Published On: Mon, Jun 12th, 2017

Grilled: Angaleena Presley

On album No. 2 a fired-up Angaleena gets Wrangled up against the male-dominated music industry and says it’s time “to share some hard truths”.

Words by Alice Clark


Angaleena Presley

Born in Martin County, Kentucky, to a coal mining father and school teacher mother, Angaleena Loletta McCoy Presley started playing Merle Haggard songs on guitar at 15, then on moving to Nashville in 2000, formed Pistol Annies with Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert.

The trio issued two albums, 2011’s Hell On Heels and 2013’s Annie Up. In 2014 she recorded her debut solo album, the acclaimed American Middle Class which hit the US Country Top 30.

Wrangled, its follow up, was put down in Nashville’s Ronnie’s Place with a stellar band including guitarists Oran Thornton and Keith Gattis, pedal steel guitarist and banjo player Russ Pahl, bassists Glenn Worf and David Jacques and drummer Fred Eltringham.

She said: “The vibe at Ronnie’s Place is warm and conducive to the magic. Lots of great music has been made there and I truly believe the energy of it permeates in the wood and wires, lending something to every note that’s played there.”

The album is a delight throughout and undoubtedly Presley’s most accomplished work.

Q. Was there a brief or plan behind Wrangled?
A. I look at a record like each song is a chapter to the whole story. Over the last few years the space for women in country music has become scarce. Statistics show that there’s a significant imbalance and I felt like I needed to address it.

Songwriting has always been like therapy for me, a place where I can vent, share my struggles and hopefully connect through that vulnerability. I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve and while it’s scary, I felt it necessary to share some hard truths.

Q. What was the buzz when you were recording?
A. The buzz was amazing. We never had a moment where it felt like we were forcing things to happen. The players on the album are not only musically gifted, they’re charming, easy going, good people. My job as a producer is to bring solid songs and create an atmosphere where we feel creatively uninhibited and I think I did that.

Q. Cheer Up Little Darling was written with Guy Clark just before he passed away. What did working with Guy teach you?
A. The most important thing that Guy taught me is that it’s ok to know you’re good. He was and will always be one of the greatest songwriters that ever lived and he owned his legacy with graceful confidence.

It’s really easy to self deprecate when you’re surrounded by smart, talented people who not only inspire, but also cause you to doubt your own abilities. Guy was comfortable in his own skin and he knew that what he did mattered.

He was a craftsman and if we had to wait for the right word to fall onto the page, we waited. He often said, “If you force it, they’ll know it”. Many writers crank out songs like they’re products on an assembly line. Guy knew that quantity paled in comparison to quality.

Q. How did growing up in Martin County, Kentucky, shape your musical path and what are your earliest musical memories?
A. My earliest memories of music were of my mother singing Scots-Irish murder / suicide ballads. I’m a direct descendent of the famous Eastern Kentucky McCoy family known for their feud with the Hatfield family of West Virginia.

She sang songs that had been sung to her by her grandmother, passed down over centuries of generations. My family wasn’t necessarily musical, but the sound of struggle and survival is in our DNA. Artists like Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Loretta Lynn and Patty Loveless, to name a few, carry that same light of truth that has descended over time and space and settled in the hills of Appalachia.

It’s in the water and I was lucky enough to have drank from the well.

Q. Who were your first musical influences?
A. Loretta Lynn’s unmatched bravery and ability to turn personal tragedy into hit songs is the foundation on which all of my musical endeavors are built. But I love all the country classics, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and also, coming from Eastern Kentucky, bluegrass artists like Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers.

My musical tastes are all over the map and on Wrangled, you can hear doo-wop, classic country, punk, rock’n’roll and gospel. I don’t discriminate.

I love music that moves me, whether it makes me dance, laugh, contemplate, or cry… If it makes me feel something it goes in the bank and I try to give back what I get from it.

Q. You also got to write with the mighty Wanda Jackson on Good Girl Down. What was that experience like for you?
A. Meeting Wanda was life changing. She is a vision of strength and integrity. I loved Wanda’s music and always looked to her as a role model. She blazed a trail for women who don’t fit the mold both sonically and physically.

She talked openly about her experience as a young female artist and I was surprised by the similarities in our stories. Writing with her was a defining moment in my career. The bonus is that Wanda is as sweet as pie and has a sense of humour like no other. She’s a true icon yet as down to earth as one can get.

Q. Who are your role models?
A. My role models are my mom and her four sisters. They are headstrong, educated women each with their own unique personality. Aunt Margaret taught me how to feel on a deep level and to not fear letting those feelings show.

Aunt Stella taught me the importance of punctuality and leadership. Aunt Lola taught me how to be confident and comfortable with my sexuality. Aunt Virgie taught me how to dream big and believe that I could accomplish anything I set out to do.

My mother taught me to never stop trying, to never sit still, to never let anyone get the best of me. I was really blessed to be born into a family of amazing women.

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