"Pray" was released on January 20, 2017, as the new president of the United States, Donald Trump, was set to be inaugurated. The song resonates with the powerful tensions that surrounded the country leading up to and following the election, combining dark lyrics and intense melodies with the hope inherent in a little-known type of spiritual song. Jonny 5 told Songfacts
the story behind the song.
"The founding divisions of this country are still profoundly painful. They're these deep wounds that still keep us from seeing each other as fully human. In the spiritual realm, if there's a demon in your midst, you need to exorcise it. It's not about making an enemy of any one person, it's about saying, 'What are these spiritual forces that are infecting us and infesting the air that we're breathing?'
That song was an attempt at an exorcism, to say, 'Let's really treat these deep divisions as the demons that they are, and what would a song sound like that exorcised those?' It would be intense. It would be frightening. Ultimately, it would be healing...
We'd been looking at traditions where people sing together collectively and use that as a source of strength, especially in moments of social movements. We'd never been exposed to this tradition called Sacred Harp singing, and someone mentioned it to us. It's this tradition of mostly Southern, rural singing, and it's done not to perform, but just to sing together. People sit in four sections according to their parts, face each other, and sing in this very distinct way. One of the songs is called 'Antioch,' and it was one of those songs that even when I couldn't discern the lyrics, it felt like it had a very specific thing to say. It conjured up this picture of a group of folks who believed that they were white and were buying into the idea of whiteness in the 1800s, and had suddenly woken up in horror at what they were doing to not just their own human family, but often their genetic family, actual family members, by buying into the system of slavery. We were imagining what it would be like if people rushed to the town center and were trying to repent of this, and crying out to their gods around it, and that's what that song sounded like - it sounded like people intensely repenting for something. That song 'Antioch,' which is a staple of the sacred harp singing tradition, became the foundation for the song 'Pray.'"