One of the most interesting and outspoken singer-songwriters in Country music today is Angaleena Presley. That is what I love about her, her songs are filled with witty lyrics and subtle little digs at the music industry which could in the hands of the wrong writer come across as whining however the way Angaleena carefully crafts each lyric and how she tells the stories behind the songs live on stage has the audience in uproar! The fact is, she’s right! At the sage she spoke of imagining growing up without Dolly Parton, Martina McBride and Reba McEntire, imagine a world without those strong independent females she said, that’s what today’s generation are missing out on. And a big factor in why they are missing out on those women’s voices is because Country radio won’t play them and this is a big theme in Angaleena’s latest record. So I was eager to catch up with her and delve deeper into the mind of a successful songwriter who isn’t afraid to speak out and try to change the industry for the better.
You’ve had a successful career so far as a solo artist, as a member of the Pistol Annie’s and as a songwriter writing for other artists too but how did you first get into Country music and what made you decide to be an artist?
It wasn’t a choice for me. My first love was music, I had a record player and a box of 45s instead of dolls. I took them everywhere. Also, very early on, teachers began to notice that my writing stood out and that continued through college where, on more than one occasion, professors used my papers as an example for the rest of the class to go by. I wasn’t a phenomenal singer but I think not having a powerhouse voice lent itself to becoming a better writer. I knew I had to hit the audience with lyrics if I couldn’t hit them with high notes. It was all a very natural progression and I truly believe I was born to do it.
What is your favourite aspect of your career – writing, recording or performing?
It’s hard to choose because they all have pros and cons. Writing is very fulfilling when the muse is kind. There are songs that I labor over and songs that spill out as though I am the medium for something other worldly. The hours after the effortless songs come are complete bliss. I feel like I’ve served my purpose on this earth. When the muse is fickle, I feel like my livelihood is at the mercy of something I can’t control. It’s really scary. Recording is amazing and inspiring on a different level. I learn so much from the musicians, producers and engineers and it’s a blessing to watch them make art that compliments the songs I’ve written. Unfortunately, I only get to do it once every couple years so I can’t really rely on that as the motivating factor. It’s definitely something that lingers in my mind as I’m writing and also something I look forward to. Performing makes the process complete. Delivering the songs to the people who might hear something that moves them or helps them or encourages them to grow is surreal. Music exists to create an emotional shift. Feedback from fans is the validation that I need to keep doing this job. Because, it is a job. Touring is exhausting work that takes me away from my family and friends. When someone comes up and says something like “I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through my divorce without your record,” I feel like I can keep clocking in to this crazy life. One part cannot exist without the other.
What did your parents make you listen to growing up and what are you listening to now?
My mom loved Janis Joplin, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Carole King and The Carpenters. My dad loved Dr. Ralph Stanley, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. I had a very influential uncle, Bobby, who introduced me to The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. They never had to make me listen to anything because my musical tastes have been all over the map right from the beginning.
Where do you draw inspiration from lyrically?
I think I could write a song about watching grass grow if it struck me to do so. There’s inspiration everywhere. The key is keeping an open heart and mind. I’m ever a slave to the muse.
Describe your writing process, what comes first or is it different every time?
It’s very random. It’s kind of like fishing. Sometimes I’ll catch a melody and sometimes I’ll catch a line or idea. I keep a notebook with me at all times and I write things down as they come. When I get time, I sit down and put things together. I never know which piece of the puzzle is going to come first.
You’re new album is fantastic, we love every song but do you have a favourite song off it and can you tell us the story behind it?
It’s really hard to pick one song. It’s like asking a parent to pick which kid they love the most. They’re all a part of a whole and they’re important to me for different reasons.
A few silly questions now; what is the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about?
My ex husband.
When you’re on stage are you completely focused or do you let your mind wander – what are your mid-gig thoughts?
My mind goes every freakin’ where. I have ADHD and it’s nearly impossible to get through a show without forgetting a lyric or losing my place in a song. There’s so much going on, lights, camera flashes, people singing along, sometimes people talking, glasses clinking… it’s a constant strugggle because my brain is wired to observe every little noise and movement. I’m pretty sure I have some undiagnosed sensory disorders as well because I have superpower senses. If someone’s having a BBQ in Texas, I can smell it from London. Not kidding. It’s hard to find fabrics that my skin can tolerate, I don’t eat fish because the textures and smells are too overwhelming. While all of this creates a perfect storm for soaking life in and making a song that can put the listener in a moment, it’s a natural disaster on stage. My mind is like a cat. There’s no use in trying to tame it. I learned to accept it and make it a part of my act. I’m a big advocate of imperfection and that comes across in my show as fans get the chance to watch me look up in the middle of a song and admit that I lost my place because my brain decided it was the perfect time to make a mental grocery list.
What’s next for you?
Not falling off the tight rope is always the next thing because there’s no safety net in this job. Being an artist is a crazy life of not only trying to balance joys and pains but also making good use of them.
If you haven’t already got Angaleena’s record Wrangled, then don’t hesitate, it is well worth a listen! And unconfirmed reports are that the Pistol Annie’s will be releasing new music next year which is fantastic news and we’ll try and bring you updates on that as and when we hear them! Don’t forget Angaleena is returning to the UK as part of the CMA Songwriters Series in October so grab your tickets now whilst you still can!