Hell On Heels: The Wild Story of Miranda Lambert And Her Band “Pistol Annies”

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So if you aren’t already aware, Miranda Lambert is much more than just her solo act. The “Bathroom Sink” singer actually has her own girl band, the Pistol Annies. And they are three rootin-tootin, sassy, Southern chics who have a raucously good time both in the studio and out of it. The band is comprised of Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley (no Elvis relation), and Miranda Lambert. And with hits like “Hell on Heels”, the trio is all about singing the words every woman is dying to say.

A Miranda Lambert Drunk Dial

"Hell on Heels", Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe, Pistol Annies
Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, and Ashley Monroe of the Pistol Annies (photo from AllMusic)

According to their website, “it began on a wild hair.” Angaleena Presley was peacefully sleeping when she got a jarring wakeup call from friend and singer-songwriter Ashley Monroe. Monroe and Lambert were hanging out and writing songs until the wee hours. Presley immediately assumed that they were just drunk-dialing her. “I thought they were in slumber-party mode,” Presley recalled about that night in late 2010. Monroe wanted Presley to email her all of Presley’s songs because “she and Miranda” were starting a band.

Presley said, “I was like, ‘Girls, you’re going to wake up tomorrow and realize you’re stupid. And then I went, ‘Miranda who?’ And Ashley says, ‘Lambert!‘ That’s when I was like, ‘Oh … better get out of bed right now!’”

Of course, at that point, Miranda Lambert had already scored big with three huge albums, including Kerosene and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. So when Presley realized it was that Miranda, obliging the request was definitely the right move. 

“Another blonde singer”

"Hell on Heels", Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe, Pistol Annies
The Pistol Annies perform their “Hell on Heels” (photo from Billboard)

Lambert and Monroe have known each other for years. They’ve both worked in Nashville for the last decade. In fact, Monroe actually co-wrote some of Lambert’s songs for her Revolution record. And Monroe had also produced a big-name record herself, Satisfied.

Funnily, enough, neither of them took the other seriously at first. At Monroe put it, “I met Ran when I was 17. We were both on Sony. At first we wrote each other off as ‘another blonde singer,’ but after we heard each other’s music we couldn’t stay away from one another.” 

Presley was also developing a prominent music career. She had produced a great album, but was searching for a great label. So she was the person the two others called that night of fateful songwriting.

As Lambert explained, the songs they wrote that night didn’t work for either her or Monroe. “They really weren’t right for me or her individually, but they sounded so cool, we were like, ‘What can we do with these songs?’” recalled Lambert. “But we also didn’t want to give them to anybody else,” adds Monroe. “It’s like in our minds, we already knew what was going to happen.” Monroe introduced Lambert to the music of Presley, and it took just a couple of tracks before Miranda said to make the call.

The Stripper Got There First

"Hell on Heels", Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe, Pistol Annies
The Annies having a great time on stage (photo from Country Fancast)

They wanted to call themselves the Calamity Janes, but it turns out that a stripper already owned that title. So they settled on Pistol Annies. And when they announced this news to their respective record execs and labels, it wasn’t an ask. It was a tell. 

As Presley explained, “Our motto is, ‘We ask for forgiveness, not permission.’”

“I don’t think it was my manager’s favorite thing that I’ve ever said — ‘I’ve started a band and you have to deal with it!’” Lambert recalled. “But it’s worked out great. When she realized that it was serious, she was like, ‘Let’s go full on.’”

And full on they did.

Less than six months after the two blondes called their brunette friend, they got the ask to debut on national television. Keep in mind that they barely had half a dozen songs completed at the point. So when the Academy of Country Music’s Girs Night Out CBS special asked them to play, they weren’t certain. “I told our manager, ‘Well that’s great, but I don’t know if we’re actually ready yet!’,” said Lambert. “It was scary. I’ve never been more nervous in my life.”

Jumping in the Water

"Hell on Heels", Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe, Pistol Annies
The Pistol Annies stopped by the US99 studios for their first ever radio interview and chatted with Trish Biondo. June 23, 2011 (photo by Nate Azark)

“The first time we ever played with a live band behind us was actually at rehearsal the day of the show,” recalled Presley. “The show itself was the second time. We literally just jumped in the water, and it was sink or swim. For me, it was like jumping the Grand Canyon, because although Miranda had let me get up and sing with her at one of her shows the weekend before, prior to that I’d never played anywhere bigger than like, the Bluebird Cafe. So I was nervous all day — until I saw Miranda, and then I thought, ‘I ain’t that nervous!’ And then a calm came over me.”

“I was really nervous too,” added Monroe, “but the moment we walked out onstage and sang the first note, I thought, ‘OK, we’ve got this.’”

And got it they did. Dressed in their signature look that is a mix of steampunk, burlesque, and barmaid, the Pistol Annies took the stage. The three launched into the song that has become their most signature hit, “Hell on Heels.” The trio took turns on the verses but blended their voices seamlessly on the chorus. The story of the song is women using men for their money, a love ’em and leave ’em anthem.

“Hell on Heels”

"Hell on Heels", Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe, Pistol Annies
The Pistol Annies (photo from Country Fancast)

He made me pretty, he made me smart…and I’m going to break me a million hearts,” the Annies sing. It’s a chilling declaration of what women could do if they really harnessed their power–and put their morality aside. Their description is perhaps the most apt: “Never before or since has the old country maxim “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” seemed more true.”

“Hell on Heels” was also the group’s first album title. In addition to that song, there are a few others on that record that candidly speak to what women want in life–and what they want to say. In “Trailer for Rent,” she’s places an ad to rent her home because “my husband’s pissed me off for the last time.” “Taking Pills” tells the story from the perspective of the whole group, singing about life on the road. “One’s drinkin’, one’s smokin’, one’s takin’ pills.” There’s also some vulnerability on the record, such as in the wistful ballad “Boys from the South.”

Remarkably, the writing credit all goes to the group, though there was one small exception. Miranda Lambert’s ex-husband, Blake Shelton, received credit on “Family Feud” after he “happened to play an awesome melody.” Lambert said, “We call him Pistol Andy— and he knows he’s lucky.” Likely that nickname is no longer used. 

Nickname and Influences

"Hell on Heels", Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe, Pistol Annies
The Pistol Annies driving away with “a million hearts” (photo from Ticketmaster)

And speaking of nicknames, each member of the Pistol Annies has her own. “Lone Star Annie for Texan Miranda Lambert, Hippie Annie for Tennessean Ashley Monroe, and Holler Annie for Angaleena Presley (a nod to her Eastern Kentucky roots).” All three are Southern women but each brings her own influence and musical ancestry to the table.

Dolly Parton was big for Monroe in Tennessee, while Presley grew up with bluegrass music in Kentucky. The daughter of a third-generation coal miner, she also had other Appalachian influences. And then there is Lambert, who grew up in the Lone Star state and played rowdy Texas festivals before her commercial success. Her musical influences include outlaw county names you find in honky-tonks, like Waylon and Willie.

Putting those influences together, the music was totally organic. “The music just came so easily, it’s like we didn’t even have to try,” said Presley. “It kind of just spilled out of us. I think we were writing a song with 30 minutes of getting together for the first time.”

Chemistry

"Hell on Heels", Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe, Pistol Annies
The Pistol Annies attend the 60th Annual BMI Country Awards at BMI on October 30, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee (photo from radio.com)

“Sometimes when you write with people, you don’t have chemistry at all,” added Miranda Lambert. “But we have chemistry as friends, we have chemistry onstage, and we have chemistry in our writing. We’re three singer-songwriters that come from different places, but we’re girls with all the same issues, just saying what every woman in America wants to say or wants to hear. In our songs, we say some things that people aren’t usually allowed to talk about — or things that people talk about in their homes, but they don’t usually say on record. That’s actually kind of been my thing the whole time, and Ashley and Ang’s, too, but just not as many people have had a chance to hear it.

“That’s why I think the Pistol Annies is such a great avenue for all of us,” Lambert continued. “Because I love great music, and I get mad when it’s not heard, and now I’m going to use what I’ve built for two of my best friends who are great and deserve to be huge stars on their own. This has given me a new excitement, a new passion. Usually, after I write a record, I don’t want to write anything for a couple of months, because I’m just burned out. But I started writing with these girls immediately after I released Revolution, because this band inspires all of us so much. It’s like we can’t get enough.”

Not a Side Gig

"Hell on Heels", Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe, Pistol Annies
The Pistol Annies take aim (photo from radio.com)

If you think that Lambert views the Annies as a side gig, you’d be way off base. 

“This is the farthest thing from a side project that I could do,” Lambert makes clear. “Somebody asked me that in an interview, and it made me mad — I think they did that on purpose. I don’t do side projects. I do projects that are 100-percent, or I don’t do them. And these girls have plenty to say, too. I really want people to know that when they come to see a Pistol Annies show, they’re not going to see anything about Miranda Lambert. It’s all about the Pistol Annies.”

The Pistol Annies have only been available live during Lambert concerts, but Miranda wants to see that change. And it could because they’re starting to catch on.

Lambert remarked that fans at her pre-show meet-and-greets have started routinely asking her, “Are the Pistol Annies with you? Are they going to sing tonight?”

“At the beginning, when the three microphones would be put out front in the middle of her show, people had their mouths agape and would be like, ‘Huh?’” Presley quipped. “But now — like when we were just in Maryland — when those three mics came out, the crowd went wild before we even came onstage.”

“A step at a time”

"Hell on Heels", Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe, Pistol Annies
The Pistol Annies rocking their signature look (photo from Country Rebel)

“We’re just taking it a step at a time because we don’t have a rule book, and bringing them out with me has been cool because we’ve already got the busses and the production and the fans to play to,” said Lambert. “But I can’t wait until we go do Pistol Annies shows just as Pistol Annies, because that’s my goal. And because I don’t want the pressure all on me — they have to share it, too! That’s what’s fun about being in a band, you know?”

“She really believes in us, and we are a group, but we’ve learned so much just being on the road with her,” said Monroe “I mean, there is nothing fake about her. She says, ‘I’m just one of y’all,’ and she means it, but she also says, ‘I can’t wait for y’all to get famous so you can’t go into Wal-Mart anymore either without getting recognized!’”

Miranda Lambert didn’t mention the Annies being on tour with her this year, so there was speculation they were taking a break. However, the Pistol Annies have announced a new record for 2018, which we cannot wait to hear. And hopefully, that also means that they’ll be back performing live soon, singing the words every woman has said in her head a million times.

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