The Untold Truth Of Pistol Annies

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When Pistol Annies singers Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, and Ashley Monroe joined forces for a 2011 TV special, how could they have known that they would go on to be a musical trio for years to come? Yet that's precisely what took place, as the three friends continued to pursue their successful solo careers while periodically reuniting for various Pistol Annies projects, including multiple critically acclaimed albums (one of which received a Grammy nomination), live performances, and television appearances.

Together, the members of Pistol Annies are a magical, musical powerhouse, blending impeccable harmonies with seamless songwriting and an unapologetically female point of view that veers from raw and poignant to pissed off and powerful — often within the same song. 

Presley, Monroe, and Lambert comprise what is arguably one of the most exciting all-female groups to ever make a mark in country music. Despite all the fame and acclaim, there's still plenty that can be learned about this talented trio by delving into the untold truth of Pistol Annies.

How Pistol Annies came to be

The origin of Pistol Annies dates back to 2009, when Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe were engaged in a "girls' campout-writing weekend," as Angaleena Presley revealed in an interview with The Oklahoman. The pair had written a few songs together, but neither Lambert nor Monroe thought their new tunes were really suitable for what they were doing as solo artists. "So Ashley was like, 'Well, hey, have you ever heard of Angaleena Presley?' And Miranda was like, 'No,'" Presley said. She continued, "The next thing you know, 2 o'clock in the morning, they're calling me..."

After listening to Presley's music, Lambert was blown away. As Lambert told The Oklahoman, "I just felt we were kindred spirits; she is an amazing storyteller." The experience led the three to start spending more and more time together in late 2009, writing songs, singing together, and hatching plans for the future.

"Ashley is truly a wordsmith and has the voice of an angel. It felt natural, and I got very inspired musically, so we started singing for other friends and it was fun," added Lambert. "The next natural progression was recording it, and now we can't seem to stop."

Pistol Annies debuted in a 2011 TV special

In 2011, a CBS television special honored some of the most iconic women in country music. Titled Girls' Night Out: Superstar Women of Country, the special boasted such established stars as Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, and up-and-coming artists Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert. Given the show's theme, Lambert thought this would be the ideal venue to introduce Pistol Annies, the then-new group she had recently put together with Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe.

Pistol Annies' first performance was memorable. "I do have a surprise," Lambert told the crowd when she strode onstage. "Since it's Girls' Night Out, I got a new band called Pistol Annies..." After introducing Presley and Monroe, the three debuted their first single, "Hell on Heels," with each tackling an individual verse before blending their voices in impeccable harmony. Reviews were through the roof, featuring such descriptions as "dynamic" and "jaw-dropping." 

In a backstage interview for CBS, Presley and Monroe were asked to comment on what Lambert contributed to country music. "She kicks the door open for artists like us who speak their minds and stick to their guns," said Presley. "I'm so proud to be her friend, and to write with her ... getting to know her has just been great."

Pistol Annies' members gave themselves special nicknames

Shortly after their 2011 television debut, Pistol Annies members Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, and Ashley Monroe were promoting their first single, "Hell on Heels," on radio station US99.5. During the discussion (via A Taste of Country), the three talked about their Pistol Annies nicknames. Presley's is "Holler Annie," which originated from her roots in eastern Kentucky as "a coal miner's daughter" who "grew up in a holler." Monroe's nickname is "Hippie Annie," as she explained, "I am all love. I am a hillbilly hippie, from east Tennessee." She added, "I do yoga while watching Cops. I've always been the peacemaker." For her nickname, Lambert chose "Lone Star Annie," and offered a very simple explanation. "I am from Texas. People hate us because we're so proud," she said. 

At that time, Lambert had recently gotten married to country star Blake Shelton, who was involved in the making of the group's first album, 2011's Hell on Heels, and contributed to writing one of the album's songs. "He co-wrote 'Family Feud' so we had to name him an honorary Annie," Lambert said of her then-husband. "He's a 'Pistol Andy.' He felt left out, but we included him."

This famous music icon was an early fan of Pistol Annies

As Pistol Annies' debut album, Hell on Heels, was hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Country Albums chart, rock icon Neil Young was in the midst of writing his memoir, Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream, which came out in 2013. Young had clearly been listening to Hell on Heels, as his book contains references to Pistol Annies.

In one passage excerpted in Macleans, Young discussed his recent sobriety, writing that he still experienced cravings for, say, a beer or marijuana. "I heard the Pistol Annies sing about reasons they're broke and so who would invest in their future? One's drinkin', one's smokin', one's taking pills. Well they are writing their a**es off, I know that," he wrote.

Pistol Annies' Angaleena Presley sent Young her appreciation via Twitter, thanking Young for the way his music "taught [her] how to 'write [her] a** off." That was followed by a group tweet from the band's official Twitter account, thanking Young for "publicly appreciating [their] lyrics," adding, "We about peed our pants when we read your compliment."

The truth behind Pistol Annies' 2013 breakup rumors

In 2013, Pistol Annies released the band's second album, Annie Up, and announced plans for a tour. That June, however, all remaining tour dates were abruptly cancelled due to "unforeseen circumstances."

Tongues began wagging about personality conflicts between the members, but SiriusXM channel The Highway reported that Ashley Monroe had confirmed Pistol Annies "are still a band and great friends" with more music to come. However, that did little to quell rumors that Pistol Annies were heading for a breakup. In early 2014, Top Country listed several reasons that could contribute to a potential split, including a source claiming that Miranda Lambert didn't get along with Angaleena Presley's husband, who was also Lambert's tour manager, reportedly leading to problems within the group. 

A few weeks later, Monroe shut down the rumor mill. As A Taste of Country reported, Monroe reiterated that the trio cancelled the tour because they didn't have time to adequately rehearse. Commenting that "it's funny how people just make up things," Monroe insisted, "It's really as simple as that, but it's entertaining to read all the different views. All the soap opera stories people can make up!"

Pistol Annies shocked fans with a surprise onstage reunion

Despite the band's denial of breakup rumors, Pistol Annies were more or less dormant for some time while members Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, and Ashley Monroe focused on their increasingly successful solo careers. Lambert's star was rising on the strength of her No. 1 2014 album Platinum, while Presley released her critically acclaimed solo debut American Middle Class that same year. Meanwhile, Monroe's 2015 album The Blade likewise received rave reviews along with a Grammy nomination for best country album. 

However, any remaining whispers of a split evaporated into the ether when Pistol Annies reunited onstage in 2016, during Lambert's concert in Arkansas. As Rolling Stone reported, this was the first time the trio had performed together publicly in more than a year — when they surprised fans by reuniting during one 2015 date on Lambert's Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars tour. During the Arkansas show, the trio performed "Hell on Heels" and "Takin' Pills." The following night, Presley and Monroe once again joined Lambert during her set in Kansas City, Mo. 

While no official announcement had been made, Pistol Annies, it appeared, had returned.

Pistol Annies reunited for a 2017 tribute album

In a 2015 interview with Fuse, Ashley Monroe hinted that a third Pistol Annies album was "definitely brewing." While this was during a time when the Annies were seemingly dormant as breakup rumors swirled, Monroe insisted that she and fellow band members Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley "have a lot of song ideas going." She noted, "I feel like it's soon." As Monroe explained, the whole concept behind Pistol Annies was that the group was "organic," adding, "That's the thing with us, we never want to force it. If we're too busy, then don't force it, there will be a time when things let up a little bit, then we'll make more music."

Pistol Annies did just that when they returned to the studio to record a new song — not an original, but a cover of Don Williams' "Tulsa Time" for an all-star tribute album released in spring of 2017. That was just the beginning, as a July 2017 Billboard cover story on Miranda Lambert added the brief mention that the singer promised more music would be on the way.

Why the Pistol Annies thought 2018's Interstate Gospel was their most "mature" album

It had been awhile since Pistol Annies' 2013 sophomore album, Annie Up, was released, but, in November 2018, the trio unveiled their long-awaited followup, Interstate Gospel. In an interview with Stereogum, Miranda Lambert revealed that Interstate Gospel "came together organically, similar to [their] first record, Hell On Heels." As Angaleena Presley added, all three women had "grown up a lot since [their] last record," with all the various "life changes" they'd experienced giving them a lot of fodder for new songs. "We really couldn't get these songs written fast enough," she added. "We would write another song before we had finished a previous one."

As a result, explained Lambert, "This record is definitely more mature, but it still is fun... that part hasn't changed."

In that same interview, Ashley Monroe explained the third album took so long to come together because they write songs about what they've experienced and had to "live life" to write more music. They had done enough living in those years, she added, that they found themselves "just bursting to get these songs written."

Pistol Annies joined Miranda Lambert's Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars tour

In April 2019, Rolling Stone reported that Pistol Annies were heading back on the road to promote their album Interstate Gospel. According to the magazine, the trio was scheduled to perform on all dates throughout Miranda Lambert's autumn 2019 revival of her Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars tour (she used that title for both her 2009 and 2015 tours).

In a review of the Columbus, Ohio tour stop, The Boot highlighted the five best things seen at the show. One of these was Pistol Annies' "mid-show mini-set," which opened with Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, and Lambert arriving on the stage via a staircase emblazoned with their respective nicknames, Hippie, Holler, and Lone Star.

According to the review, the six-song set was "riotous and empowering," kicking off with "Takin' Pills" and concluding with their single "Hell on Heels." "We've been a band for almost a decade now — and in that time, we have caused a lot of trouble and done a lot of s**t," Lambert told the crowd before reeling off the trio's "stats," a roster including husbands, ex-husbands, children, and a whole lot of animals. 

Why Miranda Lambert found Pistol Annies to be "such a relief"

Pistol Annies offers each of its members a creative outlet different from what they experience in their solo work, and that's particularly true for Miranda Lambert. As her career soared in the latter half of the 2010s, Lambert found being able to retreat into the musical sisterhood she established with fellow Annies Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley was offering her a respite from the increasing demands brought on by success.

In an interview with HITS Daily Double, Lambert revealed that Pistol Annies "is such a relief." She explained, "Because there's three of us, it's such a relief in a different way. It makes me more brave, because when there's three of us, we can say whatever we want."

The experience of writing songs with her Pistol Annies bandmates, admitted Lambert, "teaches [her] why writing alone is so much more pressure, and so much harder." She continued by revealing that a blank page "scares [her] to death," though she's come to realize that if you "sit your a** in a chair," you'll eventually write something.

How Pistol Annies know when they get a song right

As Miranda Lambert told Stereogum, everything about Pistol Annies is "organic," and that includes the way songs are written and arranged. "We don't schedule parts," Lambert explained. "We don't specifically plan who's singing what. We sing strictly on emotion."

And while there's no set-in-stone plan for what a song will sound like as they're recording it, the band members know when something is working and when it isn't. "When we're on to something, our arm hair stands up and we get chill bumps," said Angaleena Presley. "When that happens, that's when you know it's magic and that it's right."

The group elaborated on their free-flowing songwriting technique in an interview with Forbes. As an example, Ashley Monroe recalled Lambert sending the other two Annies a group text with the first verse and chorus of a song she'd been working on, telling them she felt it more of Annies song than a solo composition. "This is all that I have, but if you like this, let's write this," Lambert texted. Within ten minutes, Presley and Monroe had each responded with verses, quickly creating what became their song "When I Was His Wife."

How Miranda Lambert's divorce from Blake Shelton inspired a Pistol Annies hit

Whenever two celebrities marry each other, the tabloid media tends to put their lives under the microscope, seeking cracks in the relationship. Many times those cracks are all too real, which proved to be the case in 2015 when Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton announced they were divorcing after four years of marriage, as reported by Entertainment Tonight. In a 2019 interview with Health, Lambert opened up about how all that media scrutiny affected her. "When everyone's worried about your personal life, it makes you feel like, 'Well, if you could just spend some of that time talking about my actual art, that would be great!'" she said. "But I guess I asked for it, getting into this business. I'm never gonna get used to the public eye in that way."

On the plus side, Lambert was able to channel that pain into the Pistol Annies hit "Got My Name Changed Back," revealing the "song's seed was planted at the DMV" when she had the name on her driver's license changed post-divorce. "It's huge to do that: change your name and change it back," she told The Guardian. "Days and weeks of s**t."

Pistol Annies made it on several "best of the decade" lists

When the 2010s came to an end and music critics compiled their lists of the best songs and albums of the 2010s, Pistol Annies were certainly not ignored. As the group's label, Sony Music Nashville, trumpeted in a press release, the trio consisting of Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, and Ashley Monroe wound up on multiple lists from some of the music industry's most influential outlets.

Rolling Stone named Pistol Annies' 2018 album Interstate Gospel as one of its "100 Best Albums of the 2010s," while Paste included that same album in its list of "30 Best Country Albums of the 2010s." Meanwhile, the group's 2011 debut, Hell on Heels, was named one of Billboard's "25 Best Country Albums of the 2010s" and one of "25 Essential Nashville Albums of the 2010s" by The Tennessean.

Finally, Pistol Annies' 2018 divorce anthem, "Got My Name Changed Back," was included in Billboard's "35 Best Country Songs of the 2010s" list — not a bad way to end a decade!

There have been some new additions to the Pistol Annies family

Since Pistol Annies first came together way back in 2009, the group's members have experienced some big changes in their lives, such as Miranda Lambert's marriage to — and divorce from — Blake Shelton and her later marriage to NYPD officer Brendan McLoughlin.

That same period also brought the arrival of two Pistol Annies babies. In August 2017, Ashley Monroe and husband John Danks, former player for the Chicago White Sox, announced the arrival of their first child, son Dalton William. "He is perfect and his parents are beyond happy," a rep for the couple told People.

That arrival was followed by another in January 2019, when Angaleena Presley became a mom for the second time at age 42. She and husband Jordan Powell welcomed their first child together, daughter Phoenix Joeleena Jean, that year. Presley also has a son, Jed, from a previous relationship. "I'm so glad to add this strong female to our family," Presley told People of her bundle of joy. "She is tiny but she is fierce. Jordan and Jed are both by her side and head over heels."