Ashley Monroe's Song "Orphan" Means So Much More Now That She Is A Mother

Photo: Courtesy of Hannah Burton.
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Singer-songwriter Ashley Monroe's track "Orphan" is one of her most personal. The Pistol Annies' member, who released her second album Sparrow on April 20, is a new mom to son Dalton. But she's also a daughter, which is what "Orphan" is about — a particularly challenging time for her and her own mother.
Monroe shared an exclusive video of "Orphan" with Refinery29, and opened up about how the track helped her heal, how motherhood has changed her perspective, and why she's always happy to be overwhelmed by good things.
How did the track "Orphan" come to be in the first place?
"Well first off that melody, I had had it for a couple years, and I remember it was kind of the first melody that I had heard after I went away and had some deep therapy stuff... I didn’t hear any lyrics to it. It was just very strong, the melody. And I remember I had to like, really hunker down and figure out what the chords were even, because they aren’t a normal three chords that I use.
"Anyway, I had that melody and it was haunting me and giving me chills and I just knew it meant something. I went in to write with Paul Moak and Gordie Sampson one day and I woke up with that melody and strum in my heart and my head, and I don’t even remember who threw out that first line. When the words started coming out I was just like, 'Oh my gosh. Something’s happening, this is it.'
"So to me this song is kind of acknowledging the feeling of being alone and being abandoned for a while. [This was when] I was younger. My mom came back and I always make sure people know that. My mom and I are really close, she’s here with me right now. But you know, she wasn’t for a little while after my dad died. And now that I’m [the age she was then], I kind of see how you could go crazy, when you lose the love of your life and you have two kids… I guess ["Orphan"] was just acknowledging little girl me."
Now that you are a mother, does the song have any different meaning to you?
"Yes [it does]. I just think, 'Oh my gosh, I can’t imagine [my son] going through what I went through.' Gosh… I hope he never has to. But I do feel differently and I remember when I recorded the song, when I wrote it I wasn’t pregnant, but when I recorded I was, and I remember like grabbing my stomach kind of hard. It was a protective instinct in me. 'I want to always teach you, I want to always be there for you.'"
Your album is called Sparrow and you reference birds in the song. What does the symbolism of birds mean to you?
"The lyric came out first before I named the album that. I always loved the verse in the bible where it’s 'His eyes on the sparrow…' I don’t know the exact phrasing. I always loved that because any time you would see any sparrow, it would always be working, nonstop. It’s really little and it’s always going. So after that line was written, I decided I wanted [the album] to be called Sparrow. I started finding different meanings [after that]. 'Sparrow' represents 'small but vigilant.'"
What is inspiring you to make art right now?
"Music. I do everything because I love music. And it just pours out of me, that feeling. I always want to keep my music pure and never have too many opinions and all that in my music. It’s too special to me and it’s the one place where I’ve been able to retreat to all my life that’s just a pure, peaceful place and I want my music to be like that for other people too."
Have you ever had an experience where you weren't comfortable in the music industry?
"I was uncomfortable a lot in the early stages. I was 17 when I got signed. Of course I have more opinions now on what I want and actually have honed in on the art and honed in on myself really as person… but really looking back, all the records I’ve made, even [my first album] Satisfied... the labels let me do what I wanted to do. And the same with Warner Brothers now. There’s certainly been times where I would have radio in mind, on a couple singles I’ve had out, and every time I did it just felt icky. Not because of radio, just because my intention didn’t feel pure enough. I like to make music and then gosh, if it catches the radio or you know if it can get to the masses in any way, I would love that! But I also don’t ever want to grow bitter or stare at things that are wrong when I can just go find other ways to use my energy."
What advice would you give a young person trying to break into the music industry?
"I guess I would say you can take people’s opinions, but you don’t have to take it to heart, you know? A lot of people will tell you what you need to do, but also I think it’s important to figure out what you do. Not trying to be like anyone else, just figure out, 'Okay, what am I really good at? What’s my stance? What’s something I want to write about?' I feel like if you do that, you’ll stand out."
What is next for you?
"I’m going to go to New York and I’m going to do some work. I’m going to do Late Night with Seth Meyers, which will be awesome. Then I’ll come back and start working on some tour dates... Then Pistol Annie’s are going into the studio in June and we are going to make a record and… It’s just a bunch of good stuff!
"The weird thing is that the other day I was going to bed and I was feeling overwhelmed... And I heard this voice kind of say, 'Notice what it feels like to be overwhelmed by all good things.' You know, we’re all familiar with the feeling of going to bed being overwhelmed with sadness and heaviness when things are awful. We’ve all been there. And when you’re overwhelmed with a bunch of blessings, a bunch of good things, there is a noticeable difference. You still have a busy mind but it’s all beautiful things. I’m trying to really soak up everything that’s happening right now and be able to be a present mom but also keep living my dream and keep setting an example."
Check out this exclusive video of "Orphan" below.

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