"I was only 13 when daddy died/ Mama started drinking, and my brother just quit trying/ I'm still bouncing back, heaven only knows how I came out like a rose." - Like A Rose - Ashley Monroe-Jon Randall-Guy Clark.

Ashley Monroe has plenty of major strings to her bow - and they don't just include writing with expat Novocastrian Catherine Britt when Britt was living on the edge for five years in Nashville.

And, like Britt, her first Nashville produced disc withered on the vine and failed to burst from the chute when it was due.

But the Tennessean hung in, joined the Pistol Annies, and is now blooming - like a rose.

She and Britt, with whom she wrote Call You Back Town and Down for Britt's self-titled fourth album, shared dreams to write with the best roots country tunesmiths in Music City and blaze her own trail.

Now, with her debut hit Like A Rose penned with Texans Guy Clark and Jon Randall - third of six times wed Lorrie Morgan's four ex-singing spouses - she's front and centre in the cred country posse.

She expands on her long stemmed floral fantasy with Give Me Weed Instead Of Roses - a satiric stab at trad romantic stimulants.

Born in tiny Corryton, just east of Knoxville, Ashley grew up on the same street where most her family members lived.

A cousin to country legend Carl Smith - first ex-husband of June Carter Cash and father of Carlene Carter - she received a Patsy Cline cassette tape in her Christmas stocking, not long after she learned to talk.

It cemented her love for emotionally-charged country music and gave her the desire first to sing, then start writing.

At 10 Ashley was singing Amazing Grace in church when she forgot the words and ran off stage.

She recovered quickly and was a regular performer at a theatre in Pigeon Forge - near Dollywood.

When she was 11 Monroe won a talent contest singing I Want To Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart and two years later her father gave Ashley her first guitar.

But it's a tragic reality rooted loss that fertilised the Knoxville girl's second solo album title track produced by Randall sidekick Vince Gill and Justin Niebank.

At 13 Ashley's life was shattered by the death of her father, Larry, from pancreatic and liver cancer.

She retreated and found solace in song-writing during her grief.

Ashley didn't spend much time with kids her own age because they couldn't understand her sorrow.

She admits her relationship with mother Kellye, who had a son five years older than Ashley, suffered as well, although they're now best of friends.

"When I was 13, my dad got sick," Monroe revealed on the eve of her album's release in Australia.

"He got pancreatic and liver cancer. He was only 40, and three months after he was diagnosed, he passed away. When that happened, my life as I knew it went completely opposite. Nothing was stable. My mom was devastated. I had this dream, and I knew my dad believed in me, and I just thought, 'I can't give up. I can't crawl into a dark hole and just give up. I have to keep going, I have to.' So we stayed in Knoxville until I was about 15. Finally, I told my mom, 'We need to get out. We need a fresh start. I'm going to write songs. I'm going to sing.' We knew nobody in Nashville or knew nothing about the music industry - nothing. Looking back, it's almost like I feel my dad was kind of guiding us, like yelled, 'Hey, you two blond girls, go this way.' Because it's just amazing how I met some really great people that are still a part of my career. Brett James was one of the first writers that I wrote with, and that's who I wrote The Truth with. I think it was my daddy up there kind of helping us out."


"The battle I'm fighting's already been fought/ the man I'm losing's already been lost/ I've been down this road, I've seen all the signs/ she's driving me out of your mind." - She's Driving Me Out Of Your Mind - Ashley Monroe-Jon Randall.

So how did Monroe hook up with two time Aussie tourist Guy Clark who also wrote with Britt before she boomeranged from Nashville to Newcastle?

"I hold him so high up on my dream list," Monroe explained.

"His publisher was like, 'yeah, he'll write with you.' I was like, 'Oh gosh, now I've got to bring in a great title! I've got to show him I can really write. I can't just go and sit in front of Guy Clark and stare at him.' Guy is just cool. He doesn't try to be cool. It's intimidating to be around him. He's this tall guy and he's just got this thing about him. I started to get nervous and when I get nervous I talk even faster than I normally do. So I was like 'well, Guy, I got this one idea da da da da da." As soon as it got silent, he'd say, 'Hmmm.' Not in a mean way, he was just taking it in. So I would say, "Well, I've got this other idea." He said, 'Well, just tell me about yourself. So I start telling him my whole story. But look at me, I came out like a rose." Guy's reply: "Well, let's write that."

Gill sang harmony on the song.

Some details, like transplanting the song's main character to North Dakota from east Tennessee, are fictional.


So let's backtrack to the arrival in Nashville of the descendent of the Carter Family and bluegrass sire Bill Monroe.

Monroe, now 26 and engaged to Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks, chose writing and singing for her supper as a teenager.

"Yeah! The first record I made when I was 17," Monroe recalled.

"Labels merged and plans didn't work out, but plans never work out as planned. But I never stopped making music. I never had a backup plan. I never thought maybe I should just write, or maybe I should. I just kept going. I thank God that I didn't overthink it because there was a plan after all, for me to make another record and for it to be with Vince Gill, and here it is. And for the Annies. That was the most unexpected, unplanned, magnificently, beautifully-timed thing ever."

Ashley scored a songwriting contract shortly after arrival in Nashville and two years later, she signed to Sony Music.

Radio programmers couldn't fit her music to their format.

Her Sony album, the boldly traditional Satisfied, remained largely unreleased and Ashley and the label parted ways in 2007.

In 2009, the disc was made available via digital retailers.

So it was her writing - replete with bucket, not glass metaphor - that provided sweet solace.

"Yes, I've always described it as my bucket filling up," Monroe explained.

"Right now I'm in the emptying stage of the bucket. I go live life and absorb all these things whether it's song titles or melodies, then all at once it'll just come spilling out of me. I've been in a spilling-out stage for year. Out with the Annies, we wrote our second record on the road. Literally, I can't even stop myself. We wrote one last week. The record's done and I hear this melody but I can't stop it. I love it though, it's such good therapy. It feels so good when you've written a song you listened back and you can't believe it."


"Baby we've been together for a long, long time/ you get home from work and then we just turn out the lights/ lately I've been dreaming you in leather, me in lace/ let's put up the teddy bears, and get out the whips and chains/ give me weed instead of roses/ bring me whiskey instead of wine/ every puff, every shot, you're looking better all the time." - Weed Instead Of Roses - Ashley Monroe-Sally Barris-John McElroy.

Monroe reached back to her embryonic Nashville era for Weed Instead Of Roses - she wrote it with Sally Barris and John McElroy when she was just 19.

It's Ashley's plea to her partner that if he wants to get romantic she prefers him to woo her with something other than the old stand-by.

She substitutes the organic herb superb for long-stemmed flowers that will soon wilt and die.

Producer Gill - husband of Christian singer Amy Grant - immediately fell for the song's humour.

"I talk to myself a lot, in my head," Monroe explained.

"On the way to this writing session, I heard, 'Give me weed instead of roses.' I got real tickled. Sally's just a beautiful writer, a beautiful singer, beautiful soul from Minnesota. But she's real dainty. John is not dainty. He's hard-core. So, I went in and I said to them, 'I just heard the craziest thing in my head: 'Give me weed instead of roses.' John was like, 'I love it!' and Sally said 'Oh, that's funny.' So we wrote this song and it got on one of the compilations to Vince, who said he wouldn't do the record unless we cut it. I was like, 'What are you and Amy doing'?'"

"Trust me," Vince replied with a broad smile.

"Them Christian girls are freaks! You've just got to marry 'em to find out."

The herbal refreshment referenced in the tune is not the only lyric likely to loosen buckles in the Bible belt.

There's also whips, chains and sexy underwear are all part of the adventure the singer plans for herself and her man.

"We were laughing that whole co-write," Ashley recalled.

"I was saying, 'Let's just go there.' People are either going to love me or hate me for it. But I'm going to sing about what I'm going to sing about. If people can't laugh at it or take a joke, they can listen to something else. I honestly never expected to have it on a record, but then Vince co-producer with Justin Niebank heard it and said he wasn't going to do the record unless it was on there. Every time I sing it, I laugh, because it's about things everyone knows but doesn't talk about."


"So the man is gone/ what a damn cliché/ and my mama says/ looks like I've gained some weight/ landlord's at the door/ he says the rent can't wait/ but I'm a dollar short/ and two weeks late." - Two Weeks Late - Ashley Monroe-Shane McAnally.

Monroe's co-write with Shane McAnally on Two Weeks Late pushes radio boundaries in a similar vein to Eric Church hit Two Pink Lines.

And it shares a similar theme to fellow Pistol Annies singer Angaleena Presley tune Knocked Up, also cut by Trick Pony singer Heidi Newfield and Hunter Valley roots country chanteuse Kirsty Akers.

The version by Akers, who opened for Texans Hayes Carll and Steve Earle and Jace Everett on their Australian tours, is accompanied by a humorous video.

Ashley also wrote another poignant pregnancy song Beige on the Pistol Annie's Hell on Heels.

"I'm not pregnant or anything," Monroe explained.

"But I was thinking about that the other day: 'How weird to have two songs co-written about being knocked up walking down the aisle.' Now, no, I've not personally been knocked up out of marriage, but I know and have seen a lot of people who have. But then I thought, 'I sang at my cousin's wedding when I was 11, and she was pregnant walking down the aisle.' And there were some other things. Like I said earlier, I'm a sponge, and there's a lot of life I've witnessed in my life. "

Monroe draws on reality for all of her material.

"I can't even begin to tell you all of the things I've seen and been through at 26," Monroe said of The Morning After.

"But I really feel like I've been given those experiences so I can write about them and tell people 'Life goes on. I started The Morning After when I was 17. My dad had died and my mother left and I was living with my brother, who was partying out of grief. So I was introduced to this world of numbing the pain - and also the consequences of it. People can relate to that; a lot happens - and you deal with it."

Monroe expanded candidly on her writing sources.

"I make up stories in my head all the time but I've never written them down," the singer explained.

"But I write a lot of story songs. Any song I'm singing, I sort of see it like a movie in my head. That's why a lot of times I close my eyes when I'm singing. I've had people tell me before, 'open your eyes.' I do, but sometimes when I'm so deep in a song, like Morning After, when I'm singing it, it almost physically hurts because I feel it so much and I see the same scene in my head every time. So if you see me closing my eyes, it's because I'm living it.


"I lay down to sleep at night until the craving for you wakes me up/ I reach out to grab you, gotta have you, yell until I had enough/ and you got me now." - You Got Me - Ashley Monroe-Karen Fairchild.

Monroe wrote the dark reflection You Got Me with Little Big Town star Karen Fairchild who sings on the album version.

"That one means a lot to me because it's depending on something that's no good for you," Monroe said. "Whether it's drugs or relationships or whatever. The melody and the first verse came to me in my sleep. The next day I was writing with Karen Fairchild, so it made sense for them to sing on it. I'm so happy they got to because of like a choir of angels singing about addiction. It's about an addiction to something - one thing or another, whether you're stuck in a bad relationship or alcohol or whatever it is. And you try to hide it and fight it but you're kind of saying, 'alright, you got me.' "

Monroe doesn't resile from writing from the heart.

"Now it's actually harder not to," she explained.

"Once you get everything out of your head about what everybody else is going to think, will radio play it - and I hope they do, I really do - once you shed all of that and just be who you are, that's who I am. That's taken a lot of growing up. I've come into myself musically and as a woman and I hope to keep growing. If you don't grow, you die.

Monroe and Gill kept the recording organic.

"We just got the band in a circle and started playing the songs," Ashley said.

"And once we felt like we had a feel for it, I'd do my vocal live - I never went back in to do a second vocal. Everyone put everything we had into the songs. There was a buzz in the room. We all had fun - it felt like a big old family, the way records used to be made."


"I know I'm not some bright and shiny/ polished-up car that's sparkling new/ right off the salesroom floor/ yeah, I've got some dents and bruises/ I've been dropped and there's a scar/ where my heart was broke before / but in the end I'll be worth a whole lot more used." - Used - Ashley Monroe-Sally Barris.

Equally soul baring is Used - the second tune on this disc - penned with Sally Barris at 19.

That was also inspired by Monroe's mother when she became a widow at 38.

"She was feeling down low," Monroe recalled.

"And she wasn't feeling pretty, and wasn't feeling young, and was feeling that she was going to be alone the rest of her life. I thought, 'Well, she's worth it. The things I've seen her do, she's such a strong, beautiful woman. She's worth so much more to me now.' "

Used first appeared on Satisfied - the debut album Monroe lost in label-merger limbo in 2007 and finally released in 2009.

Monroe released two solo singles Satisfied and I Don't Want To - a duet with Ronnie Dunn.

She also collaborated with Brett James on The Truth that became a #1 hit for Jason Aldean.

"Jason, it still gives me a chill. Sometimes I forget I wrote it, and I just sing along," she confessed."

"It humbles me, really. I'm just so blessed and fortunate to even have amazing artists to consider - to even record - one of these songs, and then to be able to get it out to that many people. Oh, I love it!" He sings his butt off! He and I have the same manager so as soon as I could get an advanced copy of Jason's album Wide Open. I did. I listen to it all the time and forget that I wrote it. I literally just listen to the song and listen to him sing it, realizing, 'Oh, my gosh. I'm a part of this?' He's an amazing, amazing singer."

It's a far cry from her radio tour at 19.

Monroe sang Used to a radio station program director who burst into tears.

Wiping away those tears, the program director explained, "It just doesn't fit our format."

Yes, it was too real - a heartfelt song about loss and erosion that makes somebody cry?

That ain't fairy floss country.

"The first stop on the tour, we were on the tour bus in California, and this lady from the radio station came up, and I sang a couple of sad songs," Monroe says.

"She looked at me and said, 'What are you so sad about? You don't know sadness. You're too young.'"

Here in the unlucky radio country Monroe wouldn't get past the corporate chain gate-keepers tucked up in their tuneless towers.

Monroe made quite an impression on her elders. Parton wrote her a sweet letter. George Jones asked her to open some tour dates. Vince Gill took her on as a co-writer before she even had a driver's license.


"Well you can't stay long when you're living on the run/ and the high sheriff's lookin' for you/ never shot nobody with a loaded gun/ but I found me a lover or two/ well I almost got caught in Tulsa town/ had me one foot in the grave/ ah they're gonna die trying to track me down." - Monroe Suede - Ashley Monroe-Vince Gill.

Ashley's Pistol Annies success also eased the pain for the entire Monroe clan.

The trio topped country charts for a single week in 2011, with Hell on Heels, a collection that landed at or near the top of numerous year-end best of lists.

"One thing I learned was in watching the audience reaction to the Pistol Annies," Ashley says.

"It reassured me that it's OK to talk about honest things. They're like me, they want to hear it. Seeing men and women enjoying and relating to every single word that we were singing, even parts like 'I've been thinking about setting my house on fire,' gave me more confidence about letting people hear these songs. You just tell them the truth, and some will hate it and some will love it."

< Ashley Monroe & Catherine Britt

That has also helped her personal maturity.

"I've grown up a lot in many ways; I'm not a little girl anymore," she says.

"But I've also learned that my dreams are coming true and any time I complain about too much going on, I just have to remind myself that this is what I wanted and I couldn't do anything else ever in the whole world but this. So I really hope it works. But if this one doesn't, I'll keep going.

Ashley also wrote outlaw road song Monroe Suede - that shares a melodic memory with Bobby Bare hit Miller's Cave.

Monroe's song tells a fictitious tale of a tearaway teen daughter of a Pentecostal church pianist and a drunken father in a stolen pick-up truck on the run in Tulsa, Oklahoma, from a high sheriff.

In Bare's song - penned by Cowboy Jack Clement - the protagonist shoots dead two cheating lovers in Waycross, Georgia, and drags them to Miller's Cave where he hides out from the law.


"You'll probably see me country singing on The Voice someday/ yeah and I'm the guy they wrote about in 50 Shades of Grey/ why don't you come on back to my place, and have your way/ oh baby that sounds tempting, but I just can't stay/ oh, we won first ?rize cowboy, let's just split the dough/ honey I will always love you, but we'll never know." - You Ain't Dolly And You Ain't Porter - Ashley Monroe-Vince Gill

Monroe combined with Gill to write a memorable duet name checking the late Porter Wagoner and long-time duet and TV show partner Dolly Parton - a throwback to pure bliss of traditional country.

And, to maximise marketing appeal, her duet partner is Blake Shelton - singing spouse of fellow Pistol Annie Miranda Lambert - and one of the most successful judges on The Voice.

The tune is highly reminiscent of Hayes Carll's satiric duet Another Like You that features Cary Ann Hearst.

That video features grizzled comedian-actor Brett Gelman known for HBO shows Funny Or Die Presents and The Life Of Tim, TV host, lawyer, actor and former Bill Clinton political strategist James Carville and Republican power broker wife Mary Matalin.

In the Carll song The View is the TV show name checked - in this one it's The Voice and the 50 Shades Of Grey book.

So has Monroe read the fantasy fuelled E L James book?

"Yeah, on an airplane, in one sitting from L.A. to Nashville," Monroe joked.

"Vince came up with that line, the little knucklehead!

Does the book live up to all the hype?

"Oh, once you get to the middle it's all the same thing," Monroe explained.

"It's a cool story but there's other stuff I'd rather read. But it was an easy read for a flight. I laughed, I giggled a lot when I was reading it."


Monroe's high profile with the release of her CD and Pistol Annies second album Annie Up will help - rather than harm her.

Especially with publishing royalties pouring in on from historic projects in her lean years between projects when she wrote Heart Like Mine and Me And Your Cigarettes with Miranda Lambert.

"Me and Your Cigarettes was actually called Your Cigarettes and Me and there was a whole another melody, but I had these words," Monroe recalled.

"I went to her house in Lindale, Texas, right before 2007's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend album came out. We were sitting on her back deck and she finished it with me. She liked the idea. She called me the day they cut it, and she goes, "I just wanted to tell you that Blake Shelton and I were kind of fiddling with it, and it's kind of changed a bit. It's still our words, but it's a different beat, and we've changed it to Me and Your Cigarettes." I went to the studio and heard it and was like, "Oh, please. This is amazing." She was like, "I hope you're not mad." Are you kidding me?"

Equally rewarding was Heart Like Mine.

"She and I went to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee together," Monroe explained.

"I'm from East Tennessee, so I took her to Dollywood. I was like, "You've got to go to Dollywood." We got a little cabin in Gatlinburg, and we were sitting on the porch there picking on guitar, and I kept hearing things. She was like, "Oh, my God. Bring me a steak knife so you'll shut up!" She's tougher than I am. She had a steak knife next to her. We were like, "Let's write something really honest." All of it's true to her life. Being around Miranda all the time, she's taught me a lot without knowing, just me watching, how to be a businesswoman as well as a singer and writer."

Monroe never fell out of demand as songwriter and backup singer in the lean years.

She worked with Jack White, Dwight Yoakam, Guy Clark, Chris Isaak and Mat Kearney, Lori McKenna and Chieftains.

The songs she was writing and storing, some hard-edged, some bluntly comical, are as direct and daring as Loretta Lynn's were in the 1960s.

In 2008 she cut a highly praised EP with singer-songwriter Trent Dabbs and later she sang background vocals on an album Jack White produced by iconic country-rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson.

And just to prove how versatile she is, Monroe also contributed vocals to Bruises on 2012 album California 37 by Train.

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