When Margo Price sings that she "almost went broke just from paying dues," you can hear the truth in her voice. Raised in rural Illinois, Price waited tables, taught dance and installed siding while she forged a career in Nashville, cutting her teeth in bars like The 5 Spot and Dee's Country Lounge. To finance her first album, the singer/songwriter sold her car and pawned her wedding ring. It sounds like a country song, and it is—Price mines her life for her music, and it's finally paying off. In 2019, she was nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys. We spoke to Price about her new album, That's How Rumors Get Started, what it's like writing songs with the guy you're married to, and finding the silver lining in staying home when you'd rather be touring.
How long have you been in Nashville, and what were those early days like?
Margo Price: I have been here for 17 years. I moved to Nashville when I was 20 years old and didn’t have much but a suitcase and a guitar. I didn’t even really know how to write a song at that point. I just started going out to all the writer's nights and open mics, and putting my name down on the page, just really studying what made a crowd react to a song. I would go up there and play, and you'd get a little reaction, but I would study what other people were doing that made the audience laugh or cry. That, for me, was a better education than anything I probably would've found in a music school.
Nashville has always been full of great songwriters. Have you ever felt a sense of competition?
There's definitely some competitiveness, but I'd say it's for the most part pretty healthy. It pushes you to be a better musician. One of the best things for me about living in Nashville was that every single night, you could go out, and you could see an amazing show. And sometimes, there wouldn’t even be a cover, and the person on stage would just completely blow your mind. There's a level of talent here that I haven’t seen in any other city in the world. It's a good town to come to if you want to break through in music.
What can you tell us about your new album?
My album, That's How Rumors Get Started, was recorded in Los Angeles at EastWest Studios. Sturgill Simpson, David Ferguson and I produced the album. We worked on it for a really, really long time. It was a labor of love. I was pregnant while recording. It worked to my advantage because I was taking care of myself, and I had slowed down. I wasn't on the road constantly, so I had a lot of time and energy to pour into the songwriting, and just the recording process in general.
You wrote with your husband Jeremy Ivey. How does that creative partnership work?
It's wild to have both a musical relationship and a family with the same person, but we're both really transparent in what we think about each other's art, and there's not a lot of hurting the other person's feelings. If you don't like an idea when we're writing a song, we just say exactly what's on our mind, try to serve the song and not let our emotions get in the way. Somebody said, "Where does the musical partnership end and where does the creative partnership begin?" And my husband and I, we're both saying that it never does. Sometimes, a fight can turn into a song lyric, and sometimes, a song lyric can turn into a fight. But it's amazing to be able to write songs with somebody that I've known for 17 years. It just feels very comfortable, because songwriting is so intimate.
What kind of sounds were you going for in the studio?
I wanted to branch out from traditional country on this album, more Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac and classic rock ’n’ roll. There is such an intersection between classic country, classic rock ’n’ roll and the blues. All those things, to me, are kind of the same. We pulled a lot from Tom Petty's motto, which is, "Don't bore us. Get us to the chorus." I wanted to have songs that had really strong hooks and great melodies.
How would you compare your latest album to your first two records?
I think That's How Rumors Get Started is the best thing I've done yet. I feel like if you're not moving forward, if you're not pushing yourself to go into territory that makes you a little uncomfortable, then you're not growing as an artist. I really like being uncomfortable. I think it was David Bowie that said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "When you get out into the deep water, right where your feet can't touch, that's when the magic happens."
What was it like releasing a record during a pandemic?
It was maddening. I had originally thought that it was going to be out much sooner, and then when everything kind of shut down in March, we pushed it back. Obviously, I'd love to be out playing shows and playing these songs live.
My husband actually got COVID in New York in February. We went to play one of the last shows—I didn’t even know at the time that it was going to be one of my last shows. I performed at Carnegie Hall for the Tibet House, Philip Glass benefit. It was Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Phoebe Bridgers and a bunch of really wonderful performers. After we came back, Jeremy got so sick, and we were really struggling there for a minute with a new baby that wasn’t sleeping through the night. It was difficult, but once he got healthy, everything from that point on has really seemed just like a blessing, and every day, I try not to complain about the little things that don't matter.
I hope I inspire people to write songs that are unique and a little outside the box. There's no formula. As Loretta Lynn said, “You have to be either first, great or different."
Do you think music can help during a time like this? Is there a silver lining?
The silver lining is that I think music listeners are listening with a little bit more intention these days. I've been connecting with songs in a way that I haven’t in a long time because we have been living in such a fast-paced society where, you know, everything is—“how can I get someone's attention in however many Twitter characters?” Now, we've all been forced to slow down, and I think that music is hopefully helping people through this difficult time.
What advice would you give to a singer/songwriter who wants to break in to Nashville?
Success definitely didn’t happen overnight for me. I always joke that I'm a 12-year overnight success. I go back to the time that I was floundering in the city. I couldn’t get anyone to come to my shows. We didn’t have management. We didn’t have a label. It was hard. It was hard to be the failure in my family for that long. People would ask me when I was going to give it up, when I was going to find a real career. Some of it is luck, but some of it is just the fact that I wasn't going to give up—I'm stubborn. The advice that I'd give young writers and artists who are trying to make it right now would be to follow your gut, don't compromise your art, and don't get hurt when people tell you no. Pick yourself up and keep trying.
Photos by Alysse Gafkjen