Interview: Ashley Monroe Talks ‘Sparrow’ ‘Therapy-Thon’, How Songwriting Makes Her a Better Mom
While writing and recording her newest album, Sparrow, released on Friday (April 20), Ashley Monroe was in the midst of a number of emotional life changes. Not only had the country star recently gone through what she refers to as a "therapy-thon" in order to process traumatic issues from her past, but she also became a mother in August, with the arrival of her son, Dalton.
Becoming a new parent and grappling with childhood trauma are challenging enough on their own, but as a songwriter, Monroe knew she had to channel those struggles into her music; however, she tells The Boot, writing songs can provide a much-needed outlet.
"I'll go get a guitar and it'll come out, whatever it is I'm processing," Monroe explains. "I love being really, really honest in my music, because in our real lives, we can be so guarded and not be honest with ourselves. Something about just letting it out in music is such a pure form."
The day before her conversation with The Boot, Monroe had driven back to Nashville from a visit to her hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. She explains that going back to her grandparents' house there tends to bring up memories of her father, who died of cancer when she was 13.
"When I go back there [in body], I also go back there in my mind, and I go back to seeing my dad there," she goes on to say. "Now, I was at my grandparents' house with my son, and he had never been there before. I was just taking it all in.
"Poppy had a hard talk with me while we were there, about the inevitable that comes with age. He's not sick or anything, it was just one of those moments. People get older," Monroe continues. "Then, yesterday, I drove back, and it was raining, and Dalton screamed the whole time, and this morning, I just felt like my nerves were exposed. I cried. Gosh, I put Dalton down earlier and sat here and cried for 30 minutes."
Since she was pregnant while writing and recording much of Sparrow, Monroe has said that the experience of being entirely sober throughout the process of creating the album allowed her to feel all of those emotions more deeply. But feeling the pain of contemplating her grandfather's mortality isn't necessarily a bad thing: For Monroe, it translates to creativity.
"I was just processing, you know? Like, 'Gosh, that was a lot!' It was amazing, and hard. And then I picked up a guitar. Two songs have already started coming out," she notes. "You feel it, you process it, and then I can be a better mom that way, too, because I need to be both. I need to be a mom and an artist. I need that part released."
Monroe explains that she doesn't necessarily think about who her audience is when she's writing and recording her songs, but that she hopes the stories she tells can speak to the experiences of a variety of different people.
"I know that people listen to music so that they can feel somebody relates to them," she says. "I hope people can interpret [the songs] in ways that help them. I hope that different people can put their stories on it."
In fact, well before it was released, Sparrow has reached at least one very special fan: bluegrass legend Alison Krauss. After hearing "Orphan," the first track on Monroe's new album, a tearful Krauss called Monroe to express how much she loved the song.
"I was floating," Monroe recalls of that phone call. "I was shaking, I really was. She's so smart about music. She's so wise, and so excellent. The fact that she did that, and went on like she did about it, is so sweet.
"I told her she could call me anytime," Monroe adds with a laugh.
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