Margo Price Profile in NYT Jan 5, 2023 18:02:21 GMT -5
Post by rick on Jan 5, 2023 18:02:21 GMT -5
N.Y. Times Profile of Margo Price
This article is behind a paywall so I am going to copy and paste the text below ...
The Unstoppable, Unsinkable, Uninhibited Margo Price
Country songs are often filled with tragedy and hard times. Price has detailed her own catalog of traumas in a memoir and her music, but also turns her lens outward on a new LP, “Strays.”
By MELENA RYZIK
NASHVILLE — The alt-country musician Margo Price has a contrarian streak, and a wild one. When she was preparing to write her fourth album, “Strays,” in 2020, she and her husband and musical partner, Jeremy Ivey, decamped from their cozy family home in the suburbs here, and rented an Airbnb in Charleston, S.C. They brought guitars and notebooks, and a pile of hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Tripping together in the backyard at a Live-Laugh-Love kind of cottage, listening to Tom Petty, Patti Smith and Bob Dylan, the couple reconnected and tried to “generate new sounds, new rhythms, new styles,” Price said, after a tumultuous period when her husband was gravely ill with the coronavirus. “It was, you know, big emotions and laughing hysterically in the kitchen, and then the next moment, I’m like, ‘I love you so much, don’t ever die,’” she said in an interview at her neo-Tudor home near Nashville.
They wrote 20 songs, including the first two singles on “Strays,” which is out Jan. 13 and struts through big-hearted indie country, honky-tonk stomp and ’70s guitar-explosion psychedelia. “A lot of times, with the country world, they’re like, ‘Get in this box, and stay here,’” Price said. “So it was good to be able to paint outside of the lines. The mushrooms definitely helped.”
Since her breakthrough studio debut, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” in 2016, Price, 39, has tunneled her own path through the music industry, sometimes indignantly. She has always had ambition to spare and faith in herself as an artist, even in the face of repeated rejections, as she describes in her memoir, “Maybe We’ll Make It,” out last October.
“I admire Margo tremendously for her fierceness,” said her friend Brittany Howard, the guitarist and singer. “She doesn’t back down and she won’t become the kind of artist that the industry wants her to be. She is the kind of artist that cannot be manufactured.”
Despite the friendship and cheerleading of legends like Willie Nelson, who duetted with her on her second album, Price has never felt welcome in the country establishment, she said. (She has yet to be invited to the genre’s flagship honors, the Country Music Awards.) Even a Grammy nomination for best new artist at the 2019 ceremony left her feeling like an outsider, when she wasn’t invited to perform or present (she was also pregnant at the time).
She fretted about seeming irrelevant and losing the career momentum that she had worked to accrue over decades in Nashville if she stayed home with her daughter, Ramona, who was born in 2019.
“I think it was actually only four and a half weeks after my C-section that I had opening dates with Chris Stapleton,” she said. So she got back on the tour bus. “Just put the Spanx on, and had my breast pump out, just rolling down the road with a baby and a 9-year-old” — her son Judah — “and a crew, and a band.”
The pandemic stopped that trajectory. But Price found another outlet in writing her memoir, which chronicles her hardscrabble, super-broke but resolute early years in Nashville; meeting Ivey, who is her co-songwriter and guitarist; getting pregnant as newlyweds while living under the poverty line; and the devastating loss of their child. Judah’s twin brother, Ezra, died two weeks after their birth in 2010, following surgery for a genetic heart condition. She had only been able to hold him once.
His death sent her into an emotional spiral — for three years, she had a recurring nightmare about not being able to save a drowning infant. She was unfaithful to her husband, and he followed suit, as she writes in the book, and she descended further into alcohol abuse. And then there was “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” a deeply autobiographical album about her family (she was born and raised in tiny Aledo, Ill.) and her flaws. “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle),” a barroom wallop, became one of her signature tunes.
To help pay for the recording, at Sun Studios in Memphis, Price pawned her engagement ring. Ivey got it back, but sold their car instead. “It was the most romantic thing he had ever done for me,” she wrote.
On her book tour last fall, Price met fans and heard other stories of profound loss, doling out hugs and speaking to audience members for sometimes two hours after a reading.
“As a musician and a writer, you think, ‘I’m doing this because it brings me joy,’” she said. “But when somebody else is like, hey, you got me through my divorce; you got me through this really tough time — I lost my mom to cancer, and I just listened to your record a lot. I’m like, yes, tell me about that, I need to hear that.”
She started therapy only after she finished writing the book. When she turned in the final draft, “I started having all these, almost like panic attacks,” she said. “I was worried about people judging me.” She also quit drinking; her book editor had observed that “whiskey was like a character” in the pages, she said. (She still smokes weed and savors her mushroom trips, both substances she feels help clarify her vision — though even that, she worried, might make her seem like a bad mother. Do musician fathers get that rap?).
Sitting cross-legged on a black leather couch in an airy living room furnished with vintage furniture and musical mementos, Price reflected on a life that would buckle many people.
“When I wrote ‘Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,’ and when I put that album out, I was tortured,” she said. Her two dogs slept with their heads on her lap, and her two cats prowled inside and out (the Price-Ivey home covers six acres, leading up to woods and surrounded by moonshine stills).
That songwriting was also “my first practice of being vulnerable,” she continued, adding that until that point, she had focused on being “tough” to avoid revealing her weaknesses.
“But as the book and everything has evolved, I think that has grown as one of my strengths, and I’ve learned not to be embarrassed by it.”
Especially now that she’s (mostly) sober, “I feel really creatively in a good place,” she said. “I’m feeling my emotions more deeply than I have in a really long time, even though I thought, back then, that there was some kind of magic to feeling like garbage.”
As Ivey went to pick up Judah, now 12, Price gave me a tour of their home — the wood-paneled studio, with her drum kit and a prized guitar autographed by the likes of Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris; her custom closet, with a neat rainbow of cowboy boots and a typewriter she often used for developing songs. “Jeremy can create in front of all sorts of people,” she said of her husband, also a solo artist. “But I feel exposed, like I don’t want anyone to hear all the bad notes and dumb ideas. So, I come hide in here.”
Howard met her a decade ago, singing background vocals together in Nashville, she said. Their friendship came naturally: “She is so welcoming, genuine and fun to be around,” Howard wrote in an email. “We’d stay out all night laughing and sharing music and philosophy and just encouraging each other that we were on the right track.”
She often ended the night crashing on Price and Ivey’s couch. These days, the women like to go fishing together — catching bass and feasting on Howard’s peanut butter and raw garlic sandwiches. “She’s just like, don’t knock it until you try it,” Price said.
They were bonded by their perseverance, Howard said. “I was told ‘no’ a lot very early on in my life. Mostly because of the way I looked,” she said. “When people don’t give you the space, you have to absolutely carve it out for yourself.”
“That practice creates a resilience inside of us,” she added. “It’s a great power to be able to fall to pieces and put yourself back together bigger, better and stronger”
Part of Price’s stability comes from Ivey, to whom she’s been married 14 years, and writing and touring with even longer. Songwriting “definitely draws us together when other things are pushing us apart,” she said.
They’ve earned their industry savvy, too: In her early years, as she writes in the book, she invented a manager, “John Sirota” — complete with a fake Myspace page and booking site — to give her more cred and send cajoling (or demanding) messages to club owners and bookers. (It worked — the band got more gigs with John running the show than when Price signed the emails herself.)
Recently, when her label, Loma Vista, wanted her to bring in collaborators, “I tricked them into thinking that I was writing with one of Taylor Swift’s co-writers,” she said. Using an industry pal’s connection, she sent over some demos — “‘Check them out, see if you like these more than the ones that me and Jeremy wrote.’ Well, meanwhile, it was just a song that I wrote.” The track, the boppy “Radio,” made the album, with Sharon Van Etten filling it out.
They are “mother musician friends,” Price said — a rare breed that make it seem possible, if still enormously complicated, to tour while being a mom. (To make Price’s two-musician-parent household work, her mother lives with them.) Along with Mimi Parker from Low, Price “was one of the first moms I talked to, that I look up to,” Van Etten said. “They always just said, ‘you figure it out.’”
“Radio” could be the lament of a working mother during the pandemic, with lines about being exhausted and pleading to be left alone. But Van Etten said the magic of Price’s songwriting was that anybody can find themselves reflected in it. “Radio” is “how we feel as moms trying to find our own space,” she said. “But it can be anyone trying to have a moment, and that feeling of when you’re listening to a song, that’s all you can hear.”
Van Etten said Price’s skill at using the vernacular of traditional country — “the double-entendres and the turnarounds” — to talk about issues like the gender wage gap, offered a blueprint for other left-of-center artists. Especially watching her in an early, career turning-point performance on “Saturday Night Live” in 2016, she said, “I just felt like she was a role model that actually had something to say.”
“Of course her range is insane,” she added. “As much as her delivery — she can be sweet as much as sassy. She has an edge to her vocals that you don’t hear much in country music right now.” (In her memoir, Price writes about how self-doubt had her up partying all night before the “S.N.L.” performance; she was also diagnosed with strep throat hours beforehand.)
Lately, Price has made her songwriting more narrative and less personal. The single “Lydia,” on “Strays,” tells the story of an unsettled woman in an abortion clinic. It’s conversational and spare, with Price on acoustic guitar. Her producer, Jonathan Wilson, had the idea to juxtapose her live take “with some really weird, atonal strings,” he said. Written before the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the six-minute track was well-received and hailed as prescient.
Price is thrilled about any accolades, of course. But where once she was anxious about achieving them, now she wants to let all that go. “I’m trying to just be really happy with all that I’ve accomplished,” she said.
That doesn’t mean she’s lifted her boot off the gas. “I have actually been writing more songs than I have in a very long time,” she noted. She hikes around her property, she listens to the birds; inspiration strikes. “I wake up feeling good every day,” she said, adding: “I just feel this urgency. I want to create.”
Melena Ryzik is a roving culture reporter and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for public service for reporting on workplace sexual harassment. She covered Oscar season for five years, and has also been a national correspondent in San Francisco and the mid-Atlantic states.