Margo Price on Nashville, abortion rights and sad Christmas songs

Margo Price on Nashville, abortion rights and sad Christmas songs

Margo Price: ‘We have to continue to stand up for what we believe in’ (Alysse Gafkjen)

Margo Price is one of country music’s great survivors. Stubborn as a wine stain, she’s gone so far as to pawn her engagement ring to pay for recording sessions (she got it back). Jack White’s Third Man Records signed her following the release of 2016’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, by which point she’d already dealt with the loss of her newborn son and spent time in jail after a few night of hard drinking.

She has a Dolly Parton lilt, a sweetness to temper the fire in her songwriting. “Soon I settled down with a married man/ We had a couple babies, started living off the land,” she laments on “Hands of Time”. “But my firstborn died and I cried out to God/ Is there anybody out there looking down on me at all?”

Nashville continues to overlook her, lassoed as it is by bitter gender stereotypes and a fear of the outspoken. It’s grist for the mill for Price, whose latest collection of songs, Strays, is out in January 2023. She also released a memoir, ‘Maybe We’ll Make It’, in October this year. She lives outside of Nashville with her husband and bandmate, Jeremy Ivey, and their two childen, Judah and Ramona.

I just got back from doing a hike with my dogs. I have two dogs – one of them is really old and so I have to lift her into my truck – two cats and two kids. We had some chickens for a while and then the coyotes had their way with them and so I gave the survivors to my neighbour. We had a rooster named Dolly Parton, but Dolly was tragically murdered [too]. It’s hard to take care of the chickens when you’re touring all the time. We just finished a tour and it was really incredible, and I was doing a book tour as well. So, yeah, I’ve been on the road pretty non-stop since October, and so I’m now just kind of able to settle down a little bit.

My new album Strays is out on 13 January. We had a really great time in the studio – we worked with Jonathan Wilson and went to Topanga Canyon, California, to record. It was just me and my band in the room playing live, but I really wanted to spread our wings and be able to venture a little bit out of our comfort zone, and not be limited to just making country albums. So this is definitely more of a psychedelic rock album, but when you take away all the instrumentation, what you still have at the end of the day is solid songwriting. I’m just trying to create a body of work that is meaningful to me. Sometimes I kind of take left turns and have not done things the easy way. It’s kept me creatively fulfilled and that is what I really want to continue to do. Because I think that it just doesn’t translate if people are on autopilot.

At times I feel that I’ve gone as far as I can in country music. As we know, there are gatekeepers and all sorts of unwritten rules and things that I wish I could change, but I’ll always have a love for country music. At this point in my career, though, I just really wanted to spread my wings and try to shatter some of the preconceived notions that people have of me, because my band and I we’ve studied all different kinds of music, we’ve played all different kinds of music. It’s about finally being able to share that we’re not just a country band.

[Me and my family] live outside of Nashville a bit, but still close enough to be there every day, in a little town kind of northwest of the city. We have about five acres. It’s a pretty country area with no neighbours and lots of farms, which is good and bad because we don’t have any good restaurants or anything, but also there are no chains. For Christmas, I’m going to visit my family up north in Illinois – it’s an eight-hour drive – to go see my surviving grandmother and my dad, my mom and probably a bunch of aunts and uncles and cousins as well. Both my mother and my father have five each in their family so there are lots and lots of cousins and lots of aunts and uncles. I have two sisters, one of them lives in California and the other lives in Illinois. I’m really excited to go see my nieces – I always buy them way too many presents and spoil them.

My daughter is three and my son is 12. I took them to this place in Nashville where we go almost every year – the Opryland Hotel – and they have fake snow and sledding and ice skating and all sorts of stuff, basically I pretend to be a tourist in my own town. I went sledding with the kids and I got to go for free because my daughter is so young I had to hold her, which was great, and we got hot cocoa too. Where I’m from in the Midwest it’s much colder around this time, but it hasn’t been snowing there like it used to. It used to snow from November all the way to February or March. It’s probably something to do with the Earth’s temperature [going up due to climate change]. Here in Nashville it will snow a couple times in winter. No one has proper sleds or anything there but we’d get trash can lids and go sledding in the street.

When I was a kid we lived out in the country, so we did a lot of sledding back then. We always got our own Christmas tree – we would go out and my dad would have his axe and we would go chop one down and bring it back home. Then there’d be lots of hot cocoa with marshmallows. We grew up in a drafty farm house – it was always really, really cold and me and my sisters would sleep together in one bed. I remember counting seven blankets on the bed because it was absolutely freezing!

We would do really big family Christmas with all of my cousins and my mom’s family. On my dad’s side, they would all be smoking cigarettes indoors and partying a bit. On my mom’s side it was a little more wholesome, they still partied a bit. My grandfather was second in the world at table tennis, so we would get the ping pong table out and have a big tournament.”

I tend to gravitate towards sad Christmas songs

I was just laughing at something I stumbled across on the internet, a parody of somebody doing John Lennon making a Christmas song, and he’s like, “Children are dying, a war is going on…” then it clipped to Paul. I was definitely was feeling more like the John in that situation when I wrote my new song “Lydia”, which has a line about Christmas lights but it’s a very dark song. I tend to gravitate towards the Christmas songs that are a bit more sad. I love Tom Waits’s “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis”, and this old country song, “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)”, and John Prine’s “Christmas in Prison”.

This is a good time to reflect. I’m very nostalgic, definitely, but I’ve never been really good on resolutions because I think you can set yourself up for failure or disappointment. I definitely ended up reevaluating my relationship with alcohol, though. It will be two years on 8 January [that I stopped drinking]. I also finally quit smoking cigarettes which was a big goal of mine for a long time.

The world [still] feels very divided. We’re at that place where it feels like we should be further than we are. I do think there’s hope and I think that people are starting to educate themselves more around issues like abortion rights and women’s healthcare in general. We have a long way to go, and of course it can be uncomfortable. I hope that people can calmly stop about issues that matter and stop arguing with each other and see that we are all being screwed by the government in many ways.

I think that now more than ever people are really aware of the problems that we face. Of course some people just believe that climate change is a whole facade, they aren’t able to see the bigger picture. You know, as John Lennon said back decades and decades ago, “Apathy isn’t it.” We have to continue to stand up for what we believe in and make positive change for our children and for the future.

‘Strays’ is out 13 January