The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - KRISTIN M. HALL

NASHVILLE — As a mem­ber of the coun­try trio Pis­tol An­nies, singer­song­writer An­galeena Pres­ley of­ten got ques­tions about the lack of women on coun­try ra­dio, which she re­sponded to with a safe sound bite about mu­si­cal trends be­ing cycli­cal and be­ing hope­ful for change. But pri­vately, she didn’t be­lieve it. “Ev­ery time I would say those things, in my mind I would be go­ing, ‘But it’s not cycli­cal. This is 10 years that we’ve had two or three fe­males any­where in the Top 10,’” Pres­ley said. “But I was scared just like every­body else. And maybe it all started with the whole Dixie Chicks thing.”

Pres­ley is no longer hold­ing back her opin­ions as shown on her brac­ing in­dict­ment of the mu­sic in­dus­try in her new solo al­bum, “Wran­gled,” re­leased last month. Pres­ley fol­lows a wave of out­law fe­male artists in Nashville, Tenn. — in­clud­ing Nikki Lane, Margo Price, Sunny Sweeney and more — who have built their own brands from the ground up and at­tracted a more di­verse crowd of fans with­out the help of ma­jor la­bel mar­ket­ing bud­gets and coun­try ra­dio.

The Ken­tucky-bred singer said the ti­tle song is both a metaphor about the obli­ga­tions of be­ing a work­ing mother, but also be­ing si­lenced as a wo­man in the mu­sic in­dus­try. “It was a way to shed my skin of all that business,” Pres­ley said.

Other fe­male coun­try singers have also found success at re­belling against the mu­sic in­dus­try, but not al­ways last­ing ca­reers. Gretchen Wil­son won a Grammy for her catchy No. 1 sin­gle, “Red­neck Wo­man,” and her 2004 de­but al­bum, “Here for the Party,” went mul­ti­plat­inum. But fame and the in­dus­try moved on quickly af­ter that, and she left Sony Mu­sic af­ter just three al­bums.

One of high­est-sell­ing fe­male bands in Amer­ica, the Dixie Chicks, were boy­cotted by coun­try ra­dio sta­tions for speak­ing against the Iraq War and then Pres­i­dent George W. Bush in 2003. Although they re­cently toured to­gether, they haven’t put out an al­bum since 2006.

In 2015, a ra­dio con­sul­tant com­pared women to toma­toes in a salad in an ar­gu­ment that ra­dio sta­tions should play fe­male artists spar­ingly. Two years later, not much has changed: Only four women had songs on Bill­board’s year-end coun­try air­play chart in 2016.

Orig­i­nally from South Carolina, singer Nikki Lane found her way to Nashville through both New York and Los An­ge­les and gave up a steady job to sing coun­try mu­sic. A fash­ion en­tre­pre­neur, she runs her own vin­tage cloth­ing bou­tique and ap­pears in an ad cam­paign for the True Re­li­gion denim brand.

“It’s a trade-off,” said Lane, who co-pro­duced her al­bum “High­way Queen,” re­leased in Fe­bru­ary. “Am I will­ing to let peo­ple call the shots in ex­change for be­ing on the ra­dio, or am I will­ing to live a dif­fer­ent life but do what I want?”

Lane’s big­gest suc­cesses have come when she col­lab­o­rated out­side her genre, such as record­ing with the Black Keys’ Dan Auer­bach or open­ing for So­cial Dis­tor­tion. She has even crossed over to al­ter­na­tive ra­dio.

“It was like 3,000 40-year-old dudes and a lot of them have their arms crossed,” Lane said of the So­cial Dis­tor­tion tour. “They are sum­ming you up. But now com­ing out on the road, we got more fans from that trip than we may have got­ten do­ing any­thing else.”

His­tor­i­cally, it was men who prof­ited from the out­law moniker. In the 1970s, Way­lon Jen­nings, al­ready a huge star in coun­try mu­sic, grew dis­il­lu­sioned with the Nashville mu­sic bu­reau­cracy and wanted to take more con­trol over his pro­duc­tion. “Wanted! The Out­laws,” fea­tur­ing Jen­nings, Wil­lie Nel­son, Jen­nings’ wife Jessi Colter and Tom­pall Glaser be­came coun­try mu­sic’s first plat­inum record in 1976.

Colter was one of the few women at the cen­tre of the out­law move­ment, which she chron­i­cles in her new au­to­bi­og­ra­phy ti­tled “An Out­law and a Lady,” re­leased last month. Still, she said that her hus­band never re­ally took the la­bel se­ri­ously, but un­der­stood that it was a turn­ing point for coun­try mu­sic.

“It was a time and a place and it will never be again,” Colter said. “It’s been a good mar­ket­ing thing. But it’s re­ally just been over­done and overused.”

Even Pres­ley de­nounces the tag on her song “Out­law,” when she sings that she’s not brave be­cause “ev­ery fight I’ve ever fought and rule I’ve ever broke is out of des­per­a­tion.”

“I do want to be rich and fa­mous and suc­cess­ful and have gold records all hang­ing on my walls,” Pres­ley said. “It’s just that I don’t fit into that for­mula, for some rea­son.”


An­galeena Pres­ley fol­lows a wave of out­law fe­male artists in Nashville who have built their own brands with­out the help of ma­jor la­bel mar­ket­ing bud­gets and coun­try ra­dio.

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