Angaleena Presley is one of Americana's biggest stars. Her latest album, Wrangled, has already been getting significant press as one of the genre's best of the year. She is also an outspoken critic of how country music treats its women. So it is fitting that we'd catch up with Presley backstage at the UK chapter of the Americana Music Association's Bootleg BBQ, where she was headlining an all-female lineup of both British and American singers, to talk about how her Southern roots informed her new album, sexism in music, and how she found her home in the Americana community.
AXS: You're an American artist, so how did you get connected with the AMA UK to play this Bootleg BBQ?
Angaleena Presley:I started going over there a few years ago and a guy named Jamie Freeman played guitar with me and he's married to Stevie Freeman, who is part of the AMA UK board, so we got to be really good friends and she promoted a few shows for me.
AXS: You've played Americanafest a few times now. What keeps bringing you back?
AP:Part of me submitting to play every year is to get the badge so I can see all the shows! It's the greatest music in the world all in one place. It's awesome to perform, but it's just as awesome to get to see those shows.
AXS: During your career, you've had some experience with the label country world and your new album has some definite opinions about that world. So talk about the difference you see between country's label system and Americana.
AP:Americana is more diverse, more open to edgier music. It's just a community of so many great musicians and great songwriters. There is no “check the box” here because none of us fits in the box. It's great to be in a box where everyone lives outside the box!
AXS: From your album output, it seems you like to play with a lot of different genre labels.
AP:I don't know that I'd say I like to, but it's what I know how to do. I don't have a passion to work any other way. I just want to get out and play my songs for people and Americana is my home.
AXS: What artists influenced you?
AP:It starts with Loretta Lynn. She's from close to where I'm from and we're both coal miner's daughters, so she was always in the background. Then there's Bobbie Gentry, Janis Joplin, Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams was a huge one.
AXS: You got to work with two of your influences in recent years, Guy Clark and Wanda Jackson. What did you take from your time with them?
AP:The common thread of most people who reach iconic status is they're good people. They're down to Earth, funny, easy to be around. They know how to be vulnerable, to tell the truth. And they work their butts off. Everything from collaboration to work ethic. It's not all rhinestones and flowers. There's a lot of elbow grease involved.
AXS: Guy Clark is someone who had a bit of a reputation for being pretty cantankerous. How was it working with him?
AP:It was amazing. And he was brutally honest. If you offered up a line he didn't like, he was free to tell you about it. The biggest thing I learned from him was how to edit myself. He'd also like to write really slow. On Music Row, you get into a pattern of “let's churn out a song in two hours and move on to the next one.” But with Guy, there were songs we worked on for months and it never felt weird. He always said “If you rush it, they'll know it.” But yeah, he could be a little mean, but I can be mean right back!
AXS: And the other side is Wanda Jackson, who I've spoken to and may be the nicest human on the planet.
AP:She's such a sweetheart. Nothing but great things to say about her. She just has this confidence, she's so charismatic. She's everything you think she'd be and more. But underneath, she's just this girl from Oklahoma.
AXS: Your new album Wrangled has some really interesting riffs on a lot of Southern traditions from sayings to church people who might not be so holy outside the church to high school cliques. What made you decide to take that sideways view of those institutions of your youth?
AP:Some things are really hard and humor is how you get through it. John Prine is another big influence and I really love how he takes something as dark as being in prison on Christmas and makes it something that you can laugh at but still feel that pain. That's the perspective I like to take. Songs like “Knocked Up” and “Bless Your Heart”, it might be a door someone can walk through. Once you name things, they're powerful.
AXS: You've spoken a lot about inequality in country and we've just had the quote from Jason Aldean that women in country sound alike. Talk about your experience with Americana's treatment of women.
AP:I hadn't heard that thing with Aldean. To say all women sound alike is just absurd. We just heard Yola Carter blow our faces off in a way that I've never heard. I saw Lindi Ortega last night who has all her own style and is amazing. That's what you get in Americana, and you can get it in country as well. People sing their hearts out every night. I think we're making some of the best music in the world right now.
AXS: Another unusual collaboration of your album was Yelawolf.
AP:Yelawolf was kind of an under the radar guy. He practically invented country rap and he's the only guy I know who can rap in 3-4 time. He's a genius and he had a hard row to hoe in this town. He started out here but was so ahead of his time. A couple of years later, people are ripping off what he did and we're hearing watered down version of what he did on country radio. So it was important to me to have the originator of that sound. It's therapy as a musician, as a woman, and as someone who has been through the grind. Thank goodness for Americana, since country music isn't allowing much of anything in that's different, which Yelawolf is.