Let's go back to Tennessee
You and me
Let's go back to Tennessee
Let's go back
Jeffrey Masters: Margo Price moved to Nashville from Illinois at the age of 19. After struggling to make it for years, she broke through in 2016 with the album Midwest Farmer's Daughter.
Get off your chest, what's on your mind?
Jeffrey: It's a raw, rootsy album that established Price as an artist to watch. She works somewhere in the lineage of the outlaw country artists of the 1970s. Price recently put out a new album called Strays with her husband and her collaborator Jeremy Ivey. She's also published a memoir called Maybe We'll Make It.
Price spoke about a week ago with The New Yorker's, Emily Nussbaum, best known as a television critic but also a big fan of country music. There'd been emails back and forth to set up the interview. On the day that Emily and Margo finally sat down to talk, Margo had just been at a vigil for the victims of a mass shooting in Nashville.
Emily Nussbaum: I want to start with what's been going on this week. This has been a terrible week for the city with the tragic shooting at the Covenant School. I know that this morning, you sang Bob Dylan's Tears of Rage acapella at the Nashville Remembers vigil. I wondered why that song. Can you tell me a little bit about the occasion?
Margo Price: Yes. My children were actually at their first day of school over at a different school near the Covenant School. They were just up the street. I got the call that there had been a school shooting in Green Hills, and I just fell to my knees. As you know, I have lost a child, and-- albeit under very different circumstances, my heart just really was aching for those parents who lost their nine-year-olds, and for the seven children who lost their father who was 61, and the custodian at the school.
It was really hard to know what song is appropriate. They said, "We want something uplifting. We don't want it to be too political." So I did have some instructions. I think people were maybe scared of what was going to come out of my mouth. That song, Tears of Rage, was a song that a friend of mine sang at our son's wake. Just being able [music] to get through that without breaking down was a real challenge.
Tears of rage, tears of grief
Why must I always be the thief?
Emily: It was beautiful. It's interesting that they-
Margo: Thank you.
Emily: -didn't want you to sing something political. I know there's a taboo in town and on Music Row about artists speaking out about politics. Where does that come from? Has it stayed the same? It's a striking moment in terms of whether people are going to speak out about guns. I don't know what your perspective on this is.
Margo: I think even when you look back to the '60s and '70s, and when John Lennon was marching against the war, I think people still probably were telling him to shut up and sing. One thing that I've really been trying to stress is that I am a gun owner. I have grown up with guns. My father was a hunter. I grew up shooting clay pigeons. I've had a shotgun. I've traveled alone-- I've worried about my own protection at times, but there's got to be something that changes.
We know that Marsha Blackburn has taken $1.25 million from the NRA. We know that Governor Bill Lee stood and signed a permitless carry back in 2021. There's just no need for that. No one is saying, "We're going to take away all the guns," and that you can't be a gun owner, and you can't go hunting or something. But absolutely, something has to change. I don't see how people can just go on living like this.
Emily: Let's talk about the album-- and thank you for that.
Margo: [crosstalk] I'm grateful that we did get to touch on that because it has been heavy on my heart.
Emily: Let's talk a little bit about the album. I love Radio, which is a groove about shutting off the world-- turning off your phone, turning off the news, and taking off your clothes, and-- isolation in general. Tell me a little bit about that song and about your collaboration on that song with Sharon Van Etten.
Margo: Oh, my goodness. I was very frustrated, honestly, at my label. [chuckles] I was angry at them, and I wrote that song. It just came out like lightning. It was just one of those songs. I was just walking in the woods, I heard the melody, I got my phone out, I made a little demo, singing through the woods like a crazy person.
People try to push me around
Change my face and change my sound
I can't hear them, I tuned them out
And I turned them way down low
The only thing I have on is the radio.
Margo: Then I got home, and I sat down with the guitar. I was, like, "Okay. It's an E." I just very crudely strummed it out, and then I sent it to Sharon. I said, "Do you think it needs a bridge? Do you like this?" She's, like, "Man, that's a killer song." She helped me change some of the lines-- some very crucial moments in there. Then-
Emily: Which lines?
Margo: -just layered it with a million harmonies. The one that she added is-- Let's see. "I'm saving all my extra money." It used to be, "Go out somewhere they'll never find me," but she said, "Go out get what they'd never buy me." I was, like, "Perfect." It's just very subtle. A couple of things that were super subtle that just had a lot of weight and meaning in them.
Emily: What were you mad at your label about when you were driven to write that?
Margo: I might have to plead the Fifth.
Margo: I'm still with them.
Emily: You have a lot of songs that are payback songs on several of your albums in clear ways, but I hadn't read Radio that way. Radio felt like maybe it was about the internet or about--
Margo: It's about that too. I was mad at everybody. It was definitely something that went down-- people that maybe trying to just steer the ship a little too much. But that's good. Sometimes you just write a song because you need to write a song, but sometimes you write a song out of a necessity of needing to say something very specific. My first album, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, that whole album was about the struggle. I like the struggle. I think if everything were just to come easy for me, then I wouldn't be Margo Price.
Emily: [laughs] You said in a profile that I read that you'd scammed the record company a little bit by saying that you were collaborating with one of Taylor Swift's co-writers. I wanted to ask about that, but I also wanted to ask, do you think that there's too much emphasis in Nashville on co-writing? There are these super-sized albums that come out where it's a million co-writers for every song, and I just wondered what you thought about that as a tendency.
Margo: I think that the amount of songwriters that some people have on just one song is absolutely ridiculous. I get having points. My band is very instrumental in coming up with the arrangements, coming up with tempos-- really transforming a song, but when you're actually just talking about the meat and potatoes of writing a song, I think-- I don't know, too many cooks in the kitchen can maybe be a little bit too much.
My husband and I, we've been writing together a really long time. He can write things from my point of view. He can get into my head in a way that not other people could. They were pushing me to co-write with-- I don't know, some guy who'd written with Harry Styles. I was, like, "Well, that's totally fine, but I'm not writing the same kind of songs that Harry Styles is writing right now." I don't want to just work with somebody just because they're famous.
I've turned down collaborating with a lot of people that probably I'd have a hell of a lot more Spotify listeners, but I can't do it. If I don't like someone's art, I just can't work with them. That's just how I am. I can't help it.
Emily: Three of the most towering songs on Strays-- Been to the Mountain, Change of Heart, and Light Me Up were all written on the same day. Can you tell me about that day?
Margo: Absolutely. My husband and I took off on a little trip together-- a literal trip. We brought a bunch of mushrooms; we went to this Airbnb, and we took a very large dose of psilocybin and went through all the feelings. We talked about where musically we should go next. The next day, we woke up, got some coffee, and we began writing. It was just a really, really incredible week.
The songs-- they did have a mystical quality to them when they came into our lives, and we were, like, "All right, we're onto something good. We're onto something different."
I got nothing to prove, I got nothing to sell
I'm not buying what you've got, I ain't ringing no bells
I got a mint in my pocket, got a bullet in my teeth
I'm going straight in the fire, I'm going talk to the high priest.
Emily: I love Been to the Mountain. I think that's such an amazing song, and that is a mystical anthem that doubles as a life story. Who do you think of as narrating this song? Is it you? Is it a version of you? How do you think of the narrator of a song like that?
Margo: There are definitely pieces of me in it, but I was trying to think a little bit more on like a-- just a broader level of how we are all interconnected. I know it sounds very woo woo, but I think we all come through this life many times. You think about all the people you've been, and-- When you have a psychedelic experience, every one of them is different. Everybody's experience is going to be different.
I want to say that I'm definitely not advocating for anybody to do anything. During my experiences, I've just been able to go inside-- things that I've buried, things that I've pushed down, things that I've numbed out, those things can come out.
Emily: [crosstalk] It's interesting because obviously, psychedelics are a huge part of this album, and I know that a psychedelic trip led you to stop drinking, if I understand. First of all, tell me about how that happened in terms of what kind of insights you gained from the trip that caused you to want to give up drinking which had been a huge part of your life, and the difference you see between drugs and drinking because a lot of people put them in the same category.
Margo: Absolutely. I've done every drug under the sun, and I have no shame about it. I have experimented with quite-- many substances. Nobody is going to want to be on mushrooms every day. [chuckles] You do it and then you don't need to do it for a very long time, if even ever again. When you're drinking, it shuts down your prefrontal cortex, and then you're relying on your animal brain.
Once I learned about the science behind what alcohol was doing to my brain, it was actually very easy to quit. I have never felt better. It's like a second chance at life. I know that sounds very cliche maybe, but I feel like I'm finally healing a lot of things that I've just been pushing down and numbing out because they were too painful to process at the time.
Hey kid, where ya goin' with those brand new wheels you got?
You think you're gonna last forever forever says you're not
Emily: County Road on the album feels to me like a real local Nashville song. It has references to developers pouring in. You say, "The band broke up, the boys don't talk, the city's rearranged." I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the song-- who it's sung to, and also a little bit about how Nashville has changed during the time that you've been there.
Margo: Well, Jeremy and I wrote County Road for our friend Ben Eyestone, who was a drummer in the band, the Lonely H. He died of cancer. Ben never had a car. When we would leave town, he would drive my bass player's car around, and people would say, "Oh. We saw Ben in your Volvo." So we thought, maybe he's up in heaven now and he finally got a set of wheels. We could just see him driving.
The song was about how he got out before everything got bad. He got out before the pandemic hit, before the tornado, before-- 2020, everything just came to a screeching halt. Obviously, the gentrification and the way people are making everything into corporate businesses and condos and ripping down the local record stores and a lot of the places that we loved. This song is like a love letter to that time.
Emily: Let's talk a little bit about the book. I know that at the end of writing it, you almost scrapped it. Is that right? I wondered what was going on, what were you thinking about at that point, and also, what were your motivations for writing it. I think you wrote it somewhat simultaneously with the album. Are they both-- did they overlap?
Margo: Yes. I don't have panic attacks a lot. I get depressed, I get some anxiety here and there, but after I send off the final draft, I felt like I couldn't breathe. I felt like I just made a terrible mistake. I sat outside with Jeremy-- he was sitting by the fire, and I just said, "I am worried that I burned all my bridges and I'm never going to find my way home again." I was convinced that they were going to disown me. He just looked at me and he said, "You belong to no one. You don't even belong to me. We're only here for such a short moment in time. Just say what you need to say and speak your truth."
As I'm approaching my 40th birthday in just a couple weeks, I've been doing a lot of reflecting over the past two years, just thinking about how hard I've been on myself, how I have just been my own worst critic. I've just spent so much time dwelling over things that I can't change, or just thinking I'm not good enough because I'm not pretty enough or I'm not successful enough or my career's not where it should be after all this time. I think being able to read back my words in my memoir, I was really able to give myself a lot of compassion and just let go a lot of that. I just don't want to feel those things in these next few decades. I just want to be excited to be alive. I want to be proud to age. I want to be-- just not being so hard on myself because I already have enough people judging me out there. I don't need it. [laughs]
Emily: Well, thank you so much. It was great talking to you.
Margo: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
I think I need to take some time out
And I want to turn my phone off
I Just want to be alone
Just let me be alone today
Jeffrey: Margo Price's new album is called Strays, [music] and her memoir of trying to make it in country music [music] is called, Maybe We'll Make It.
Why do I feel so sick and tired
I'm sick and tired every day
People try and push me around
Run my name straight in the ground
I can't hear them, I tuned them out
And I turned them way down low
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.