Singer-Songwriter Margo Price on Finding Truth and Joy in Writing a Memoir
Maggie Smith Talks to the Author of Maybe We'll Make It
I remember when I first heard Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, her debut album released on Third Man Records in 2016, and I’ve been a huge fan—of her voice, her songwriting, and her fiercely independent (read: badass) spirit ever since. Since her critically acclaimed debut, Margo has gone on to record three more solo albums, the latest of which, Strays, is out January 13. She’s played with a mind-boggling list of legends, from Willie Nelson, to Bob Weir, to John Prine, to the late Loretta Lynn. And in 2022 she published a memoir, Maybe We’ll Make It.
The writer and woman we find in the memoir is the same person we find in her music: candid and vulnerable with the ability to make you laugh with one line and make you cry with the next. Maybe We’ll Make It explores the balance of art and life, the ups and downs of “making it,” profound love, and profound loss. Price’s writing is conversational, lyrical, and above all, human. You can hear the person behind the prose.
I talked to Margo Price via email about everything from her writing process to the importance of home—and all the things that are bringing her joy right now.
Maggie Smith: Poet to songwriter, I am so interested in the shift in genre to long-form prose. I never thought I’d write a memoir—until I found myself beginning to write one! I’d love to hear you say a little bit about your decision to write the book and how you approached this large project as someone who primarily writes songs.
Margo Price: It’s funny how the work finds you! I didn’t plan on writing a memoir so soon but I have always wanted to be an author. When I found myself pregnant with my daughter Ramona in 2018, I had to take a break from heavy touring. I needed to find something to keep me creatively and spiritually fed. Writing this book was just that for me. It was hard to write songs as I was focusing on the book. It was so time consuming and the editing process was the most challenging undertaking.
P.S. I love your poetry books and I am beyond exciting to read your memoir, Maggie!When you disappear into your mind in search of a poem or a melody or a passage of a book, it’s almost like a black out.
MS: Goodness, thank you! You say that the editing part was the most challenging part of writing the book. For me, although I love the initial rush when the idea arrives, revising and editing are usually my favorite part of the writing process. the creative problem-solving of how to say it better, clearer, more concisely. I realize that sounds a little masochistic! What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
MP: The very act of becoming a writer for a living is definitely masochistic, so I think we’re both on the right trail!
I guess for me, it all depends because the editing really is such a crucial part of the process. I would get lost thinking about a certain scene of chapter in my book for days until I got it right. I rather enjoy the obsessing, it gives me something to do and to think about. I ruminate on song ideas for months sometimes…but there is something magical about when a song or a poem comes lightning fast. Those moments of writing are rather spiritual.
MS: They are! One of the best parts about writing for me is when I surprise myself—when something happens in a poem or essay that I didn’t see coming. How did you surprise yourself writing this book?
MP: Those are the magic moments that keep us all coming back for more. I think writing anything requires a certain level of relaxed focus. I really got into a good routine of waking up and heading immediately to my laptop to write. Being in the meditative flow of writing for hours upon end is intoxicating to me. It fun to go back and read something you wrote and connect to it from an outside perspective. The same thing happens with a song sometimes. When you disappear into your mind in search of a poem or a melody or a passage of a book, it’s almost like a black out. But more of a healthy one.
MS: I love that you describe writing as “disappearing into your mind.” The best writing advice I ever got was from the late Stanley Plumly, who was a friend and mentor. He wrote in an email to me years ago: “Stay deep within yourself and stay alone there—that is where your poems come from, and that has nothing to do with an audience. You are the audience.” Do you think about audience when you’re writing, whether with the memoir or with songs? Are you thinking about what people might want or expect, or anticipating a response?
MP: Ooh! That gave me chills. What lovely advice. I’m gonna be thinking about that line for a while. I think it’s all about finding your true north. The second you start writing to please others is the moment you’ve lost your way. Of course I want my audience to dig what I do and I always try to keep the songs focused around poetry and good lyrics. Melody and musicianship count too, but some cats just rely on all vibe and no substance, and people consume it cause it’s forced down our throats. I don’t ever want to get stuck on auto pilot and stick with one style or one genre. I’m not the type of person to play it straight.
MS: Your willingness to take risks is something I love about your work, and certainly writing about people close to you is a sizable risk. Early in the memoir, you write: “To protect relationships with people I love, I don’t want to name names, or give specific stories, but I know I was scarred by the heavy use of it [alcohol] around me.” Were there things you knew from the outset that you wouldn’t discuss or reveal, or did you make these calls along the way?
MP: I didn’t know how to handle speaking about a lot of these delicate things until I was in the thick of it. I ended up changing a lot of the names and taking out details that I thought might hurt people. I tried my best to tell my story without telling other people’s personal details. At the same time, if people are upset about anything I chose to include because it affected me, they should have made different choices.
MS: I think this is great advice for people writing about their lives: focus on telling your story, your truth. You write about some of the people who’ve been important—family, friends, and collaborators. Who have your strongest supporters been? Which artists, family members, or mentors have made it possible for you to do what you do?
MP: My husband, co-writer, and best friend Jeremy Ivey. My mom. Always my mom. My son. My daughter. Family in general. Ben Swank, Jack White and Third Man Records. My booking agent, Jonathan Levine.
Friendships with heroes and mentors like Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Loretta Lynn, Jessi Colter, Mike Campbell, Bob Weir, Mavis Staples, and John Prine.
MS: I love that you named Jeremy first. You write candidly about the highs and lows of your marriage in the book. I’m curious: What do you think makes a marriage between two creative people work? What’s essential?
MP: That was also a difficult decision but ultimately, we feel strong enough in our relationship that we could share what we went through both as a couple and songwriting partners. Our bond is deep and our work is our greatest passion. It’s not always easy but our connection is deep and the music and the songs keep us intertwined.
We have always written each other elaborate birthday and anniversary cards, he won my heart with poetry long ago and no matter what problems come between us, we will always be tied together through our love of art.
MS: On the subject of “love of art,” what are you listening to, reading, watching (eating!) that you love? What’s bringing you joy right now? What’s making the good days extra sweet and the bad days bearable?If people are upset about anything I chose to include because it affected me, they should have made different choices.
MP: Joy is spending a few precious moments at home with my children. Having dance parties in the kitchen and making chocolate chip banana bread with honey. Putting on two layers of pants and warm hats and going on long hikes even when it’s cold and brisk out.
I just finished reading an advanced copy of Why Sínead O’Connor Matters by Allyson McCabe, due out next May on University of Texas Press. It was absolutely brilliant, heartbreaking, insightful, and personal. I’m also carrying around and reading Patti Smith’s Book Of Days and Bob Dylan’s The Philosophy of the Modern Song.
I’ve been listening to these albums on repeat lately: S.G. Goodman’s Teeth Marks, Sharon Van Etten’s We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, Willie Nelson’s Live at Budokan, Caitlin Rose’s Casimi, and Wilco’s Cruel Country.
Movies I watched on airplanes recently: Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road, Motherless Brooklyn, the Elvis flick with Austin Butler, and I rewatched Dirty Dancing for the 300th time because that movie and Jennifer Grey always gives me some joy.
MS: Listening to Sharon Van Etten or Wilco always brings me joy, and I am absolutely adding Why Sínead O’Connor Matters to my to-read list. Thanks for the rec! Since you mentioned being at home with your children, I wanted to ask you about the importance of place. You write about the Midwest, the west, and the south in the book. Of course you travel a lot on tour, but what does it mean to you to have made your home in Nashville? Do you feel a special sense of belonging there?
MP: Home is a funny thing when you’re a traveling musician. I’m finally back on the road full time and it’s a beautiful and complicated way to make a living. Pieces of my nomadic heart are scattered all over this country. It’s like I belong everywhere and nowhere all at once, if that makes sense. I have roots tied down in the south and have loved raising my kids here. It’s a beautiful place to be if you enjoy being out in nature and hearing lots of music constantly. We live in White’s Creek now, which is outside of Nashville proper. I’ve grown my family, my band, my career (and a home garden with the best tomatoes money can’t buy.) I do feel like I have a supportive community of friends, fellow musicians, writers and industry folks here in Tennessee. I have found my tribe of fellow outsiders in this city and am proud to call it my home.
MS: Please know that you—your book, your records—have a home in my home. I’m grateful for your work and your spirit.
Maybe We’ll Make It by Margo Price is available from University of Texas Press.