It’s a day before Margaret Glaspy’s birthday, and the weekend’s blizzard is rapidly approaching. Instead of retreating to her Upper West Side haunts, there’s business to tend to. Following a two-month stint working at TR Crandall Guitars in Alphabet City, she’s ready to celebrate. Her last day on the job is bittersweet, but she knows that what she’s worked for a long time to attain is finally on the horizon. On top of that, she’s got two singles dropping via ATO Records, and that’s only a sneak preview of what’s to come, as the label will release her full-length in the coming months. Despite the whirlwind of activity, Glaspy remains calm, and following a reflective meal where she had some pizza and sipped tea by herself, she braves the freezing temperatures on the Lower East Side to head back uptown.
“It’s pretty intense here,” she says over the phone. In this situation, the budding musician’s words sum up both her recent past and promising future.
Born in Sacramento, Glaspy spent her childhood in Red Bluff, a sleepy Northern California town between Redding and Chico. Coming from a family of guitarists, she was able to pass time in Red Bluff by immersing herself in music. As a third-grader, Glaspy picked up the fiddle, which was big in her town and an instrument she’d play for nine years. She’d go on to take up the trombone in high school. Playing the fiddle Texas-style was her introduction to playing music professionally. “It was competitive fiddle playing,” she explains. “There’s a competition in the town I grew up in, and they started a fiddle program in my elementary school. That’s what roped me into it, and I stuck with it for a long time.”
As much as she enjoyed those instruments, Glaspy always had a passion for the guitar. She’d casually noodle around with the instrument as a kid, and she got serious about it at fifteen. As the youngest of three siblings, her musical tastes were shaped by her brother and sister, who favored alt rock, while her father would play jazz and classic-rock records. Citing influences that pluck from all genres, Glaspy singles out Joni Mitchell’s Blue as a pivotal listen for her.
“That hit the mark for me,” she says. “I have no clue what state she was in when she made that record, but it felt like she was very articulate in a way that makes me want to be an artist and move people the way that she moves me.”
Since she was in her early teens, she knew she needed to head east to pursue her musical ambitions. The only way she’d convince her parents to let her go east would be to enroll in a specialized music program. Armed with a $10,000 grant from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (now known as YoungArts) she earned by performing before a panel of judges, Glaspy moved to Boston and enrolled at the famed Berklee College of Music. She technically dropped out of school after one semester, primarily due to financial restraints — the money ran out — but that didn’t stop her from attending classes. She used her student ID to sneak into seminars and master classes, taking advantage of her time in Boston. When she wasn’t writing songs, Glaspy held a series of odd jobs, including working at a bakery, selling Mayan jewelry, and serving as a hostess at a pizza place, in order to get by.
After three years in Boston and with her scholastic ambitions fulfilled, Glaspy headed 200 miles down I-95 to New York. Nearly five years, two boroughs, countless babysitting jobs, and many nights performing at Rockwood Music Hall later, Glaspy’s perseverance is paying off. She’d self-released an album and put out another EP through StorySound Records, but the singer/songwriter caught the attention of ATO Records and inked a deal with the label — which boasts Alabama Shakes, My Morning Jacket, and Benjamin Booker on its roster — following an impromptu audition.
In spite of her guitar shop gig, Glaspy has maintained a rigorous touring schedule. She has opened for Lake Street Dive, Rachael Yamagata, Ricky Skaggs, and Del McCoury, but it took a slot opening for Thunderbitch — a/k/a the alter-ego rock side project of Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard — at CMJ to capture critical attention with the fierce earnestness that’s represented in both her live performance and her songs.
Though the album was initially recorded in her bedroom on her iPad, her new label deal allowed Glaspy to head into a proper studio to complete it. With that effort coming this summer, Margaret Glaspy is excited for the next stage of her career.
“It’s exciting to be able to share the music with people,” she says. “I’ve had it to myself for a really long time, and at this point, I’m super excited and don’t really know what to expect.” It’s safe to assume that what we can expect will also be pretty intense.
Margaret Glaspy plays at the Mercury Lounge on January 28. The show has sold out, but check secondary markets for tickets.