Margo Price first moved to Nashville in 2003, before East Nashville exploded and back when she didn’t see any place for herself in country music because, as she puts it, “everything was so glossy.” Though it may seem as though Price, who is currently enjoying her first taste of breakout success with her full-length debut Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, suddenly sprouted out of nowhere, she has actually spent the past decade-plus making music under a variety of guises — busking as a folkie in Colorado, frequenting clubs like The 5 Spot with her rock-meets-r&b band Buffalo Clover, and recording an acoustic country-leaning solo EP in 2010.
Country music has always been an important part of Price’s musical compass: Her uncle, Bobby Fischer, was a songwriter who scored a hit with Reba McEntire’s “You Lie” in 1990. Price herself started her career performing songs like “Long Black Veil,” the same type of no-frills traditionalist country that forms the musical DNA of her new solo debut.
“Nobody cared about it back then,” says Price. “I feel like I’ve been playing country for a long time, but now people are starting to come around to the traditional sound.” In the past, Price resisted straightforward country, but every time she tried to make a soul record, or a loud rock record, people would label it “alt-country.” “It was frustrating to me,” she says, “but in another way it was like, maybe I shouldn’t try to fight my roots and just do what comes natural.”
Price’s breakout single is “Hurtin’ (On The Bottle),” an instantly catchy, old-fashioned honky-tonk rouser that came about after a night of hard drinking with fellow Nashville songwriter Caitlin Rose, Rose’s boyfriend at the time, and Price’s husband Jeremy Ivey, who plays in Price’s backing band, The Price Tags. Towards the end of the night, someone said, “We put a ‘hurtin’ on that bottle.”
“Then somebody said, ‘We can write that song.’ I think that was me,” says Rose. “When four drunk people write a song, somebody needs go to back and clean it up afterwards, and Margo did a great job doing that.”
The rest of Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is a chronicle of the various obstacles Price has faced during her time in Nashville, where she moved after leaving her Western Illinois hometown at the age of 20. Like so many songwriters new to the city, Price was naïve, eager and excited to jumpstart her career. And, like so many young women starting out in the industry, older men quickly sought to take advantage of her inexperience. When I ask Price about the shady manager depicted in “This Town Gets Around” — her tongue-in-cheek, razor-sharp critique of Nashville’s music industry — she begins to describe a litany of industry hacks and questionable men who tried to “help” her career at various stages.
Early on, a producer who had impressed Price by telling her he worked with the Dixie Chicks invited the young singer to his house one evening to work on some demos. After Price went to the bathroom, she soon realized that her drink had been spiked. “I started getting really sick,” she says, before pausing for a moment. “It turned into a bad situation.”
“That song is a battle cry,” Rose says of “This Town Gets Around.” “Margo always does and says exactly what she wants, and that especially comes out in that song. She’s got swagger.”
“That one usually goes over pretty well,” Price says with a laugh.
Another highlight on Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, whose title Price says is equal parts tribute to Loretta Lynn and the Beach Boys, is “Weekender,” a song that chronicles Price’s brief run-in with the law in 2013, though Price and her PR team remain mum on the nature of the offense. “It felt good to write about the stuff that I’ve been through that maybe has been kind of ugly or hard for me and just be completely honest,” she says.
As for what’s next for Price, she hopes to continue exploring the many genres she’s experimented with over the past decade and is horrified at the notion that her recent breakout might pigeonhole her strictly as a country artist.
“To me there’s only two kinds of music: good or bad,” says Price, who lists Tame Impala and Father John Misty as two of her current favorites. “I’ve really wanted to go to California and do a Laurel Canyon, Neil Young-Gram Parsons type sound. There are a lot of different avenues I can go and still remain rooted but not get too stagnant in one genre, because that’d be terribly boring.”