Margo Price: „I’m learning to love even the bad parts about myself“

Margo Price has just got up and is waiting for her first coffee. „Sound only“ is the directive her label has been given in advance, but as her camera is accidentally on when she enters the Zoom call, she instantly agrees to keep it that way. Which is nice – we laugh a lot together, as we engage in an earnest conversation about the struggles of an artist and what it means to grow up and age in this world and our society, especially as women. 

Not only did Margo Price just release her fourth studio album „Strays“, she has also written a book about her journey as an artist as well as the personal demons she has been confronted with in her life. Her memoir „Maybe We’ll Make It“ is in parts so open and honest it almost makes you blush. It doesn’t leave out any of the devastations and heartbreaks she has gone through: the loss of a child, poverty, depression, addiction, all of this framed by the long way she has come as an artist, full of loops, zigzags, deadlocks and surprising ways out. Detours and determination I call it at some point during our conversation, and Margo likes the thought of pulling both of the words together: detour-mination. That sounds like a very spot on description of her life. 

So the title of her new album, „Strays“, completely makes sense. But,interestingly, it also radiates a new confidence, the notion of finding one‘s place, of knowing who you are, not being led astray that easily anymore. Reading „Maybe We’ll Make It“, the strongest feelings that stay with us/linger  are respect and disbelief. One could almost call it stubbornness, how Margo Price carried herself through times that were determined by misfortune and failures, until in 2016 she was picked up by Jack White’s label Third Man Records and released her solo debut „Midwest Farmer‘s Daughter“. Today Margo Price is one of the US’s most acclaimed Country and Americana acts. It took her years to get where she is today, and now with „Strays“ she is bravely venturing even further forward, tearing down the musical limitations of traditional Country Music and simply doing – forgive my French – whatever the f*** she wants. Eighties Keyboards, Synthesizers, Seventies Rock and Folk storytelling – „Strays“ is all over the place and at the same time the tightest Margo Price album ever. And Margo herself, just coming home from tour and desperate for coffee, still seems like she is in the best possible place . 

My favorite memory connected to you is that you were the first artist I saw perform on my first ever (and so far unfortunately only) Glastonbury Festival. We arrived, walked straight to the Park Stage, and there you were.

I love that! It was also my first and only Glastonbury (laughs). Oh my gosh, that was incredible. To be in a place with that many people, so many great bands… I was really sleep deprived. I hadn’t slept in two days, because our flight got kind of messed up. We had a big run around at the airport. When I was there, I was so sleep deprived. But it was fun.

You didn’t appear sleep deprived at all. You had so much energy. I remember you weren’t wearing any shoes and were just running up and down that stage. It was amazing.

Oh I love to hear that. 

That must have been 2017.

That sounds about right. Yes. Oh my goodness. That seems like a lifetime ago now. 

So, I read your book. And it made me think, now that it feels like a lifetime ago since you performed at Glastonbury, how much life has passed before you made it to that stage. You really have come a long way. 

Thank you for reading it. I really appreciate it. There are so many artists, who go through similar things. People tend to assume it takes off that quickly (snaps her fingers). I remember seeing Tom Petty’s documentary „Running Down A Dream“ and thinking: oh, he’d been in other bands and they didn’t make it. He had a really hard time getting there. It kind of comforted me to know that other people had struggled. Which is kind of a sadistic thing to say (laughs)

I can hardly imagine what it must be like, going through that circuit. Playing small shows over and over again, living on the road, not losing hope that it will lead you there some day. That must take a lot of strength. 

It does. That’s one of the things I realised through writing the book. As I’m growing older here… as I’m blessed to grow older… that’s the thing about my personality that is both good and bad. If you have a personality that is really strong, it can be a good aspect, but it can also be one of the worst things about me. Because I think… it’s hard to explain. But you have read my book, so I don’t have to feel embarrassed or anything. But you know, even my experimentation and my troubles that I had with substance abuse and drinking and stuff like that… now that I’m not doing that, I’m pouring myself into my career even more. Now that kind of has become my addiction, my thing that I’m always working for, always hyper focused on it. I’m learning to love even the bad parts about myself. Because without those bad parts I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you (laughs).

You are so honest in that book. And I think that takes a lot of strength. I see a lot of strength. A lot of detours but also a lot of determination. That is something you should always be proud of.

Oh, I love the two words together: „detour-mination“ (laughs). I can tell you must write, those are good wordplays. Detour and determination. I love that.

And you know what I also find interesting? I grew up in the countryside in very rural Bavaria. The childhood you are describing sounds super American to me. But then again, I sense a lot of similarities in our upbringing. There are so many touching points. The feeling of being lost, being bored, the lack of perspectives… I find it really consoling, that even if we are different, all our experiences are also universal. 

I love hearing that. I thought when I was young that I was from such a boring place. I did not want to live in the middle of America. There was nothing to do. But now I feel so grateful that I kind of grew up in the time without internet. I mean, I am excited, I just got home today from my tour. And I can’t wait to get lost in the woods and to be around nobody. I just loved listening to the radio when I was growing up.I loved music so much. Because there wasn’t anything to do! (laughs) Yeah, you know! I cannot even imagine what rural Bavaria must have been like. 

Same, same but different. Probably. I don’t know about you, but I knew very early that I wanted to live in the city, and I left as soon as I could.

I think it’s important to get out and experience another place. Even if you end up moving back home, that’s fine. But at least you experienced other things. 

I also feel like your book and your album very much go hand in hand. I’m not sure if that makes sense to you, but your album very much sounds to me as if you’re reflecting on things.

Yeah! I feel so too. Definitely the book and the album kind of influenced each other. I was writing the book for four and a half years, so that was a really long time to be in that headspace and reflecting. A lot of times I was like: I want to burn down the past. I don’t want to feel haunted by it anymore. I don’t want people to be spreading rumors and talking about me. It’s empowering to own your truth and to talk about the mistakes that I’ve made. And then just move on with it. Because we are only here for such a short amount of time. None of us asked to come here. Life is very mysterious. So I just wanted to write a book that was my truth. And the same with the record too, to be able to reckon with a lot of things, to own my mistakes and keep moving towards the future, evolving and changing. I’ve had so much personal growth in the last few years. I never thought that I was going to get to that place. I can be very in my head about a lot of things. So it’s been good to feel healthy, just to feel in a good mental space. The music business is a very challenging work environment…

Nicely put.

(laughs) Yeah… I thought that once my career took off and once that I was making music for a living, all of my problems were just going to go away and that everything was just going to come together for me and be so nice. But success and fame and money and those things, they actually just amplify your flaws that are already there. It was hard to be in the limelight and not feel good and not feel right. It’s hard to fake it publicly, you know. So now I finally feel like I’m an adult. I’m 39, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It’s nice to be in a good spot. 

And don’t be afraid of the forties! I really like them.

I am not afraid of my forties! The last couple of years I was kind of anticipating and getting a little stressed out. But I have so many girlfriends in their forties that are doing the best work of their lives. I hate that we are taught to fear it, because we should just be happy that we’re not dead (laughs). Really, you learn so much. You might as well lean into it. And I think age is such a beautiful thing and as women we don’t get to enjoy it like men do. To be this distinguished 45 year old man or whatever… we deserve that too! But thank you also for telling me. It’s always good when people that are just a little further along are living their dreams. 

I feel like the only mistake you can make when you’re getting older is thinking, that at some point you are complete as a human being. It’s like practising yoga, you need to keep your body flexible, but also your spirit and your mind.

A hundred percent. I spent so much of my youth not enjoying my youth. Feeling like I wasn’t pretty enough or not talented enough, my career wasn’t good enough… I’ve already spent my youth feeling bad, I’m not gonna spend my mid age feeling that way. 

Maybe that’s also why this album has become your most eclectic one? It’s got so many different paces and styles. It sounds like you’re doing exactly what you want to do.

Thank you. I really appreciate you recognising that. I feel like especially in the country music industry, people are always painted like some kind of traitor if you decide to make other music. To me, sonically I have more things that I want to explore. I definitely want the songs to be good when you just play them on an acoustic guitar or just a piano. So that’s always my goal, but I always look at the genres and the instrumentation just like make-up. Putting on a face or something, you know. I know that this album is not as cohesive as say „Midwest Farmer’s Daughter“, which was definitely this one thing. Even my last album was like hey, this is Seventies Rock. And really, all the psychedelic mushrooms and these experiences that I had, they have let me know that it is okay to be myself, whatever that is. If I want to have a cool keyboard or drum machine, that’s totally fine because I am listening to so many different kinds of music. Even before Third Man Records picked me up, I had already been a student of Soul Music and Rock’n Roll and Psychedelic Rock, Folk, I mean, heavily influenced by Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, Patty Smith. What she does… bringing in poetry and this feral energy – I want it! Living at home during the pandemic, I feel like everyone was really forced to look in the mirror, see what’s going on see what you want to do with the rest of your life. Of course I will make country albums again. Of course I will always continue to sing at a Loretta Lynn tribute, do a Billy Joe Shaver cover… hell, I just think it’s so boring when people just make the same album over and over (laughs)

You don’t go into the restaurant and order the same thing every day, right?

Exactly! That’s such a good analogy. It’s crazy that we think we have to keep doing just one thing. You know, I paint as well. I started painting during the pandemic. I haven’t shown anybody my paintings yet. I’m still working on getting a large group of them and show them some day. When I first started painting, I started doing watercolor. I was like: okay, this is cool, but I want to try oil paints. Then I did oils and now I’m working with acrylics. And I’m still painting! I just don’t understand why people care if it’s a steel guitar or an electric guitar if the damn song is good (laughs).