Margo Price’s Bold New Sound

Never one to sit still, the Nashville original returns with an album as fearless as she is

Photo: Alysse Gafkjen

Price at Dee’s lounge in Madison, Tennessee. That’s How Rumors Get Started is her third studio album.

Like most of us during the pandemic, Margo Price has been doing the best she can. At her home just outside of Nashville that she shares with her husband, the singer-songwriter Jeremy Ivey, and two children, music is always present, whether it’s Price blowing off steam by trading her usual guitar to bang on a set of drums, or the family listening to an episode of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour during dinner. When she needs some fresh air, she heads out for a run, usually pushing her one-year-old daughter, Ramona, in the jogging stroller while her ten-year-old son, Judah, rides along on his bike. They live in the countryside, so they see more chickens, goats, and horses than people or cars. Price used to frequent a gym in East Nashville to work out, but now, hunkered down at home, exercising is a family affair. “I’m not gonna lie, some days are really rough,” she admits. “They say it takes a village, but there’s no village right now.”

Some moments have been particularly brutal. The couple’s close friend John Prine passed away in April, and Ivey fought his own suspected battle with COVID-19. (Though he’s now recovered, Price says it took weeks for him to feel even close to 100 percent.) She frets about money; like most artists, Price makes the majority of her income on the road. And she was supposed to release her third studio album, That’s How Rumors Get Started, in May but had second thoughts. “It just felt yucky and like everybody’s going through something terrible and losing their jobs,” she says. “How do I tell people, ‘Buy my album!’?”

It was worth the wait. Released this summer, Rumors is an instant classic, a strikingly assured effort that owes as much to the dreamy Laurel Canyon vibe as it does to Nashville’s twang. Songs like the title track and “Letting Me Down” shimmer with the harmonies of Fleetwood Mac, while “Twinkle Twinkle” is a scuzzy blues stomper, and the monster closer “I’d
Die for You” unfolds as a searing love song to her husband, with Price’s voice exploding in a howl as defiant as it is swooning.

Price’s first two albums, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter and All American Made, established her as one of Nashville’s brightest new talents, combining frank, uncompromising songwriting with a vintage country sound and propelling her to a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 2019. Rumors, however, is a decidedly uncountry record, which was by design. “I get bored pushing the same narrative,” she says. “I just wanted to make a classic rock and roll record.”

Price found a kindred spirit in her good friend Sturgill Simpson, who produced the album. The lauded Kentucky-born songwriter had been after Price to collaborate, though she kept putting him off. “He wanted to produce my second album, and I told him no because I didn’t want it to ruin our friendship,” she says. “He’s notorious for strong opinions, and honestly so am I. But now, we’re good enough friends to give each other shit without getting offended. I like Stu because he is always honest with me and will tell me his opinion while still listening to mine.”

VIDEO: Watch Margo Price’s Garden & Gun Back Porch Session

Simpson assembled a crew of top-shelf session players including R&B drummer James Gadson, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Pino Palladino, and guitarist Matt Sweeney. Price and Ivey cowrote many of the songs on Rumors, and the lyrics drip with intimate details. A recurring theme is the struggle of maintaining a marriage when one person is gone for long stretches. “We got in a huge fight,” Price says, “and he said to me, ‘It’s like we both started a company, and you became the CEO and I became the janitor, and it just hurts so bad.’ I was like, ‘Look, I’m out here breaking my back and busting ass to put food on the table. And I get that it’s not glamorous to be home, doing dishes and taking the kid to school, but this is kind of what we have to do right now.’” 

If anything, weathering the pandemic has deepened their relationship. “Jeremy and I are stronger than ever,” she says. “We’ve been tested, and how we handle the hard times says a lot about who we are as people.” Price has launched a radio show that airs on YouTube, and she just finished producing a record for Jessi Colter, Waylon Jennings’s wife. And while she’s itching to get back on the road, she’s unsure of how that looks. “I have no clue, and that’s really what’s most terrifying. I hope we can find a way to do it even if it’s playing at a drive-in movie. I miss playing more than anything.”  

This article appears in the August/September 2020 issue of  Garden & Gun. Start your subscription here or give a gift subscription here.