"I would be lying if I didn't say I am scared sometimes, and that it doesn't get hard when people are yelling at me" In conversation with Margo Price
The only way to open a conversation with one of country music's hottest stars is to talk about the British weather, right. Margo Price is fresh from the launch of her second record, the fantastically pointed All American Made, and has been making a splash in the American press with her views on gun control, or the lack of. After a bit of chit-chat about the rainy weather ("I didn't have an umbrella yesterday, so I was walking around with a shawl over my head.") and Margo's leisure activities ("We went to see Father John Misty last night. That was really enjoyable.") we settle in to talk albums, guns, and getting noticed.
If we start by talking a bit about the record. You do a lot of the writing, recording and touring, the whole cycle with your husband. How do you get on with that?
For the most part, it's pretty smooth sailing. I mean, we've been writing and playing together for so long it just feels like second nature. But occasionally raising a child together, working together, living together and other things, can, you know, we have our arguments just like everybody else does. But yeah, it's nice to have somebody that, we like all the same music. We like all the same songs. And it's just been really easy to continue writing with him.
And what does that writing process look like for you?
It just really depends. I'll sit down and write a song, or he will, and sometimes we will bring it to each other. Other times we just sit, you know, at our kitchen table and just talk things out back and forth, pass the guitar over and pass the pen and paper. So yeah, it's all just situational. I've been over here by myself and he'd been at home, and we send each other little voice memos of ideas that we're working on, and we send each other lyrics.
And sometimes we just I'll just write a song on my own, and send it to him, and get his opinion on it, you know. It's good to have somebody to bounce ideas off of. And we'll have people over and we'll get together and sit on the porch, or in the kitchen, and share new songs. It's good to have to have people in your life that you can share the first ideas, without people thinking they're stupid. Or if they do, they'll tell you.
You released this album relatively quickly after your first, I suppose the release and recording cycles are slightly different for them. But is your process for writing songs something that happens as a natural part of your life, or do you have periods where you know you're going to write some stuff, and you dedicate time to writing?
I mean, I try to write all the time. I write on the airplane, on the bus. It's like anything else, it's like a muscle, you have to flex it. I know a lot of people sit down and say "I'm going to write songs this week", but I try to look out for the inspiration. I write haikus in every city that I go to; just to have a little bit of something, a journal. But we also take writing retreats. My husband and I stayed in New York a few extra days, and we stayed in the Jane Hotel, and we're like "oh, we can write. It'll be so fun." Or we'll go to a cabin or something. So yeah, we just try to do it as often as possible.
So when you go into the studio to record, do you do some sort of improvisation, or are you the kind of person who just wants to know what you're going to do, and you just go and do it?
For this album, we had been working on songs during our soundcheck. Or we'd set up rehearsals. And get the overall groove, or what time signature, or what we want it to be. But when we get in there, I want everybody to play from the heart, and not play something that's really rehearsed. We put out two seven inches before the release of the full album. The 'Paper Cowboy' song, it had a really long, psychedelic jam where all of us just played. And that was improvised. And we did it several times in several different ways to get the best take that we could. But I definitely like keeping that spontaneity in there. And then things grow throughout the year. When we're doing the live show, and we don’t have the McCrary sisters there to do the background vocals, who made the arrangement a little more elaborate in the end, we improvise on it, just to keep it interesting for us. Keep us on our toes.
In terms of your songwriting, you're pretty honest about things, whether it's your personal life, or the songs are about pay equality and stuff like that. I know recently you've been talking a bit more about gun control in the press. Do you kind of feel that you leave yourself a bit exposed when you're talking about that kind of thing, or is that just natural for who you are to kind of be that open and honest about things?
Well you know, this is kind of all new territory for me, because I've never done this...I've been doing so many interviews. And before, I was just happy to get a mention in the local Nashville paper. So it's all very new. I mean, since I was young I've always just said what was on my mind, and tried to be honest with myself and with the people around me. So I feel it's natural to do that in my music, but I would be lying if I didn't say I am scared sometimes, and that it doesn't get hard when people are yelling at me, because they have an opinion and they think that it's right. I'm just voicing my opinion. I don't want to shove it down anyone's throat, I'm just saying how I feel, because I know others out there feel the same way. And I'm trying to be strong, but it does stress me out sometimes.
I guess in the States particularly, songs about gun control and legislation, that's an incredibly emotive subject, isn't it. And the more famous you are, the more you say things that not everybody agrees with, the more your face literally becomes something that people shout at or take issue with.
Right. I don't know. It's really hard to be an American right now. [laughs] You know, I want things to rebuild, and people to see eye to eye and not be violent. God created good and God created evil, and it's just the world we live in.
I suppose in the States there are as many people who feel the same way as you do as don't. It's just they're just not as vocal in their opposition that you are.
Yeah, I mean, I know other people want to get a handle on it. I have a child and I have to think about it. And like I said, I'm a gun owner. I've grown up around guns. And I'm not saying take every single gun away, but there's got to the regulations. Not just anybody should be able to go buy a gun. And you can order it offline. It's just way, way too unregulated. And I don't understand the things you have to do to get a drivers' license, and getting on airplanes and taking off your shoes because one guy who had a bomb in his shoe. While we've changed that policy, we need to just tighten things up. It's really...it's just scary. It seems that there's so much violence going on every day.
Changing the subject completely, how is it working with Willie Nelson?
Oh, it's so wonderful. He is just such a relaxed, happy human. Yeah, it was really surreal. But he's become a friend, and I've been spending a lot of time on the road with him. On the Outside Lands Music Festival this year as well. So I would get up there, a bunch of other performers and we'd all sing the gospel set with him at the end. It's just been a great experience, getting to be close to him.
When you spend time with people like Willie who has obviously been around a long time and seen and done a lot of things, are you still learning from them?
Definitely. We don't have many of the greats left, I'm always learning from things that he says and from his music and from the way that he plays. He's unafraid to be himself and that makes me hopeful. It's very inspiring.
One of the things that I find interesting at the moment is there are a lot of artists like yourself who are not in the mainstream Nashville scene, but who are becoming incredibly successful. Not only critically but also commercially. Do you find it's become easier for you to get shows and column inches from places that you may not have done, say two years ago?
I never wanted to be in the country-pop world, which is why I was playing rock n' roll and soul music for nearly a decade. And because I didn't think that I could fit in, you know. So I'm really happy that things happened the way that they did, and that I never compromised my art or who I was to get where I am. It took a lot of willpower at times, but I'm happy that I've played by my own rules. And I really do feel like it's shaping what's going on in the mainstream too. Some people are going to stick to their bubblegum, zippedy doo-dah kind of thing. That will always go on. But I think that it is affecting a good portion of people. You see certain artists backtrack and they're like "oh, I'm going to do something rooted again, instead of going more poppy."
I think the UK's been much more open to traditional country and Americana over the years, but even in Country 2 Country festival which I know you're playing next year, I think the fact that you're playing, and Andrew Combs was playing last year and Kacey Musgraves is headlining, it just feels that there's a different flavour to the likes of Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean who were playing the first couple of years when the festival was on.
Yeah, the UK and Europe have always been a little more perceptive than the US to us. And okay, the UK and Europe, we may kind of jump on, but I was coming here with my rock n' roll band Buffalo Clover years ago. There's a couple of things on BBC, and we were always touring around, and I really enjoyed it. Always great audiences. It just feels really natural to come here, and connect with people. It's beautiful.
When you play Country To Country next year, that's in the O2 in London (as well as Glasgow and Dublin). That's probably the biggest arena you will have played in the UK, right?
We spent a lot of time doing shows in arenas in 2017 in the States. We did a bunch of opening runs for Chris Stapleton and Faith Hill, and of course Willie. And just doing festivals and stuff. And I don't feel nervous or anything. I mean, I'm excited for it.
And you've obviously done Glastonbury as well. How did you find that?
Oh my goodness. It was great. Our flight coming over was a nightmare, because first we got on this plane, and we were halfway, like three and a half hours in or something. And then we had to turn back around and come back. We went to DC. It was the best plane, because I had a whole row of seats to myself so I was all stretched out, thinking I was going to be arriving in three hours. And then we had to fly all the way back to DC, because the plane's wing was broken. Then a hurricane came in or some kind of bad storm was going on. So we spent two days in the airport, and I hadn't slept. And then I got up on the main stage and sang with Kris Kristofferson. And I felt like I was dreaming, or like hallucinating because I was so tired. But it was really fun, and I met Bradley Cooper. It was a fun time.
Well, at least you can remember it all I suppose. If you were that tired it might have slipped your mind!
I know. See, I wrote it all down, because I was scared I would forget it. I journaled it.
Finally, you've played Glastonbury, you've headlined your own tours, and you've supported others. How do you find supporting some of the more mainstream acts like Tim McGraw and Faith Hill? Does it change what sort of show you put on?
I just kind of get up there and do my thing, no matter what the crowd is. No matter if we're opening. I mean, I try to give the best show that I can. Of course when we're doing an opening set for Tim and Faith, it was like maybe thirty-five, forty-five minutes or something. So, you know, you have to kind of get in more of a show, you can't do the full ninety minutes like when you're headlining. I really love just doing my own shows, and playing. Even if it's not as big of a venue. I love having my crowd there, and there's nothing like it.
Margo is returning to the UK to place C2C across the weekend of 9-11th March. For more information on her and to find out more about tour dates visit her website. You can also catch more of her views on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.