Interview: Margo Price Earns Her Time in the Country Music Spotlight
It's pretty easy to draw parallels between Margo Price and Chris Stapleton, country music's most recognizable breakout star of the past year: Both have been around Nashville for years, both champion a traditional country sound and both made the wider country music community take notice following a high-profile defining moment. For Price, that moment came in early April, when she performed on Saturday Night Live.
"It definitely brought things to a higher level," Price tells The Boot. "People that weren't taking notice before suddenly were."
The singer-songwriter knew the late-night comedy show had been scouting her, "but I really thought it would be a couple years down the line." Instead, she and her band, the Pricetags, were booked to perform just two weeks after her debut album, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, was released.
"I think that's the beauty about their show: Once you do that, it's kind of a starting point," Price notes, "and it gives you an advantage."
Not that she entirely needed the help: A few days before her SNL debut, Price landed at No. 10 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart. It was the first time in the chart's history that a solo female artist debuted in the Top 10 with her first charted title without previously earning a spot on the Hot Country Songs chart -- an especially sweet achievement considering the project's history.
Price pawned her wedding ring to help pay for Midwest Farmer's Daughter, which she and her band recorded overnight in three days at Memphis' legendary Sun Studio. The group came in from Music City, rented an AirBnB and worked their butts off to quickly craft the 10-track record, which was influenced by Price's years of trying to "make it" in Nashville, the childhood memories of her family losing their farm in Illinois and the pain of trying to cope with the death of one of her children.
"It's kind of nice to be away from home. You can fully immerse yourself in the record," Price notes. "The vibes of the city and the energy kind of seeped into us, and we could stay focused on the project. We didn't have to go home or deal with anything else; we were just totally there to make the record and to focus on that."
Price admits that she and her crew all knew the pressure they were under to finish recording in such a short time frame, "but like they say, sometimes you do you best work under pressure. Everybody was just so motivated to do it and to get it right." And the pressure was worth it to work at such an historic location.
"The energy in the room is just kind of magical," Price recalls. "I've been in Nashville for so long, and I've recorded at a lot of different studios here, but I love Memphis, and I kind of related to the city in a way: It's gone through tough economic times, and it doesn't always get the love and the accolades that Nashville does, but there's such rich musical history there, so I really wanted to pick up on the country history and the blues and the soul influences that are there."
Listeners looking for specific Sun Studio influences on Price's project need look no further than "How the Mighty Have Fallen" and "Since You Put Me Down." The former, Price points out has "a girl group doo-wop drum beat behind it, and it has strings," while the latter channels "the dark energy of those early country recordings."
"I really am so happy with the way it turned out," she adds.
After recording Midwest Farrmer's Daughter, Price shopping the project around in Nashville but found no takers until connecting with Jack White's Third Man Records. She's now the label's lone country artist.
"[Third Man Records has] been so supportive and completely changed my mind about a lot of people in the music industry, because I've not always had the best experience with labels and management and things like that," Price says. "This has just been a complete 360 to have them in my corner and have them fighting for me and out there working for me."
All of that hard work -- both from Price and her band and from Third Man -- recently landed the up-and-comer a pair of Americana Music Awards nominations: Price herself is up for Emerging Artist of the Year, while her song "Hands of Time" is among the Song of the Year nominees.
"I respect the music that they support," Price says of the Americana Music Association, "and for the past several years, I would find myself going to the awards show and sitting in the Ryman in the audience and thinking to myself how badly I wanted to be involved and to be recognized, so I definitely am happy that things have went the way that they have."
Price has a number of shows -- many solo, a few with Brandi Carlile -- on her calendar this summer and fall, as part of her Born to Ramble Tour. She's also set to play Farm Aid 2016 in September and recently performed at Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic.
"That's been a huge dream of mine, and I really believe in that cause and think that it's important that people know where their food comes from," Price says of Farm Aid, adding with a laugh, "I'd just like to sit in the van and smoke some weed with Willie!"
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