It’s all there in “Hands Of Time,” the first song on country singer Margo Price’s debut solo recording Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. Like the prelude to a honky-tonk opera, “Hands Of Time” exposes the artist’s tragic life so far. The song encapsulates a string of misfortunes, her father losing the farm and being forced to go work in a prison, bad choices with bad men, a battle with the bottle, a string of horrible jobs, infidelity and the loss of her first born. Yet even with its hard luck heart, the underlying message of the song is about turning your life around and dreaming big and making those dreams come true.
“I did actual therapy too, but music is cheaper,” Price says with a chuckle. “It seemed like the next step was writing something really honest. It felt really freeing to lay it all out on the line and say this is who I am, take it or leave it.”
I caught up with the 33-year-old Nashville based singer-songwriter on the phone as she travels from a performance at Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble in Woodstock, New York to her next gig in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Price is on the first leg of an extensive cross continental tour performing at some very prestigious events including a couple of stops this side of the border at the Interstellar Rodeo in both Winnipeg and Edmonton.
I suggest that for all the hard history portrayed in the opening song, “Hands Of Time” is not about being held prisoner by past misfortunes but instead about focusing on your goals and working hard to create a positive future.
“No one has ever asked me about that last positive verse. The final piece to the puzzle was to say despite all of this you have to keep on moving, pick up the pieces and put them together in a different way. Just make things work somehow.”
When it comes to country music narratives Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is filled with all the usual suspects, and then some. Songs like “About To Find Out” and “This Town Gets Around” are a couple of barroom boot scuffers about bad romances, while “Four Years Of Chances” mines similar territory with a distinctive Memphis rhythm n’ blues groove. In fact Price chose a legendary Tennessee recording studio to record the album.
“We were just traveling through Memphis and we took a tour of Sun Studios and I just gravitated toward that room. It really felt different. I saw the neon sign that said make your own recording and that’s what I did. I signed up for some studio time and I’m glad I did because everything seemed to click when we worked in there.”
Price is tenacious and possesses a sharp writing style that can be biting and irreverent and yet her songs also tremble with humility. Tracks like “Desperate and Depressed,” “Weekender and Hurtin’ (On The Bottle)” are filled with humour, irony and personal struggle delivered in a style that pays homage to the golden era of country music while also pushing boundaries. I ask her if she thinks country music has a drinking problem.
“I think America has a drinking problem,” she says laughing sardonically. “Country music has always talked about real life and that’s definitely an issue that a lot of people in America face. It’s the widely accepted form of recreation when we all know that marijuana is a much safer alternative.”
Not one to always play it safe, you could almost say that she pretty much bet the farm on her debut solo album. Price’s husband Jeremy Ivey is also her bandmate. The two played together for years in the bands Buffalo Clover and Margo and the Price Tags. Following a difficult recovery after one of the couple’s twin boys died shortly after he was born, the couple decided to invest everything they had into her solo recording.
“The divorce rate is already through the roof, but when you lose a child the chances of the marriage surviving are very low. I’ve been lucky because he’s been a rock for me. We sold our car and my wedding ring and whatever gear we could spare so we could provide our own means to book proper studio time to make this record.”
After it was recorded Midwest Farmer’s Daughter was picked up by Jack White’s Nashville-based Third Man Records and soon after it debuted at number 10 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. It has since appeared on many top 25 lists including Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone and the Guardian UK. Price also garnered an incredible amount of attention when she was chosen as the musical guest for the April 9 edition of Saturday Night Live.
As the Music City native now guides her tour west, Price says she’s looking forward to setting the dance floor on fire in Edmonton.
As a parting question I ask Price if suffering is an essential part of writing a good country song. She gives me a long pause then says, “it has been for me.”
Fri, Jul 22 – 24
Hawrelak Park, $75 – $225