The Story Behind “Stay High” by Brittany Howard and Why It’s Not a Song About Being Stoned

Brittany Howard can tap into that place that makes you feel the whole range of emotions. In one song, she can evoke pain and suffering and, on a dime, take you to the highest peaks of elation. Her songs are contemporary, yet are reminiscent of classics of the past. Whether it’s with her bands Alabama Shakes and Thunderbitch, or solo, she can evoke the sound of her influences. With shades of Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, and Dionne Warwick, Howard brings us along for the ride. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Stay High” by Brittany Howard.

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I already feel like doing it again, honey
‘Cause once you know, then you know
And you don’t wanna go home
Back to wherever it is that you come from
I just want to stay high with you

K.J. Howard

The song is an ode to Howard’s father, who would share his enthusiasm for music when he returned home from work. In 2019, the musician told the BBC, “My family didn’t have a lot of money, so music was a free activity. We could dance, or we could sing with it, or we could play on buckets with it.”

‘Cause where I come from
Everybody frowns and walks around with
That old ugly thing on their face
‘Cause where I come from
We work hard, and we grind, and we hustle all day
Don’t we? (Yes, we do)
There comes a time, there comes a time
At night, where we come to play
And we smile and laugh and jump and clap
And yell and holler and just feel, just feel great, yeah

A New Meaning

Howard named the 2019 album Jaime after her sister, who inspired her to play piano. Howard told the BBC, “She learned by ear, and she’d try to play Beethoven pieces and things like that. And I would just sit in this blue chair in my grandmother’s living room, and I would turn round and round and round and listen to her play, and I’d go, ‘Do it again, do it again.’ We could sit with that piano for hours and make it so entertaining.”

But tragedy struck when Jaime died of retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer. Their parents divorced, they stopped going to church, and the family house burned down, nearly erasing every trace of her sister. The album carries her name to help Howard cope. The following year, “Stay High” became more meaningful because of the pandemic. Howard told ABC Audio, “‘Stay High’ is more appropriate than ever. How do you stay positive during a time where you can’t really touch your loved ones or go see them, hop on a plane or do whatever you wanna do, go meet ’em at a bar?”

I just want to stay high with you
With you, with you


In 2019, Howard shared her thoughts about technical perfection with the BBC, “You know, you don’t need the best gear, the most expensive stuff, to make something wonderful. In fact, it’s a lot more fun, being creative with things that are kind of worthless junk.”

On the recording, percussionist Nate Smith played the drums with chopsticks.

So, don’t question my state of mind
I’m doing wonderful, just fine, thank you (thank you)
Everything is everything, and everything is beautiful
(How did you get like that?)
See, what I do (is keep it cool)
And not worry ’bout what everyone is doing now
I already feel like doing it again, honey

The Music Video

The song represents the perspective of Howard’s father, K.J. He clocks out of his “grind and hustle” and heads through town, running a few errands before he arrives at home, where his loved ones are waiting on him. “This video is shot in my hometown of Athens, Alabama,” Howard said in a press release. “The actors are my family and friends. Terry Crews plays a man who isn’t out to change the world. He plays a man who just wants to come home to those who understand and love him best. We see his inner beauty, grace, and humanity in a place that is so often misunderstood.”

Crews, currently host of the competition show “America’s Got Talent,” remembered, “I got an email from ‘the Brittany Howard,’ asking me to be a part of a song she wrote that was all about her dad and how special he was to the family. And she poured her heart out in this letter. I couldn’t believe it. Brittany was like, ‘We can shoot it in L.A.,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m coming to you, we’re going to Alabama. We’re going to where you grew up, to where your family is.'”

I just want to stay high
I just want to stay high
I just want to stay high
With you, with you
With you, with you
With you, with you
With you, with you

Don’t Look Back

In 2020, Howard told, “When I’m talking about you don’t wanna go back to where you came from, it’s like, life is rocky, right? You got peaks, you got valleys. I’ve already done that. I don’t wanna do that. I don’t wanna look back there. I wanna keep going, maybe see the peak, maybe experience the valley, but get back to where I’m going. The places that I’ve been, they’re wonderful, they inform me, they taught me lessons, but I don’t wanna do the same thing again.”

“Oh, that’s the Single”

Howard said even though she did smoke marijuana before she wrote the song, “It wasn’t about actually getting high. To me, it was more about spending time with your loved ones, or doing something you love, or whatever keeps you positive in life—doing what makes you feel joy. I showed my wife, I was like, ‘Hey, I wrote a song. It’s kinda stupid.’ And I showed it to her, and she was like, ‘Oh, that’s the single.'”

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Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images for Dick’s Sporting Goods

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