The Pistol Annies Say They Should 'Thank Sia Big Time' For Making Their Christmas Album 'Happen'

"We never force it," Miranda Lambert tells PEOPLE. "But we got in the spirit big time"

Pistol Annies
Pistol Annies. Photo: Gina Binkley

The Pistol Annies had a helluva time convincing Miranda Lambert to make a Christmas album. Lambert isn't a scrooge, but she doesn't love tired Christmas music.

When Lambert's Pistol Annies bandmates Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley wanted to write and record a holiday album, they had to be patient. They dropped hints and guided conversations, but Australian pop singer Sia was actually who made the difference.

When Lambert heard Sia's Christmas album Everyday is Christmas, a switch flipped.

"It was like, 'Oh, fresh and originals,'" Lambert, 38, tells PEOPLE. "That got me loving Christmas music again because it was fresh. It opened my heart."

In May 2020, Pistol Annies took a songwriting trip to the Smoky Mountains, and Lambert started to relent. In passing, she suggested the title Hell of a Holiday, and Monroe, 35, knew her friend was ready.

About 18 months later, the idea is a reality.

Hell of a Holiday is a 13-song Christmas miracle keenly crafted with the humor, harmonies, and fearless storytelling for which Pistol Annies are known.

Emboldened by Sia, they wrote 10 of the 13 songs with inspiration stripped from Lambert's Texas, Monroe's East Tennessee mountains, and Presley's Kentucky hills, then gave it a heavy sprinkle of twinkly Christmas magic.

To celebrate, the trio is throwing a "Pistol Annies Hell of a Holiday Special" that will stream on their Facebook page at 8 p.m. ET tonight. The show is a fundraiser for Music Health Alliance and will include interviews and performances from the group.

"We took into account how serious it is to come into everyone's home and everyone's life and everyone's memories every year," Monroe says. "We respected that we would hopefully make memories with our fans and their families every year because Christmas music is so powerful when it hits you."

Making the album their way was important to the friends. They gathered at Lambert's farm around Halloween last year. Lambert had already decorated her tree, and Monroe says, "it felt Christmasy."

"We weren't going to force it," she explains. "We never force it. But we got in the spirit big time."

Lambert bought Christmas sweaters and made hot toddies. Monroe brought Cynthia the synthesizer, which added to their holiday vibe.

"We just full-on went there," Monroe says.

"We got all warm and fuzzy," Lambert adds. "I think it helped that we did write a lot of the meat of the record at Christmas time when the tree was up. It was a little easier than writing it all in July."

The women set a rapid pace, writing two or three Christmas songs a day. "Happy Birthday," a birthday tribute to Jesus, was the first song they wrote for the album, and Presley, 45, believes it's the "most Annies" song on the album.

"I don't think it really even started as a, 'We're gonna write a Christmas song,'" she says. "That song, to me, is just like an Annie song that occurs at Christmas time. That sent the tone for the record."

Presley joked that from there, the conversation progressed to: "Well, maybe we'll talk about a snowflake in this one." By the time Pistol Annies made it to the studio to record, they were writing songs about snow globes.

"It was like a desensitization process, but I think we stayed true to ourselves all the way through it," Presley says.

"I love all the beautiful records, but I love a good real jab at what really goes on in a family," Lambert adds. "We got to do that on this, too. It's got a tinge of realness and weirdness that you don't get on a lot of holiday albums."

"Believing" might be the trio's favorite song on the album.

"It sparks that childlike feeling, at least for me and other people that I've played it for," Presley says. "The innocence just resonates with me. I have like a hundred nieces and nephews, and that's the one they all responded to the most. In fact, my little cousin Charlie shed a tear, and he's on a naughty list just about every year."

The women wrote "Snow Globe," the album's first single, months later when they were recording the project. They were singing "Come on Christmas Time," and when Monroe heard the saxophone come in, she said she had a "maxima smile" on her face.

"I told Miranda, 'I just feel like I was spinning around in the snow globe,'" Monroe says. "She was like, 'We should have written a song called 'Snow Globe.' And I was like, 'Oh, we should have.'"

While the band was on their lunch break, the women created the song in 15 minutes.

Reimagining the cover songs was much more difficult. Pistol Annies tried to choose covers to "fill in the gaps" of their original songs and landed on the classics "Sleigh Ride," "Auld Lang Syne," and Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December." The latter is the first remake they tackled in the studio, and Presley called the stages "nails on a chalkboard." The women initially defaulted to recording the heartbreaker exactly like Haggard. Monroe caught their faux pas; they trashed the version and started over.

"Miranda just started doing that bluesy thing," Presley recalls. "That hit us hard. We didn't know what was wrong until we found the right way. And we were like, 'Oh, this sounds like Annie's now.'"

The women went through a similar process with "Sleigh Ride" they used The Ronettes version as their base, but they wanted to add the giddy-up.

"Like a thousand modulations later, we like, 'Oh my gosh,'" Monroe says. "We feel like we made it our own, but it's not overdone."

Most of all, the women say, they just hope people enjoy the music.

"We want them to say, 'I can't wait to listen to this every year,'" Lambert says.

"We hope this gets added to their annual playlists," Presley adds.

And they couldn't be more grateful to Sia.

"We should thank Sia big time that this record happened," Monroe says.

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