Just 26 years old, country singer Ashley Monroe has had her fair share of struggles in the music business. Having inked her first deal as a teenager, her debut album was set to be released in 2006, but didn’t see the light of day until 2009 as a digital exclusive with little fanfare. With a fledgling solo career, Monroe made her name as a songwriter, working with some of the biggest names in country. In 2011 she teamed up with pals Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley to form the Pistol Annies. Since their critically acclaimed debut album later that year, Monroe’s career has skyrocketed.
Earlier this month Monroe finally released a solo record. "Like a Rose" has already garnered rave reviews and impressive sales. With a new Pistol Annies record set for a May release -- and a recent engagement to Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks -- it seems like Monroe is on top of the world both professionally and personally.
We chatted music and baseball with Monroe over the phone earlier this month, in between performances at SXSW in Austin.
Playbook: Congrats on the album! How does it feel to be getting such positive reviews and acclaim?
Monroe: I can’t believe it. It’s really overwhelming. At first I thought my mom was just sending me the good reviews ...
Playbook: After the disappointment of your first record never getting a proper release, how did you manage to stay focused and not get discouraged?
Monroe: I never had a backup plan. I never wanted one. So I just kept going. When one thing didn’t work out, I just went to the next thing. I just knew I wanted to do music and I had to do music. There’s not even another option, music is my soul. So thank God I didn’t have a backup plan!
Playbook: Do your early struggles make the recent success even sweeter?
Monroe: It feels great. It feels amazing. To see that people out there get me is incredible. This record was 100 percent me, so to see them saying these things about the record feels great.
Playbook: How has being a part of the Pistol Annies changed your career?
Monroe: It’s awesome. ... You know, it’s another part of me. It’s a huge part of who I am musically. And they’re my best friends! Being on tour with them has taught me a lot about being on stage every night in front of people who care about your music.
Playbook: How do you find the time to balance touring, recording and promoting for both your solo album and the Annies album?
Monroe: You just have to make it work. That’s the only answer I really know to give. I just need to make sure to have time for myself, my Annies and my John [Danks].
Playbook: What’s the tour schedule like?
Monroe: The Annies tour starts in June, and then in August I’m going to be on the road with Train, and then we’ll see what happens after that.
Playbook: So on top of all of your professional responsibilities, how are you managing planning a wedding too?
Monroe: We’re waiting, we’re holding off for a minute. He’s got baseball and I’m touring. We’re very, very busy and very in love, but we have to wait for things to calm down for a second.
Playbook: With baseball season getting underway and your crazy schedule, how often do you get to see each other?
Monroe: It just depends. This stretch right now is probably the longest we’ve gone without seeing each other. He goes to the field every day, he’s doing his thing, but we talk all the time. I see him a lot, too -- we normally don’t go more than two weeks without seeing each other. I go find him wherever he’s playing. I get to travel and see different places with John, so that’s really fun, too.
Playbook: How many games do you usually get to see per season?
Monroe: Oh gosh, it depends. Last year I probably got to go to a lot more than I can get to this year. I’ll go to any one I can, especially if he’s playing.
Playbook: What does John think about the record?
Monroe: He LOVES it. He’s really proud. He plays it for his friends and for all the boys in the locker room. He’s my biggest fan.
Playbook: Were you a baseball fan before you started dating John?
Monroe: I mean, I didn’t know anything about baseball; I had never been to a major-league game before. I’m from Knoxville, [Tenn.], so I used to go to Smokies games [Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs]. I liked the experience of going, but I didn’t know anything about it. I started dating John and I learned really quick.
Playbook: How’s your baseball knowledge now?
Monroe: It’s getting there. I would give myself a C-minus.
Playbook: That’s not failing!
Monroe: No, it’s not! It’s just enough. He loves music but he doesn’t know everything about the business of it, so we know just enough about each other’s worlds.
Playbook: Are you friendly with the other White Sox wives and girlfriends?
Monroe: Oh yeah! We’re a big whole family. We all know what the other one is going through. I think that’s part of the fun -- you get to sit and catch up with the girls when you’re watching your men on the field. It’s really fun. You get to hold the babies. That’s my favorite part! It’s really sweet. We all stick by each other.
Playbook: Would you ever throw the first pitch if the White Sox asked you?
Monroe: Absolutely not! I don’t embarrass myself like that on purpose. I’ve seen people do it, but I know myself -- it wouldn’t get far! I would never hear the end of it.
Playbook: Being the fiancée of a major-league pitcher, I guess people would have pretty high expectations for you ...
Monroe: Exactly! Of course I wouldn’t ask John to get up on stage and sing. I mean, he can sing but I think we should each just stick to doing the things that we do well.