It’s a tale as old as time: An artist ventures out into some sublime natural landscape, takes psychedelics, and comes back with some damn good songs. Margo Price is one of the latest musicians to do so, heading out to a rental in South Carolina with her husband and a bag of mushrooms. The result is Strays (out Friday, January 13th), her most urgent, collaborative, and – fittingly – trippy record to date.
“I knew that I wanted to make a record that was almost a psychedelic journey in and of itself, one that could also be like a mini lifetime from start to finish on an album,” the songwriter tells Consequence. “I knew that I wanted it to have a lot of peaks and valleys, everything ranging from unadulterated joy to incredible depths of pain.”
Mind-altering substances, in fact, swirl around the world of Strays. Beyond songs like “Light Me Up” and Price’s recent memoir, Maybe We’ll Make It, taking on substance use directly, the recording of the record’s 10 songs originate from both indulging in and abstaining from such vices. While Price and her band may have passed around joints or dabbled in MDMA, she also quietly decided to remain alcohol-free, shooting soda water while her friends shot tequila.
But reducing Strays to the stories of the drugs that surround it does a massive disservice to the album. While undoubtedly a part of the project’s story, the songs have much more to offer than being fun to listen to while stoned (even if Price admits they sound great when you’re high). Most significantly, it’s the next crucial step in Price’s evolution as an artist who refuses to stay in one lane.
“I was definitely trying to veer out of the country world,” she explains. “I think a lot of the people that I look up to, a lot of people that I admire in the genre, they didn’t fit in either. So I am just kind of doing my own thing.”
Such resistance to stagnation is evident in the psych-rock intensity of “Been to the Mountain” (written with husband Jeremy Ivey), the off-kilter dance grooves of “Time Machine,” or the dreamy soundscapes of “Landfill.” And throughout it all, Price comes through with some of the most focused, pointed lyrics of her career.
Thematically and sonically, if Strays proves anything, it’s that Price is only content when moving in one direction: forward. What that means for future releases, only she knows.
“I feel like I’m just getting started,” she tells Consequence. “I’m turning 40 in April and I just feel really inspired right now. It’s a good feeling.”
Check out Margo Price’s Strays below, followed by the full interview with Price where she discusses the making of the album, having three more ready to go, and not wanting her grandma to read her memoir. Price is also set to tour behind the release of Strays; pick up tickets here.
I’d love to learn more about the origins of this album. I heard it has something to do with a mushroom-filled retreat in South Carolina?
I knew that I wanted to make a record that was almost a psychedelic journey in and of itself, one that could also be like a mini lifetime from start to finish on an album. And I knew that I wanted it to have a lot of peaks and valleys, everything ranging from unadulterated joy to incredible depths of pain.
So, we got these mushrooms and we went and found an Airbnb in South Carolina. We ate a lot of them and then, through osmosis, decided to listen to a ton of music and talk about sonically where we wanted [Strays] to go. We woke up the next day when we were not high and got “Been to the Mountain,” “Change of Heart,” and “Light Me Up,” and the list just kept growing from there. I ended up writing about 20 songs and worked on this album for longer than I have ever worked on an album in my life.
Do you think that Strays would be a good record to spin while tripping?
Oh yeah, that was my hope, that people would have something to listen to when they are going down into the rabbit hole, going to the mountains, going inward. I have also listened to it while on shrooms later on, so it worked. It came out exactly as the recipe said.
I read that when you did get into the studio, then, that it was the best experience you’ve had tracking a record yet. Tell me about why that is.
There was just such a magic in working with Jonathan Wilson. I’ve been an admirer of his production and his songs and playing and writing and everything for a long time. And the band as well. My drummer, actually, is the one who turned me onto his stuff. I kind of had found him through Father John Misty and really loving those records.
We just have such a great time, too. My band and I have been together for quite some time now and we can really communicate in a way that doesn’t happen when you’re in there with studio musicians. And I absolutely loved making my last record as well — it was so much fun getting to work with [session musician] legends like James Gadson and Pinot Palladino and Matt Sweeney. That was such a blast.
But the fact that my band and I were getting ready to gear up and go do this huge tour after the birth of my daughter Ramona, headed for South by Southwest 2020, and then all of that flat lined, getting back into the studio was like a reunion in a big way. We’d all just gotten our vaccine, and so we were passing joints and there was a lot of mushrooms and the guys were drinking. Yeah, this album was forged through many substances and many good and bad times.
You mentioned some of the substances that went into this record, but I know that one that you abstained from was alcohol. How was writing and recording, well not necessarily sober, perhaps, but sober when it comes to booze?
Yeah, California sober. Actually, this January will be two years alcohol free for me. It’s been good to just make some changes; it almost started as an experiment in a way. There actually was a time when I didn’t wanna make anyone feel uncomfortable by me not drinking. People who give up alcohol, it’s like the only substance that you have to really explain yourself for not taking. So, when I walked into Jonathan’s, I brought him as a gift a bottle of mezcal and a big jar of weed. I didn’t really want to tell him that I wasn’t drinking. I was just a little insecure about it.
And so, the band would be like, “Okay, let’s do a shot of tequila,” kind of towards the end of the day, the end of the sessions, and I was just shooting soda water and not even really telling Jonathan that I wasn’t drinking. ‘Cause, I mean, I was eating mushrooms and smoking weed and dabbling in some MDMA – so definitely not sober.
But at one point, Jonathan had this incredible old cantina-like bar that was built in the 1950s in the back of his house and I was back there bartending for everybody. Jonathan came in and we were all partying on this day, and I was pouring everybody shots and he was like, “Here, do a shot with me.” So, I had a moment of weakness. And there were all these plastic cups out and I lined everybody’s up and thought, “Okay, I’ve been sober for like a year now. What’s the harm in taking it? Maybe I’ll do one shot.”
I poured myself a shot and the cup that I poured mine in had a crack in the bottom and it all went all over the place [laughs]. I was like, that is God right there, the higher above. It was like, “You know what, you’re not gonna do this.” So it was a very intimate moment. And then, of course, I didn’t really say anything to anybody besides one of my best friends, and she just looked at the crack in the bottom of the plastic cup and we just died laughing.
I wanted to ask about the feature list too, because some pretty cool artists contributed to Strays.
I was definitely trying to veer out of the country world and I think that the guests that I have on the album really reflect that. We played some of the songs that we’d written for Mike Campbell prior to going into the studio, and he was really encouraging. He agreed to come in and lay down a solo on “Light Me Up,” and he did it one take. It absolutely blew our minds. It’s really cool to be able to work with him. He doesn’t do a lot of sessions. He’s really particular about who he collaborates with.
And Sharon [Van Etten] and I have been friends for quite a long time. Her and I, during the pandemic, were just kind of there for each other. I sent her “Radio” and asked her opinion on some parts of it, and she happily wrote some words and added all those incredible harmonies. I’m just such a fan of hers, and it felt really lucky that Lucius and her and Mike Campbell were down to add some of their magic to it.
You mentioned trying to get out of the country box, and I think I’ve heard you talk about feeling like an outsider when it comes to the country establishment. Do those types of feelings inspire anxiety or pride for you?
I think country as a genre is a very difficult thing to try to explain or pinpoint or describe to people. I think a lot of people have different ideas about what it is. So, I don’t feel left out of any party. Like, I haven’t been invited, but I don’t really wanna be invited. I think a lot of the people that I look up to, a lot of people that I admire in the genre, they didn’t fit in either. So I am just kind of doing my own thing.
And, yeah, it’s always gonna be there for me. Some people are always gonna describe me as country just because of the way my voice sounds anyway, but I don’t really mind what people label me as, if people wanna call me rock or alt-country or old school country or whatever. I mean, I have played in a million different bands, I’ve tried out a lot of different genres, and I just see what I like from them and kind of make my own thing.
I wanted to specifically ask about the song “Lydia,” since it breaks away from what people might assume the politics of a country song might be. Was there any pushback you received for that song?
Actually, my label loved that song. That was one of their favorite ones right off the bat. I’m really lucky that I have them in my corner when it comes to doing things that are a little bit outside the box.
I mean, Loretta Lynn said even back in the sixties or seventies that she thought that women should be able to get an abortion if they want. And I have been pretty outspoken. I think I was the first country artist to come out and say that I did not support President Trump when I did my “Tiny Desk.” I think people kind of have come to almost expect a little bit of pushback from me, or just a little bit of… I don’t know, just realness. I’m not gonna bullshit around about it. And I think that women’s health and women’s lives are really at stake.
And, you know, I wrote that song long before Roe v. Wade was overturned, but it seems fitting right now.
Strays is the most psychedelic, rockin’ album you’ve put out yet. Is that going to mark a shift in the live show at all? Will the upcoming tour be any more psychedelic or energetic than those in the past?
I think that we have been psychedelic in our live performance for a really long time. I’m not trying to compare my band to the Grateful Dead in any way, but there is a lot of improvisation that comes along with us getting on stage. You know, stretching songs out, changing tempos, changing things up, we’ve been doing that for a really long time. I am trying to get more psychedelic lights. I would love to have more of a budget, a production. But we’re not quite where I wanna be yet. I would love to have projections and really trippy things going on.
We’re doing what we can with the budget that we have, but we make the show pretty high energy. On these headlining dates, I bring out a drum kit and we get double drums going. That’s been something we’ve been doing since, I guess, about 2017 or so. And I do like a costume change, get some like James Brown vibes, you know, some Tina Turner energy in there.
So I think if people come out to the live show, if they haven’t seen me live before, they will be pleasantly surprised by what they hear and see.
You also recently released a memoir. How does it feel having those personal stories out there? What’s that experience like?
It was turbulent for sure. In the process of writing it, I felt very sure of myself and really had little doubt that I was doing the right thing. And then, kind of right as I was turning in that last draft, the final draft, I started getting scared. It was a lot of back and forth in my mind because I didn’t wanna make family members angry at me. I didn’t wanna burn bridges with old friendships.