(Photo by Alysse Gafkjen)
On Tuesday, in part one of this interview, country-with-extras singer Margo Price explained how, no longer an automatic people-pleaser, she refused to smooth edges or the potential embarrassments in her frank memoir, Maybe We’ll Make It. Her peers and ever-growing number of fans have come to love her more for that honesty as much as the quality of the work.
Today, in part two, that honesty moves into the realms of stimulants and sedatives, soothers and replacements, and a new record that doesn’t aim to please, only to engage.
UPFRONT, IT SHOULD BE SAID THAT THIS IS NOT A PLACE for anyone who has issues with drinking or drugs, or at least discussing them. Margot Price doesn’t. In fact, she says that the revelation and understanding from an extended mushroom trip was what convinced her to give up drinking.
So take that wowsers.
But even I must draw the line somewhere and that line is something she drank called Picklebacks, a bourbon or whiskey with a pickle juice chaser. Live how you want etc, but that sounds disgusting.
“You’d be surprised, they are actually so good,” Price says sporting a giant grin. “That pickle juice would actually kill the taste of whiskey and we usually had the cheapest of bourbon, the cheapest whatever kind of brown party liquor we could get.”
There are many benefits to not being poor but it may be that not having to disguise the taste of your brown party liquor is an underrated one.
Price doesn’t need to order from the rail drink shelf anymore, but then she isn’t drinking at all, as mentioned above. This isn’t the first time she’d hit pause on drinking, but it was one that came with added freight as she describes in this extract towards the end of Maybe We’ll Make It, a memoir which canvases her life from relocated from-farm-to-town child to jobbing, sometimes starving, musician, and onto the release of her debut solo album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter in 2016.
“One morning I woke up with my head in the shower and my feet by the toilet. The children were with their grandparents for the weekend, and I had used that as an excuse to binge. My knuckles were bleeding, my face was red, my body was bloated, and my mind was on edge. It scared me. All the rules I had set years before when I reentered the drinking world had gone out the window by the end of that first year of the pandemic. I was drinking away my crippling fears about the end of the world and how the children I’d brought into it would navigate it. Meanwhile, I couldn’t navigate it myself.”
None of this is a cue for either lectures or some monastic life. Firstly, that is not how Price rolls; secondly, she’s not blind to the multifaceted part alcohol played in her life.
“A lot of people get so worried when somebody quits drinking, and about talking about it or drinking it around me, or whatever, but I still love to go to bars, I still go out quite often,” she explains. “There’s a part of me there really is angry at the way alcohol is kinda like Big Tobacco in the way that it hurts people and that we give it a pass in this world out of all the drugs that we could give a pass to. But at the same time I’ve gotta thank alcohol for being my friend when no one else was there, and I’ve gotta thank its numbing capabilities when I was in such pain, because I don’t know that I could have gotten through without it.
“I guess it could have gotten on some antidepressants as well, and maybe that’s the route that people should go because self-medicating is a dangerous art, but I should thank Picklebacks for being there for me.”
In her hour of need pickle juice and whiskey came through! More seriously, Price’s willingness to argue that while there is harm there can at times be some value in the use of alcohol, or more often drugs, is uncommon.
“I just want to reframe how people think about psychedelics and how helpful they can be for antidepressant, for finding your passion. They’ve given me so much and I think that the war on drugs has been unkind to these planned medicines they could absolutely change the world. And I want to reframe how people think about alcohol because I don’t associate as an alcoholic, I just do not drink it anymore.
“And I’m also not sober; I’m still smoking weed, I’m still eating mushrooms too sometimes. I feel better than I have ever felt in decades and it’s just crazy because the psilocybin mushrooms they’ve helped me so much with eating disorder and giving up alcohol, having the new thought that I could do it and not have to identify as this terrible person.”
It’s an interesting topic for anyone who has been reading media, both traditional and social, over the recent years where the favoured narrative is the “I’ve given up alcohol and my life is so much better in every way” proselytising and pontificating. Some of us – okay I – have borderline irrational issues with the moralising tone within them and the idea that there are only two ways to deal with alcohol: damagingly to excess or not at all, when you could just as reasonably argue that alcohol is the tool they use: when they were drinking, to feel better about themselves, and now that they are not drinking, to feel better about themselves.
“Everybody should be able to do whatever they want to do. Obviously there are some drugs, like fentanyl, that are incredibly dangerous and I hate the way that it’s killing people, but I think that if we regulated drugs and taxed them like we do alcohol, which is also a drug, we let adults make their own decisions.”
And we still haven’t talked about the record. If her last album shocked some people who had put her in one lane and one lane only – that lane being modern country music with traditional leanings – when as the book reveals of her past, she’d been on a six lane highway, this record will shift the ground further.
There are moments of classic rock and soul, faint intimations of electronica and stronger turns of southern blues. And country, yes, but the trend has been clear since 2020’s That’s How Rumors Get Started, that just like the physical move she made with husband, Jeremy Ivey and their two children, from town to a genuinely rural property, musically Price was bypassing the centre of Nashville.
“The record, I’m so excited by it. I just wanted to keep evolving, and that’s not to say that I’m not going to make some classic country records again: I have one, an unreleased psychedelic gospel record that we made that’s very, very country,” she says. “But I just had to keep moving forward on reinventing myself, keeping everything fresh from me and the band.”
This mention of the band isn’t some perfunctory politeness.
“I’m always listed as a solo artist but my project is a band because I really believe in loyalty and building things with people. I don’t want to keep starting over from the ground up,” says Price. “We try to keep growing as one organism and they have pushed me in ways too with ideas that they bring to the table. But I should say that this album was also influenced by psychedelics and just about every substance.”
For all those reasons then Strays is not a record that comes out of nowhere, with roots in all three of her solo records, and to a certain extent her pre-solo recordings and attitudes. That’s something which becomes very clear on reading the book: the connections are all there.
“Anybody that I respected, like Willie Nelson, he wasn’t just a country artist, he was into jazz and he was into all these other things. It’s astonishing to me that anyone would just want me to keep doing the same thing over and over,” says Price. “But I think I would like to reiterate for fans and to anybody about this album, that it is still all about the song. It doesn’t matter what kind of lipstick and rouge you put on it, it’s just going to be a song that has a good foundation.”
Lest we forget, this is someone whose manifesto is summed up in Maybe We’ll Make It like this.
“Looking back, there was a romanticism in knowing that we might be failures but that we were talented failures in a business that championed mediocrity. Even in the lonely shadows of the burning spotlight, beyond the endless roads to the sprawling cities and trash towns, between the empty gas tank and the underattended gigs, we were spreading the true gospel of meaningful music and the lost art of poetry and songs. We would not sell out.”
Given this, maybe the most astonishing thing is that anyone might still think that they could tell Margo Price what to do.
“Yeah,” she laughs. “They may not have read the book yet.”
They may not have met her yet.
The memoir, Maybe We’ll Make It, is out now. The album, Strays, will be out January 13.