Honkytonk and Rock-and-Roll
Talking with Margo Price.
By Lindsey Lowe Osborne
Margo Price’s music might fall into the country genre, but her lustful, throaty vocals land a long way from the syrupy-sweet or down-home tropes you probably associate with country music. Instead, she returns to a kind of country music that demands respect, regardless of your musical preferences. Her third album, All American Made, tackles social complexities in a way that the New York Times describes as “the social and political implications of coming up against a system that perpetuates gender inequality and ravages the livelihoods of working people in the heartland” (“Margo Price, Nashville Outsider, Tells It Like It Really Is”). The album includes a duet with legendary country artist Willie Nelson, “Learning to Lose,” plus songs titled “Weakness” (which announces, “Sometimes I’m Virginia Woolf / Sometimes I’m James Dean”) and “A Little Pain.” If you’re sensing a theme, you’d be right. The music business—and you might say life in general—hasn’t been an easy road, but Margo Price is determined as hell.
Like the NYT says, she tells it how it is, and that’s both in her music, on her Twitter account, and here: “I used to live in my car and busk on the streets. I once used a fake man’s name to book myself shows. I’ve sold all my possessions and moved away and swore never to play music again,” she says. “I have battled depression and self-doubt and walked through hell and back (AKA the music business) for the past 15 years to get where I am today, which right now happens to be in the top bunk of a bus somewhere on the highway between Saxapahaw, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia.”
All American Made follows her debut, 2016’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and live album Live at Rough Trade East. Despite the arduous road to where she is now, which included selling most of her possessions to get her music out in the world (alongside her husband, musician Jeremy Ivey), she says that she wouldn’t—or perhaps couldn’t—choose a different path. “Music chose me, I didn’t choose music,” Price says. “It’s the most mysterious thing in the whole wide world to me. There’s a magic about it that I still feel every time I’m writing, or playing on stage, or even when singing in my shower. It has the power to influence, heal, and change the world.
“I love both being in the studio and performing live,” she continues. “Both are completely different and rewarding in their own way. I love connecting with live crowds—seeing people smile and sing along and sometimes making people cry. After a good show, I always have a ‘high’ and it takes me a while to wind down and go to bed. I love recording because it allows me the freedom to experiment with things I’ve never tried. It’s a safe zone in a way; I can get as weird as I want with an idea and if it doesn’t work, you just start again!”
Much of Price’s music, especially All American Made, addresses issues that you wouldn’t expect to find in the country genre; in any case, there’s very little syrup here. In addition to the songs I mentioned above, which obviously deal with loss and pain—Price lost a child in 2010—there are ones like “Pay Gap,” in which she boldly sings, “You say that we live in the land of the free / Well, sometimes that bell don’t ring true / It’s been that way, with no equal pay / And I want to know when it will be fixed / Women do work and get treated like slaves since 1776.”
“I hope that my music conveys the truth,” Price says (and she definitely hits that mark with “Pay Gap,” no matter how you slice it.) ‘”I dream that it will inspire and comfort folks when they need it most. When I first started playing and writing, it was much different than what I’m doing now. Every day that I sit down to write or record or perform is different depending on my mood and what I’ve been listening to. I love all different types of music so it’s constantly changing.”
I can guarantee you that at Margo Price’s stage at SlossFest, things won’t be boring (SlossFest takes place July 14–July 15 at Sloss Furnaces.) She defines her sound as “hard-working, no bullshit, risk-taking, lick-playing, ass-kicking, honkytonk and rock-and-roll.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. •
6/16: MRYGLD w/ Jesse Payne and Future Elevators at Workplay
7/3: 30 Seconds to Mars at Oak Mountain Amphitheater
7/27: Wye Oak at Saturn