It began on a wild hair: Two girlfriends on a giddy whim, calling a third gal late one night with an invitation to join the fun and maybe start a little trouble — and a band.
“I thought they were in slumber-party mode,” recalls Angaleena Presley of that midnight call she got nearly two years ago from her friend, fellow Nashville-based singer-songwriter Ashley Monroe. Monroe wanted Presley to email every song she had immediately because she “and Miranda” had hatched a plan to put a band together and they wanted her onboard.
“I was like, ‘Girls, you’re going to wake up tomorrow and realize you’re stupid,” Presley continues. “And then I went, ‘Miranda who?’ And Ashley says, ‘Lambert!‘ That’s when I was like, ‘Oh … better get out of bed right now!’”
Between the two of them, Presley and Monroe (from Kentucky and Tennessee, respectively) had landed a handful of cuts working Nashville’s Music Row for the better part of the last decade. Monroe had also worked on projects with famed indie-rocker/producer Jack White and released a major-label debut, while Presley has an exceptional album of her own waiting for a proper home. Lambert, meanwhile, has been one of country music’s biggest stars with three successive No. 1 albums: 2005’s Kerosene, 2007’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and 2009’s Revolution … and odds are that her forthcoming Four the Record will continue the hot streak later this fall. Monroe actually co-wrote two songs with Lambert for Revolution, including the chart-topping single “Heart Like Mine.” But the songs they’d begun writing that fateful night at Lambert’s cabin in Oklahoma two Novembers ago begged for an entirely new and different outlet.
The newly formed trio began writing and recording songs together straight away, but barely had six tracks down when they were offered an opportunity to make their official debut on national TV via the Academy of Country Music’s Girls Night Out special on CBS in April, 2011. “I told our manager, ‘Well that’s great, but I don’t know if we’re actually ready yet!’,” says Lambert. “It was scary. I’ve never been more nervous in my life.”
“The first time we ever played with a live band behind us was actually at rehearsal the day of the show,” marvels 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.”
Indeed: The Pistol Annies’ performance that night of their original song, “Hell on Heels,” hit the proverbial bull’s eye, with the three women trading chilling verses and marrying their three distinct voices together on the chorus, a hair-raising declaration of wicked girl power dished out with the dangerous beauty of deadly sirens. Never before or since has the old country maxim “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” seemed more true. You can take their line about having “done made the devil a deal” with a grain of salt, but they sell it with a conviction that suggests you better keep your guard up, just in case.