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Margo Price on Her Memoir, New Album, Sobriety, and More – Rolling Stone

Two years ago, while tripping on mushrooms, Margo Price decided to quit drinking. This wasn’t her first attempt, but something about her psychedelic journey led her to an epiphany. “I know it sounds a little woo-woo, but I was touched by something,” says Price, 39. “I thought about fucking everything that had happened in my life up until that point, and I didn’t know what was holding me back from quitting.”

With this newfound perspective, Price finished her excellent memoir, Maybe We’ll Make It. The book focuses on her early struggles to break through in Nashville, at a time when she and her husband, Jeremy Ivey, were grappling with drugs, alcohol, and trauma. On its heels, she’s releasing her new album, Strays, on Jan. 13. With scorching riffs, heartfelt folk, and appearances by the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, it’s her strongest, most cohesive record yet. “Booze saved my life in a lot of ways,” she says. “It almost killed me, but it also numbed feelings when everything was garbage. I might write an entire country album and dedicate it to booze.”

What inspired you to write a memoir?
I’ve always wanted to be an author, but it was spurred by two things. One of them was Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and thinking how beautiful it was that she wrote a book that was just about her youth and her partner [Robert Mapplethorpe]. And then when I got pregnant, I just felt so purposeless. I was like, “OK, I can’t tour. I need something to keep me creatively fed.” I would drop my son Judah off at school and then I would go to this coffee shop in East Nashville called the Post. I would write from eight in the morning until noon, and I would drink tea and eat a couple meals, and Jeremy would usually be sitting there across the table and he’d be writing songs and poems. He was like, “You should write a book.” So I started obsessing over it.

And similar to Just Kids, this book only focuses on your pre-fame years.
I knew that the longer I went not writing it, the more details I was going to forget. I already had to go back and piece things together like a crime scene, because there was a lot of drinking and drugging. I don’t journal constantly. But I really didn’t think that it was going to come out this soon. I just thought, “I’m going to write it now and I’ll put it out in five to 10 years.” There were things that I had to leave out because certain people are still alive.

What kinds of things did you leave out?
The first draft that I wrote, I hadn’t gotten sober at that point — I was not drinking because I was pregnant. So when I started going through things with my editor, I was having a lot of realizations. I didn’t have anything about my eating disorder. I didn’t have anything about just feeling ugly, not feeling good enough, struggling with my self-image in general. I was still going through a lot of it. I still am.

There [were] a couple other specific stories about things that happened to me on the music side of things, just with labels and certain things that I kept out that it was hard for me to bite my tongue on. But I thought, “I don’t know if I want to unearth this. Is this pertinent to the story?” Who knows. Maybe Volume Two I’ll let some more skeletons out of the closet.

You can usually disguise tough facts in songwriting, but it’s harder to do that in a memoir. How was that for you?
I get to have a lot of ambiguity in my songs. But with this, I was feeling really naked. I was unsure of everything. I started having panic attacks after I turned in the final draft because I thought, “What am I doing? I want to protect my privacy. I want to protect myself, my mental health.” I was definitely bracing myself for the judgment of people who may say, “You’re not a good person,” or, “You’re not a good parent.” I’m not proud of all of it, but the way I figure, we’re all going to die. I want to be real with people.

Was Jeremy cool with all of this stuff being out there?
He was actually the one who encouraged me to talk about our problems. Because the book is Maybe We’ll Make It, not Maybe I’ll Make It. He’s been there with me writing the songs and doing all the things. He was the one who was like, “People aren’t going to get the full story if we just say, ‘Oh, we lost a kid and then that was it. Everything was fine. And then our music took off.’” Because it wasn’t. It was really ugly and it was really scary, and we continue to have disagreements and arguments. It’s a hard business to stay together in. I’m gone all the time. There’s things that just wear on a marriage.

In what ways was writing this book cathartic for you?
During the pandemic it’s just nice to have a place to escape to, because here I’m writing about what I thought was the bad days. I’m like, “This was the time I was struggling.” But I was looking back on it and having this newfound fondness for the days that we struggled and understanding how it’s shaped me as an adult. Lots of processing. This really gave me a chance to examine where I went wrong. I know that people say writing’s not therapy because a therapist isn’t there, but I think I’ve accomplished some of my hardest work through my art. It feels really freeing to just get it out there.

At what point in the writing did you quit drinking?
I had 400-some pages before the pandemic even started, before [my daughter] Ramona was born. But I didn’t have an ending and I didn’t have chapters and it was very shapeless. This January will be two years [since] I quit drinking. I did multiple edits while in that new frame of mind, and it also gave me the ending that I was looking for, because I was seeing all these things that I was going through. “You wreck your car, you do all this, and then [you’re] still not ready to quit.” Like, “I got it under control!” Even drinking through the election, I remember being like, “OK, this is not healthy and you can’t just turn to it when you’re stressed.” And that’s definitely what I did. 

Obviously I’ve tried to quit drinking a lot in the past. Many times I woke up and would just be so violently hung over that I’d be like, “I’m never drinking again.” And lo and behold, it just kept going around in a loop. 

How has being sober changed your songwriting process?
I feel incredibly clear-headed. The clarity, the energy that I have, I’m honestly just more in tune with my brain — with my spirituality — than I have been in a long time. My skin looks better than ever. I don’t even really work out. I’ve reverse-aged.

It’s funny, because we hadn’t played “Hurtin’ on the Bottle” in quite a while, and I went out and played a show with Tyler Childers and I was like, “I’m going to play some of my country songs.” I was playing “Since You Put Me Down.” I was playing “Hands of Time.” There was foreshadowing in those songs with how much the drinking was hurting me, and how much it was self-sabotage. “Hurtin’ on the Bottle” is a sad fucking song. But Jeremy was like, “You don’t even drink anymore. Do you want to play any drinking song? Do you even think that that connects with you?” I was like, “It fucking resonates with me now more than ever.”

If you turned your book into a movie, who would play you?
Oh, my gosh, what a great question. I liked Licorice Pizza. [Alana Haim] was incredible. I really loved that the casting agent addressed her nose [laughs]. So, we have to find someone with a really strong profile.

You released your book around the same time as Bob Dylan’s new one.
I know. I’ve been waiting to devour his. Chronicles was huge for me, and I went back and read that a second time as I was in the process of writing my memoir.

What’s your favorite Dylan era?
‘66 amphetamine Dylan. Blonde on Blonde. It’s hard to pick. I’ve dressed up as two different Dylans. It wasn’t even Halloween. I did some tributes and cross-dressed, so I did ’66 Dylan with the polka dot shirt and I had a wig and the sunglasses and everything. I also did the white face paint Desire-era Dylan. I’ve played a show with him. I was on the same bill, so I have a poster with my name underneath Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. It’s insane.

I hope that’s framed in your house somewhere.
It is.

If you ever met him, what would you ask him about?
I would maybe want to ask him about his visual art. I feel like that’s one of the most mysterious things about him, and I think he’s a great painter. I would also ask him about his Christmas lights that he puts up every year.

You (along with Annie D’Angelo) recently became the first female directors on the board of Farm Aid. There’s going to be a time where the older directors will no longer be with us. Do you see yourself taking that forward and carrying it into the future?
Farm Aid was ahead of its time, and we need it now more than ever. They’re helping shed a light on a lot of the disparities that farmers of color face. They just don’t get grants and loans as much as white farmers. And we’re really coming into a crucial time with the climate, the environment. I 100 percent plan to recruit more people on the board as time goes on that I know are equally as passionate about the cause.

You kick off your new album with a bold line: “I got nothin’ to prove, I got nothin’ to sell/I’m not buying what you got, I ain’t ringing no bells.”
As we recorded it, I started thinking, “This is a great mission statement.” I wanted to separate myself from what everybody thinks I’m supposed to be, getting lumped in as just a country singer. I want people to take me seriously as a writer. Women, we have to work so much fucking harder to prove it.

You’ve been labeled as too rock for country and too country for rock. Do you feel that times are different now? Are you more confident about being able to paint your brush in everything?
I see comments from fans sometimes that are like, “Oh, I wish you would stay country.” I’ve even had some really good friends be like, “I love when you sing rock. But I just feel like you need to be making country records, because you do it so well.” But I don’t want to be boxed in. Obviously, I’m still singing Loretta [Lynn] songs. I just covered a Billy Joe Shaver song. I like to do both, and I will continue to straddle the line. And luckily I’ve had architects like Lucinda Williams that could do that. And Bob Dylan. And fucking Jack White. Jack makes country music [and] he makes rock & roll, but it’s all just good songs, and that’s where I want to sit.

The Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell plays on this record, and Benmont Tench played on your previous one [2020’s That’s How Rumors Get Started]. What is it like to work with these guys?
It’s a pinch-me moment, for sure. Mike doesn’t play on a lot of albums, and when we were in the process of songwriting, we went out to Mike’s house multiple times and co-wrote with him. He was so encouraging and he taught us a lot about songwriting just by being in his presence, knowing how much he wrote on Tom [Petty]’s stuff. We got to hear stories from him about Dylan and George Harrison and Johnny Cash, and it was really wild. He literally played that solo on “Light Me Up” one time.

And actually, Benmont was just at [producer] Jonathan Wilson’s studio the week before us, so his grand piano and the Heartbreakers’ organ was in there. Micah Hulscher, my keyboardist, got to play them. It’s like, “Oh, that’s the Heartbreakers’ organ. No other organ sounds like that.” It was cool that we got to have those vibes on there.

Sharon Van Etten appears on “Radio.” How did she come into the fold?
Sharon is one of the greatest songwriters of our generation. I see so many people trying to be her. It’s really cool to see how far her influence has spanned, and she’s not even old. I met her at Newport Folk Festival and she watched my set and came up to me and introduced herself. We exchanged phone numbers and then we started [being] virtual pen pals during the pandemic. We were sharing songs. I got to hear her album [We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong] before it was out. We were connecting as musicians and as mothers.

I wrote that song when I was walking in the woods, and I sent it to her. She helped polish up the lines, and she sent me back all those beautiful harmonies. I listened to it in my car with tears running down my face because she means so much to me. It’s been such a natural, needed friendship. I often feel alone in the scene, and having her camaraderie has been big.

Why do you feel alone?
There’s the really straightforward pop-country thing that goes on, and there’s even people that double dip in those worlds and get to do all the awards shows. I’ve been ousted from a lot of the Nashville establishments because my first album [2016’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter] was talking about how the scene here could be sleazy at times. And then my second album [2017’s All American Made] had controversial songs on it. People never know what I’m going to say or what I’m going to do. It’s fine with me, though. I would say something out of line [laughs]. There are people who champion me and make me feel really welcome, but I think sometimes it’s a little more competitive than people know.

As I’ve been getting older, I’ve been trying to do a better job of supporting people that are more my age. I’m a real big music snob, so sometimes I know that there’s friendships that probably could benefit me or collaborations that could … I’d have more streams on my shit, but I just can’t do it. I can’t perform music that I don’t believe in, and I can’t kiss ass. It’s just knowing what certain people’s politics are and this and that. I’ve been having a really interesting debate in my head, and I haven’t said anything about it on my social media, but I have a couple drafts in my Twitter that I haven’t sent out. We get so caught up in this, “Women have to support women or you’re a bad person.” But I’m like, “Well, what if that woman collaborates with people that are bigots and also some conspiracy theorists?” It’s like, do you have to support everyone? What if they’re not a good person? But that being said, I do support the women that I believe in and I will be in your corner till the death.

You’ve said you’re at a point in your life where you aren’t focusing on large crowds or accolades. What do you mean by that?
I have to work very hard at not getting lost in the pageantry and getting dollar signs in your eyes. A lot of this business is high highs and sub-zero lows, where it’s a dopamine hit when you go on stage and when you get press. And when you don’t, it works in the opposite way. I’ve really been trying not to get lost in it, because it’s a mess out there. What social media has done not just to the music world, but everybody. You have to live in it all the time. When I start feeling poisoned by all of it, I just shut it all down and remember exactly why I picked up a guitar in the first place.

Even the book — I really wanted to be on The New York Times’ bestseller list. I wanted that really bad. I have sold a fuck-ton of books. The first week, we thought that that would’ve been enough to get on the list. But I just had to go back to being proud. I wrote a fucking book, and I didn’t have a ghostwriter. I made something that other little girls get to read and know that they’re not alone out there when they feel ugly and not good enough and not talented enough.

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Keep singing your songs and keep dreaming your dreams, because it’s not what it’s about. It’s not about having Grammys on the shelf. That’s all the fake shit. Singing to fans every night, that was my lifelong goal. I’ve already achieved it. It’s awesome.

Sorry, I haven’t had therapy in a couple weeks. I’m on a tear with you.




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