Margo Price: Q&A
Quarantined Artists is an FUV feature that includes online Q&As and on-air conversations with musicians dealing with life in Covid-19 lockdown.
As the pandemic shuttered Margo Price's city of Nashville and the rest of the world, she quarantined at home with her two children (baby daughter Ramona and older son Judah), and her husband, the songwriter Jeremy Ivey. It hasn't been an easy time for the family — Ivey became very ill with Covid-19 (he is still slowly recovering) and in April they lost one of their dearest friends to the coronavirus, the musician John Prine.
On June 11, she was part of the livestream tribute "Picture Show: A Tribute Celebrating John Prine," pulled together by John's wife Fiona Prine and his label, Oh Boy Records.
Price is no stranger to dark and troubled times; her debut album, 2016's Midwest Farmer's Daughter, recalled life-altering struggles and what it means to survive. Although Price and her record label, Concord Music, has delayed the release of her new album, That's How Rumors Get Started, from early May to July 10, Price was still inspired to give her fans a treat last month: the surprise release of a live benefit album called Perfectly Imperfect at the Ryman, recorded in 2018 and available on Bandcamp. The proceeds of that record, which features friends like Emmylou Harris, Sturgill Simpson, and Jack White, will help MusiCares Covid-19 Relief Fund.
Price has just released "Letting Me Down," a new single from That's How Rumors Get Started, with a video recorded in her own Nashville home and an abandoned hospital. Although she chatted with WFUV for Quarantined Artists before the wave of "Black Lives Matter" protests across the country and world, Price is an ardent supporter of the movement, expressing that advocacy via Twitter. In a recent interview and performance with "CBS This Morning: Saturday," she included a cover of Bob Dylan's "Things Have Changed," recorded on her front porch.
Below, she touches on her new album, memories of Prine, favorite children's books, and how she's enduring the coronavirus pandemic with her family. She also pulled together an exclusive stay-at-home Spotify playlist for WFUV too:
That's How Rumors Get Started, your third album, is co-produced by you, Sturgill Simpson, and Dave Ferguson. What is it about that working unit that worked best for you as the record came together?
We all have strong opinions. Haha! I really was more open to advice and suggestions than I have been in past sessions. I really trusted them both to make each song as good as it possibly could be. They listened to me too, it was a good give and take, and we all felt open enough to make jokes and give each other s**t. The sessions were relaxed, but David would make sure nobody was screwing off and wasting time. It was a great experience and I’d definitely make a record with them both again.
I love that you were pregnant with your daughter Ramona as you recorded this album: a duet of co-creation. You've spoken of the clarity that pregnancy gave you too. How else did that clear-eyed creative journey affect your vision of That's How Rumors Get Started? As the album progressed, are there certain that shapeshifted thanks to that self-discovery?
Many of the songs were written before I got pregnant, but both “Prisoner of the Highway” and “Gone To Stay” were written after I found out I was expecting. "Prisoner of the Highway” was written on an airplane bound for California on my way to play Hollywood Bowl. I was struggling with the new reality of being pregnant and not having planned it; I really couldn’t imagine adding another child into my insanely busy schedule. I had already missed so much with my son. I remember once being in England when he got hurt at school and he needed stitches in his knee. I just cried my eyes out because I couldn’t be there for him.
This career has been the most amazing thing to happen to me, but there are a lot of things that you sacrifice being gone on the road constantly. That same feeling influenced the mood and message for “Gone To Stay.” You can’t turn money back to time and I’ve lost a lot of moments due to being gone, and playing shows. Of course I’m doing it to put food on the table, but there’s things I regret missing. You know, basic mom guilt that I’m sure a lot of working mothers and fathers feel. That song was a letter to our children. Jeremy helped me finish it and we wrote it to have the double meaning of both “when I’m gone working” and “when we die,” know that I am still with you and I love you.
There are so many rich treasures on this album, like"Prisoner of the Highway" and the sweet fury of "Stone Me." Is there anything surprising you discovered about yourself as a vocalist in this particular recording process?
I’ve come along way from my earlier recordings. Performing every single night for several years, making albums, singing harmonies, and collaborating with other artists, I’ve really been able to hone in on my craft. I also wasn’t smoking any weed during the recording process (obviously) and my voice was strong.
Sturgill also wanted to try to capture more of how I sound live. He had me sing all of my vocals with no headphones on and facing a set of speakers with the tracks coming back at me at a quiet volume. I could hear myself better that way. David Ferguson, who engineered the album and co-produced with Sturgill, did an excellent job coaching me through the vocals. My friend Ashley Wilcoxson is a powerhouse backup singer and she and I did all the harmonies together. We all had a lot of fun together in the studio; being relaxed was key. I wasn’t on any deadline with a label and I took as much time as I needed to get things right.
You've been doing your own radio show, called "Runaway Horses," and you dedicated an episode to your friend John Prine. What did you love best about John, as both a songwriter and your friend? Do you have a vivid memory of him that you hold particularly dear?
I’m gonna miss the songs he still had to write. The shows we were supposed to play together. We had planned to meet up at SXSW for Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion. I’m gonna miss dinners with him, Fiona, Jeremy and me. They were our favorite couple to double date with. I’m gonna miss getting drunk with him and hearing his jokes and stories. The last time I saw him we performed his song “Sweet Revenge” at the Grand Ole Opry on New Year’s Eve. He and I did a quick soundcheck and then we had to get off stage because the doors were opening. He had a funny story to tell me about the backup singers on that track that he said he was gonna tell me later. I never got to hear it and I never will. He put on a hell of a show that night. I loved watching him set his guitar down during "Lake Marie" and he would stand over it like he was Houdini casting some crazy spell on it. Then he would slowly dance off stage with the audience screaming and smiling and cheering. It was brilliant.
You posted on Instagram about your husband's struggle with what you believed to be Covid-19. How is Jeremy feeling these days and do you have any advice for other families facing that intense worry? How are you all keeping sane during a very challenging time and and how does your daughter and your son Judah keep you laughing?
Jeremy has been sick for months. He recently started doing breathing treatments with a nebulizer and that seems to be helping. We are all trying to stay positive and laughter is key—especially for the kids. This is such a scary time. My son has a lot of questions that I can’t answer and it’s unsettling. I try not to let the children see me cry, but it’s inevitable. We all are very open with our emotions in this house and encourage each other to be upfront about how we feel. Everyone is allowed to have bad days and when we do, we try to lift that person up.
Have you had the time to retreat to particular books, films, or albums for yourself? If so, can you recommend something that has helped you that you think might be a much-needed retreat for others?
My son has been reading so much during quarantine. I actually think he is doing better now than when he was in school at times. Judah is nine years old and has dyslexia. School has been hard for him, but he started reading books by Dave Pilkey (Dog Man is his favorite) and he has become an avid reader. We have also read every book by Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, and Shel Silverstein. Reading to my children and reading on my own has always been important, but in these troubling times it’s really wonderful to disappear in this kind of healthy escapism.
One of my favorite musical memoirs is Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark by Tamara Saviano and I think the companion film is actually out, so I’m excited to watch it after reading that book several times. My guitar player, Jamie Davis, gave it to me and I never gave it back haha! And we have music playing in the house on our Sonos speakers constantly. My favorite new things to listen to have been Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Boltcutters and Bob Dylan’s “Murder Most Foul” and “I Contain Multitudes” — I can’t wait for his upcoming album. Love the new Lucinda Williams record: “You Can’t Rule Me” is my favorite track. And I’m also looking forward to Neil Young’s Homegrown that’s coming out soon. The song “Try” that he just released is especially fitting, even though is was written in 1975.
Is there a favorite children's book that you loved as a child that you're sharing with your kids?
Oops! Kind of already answered that. But more specifically, The BGF (written by Roald Dahl and dedicated to his daughter Olivia who died from measles when she was just seven years old) and Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Matilda. From Silverstein: The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, Falling Up, and The Missing Piece. From Beverly Cleary: The Mouse and the Motorcycle and obviously all the Ramona books.
Small town American life — and its sorrows — so vividly informs your songwriting. When you reflect on those communities and how they'll come through this pandemic, can any good come from bad experiences? If so, what would that be?
In my experience, good always comes from the bad. I try to remind my children that we are being tested in some way and how we handle ourselves during this time is a great judge of character. We will be stronger when this is over and we will come to appreciate the simple things that we maybe took for granted before. I have tried to remind myself that without spending some time down in the valley, you can’t fully enjoy the view of the mountain peaks. Our planet is healthier than it’s been in a long time because people aren’t traveling as much. There is a great bond happening between myself and many of my friends that I haven’t felt in a long time despite the physical distance. Small towns and small businesses have a long road ahead, but I want to support them all in any way I can. Corporate power is evil and there’s no way to get rid of it unfortunately, but there are folks that will champion mom-and-pop shops because that’s what makes our communities unique and colorful.
- Margo Price
May 19, 2020
Stay at Home Playlist (compiled by Margo Price)