Music Interviews
2:36 am
Sun November 3, 2013

Ashley Monroe: Country Music Has Always 'Sliced Me In The Heart'

Originally published on Sun November 3, 2013 10:18 am

In country music, Ashley Monroe is still a new kid on the block — but the 27-year-old artist has already worked with the likes of Wanda Jackson, Jack White and Miranda Lambert, and has also found success writing for other artists, including Carrie Underwood. The singer says her tastes are eclectic, but country has always had an especially tight hold on her.

"I love all kinds of music, the truth is. I love anything from The Eagles to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Bonnie Raitt to Mozart — I mean, I played classical piano," she says. "But when it comes down to it, I'm from east Tennessee, and country melodies and country songs have always just sliced me in the heart. That's why I do it."

Ashley Monroe's latest album is Like a Rose; she spoke with Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin on a visit to NPR's Washington, D.C. headquarters to play a Tiny Desk Concert. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ashley Monroe is a country singer from Nashville, Tennessee. Her name may not be that familiar to you but the young singer-songwriter has already worked with big names: Wanda Jackson, Jack White and Miranda Lambert.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

ASHLEY MONROE: (Singing) Baby, we've been together for a long, long time. You get home from work and we just turn out the lights.

MARTIN: That's Ashley Monroe performing at one of NPR's Tiny Desk concerts. These shows are no-frill, no-fuss, just a musician in a cubicle with an audience that's really close.

MONROE: I was distracted by all of the artifacts all around - all the books and the bobbleheads and the CDs. I'm like oh, my gosh.

MARTIN: And like a lot of country songwriters before her, Monroe's lyrics tell stories of heartbreak. Her father passed away when she was 13 years old.

MONROE: I hadn't written any songs. And I wrote one when he was, like, right before he passed called "I Need You More Every Day." So, he got to hear one song that I wrote, but it was all stemmed from grief. He passed with cancer. So, I'd been watching all that. And he had gotten me a guitar for my 13th birthday. So, I would get that guitar and go up in my room and just hold onto it and let it all out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: I want to get into one of the songs you just performed at the Tiny Desk concert. It's called "Two Weeks Late."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWO WEEKS LATE")

MONROE: (Singing) And I'm the talk of this town. If you don't have the ring then he won't settle down. And I hate to admit they were right.

MARTIN: There are those in country music that are kind of playing with the genre and giving it pop sounds. That is not what you do.

MONROE: I can't.

MARTIN: It feels really - it feels old-timey. It feels, like, throwback classic country from the sound of your voice to the lyrics and the whole package.

MONROE: Thank you. You know, I love country music so much. I love all kinds of music. But when it comes down to it, I'm from East Tennessee and country melodies and country songs have always just sliced me in the heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MONROE: (Singing) Well, then I got a secret that I'm gonna keep, when you're living in sin...

MARTIN: You have had such success writing for other people, big stars, people like Carrie Underwood. What else makes for a memorable country song?

MONROE: When I hear a great country song, I get chills and I want to cry. You feel something. And just sometimes that magic and the stars line up somehow or another and it creates something that's really, really, really special.

MARTIN: Am I right in that you started your career as a songwriter?

MONROE: You know, it depends on how far you go back. I always sang when I was little-bitty girl. I sang all the time. And then I'm from Knoxville, Tennessee, so I sang in a show at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. You know, they have all those variety shows where Dollywood is. And I sang there and yodeled and clogged but I never wrote my own songs.

MARTIN: You yodeled.

MONROE: Oh, yeah. Sure did. And so...

MARTIN: You know I'm going to ask you to yodel.

MONROE: I know but I don't think I can because I'm a tad under the weather and my yodeler's broke.

MARTIN: It's really hard, isn't it, yodeling?

MONROE: You know, I taught myself. I made myself learn. And you just have to crack you, like, make your voice go whole octave. You just got to make it crack fast, you know.

MARTIN: And you say you're feeling under the weather so you have to feel...

MONROE: (Yodels) Like, but normally it's higher, you know. So, I sang, technically first, but then when my dad passed is when I started writing songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MONROE: (Singing) I was only 13 when daddy died, and mama started drinking and my brother just quit trying. I'm still bouncing back. Heaven only knows...

MARTIN: You do kind of have this Dolly Parton thing going on...

MONROE: Yeah, I have heard that a lot.

MARTIN: ...with your voice.

MONROE: Yeah, not with anything else, believe me.

MARTIN: Did you grow up listening to her? Is she someone that you kind of emulated or...

MONROE: Yes. I absolutely grew up listening to her. But I've heard people say, oh, you've dissected Dolly's voice, and I for sure have not dissected anybody's voice. You know, I'm singing how I sing. But we're both from East Tennessee and I think there's something in the water in East Tennessee that can bring out kind of the same characteristics that her and I both have. I think we kind of sing from the same place as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MONROE: (Singing) I lay down to sleep at night until the craving for you wakes me up. I reach out to grab you, God, and...

MARTIN: Ashley Monroe. She came into our studios after performing a Tiny Desk concert. Thanks so much, Ashley.

MONROE: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MONROE: (Singing) And you got me now, yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: Ashley Monroe's album is called "Like a Rose." To see her Tiny Desk concert, go to nprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.