If it wasn’t for Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Margo Price’s debut album probably wouldn’t even be coming out. Price and her husband sold Howard their vintage reel-to-reel recording equipment to help pay for studio time. The reel-to-reel, Margo’s wedding ring, instruments, and a car all got pawned to finish recording Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and on March, 25 it’s finally going to drop.
The record will be coming out on Jack White’s Third Man Records, but Price had to travel some seriously bumpy road to get to this point.
She grew up in small-town Illinois — Aledo, to be specific, right outside the Quad Cities in the northwestern part of the state. Her father lost their farm when she was just a youngster, but the family still stayed out in the country. “Our house was on a gravel road and wasn’t even walking distance to the nearest grocery store,” she says from her home in Nashville. “We would have to go into ‘town’ to do any errands.”
It was there in Aledo that she found her voice. She started by singing Christmas carols at her grandmother’s house; vocal and piano lessons in the “city” followed, as did the opportunity to sing the National Anthem at the Quad Cities’ premier semipro hockey games. After a couple of years of college at Northern Illinois University, Price needed a change. She’d been writing and performing her own music and knew she needed to make a move from NIU’s DeKalb campus. In 2003, she moved in with a cousin in Nashville.
Her first week there, she got into a nasty car wreck and ended up holed up in her room “not talking to anyone and just listening to Bob Dylan,” she says. “I really started to question whether moving was the right idea.” Eventually, Price started playing open mics around Nashville and hanging out with local Belmont students, getting a “real” musical education. In that social circle, she met her husband, Jeremy Ivey. The two began writing together and started a band called Buffalo Clover, proceeding to release three albums under the moniker. When Buffalo Clover ran its course, Price began crafting what would become Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. The couple didn’t have the funds to hire a publicist or management, so it was up to Price to get herself out there and try and scrounge up a record deal, anything.
“I was not a business-savvy person,” she says. “You have to find keys to unlock whatever door is in front of you, and we hit a whole lot of locked doors.”
Along the way they ran into managers making false promises and strange folks putting a halt to dreams, but Price didn’t let any of this keep her down.
“I wouldn’t trade any of that because as I look back on it, it was all fodder for songwriting,” she says.
The fits and starts with record labels and managers were only part of one of the darker periods in Price’s life. That fodder for songwriting also included some seriously heavy stuff, like turning to the bottle and familial problems as well, all of which she covers in detail on the wonderful Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.
Third Man Records entered the scene when some friends of friends got through to Price that White had heard and was into some of her stuff. “I hadn’t even thought about them as an option, actually, since they’ve really only put out established artists,” she says. “But they invited me in and actually liked it and now it’s coming out!”
Who knows: Maybe it’ll move a few units and Margo and Jeremy could even get that reel-to-reel back from Howard.
Margo Price will play Union Pool on January 20. For ticket information, click here.