberance, tears and laughter. Best known for her role in the Pistol Annies and offering backing vocals to groups like Train and the Raconteurs, Like a Rose shows that Monroe is more than capable of producing great music as a solo artist.
eMusic’s Nick Murray spoke with Monroe about her shelved debut, calling together Miranda Lambert and Angeleena Presley to form the Annies, and what the sound of the album reveals about her Tennessee roots.
Can you tell me a little bit about your first album, Satisfied? What was the original plan for that, and what ended up happening?
I was 17 when I made it. I was on Sony and I was in the middle of a radio tour, and I got a call that the labels [Sony and Columbia] had merged, and when companies merge everything goes awry. People get fired, you know, everything just kind of goes crazy. Long story short, it just didn’t get released until after I was already off Sony. They just put it up on iTunes.
How was it different making an album when you were that young, as opposed to making an album at your current age?
Well you know, it was my first time in a big studio and getting to see how it was done. But my passion for it hasn’t changed, this time I just kind of knew. I didn’t ask so many questions — where do I go, what do I sing now? I had a little bit of experience this time, but they both were very special in different ways.
Between those albums, how did you meet Angeleena and Miranda, and when did you decide to record together?
I met Miranda right after I made Satisfied. We were both on Sony. She sent me a text saying that she heard that record and that we need to write, we need to get together. Two weeks later I was at her farm in Texas, and we’ve been really close ever since. And then Angeleena I met a few years after Satisfied. Our publisher set us up to write. So we were friends separately and then one night I said, hey I think we all should know each other together.
What is like when the three of you are collaborating together?
It’s amazing. It’s magical every time we’re around each other. I hope it never stops.
I read that you guys agree on something like 98 percent of the decisions.
We really do, thank god. We’re three very opinionated women.
That makes me curious what the other two percent are.
Well, I don’t know. It depends on the day and the mood. It’s never consistent, and we get it figured out pretty quick.
Moving from one partnership to another, how did you come to work with Vince Gill on your new album?
I knew Vince when I first moved here. He had heard some of my demos and we had written a couple of songs, some that were on his last record. Obviously, he’s been a hero of mine since I was born, so when it came around that we were gonna make another record I said, “I want Vince.” Everything just made sense about it — his country roots, he gets me, he gets my voice, he gets my music. So thank god he said yes.
What was it like working with him in the studio?
He’s just so easy and kind, and when he wants something he knows how to get it. We recorded it at his house — he has a studio at his house — and he and I would just play the musicians the songs were about to cut, just him playing guitar and me singing. They would sit around in a circle, then we’d go into the vocal both and we’d cut them live.
You open the record with a line about being 13 when your dad died. When did you realize that’s how you wanted to start it off?
It’s the truth, and that’s when I started writing. That’s the beginning of my long story and all the stories on the album. I just wanted to get that in there first and say, “All right, here’s your journey.”
Can you talk a little about the sound of the record? Aside from maybe Kellie Pickler’s last album, there isn’t much on country radio that sounds similar.
I’m from East Tennessee, and that type of music is just in my soul. So I didn’t really try to overthink it, like, “Well, are there singles on here?” I didn’t overthink it at all, I just said, “Country music runs through my veins, so it makes sense that I make a record of country songs I’ve written and just do it.” That’s what I want to get heard.
Right. So then the record ends with another collaboration, the very funny “You Ain’t Dolly (And You Ain’t Porter).” How did you and Blake connect for that one?
Blake and I are buddies. We do that back-and-forth to each other all the time — we have that very jokey, back-and-forth relationships and always have. And I think he’s one of the best country music singers ever. So Vince and I were writing that song, and it was very clear that we both wanted him, and Blake’s been very good to me, so he said of course.
How excited are you for the album to finally come out?
Oh my god, I’m so excited. I held a physical copy yesterday for the first time. And I just held it and stared at. Like, it really is happening.