Miranda Lambert featuring Pistol Annies with Chris Young and Jerrod Niemann
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Landers Center, 4560 Venture Drive, Southaven
Tickets: $26.75, $38.75. and $50.75. Available at the box office and through Ticketmaster.
Information: Call (662) 470-2131 or visit landerscenter.com.
Sitting in a hotel room in Kansas City, with band mate Angaleena Presley's young son popping in and out looking for his mother, Ashley Monroe remembers the night in 2010 when she and Miranda Lambert hit upon the idea for their new country trio, Pistol Annies.
Lambert, already a rising country star at the time, and her close friend Monroe, a veteran Nashville backup singer who had released one little-heard album the year before, were sitting around Lambert's Oklahoma home late one November night after a writing session when the idea of a girl group hit, prompting Monroe to call her sometime-songwriting partner.
"We called Angaleena right then and asked her if she'd be in the band, and she was like: Girl, are you drunk," Monroe says of the middle-of-the-night phone call. "She said, 'I am in the bed next to my 3-year-old, so you girls had better be serious.'"
They most certainly were. From their surprise debut a year ago April on the CBS television special "Academy of Country Music's Girls Night Out," Pistol Annies have been a smash with country fans. Their debut album, Hell on Heels, released just four months after that debut performance, topped the country album chart and the lead single in February was certified gold.
"It's kind of mind-blowing that something we just made up one night is getting received so well," Monroe said.
The success also caught them a little off guard. While taking the time to build their own band and full-length show, which is scheduled to debut in September, the group is giving fans a taste of what is to come with a mini set on Lambert's current On Fire tour supporting her latest No. 1 album, Four the Record.
The tour stops tonight at Southaven's Landers Center with a bill that also includes "Nashville Star" winner Chris Young and Kansas singer-songwriter Jerrod Niemann.
"We do a set in the middle of hers, about five songs," Monroe said of the current tour. "We've been doping this about a year-and-a-half now, just kind of easing into her set. Right before our record came out, nobody knew who we were or cared really."
Born and raised just east of Knoxville, Monroe says she doesn't remember a time when she didn't sing. When her father died when she was 13, she started writing songs, too.
"I had no idea you could make a career, make a living out of that," she said. "It was such therapy for me. I just did it because I had to. I heard song, and it felt good to get them out of my system."
A couple of years later, Monroe and her mother packed up and moved to Nashville. She quickly gained a foothold in Music City, landing a publishing deal soon after arriving and at the age of 19 signing a record deal with Columbia Records.
In 2006, she released two singles, "Satisfied," the title track to her debut collection, and the Brooks & Dunn cover "I Don't Want To," which cracked the Top 40. But Columbia declined to release Monroe's record, and the two parted ways the next year.
Monroe, who went on to become a favorite background singer of Nashville-based alternative rocker Jack White among others, eventually released Satisfied herself digitally in 2009, which was how Lambert discovered her. The rising star reached out to the struggling singer and the two quickly became tight friends.
Monroe says the exposure of the group has been a boon to her and Presley's solo careers, but all three remain committed to Pistol Annies, which has plans to go back in the studio in the fall.
"We were reading off song ideas to each other on our phones last night," Monroe said. "We're always really inspired around each other and always trying to keep improving and trying to make songs that matter like the first record."