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The Unbreakable Margo Price

Margo Price

Photo by Bobbi Rich

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The Unbreakable Margo Price

The country singer/songwriter speaks to GRAMMY.com about her third studio album, 'That's How Rumors Get Started', working with Sturgill Simpson and her two heroes, late friend John Prine and his oddball soul-legend pal Swamp Dogg

GRAMMYs/Jul 13, 2020 - 08:10 pm

At 37, Margo Price hasn't just lived a few lives already. She’s lived a few country singers' lives already, famously pawning her wedding ring to make Midwest Farmer's Daughter, the 2016 album that caught Jack White's attention and then the world’s, with not just the Newport Folk Festival to follow but "SNL" and a GRAMMY nomination for Best New Artist. For someone who survived the death of her infant son, a drunk-driving accident, jail time and homelessness, that's a vast change of fortune. Except fast-forward to 2020 where everything goes wrong no matter who you are, and Price came out of a few-years hiatus to have her excellent new album That’s How Rumors Get Started delayed anew while her husband and fellow musician/collaborator Jeremy Ivey fought a frightening bout of coronavirus right in her home just after beginning to raise their newborn daughter.

Luckily, the new album is a good fit for the holdup, a scorched-earth record that's at least half rock’n’roll on lyrics alone: "Call me a bitch, then call me baby / You don’t know me, you don’t own me," "Sobriety is a hell of a drug," "I won’t forget what it’s like to be poor," and of course, the delectably autobiographical "If it don’t break you, it might just make you rich." The tenderly worded All American Made made its points through typically acerbic country ("Don’t say you love me when you treat me this way," "Pay gap, pay gap, breaking my dollars in half") but the Sturgill Simpson-produced Rumors adds howling guitars returning the White Stripes favor on "Twinkle Twinkle" and the lung-bursting coda of "I'd Die for You," which is exactly what a multivalent songbird sings to her newborn's ailing father during a pandemic. GRAMMY.com spoke to Price over the phone about coming out of this state with sanity (and songs) intact, and her two heroes, late friend John Prine and his oddball soul-legend pal Swamp Dogg.

How is Jeremy doing?

Oh, he's healthy again and we’re really grateful for that.

That's great, I imagine this period was really scary for your family.

It’s been... not ideal for sure. I really hope that we all continue to stay healthy.

Do you feel like you're ready to plug back into music after all this craziness?

I do, I mean, it’s just been a long time coming and if I wouldn’t have gotten pregnant—and you know there would have been a lot of different factors—I would’ve had this out last summer. But I think everything happens for a reason, so we just roll with the punches.

When an album like That’s How Rumors Get Started sits on the shelf for this long, do you start to feel less connected from it? I imagine this year gave you a whole new album to write.

I'm definitely getting ready to, you know, start writing and recording again just to keep myself occupied and whatnot, but I feel like we picked it up, we started learning the songs and we put it back down. It’s still the best thing I’ve ever done, I think, thus far, and, you know, that makes me still feel connected to the songs and confident that it’s gonna hopefully go over well.

All American Made felt like you had a lot of things to say, and Rumors feels like you wanted to show those things rather than tell them. Did you feel like you were doing more dynamic singing or making a louder album?

I knew that I wanted to sonically do something that I'd never done before and use what I’d learned over the past few years being on the road. Having played rock’n’roll music and played in a soul band prior to everybody getting to know me through Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, it’s been interesting to only get put into this Americana category. So I just wanted to do something that was well-rounded. We put a lot of time into doing this album, a lot of care into my vocals, and I would say that Sturgill helped me turn it up to 11.

What was the biggest thing that you learned from working with Sturgill?

I really wanted to record every song that I had at the time, and we did put down like 16 tracks. But he was like, "You should just get something that sounds like they all go together like texturally and as a bigger picture." I think that was good advice, and I feel really good about the 10 songs; they feel like they belong together. It’s not like, oh, you’re skipping over this one track. And the way he had me approach doing my vocals was pretty key in getting the sounds that we got. I don’t like to sing with headphones on—I don’t think anybody likes to hear their own voice coming back at them—so that was an idea of his: To get more of how I sing when I’m just performing on stage, we took the headphones off and just sang in the studio with the track coming back at me at, like, a very low volume. I was just able to belt and hear myself the way that I normally would hear myself.

Like singing in the shower where you can just go at it.

Exactly.

It shows. A song like "I'd Die for You" is a much less muted way to close your album, like "With or Without You" or one of those big U2 ballads.

Oh, thank you, that’s great. I love that reference.

And then you have "Heartless Mind," which sounds like an idea Sturgill would definitely encourage. Was it always planned to be a fast, new wave-y song?

No, I did not picture it coming out like that and I absolutely love it. I was going into the session thinking that that one may be like, a [Pat Benatar’s] "Heartbreaker"-like guitar-driven song and then the synth got on it. It turned out better than I could have expected, with my friend Ashley Wilcoxson on backing vocals, but it's a big sonic change for what usually is behind me. I actually even let [Sturgill] put a drum machine just on the snare head for the choruses; a few years ago I might have said that’s sacrilege. And my drummer Dillon Napier is playing actual drums on it.

It's very in the spirit of Sturgill’s last album, Sound & Fury, which quite a few people compared to ZZ Top, and they are generally considered to be one of the most successful acts to put synthesizers on roots music.

Yeah his album's wild. I don’t think anybody expected it from him. I mean, I didn't expect it from him and I know the motherfker. A lot of times I see people working with certain producers because they're hot at the moment, or like, you know, things become really trendy and it's scary to go out there and get out of your comfort zone. But I’d rather make a few mess-ups then go crazy from just regurgitating the same ideas.

Do any of the lyrics on Rumors resonate differently for you now after the events of this year?

There’s moments that have become more powerful. I felt that same thing happened with All American Made because I wrote it while it was an election year but no one was in office, and then… you know. Time always has a way of making things feel more heavy, especially these days. But "I’d Die for You" has become the most important song to sing and feel connected to because of the tornado, and the cancellation that's happening, and people everywhere all over America unemployed and without health insurance. The racism and the division all that’s kind of spinning around. But Jeremy and I wrote that song for each other and for our children.

Certain songs on here are really cathartic to listen to now even if they were written way long ago. Something like "Twinkle Twinkle," where you’re singing "In the good old days, things weren’t really all that good," has me how all these coronavirus deniers will eventually go on to romanticize this period.

Oh, without a doubt. I was talking about that earlier with somebody, about how everything seems like it’s changed but really, all of the fear, and the hate, and the racism those things were all there,  just below the surface. I don't know when we’re going to be able to live the way that we did with, you know, human contact and hugs and stuff like that .

Somehow we got to the point where hugs are in question.

But don’t even come at me with that hand and I've really perfected my handshake.

On "Stone Me" you could be singing about toxic men, or fame, or the completely divided state of society all at once, and maybe those things are inherently connected.

Yeah, it has a double meaning for me. When I first wrote it was about a personal relationship, and the things that happen when you get put up on a pedestal, and then people immediately want to knock you down, and I let it all roll off my back. But it’s very cathartic to write a song. I don’t even ever have to say who it’s about specifically, because it’s about so many people that I've known.

A lot of country artists address things like growing up poor, but they're so associated with conservatism that you get the sense they expect it’s like, just part of dues to be paid. But you sing things like "Pay Gap" that are actually about changing that.

Oh, without a doubt. I mean, that song probably cost me a lot of fans. I had so many people try to argue with me and tell me it’s a myth. As a citizen I have every right to think about the things that affect me and we're all in it together no matter what side of the fence you're on. Everybody wants the same damn thing, food on the table. To would be able to be taken care of when you're sick.

This year is really the test case for that, because you’d think everyone would be able to agree that, like, we all want to be alive, and doing some things that are not too difficult in order to lower that risk. The rebellion against that is really surreal. Have you already begun writing new songs?

My husband’s got an entire album that he’s written. I have, like, starts of songs… I don’t know, six or seven things I'm working on. And then I’ve just been writing and journaling more. It’s important to write your memoir while everything’s still fresh on your mind. Especially now with not being able to go to shows. I’m like thinking back to specific memories and things that happened and just saving it all for a rainy day.

Do you have any plans for live shows again?

I’m really wanting to do these drive-in theater shows. I think that would be super cool. It would be a great way to start back and feel like things are at a safe distance, but who knows what the future holds. I'm just dreaming about a day when I can like, bodysurf across the crowd again. That’s gonna be a long time.

What have you been listening to while you’re stuck at home?

I have been addicted to this new Swamp Dogg record, Sorry You Couldn’t Make It.

I love Swamp Dogg, I actually just ordered reissues of Gag a Maggot and Total Destruction to Your Mind last month.

Yeah, I mean, "Synthetic World"…there are just so many good songs on Total Destruction to Your Mind. Rat On! and that whole album cover. And then I realized that he was putting out this new record, and John Prine sings two duets on it which are amazing. It’s the last thing that John Prine ever recorded.

Wow, I didn’t realize it was the very last thing he ever did.

There's a song on there is called "Family Pain," and it's really cool, like a hip-hop track with a fiddle. I’ve also been listening to Run the Jewels.

I mean, speaking of catharsis…

Yeah, perfect time to put out a political rap album. And of course I’ve been diving super deep into the Bob Dylan and the Neil Young records; the fact that they came out on the same day was pretty spectacular.

If you do any more covers, I definitely vote for Swamp Dogg.

That's a great idea. And Swamp Dogg’s version of [Prine’s] "Sam Stone" is just killer. When I met John I was like, "So tell me about Swamp Dogg." You know they were buddies. It’s really cool to hear them on [2020’s] "Please Let Me Go Round Again." They just are riffing back and forth, really conversational improv. It cracks me up to listen to.

Now I’m gonna have to put that on after we hang up.

I hope you stay well and, yeah, see you next time we get out of this burning trash fire.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Lady Legends And Newcomers Join Mercury Rev On Bobbie Gentry Tribute Album

Bobbie Gentry

Photo: NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

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Lady Legends And Newcomers Join Mercury Rev On Bobbie Gentry Tribute Album

Mercury Rev revisits Gentry's classic sophomore album with female guest vocalists who shine. Catch the album out Feb. 8

GRAMMYs/Nov 15, 2018 - 05:34 am

Indie band Mercury Rev have announced their next album, a tribute to Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited, will be available on Feb. 8.

The album features an array of guest voices. Mercury Rev's incredible selection of guest vocalists on the tracks kicks off with Norah Jones performing "Okolona River Bottom Band." Others lending their voices to the effort are Phoebe Bridgers, Vashti Bunyan, Rachel Goswell, Marissa Nadler, Beth Orton, Lætitia Sadier, Hope Sandoval, Kaela Sinclair, Susanne Sundfør, Carice van Houten, and Lucinda Williams, whose rendition of "Ode To Billie Joe" was added to the original album's tracklist.

"Bobbie is iconic, original, eloquent and timeless," said singer Margo Price, whose guest vocals are featured on "Sermon." "She has remained a strong voice and an eternal spirit of the delta, wrapped in mystery, yet forever here."

The Delta Sweete was Gentry's 1968 follow up to her debut Ode To Billie Joe, for which she won three GRAMMYs at the 10th GRAMMY Awards.

For the full track list and additional details see Bella Union's announcement and Pitchfork. Mercury Rev recently concluded their 2018 U.S. tour and will be playing across Britain in Dec.

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage

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Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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