You Can’t Tame a Wild Rose: An Interview with Ashley Monroe
“I feel like I’m 90 years old in a younger body,” confesses Ashley Monroe. “But it gives me a lot to write about.” At just 26 years old, the mature beyond her years singer-songwriter has worked with a number of A-list artists–including Guy Clark, Vince Gill, Jon Randall, Dwight Yoakam, Jack White, and Ronnie Dunn.
Her long-awaited new record, Like a Rose (out March 5), is a stunning tour de force, from the semi-autobiographical title track to the risqué “Weed Instead of Roses” to “You Ain’t Dolly, You Ain’t Porter,” a playful duet with Blake Shelton.
Monroe took a few minutes last week to chat with Engine 145 about her new album, her many collaborations, and the Pistol Annies’ supernatural writing process.
You’ve worked with some amazing writers. What have those experiences been like?
I try to talk myself out of getting too nervous when I’m around people like that. I’ve looked up to Guy since I was born, and with Vince, I have to give myself a pep talk before I go over to his house to write or record. Guy was always on my dream list of writers to work with; I didn’t think it would ever happen, but I put him on the list just in case. Our publishers set it up and we wrote “Like a Rose” at the first meeting. We just clicked.
I’ve known Dwight since he sang a duet on my first record, so we get along really well. We have that Appalachian mindset, I think, where you kind of drive yourself crazy a little bit, but we can laugh about it too. We wrote “It’s Never Alright,” which is on his new record, at his office one day. It was funny, I’d seen an episode of Oprah or something that day before I went to write with him, and it was talking about children with bipolar disorder. They showed this one little girl having a tantrum, and her mom was saying, “It’s all right; it’s all right,” and the girl goes, “It’s never all right!” So that’s how that song happened.
What made you choose Vince Gill to produce the new record?
I’d been fiddling in all kinds of things, working with all kinds of people, and I didn’t really know where I was going to land. My manager said “Why don’t you just make a country record?” And I was like, “Yes, that’s exactly what I want to do.”
Vince was the first and only name that came to mind. His passion for country music is remarkable and it reminds me why I’m so passionate about it.
What was the recording process like?
Vince has a recording studio in his house, so I would go in there with some of the best musicians in the world, in my opinion. Vince and I would just do the songs live for the band because we didn’t want them to get any of the licks from the demos in their heads. We wanted them to put their own spin on what we were singing. Vince would play the guitar, I’d go in the vocal booth, look out the little window at the musicians, sing as best I could, and cut them live. It was amazing.
The whole thing was so smooth, so easy, and so moving to me. There were times I was crying. I felt a little buzz in the room. It felt completely right.
“Used” was one of the highlights of Satisfied. Why re-record it for Like a Rose?
There were so many songs on my first record that I love and that will always mean so much to me. I was struggling between redoing “Used” and “Hank’s Cadillac;” then sometimes I wasn’t sure if I should record anything that I did before even though I don’t feel like a lot of people heard my first record. But “Used” kept on popping up in my mind. It was such a gift when it was written when I was 17; I felt like it needed another chance to be heard.
Forty years after “Rated X,” it’s still somewhat rare to hear a mainstream country woman sing about sexuality as straightforwardly as you do on “Weed Instead of Roses.”
I wrote that with Sally Barris and Jon McElroy when I was 19 or 20. I remember going into the co-writing session and I heard “give me weed instead of roses” in my head; I was like “Amen!” So I went in and said, “Guys, this is crazy talk, but I just have to say it.” Nobody really talks about these things, so Hippie Annie might as well put that out there.
People laugh when they hear the song, but I think everybody, even if they’ve never smoked weed before, has thought of spicing up something or switching up their normal lifestyle. My mom cracked up when she heard it. I was worried that my Poppy wouldn’t think this was funny, but I played it for him and he thought it was “Weeds Instead of Roses.” He was like, “that’s great, that’s country: weeds, not roses.” So I was like “Phew! We’re good.”
Tell me about “You Ain’t Dolly, You Ain’t Porter,” your duet with Blake Shelton.
Vince had the idea for the song, so we talked about it and kind of wrote it. We went back and revisited it later, which is why the album release got pushed back. He asked, “Who should we have on it?” and I go, “You.” But he said “No, I’m old enough to be your dad; don’t sing that with me.” So it became obvious to go with Blake. He’s been a great friend of mine for years. We cut up and joke around like that all the time, so he was a perfect duet partner.
What are the Pistol Annies up to?
Our second record is currently getting mixed. Last week was our last tracking day and we just sat there and bawled. It’s pretty moving stuff to feel that and to have two records out this year that mean so much to me. I love letting other people hear the stuff that is so close to me. The girls and I wrote this record ourselves and it’s really special. We’re like sisters. When we’re in the studio, we don’t go to our separate homes. We travel together in a caravan to Miranda’s house or somewhere else. We’re very close and to be able to share that music with my sisters is pretty crazy.
We don’t really mean to write, but when the three of us are in the same room, we’re directly plugged in to a higher power, and we will all say that. It’s really strange: when we are together, we hear things and it comes through all three of us. It’s pretty crazy and borderline miraculous what happens when we start to write because something takes over us. This upcoming record was amazing to write because it felt like we were just holding the pen and the songs wrote themselves.
What’s next for you?
I go out with the Annies in June. We’ll be opening for Dierks. I’ll be doing some solo stuff throughout the year, but I’m not sure about the details just yet.
I have so much stuff that I’ve written and haven’t released. I write songs all the time, wherever I am. I’ve recorded a bunch of stuff, too, so hopefully there will be a time and place for all the music I’ve made.
Are there any dream artists you want to work with in the future?
I’d love to work with Tom Petty at some point. I’ll have to figure that one out.
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