Almost a year ago, country singer and guitarist Margo Price’s debut album “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” was released by Third Man Records in March 2016. Since, her album has been praised by the likes of Rolling Stone and NPR’s First Listen, as well as garnered a nomination for an American Music Prize for Best Debut Album (winner to be announced March 8).
Though Third Man Records seemingly catapulted Price’s music into the limelight, her hard work and album predate Jack White’s interest in her music. “‘Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’ was recorded in Memphis long before I ever met Jack and the Third Man people,” Price clarifies. “My husband actually sold our car, and that’s how we got the money to go through with it. So we had only three days, and we went down to Memphis and recorded it at Sun Studio.”
Once Third Man did pick up Price, thankfully, she didn’t need to change anything about her work or who she was as an artist. She credits them for giving her the tools and freedom to release her music on a larger platform.
This spring will mark Price’s 14th year in Nashville. When she first moved from Illinois, Price met her future husband, bass player Jeremy Ivey, and formed their first band Buffalo Clover.
“He’s been struggling with me for just as long and we’ve been writing together—for a very long time,” she tells. “There were many times we got frustrated with living in Nashville. We didn’t fit in; we weren’t the glossy kind of country music coming out around that time when we really started trying to make a career of it.”
After becoming disenchanted with the Music City, Price and Ivey traded in most of their belongings to beat around in a 1986 Winnebago—even posting up along North Carolina’s shores for a time. They fell in love with Wilmington. “My husband and I would go and camp on those little islands along the beach,” she remembers.
Price and company will return to the Port City March 1 to play Throne Theater. Last time Buffalo Clover came, they played Juggling Gypsy. “There were people sitting around a fire outside and we hung out with a bunch of locals,” she remembers. “We went down to the water and saw glowing plankton, and it was just so beautiful.”
Price and Ivey eventually heard the call back to Nashville. Upon their return, Price made a list of every venue, dive bar and stage she was determined to play. “I just wasn’t going to let this city beat me,” she asserts. As she checked off her list, the singer became known throughout the honky-tonk scene for her flair and realness. Price now jokingly refers to herself as a “14-year overnight sensation.” Her tenacity had a snowball effect.
“One good thing just dominoed with all these opportunities and great people to work with,” she tells. “People just supporting me, believing in me and putting me in touch with the missing pieces I’d been looking for a long time.”
They include people most music fans don’t think about in the romanticized idea of becoming a musician. Trusted and reliable booking agents, lawyers and management are a few key players. Before connecting with Third Man Records, Price credits her traction to lawyer Kent Marcus, who pushed her music out to anyone who would listen.
“He believed in me before anybody did,” Price states. “He was a big part of [my success]. My booking agent, Paradigm, opened up so many opportunities . . . my management at Monotone started working with me, and they weren’t worried about taking commission until I was actually on my feet. It’s been so nice to meet honest people.”
According to Price, success within such a competitive and fickle industry hinges on many factors. Talent and drive alone aren’t always enough.
“It’s really hard to get the combination of the right people working around you, and what happens to be popular and trending and all that shit,” she observes. “I don’t think everyone gets their time in the sun like they deserve.”
Before her breakout in 2016, many songs off “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” had been around for quite some time. Price had to find the right balance in piecing them together for an album and finding a way to record them.
“I would send these people crazy e-mails about how I had a country record to put out, and they just needed to front me the money,” she recollects. “Things would just never take off.”
At the same time, she had written songs that would eventually end up on the record. At the time, though, she was just writing the music for herself. “I wasn’t thinking anyone would want to hear me whine about the things I’d been through,” she tells.
Price’s storytelling is often heartbreaking in its authenticity. She delves into hardships, such as the loss of her family’s farm and the death of one of her twin boys (“Hands of Time”). “Weekender” is about spending a weekend in jail after the death of her son, Ezra. Though Price is vague about the events that led up to that weekend, it marked a turning point in her personal and musical journey.
“I think [‘Desperate and Depressed’] has been a song people can connect to because everybody goes through loss, grief and pain,” she states. “It’s interesting how that song has resonated with people—and I thought it wouldn’t.”
Her husband Ivey doesn’t play with Price on the road these days. In fact, he had to take a couple of months off after dislocating his finger last April. So he’s often at home with their son. Yet, he did co-write six tracks on the record, including “Tennessee Song” and “World’s Greatest Loser.” After 13 years of being together, Price doesn’t present a song to her band before showing it to Ivey first.
“It’s really beautiful—our relationship—because we’ve been through a lot,” she says. “We lost a child together, and most couples don’t make it. It’s already a 50 percent divorce rate without that. . . . He’s been my rock and my backbone, and a big believer in what I do.”
Price finished recording her sophomore album and is in the process of mixing it. The artwork for the cover isn’t finished, nor is the order of the track listing, among other final touches. Still, with an actual budget and label, it’s been a lot less stressful so far. Plus, she didn’t have to sell a car. “It’s nice to be able to take time and not feel like we have to rush to get this out,” Price adds.
While it’s rooted in country sounds, different textures and genres will make it onto the follow-up record. “I’m dying to release it,” she says. “There’s a little bit of everything, but it all still fits together really nicely. It’s nothing abrasive; I definitely still made a country record, but we recorded quite a few songs so there’s a lot to work with.”