When Margo Price injured her hand halfway through her autumn tour of the UK it seemed like she’d suffered yet another of what Nashville Scene describe as ‘life’s cruel twists and unjust turns’.
The damage may have prevented the Tennessee-based country singer from playing guitar on the live dates but far from laying her low she used them to seal her reputation as one of the unexpected breakthrough acts of the year.
Now fully healed, she’ll return to the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds next Thursday (January 25) and is looking forward to playing, ”guitar and maybe even the drums if I feel like it.
“I’ve also been known to play cards, dice, mind games and ‘the fool’. Anything can happen!”
It’s this kind of can-do resourcefulness that resulted in her debut solo album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. Funded through the sale of her family car, it was recorded in just three days at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis and released on Jack White’s Third Man Records.
Steeped in the traditional sound of Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, it was the label’s first ever country signing. The association with White almost certainly helped to introduce her to an audience that doesn’t usually listen to old school country.
“Third Man fans have a sharp ear and are very loyal,” notes Price. “They’ve also been exposed to all sorts of different genres and voices through Jack and Third Man’s extensive output. I mean, Jack even dedicated The White Stripes album White Blood Cells to Loretta Lynn.”
He subsequently worked with Lynn, producing and playing on her 2004 album Van Lear Rose. It’s an album with which Price was familiar before the signing and it “definitely helped in my decision to sign with them.
“I used to listen to it when I was living in a tent in Colorado and driving up the winding roads outside of Boulder, Winter Park and Nederland. I had been playing a lot of mandolin at the time and learned a couple of songs from Van Lear Rose on it.”
Price’s material, which is largely co-written with her guitarist husband Jeremy Ivey, subscribes to the country tropes of hard drinking and hard living. What sets her apart is that many of the lyrics are autobiographical, with ‘Hands Of Time’ offering a potted history of her life when she sings, “When I rolled out of town… I was fifty-seven dollars from being broke.”
It would be boring to only focus on myself when there are so many topics in which to write about all over the world today.Margo Price
The track is one of her favourites on the album, “because it’s the most honest I’ve ever been in a song. It was scary and exciting all at the same time. I wrote it in my basement sitting alone at the piano one day.
“I also like ‘World’s Greatest Loser’ because it tells an abbreviated version of how the album got made in the first place. We did it live in just a couple of takes and Jeremy was finger picking the guitar and I was just singing. It was very intimate and sweet. It was a song for just us about our quirky little story.”
Many artists would find this level of openness uncomfortable, especially given the album’s success, but she didn’t have any such reservations about making the experiences public.
“My art is an extension to who I am and the experiences I’ve been through,” she explains. “If I hid those things, it wouldn’t be a pure experience for myself or the audience.
“Does that mean that every single lyric and thing that I write from here on out will be factual and autobiographical? No, it won’t. But hopefully it will be meaningful to the human existence.”
She’s implied in previous interviews that her next album will be less lyrically intimate, which could be viewed as a reaction against the autobiographical nature of Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.
“There are still going to be songs about my life and my childhood, but it’s not the concept like MFD was,” she says.
“It would be boring to only focus on myself when there are so many topics in which to write about all over the world today. I’m travelling so much and seeing places in the world that I’ve never been before, that too becomes an extension of who I am and what I’m influenced to write about.”
The honesty of her debut connected with people to such an extent that it was included in a broad spectrum of ‘best of 2016’ lists, from the NME through to The Guardian. It could be anticipated that this critical acclaim would add pressure when writing the follow-up.
“There is no pressure concerning that with writing the next album,” she disagrees. “It’s already written. I’ve been writing songs all year and can’t wait to get them out there.
“I don’t want to sound ungrateful though, because I am thrilled to have an engaged audience and attention from the press after so many years of singing to empty bar stools. However, even if I didn’t have the ‘critical acclaim’ I would still be making music because it’s in my blood and it’s what I love to do.”
Those years of thanklessly playing empty venues provide a back-story that’s inconvenient for those wanting to promote Price as a newcomer. In reality she released three albums with her old band Buffalo Clover, from which she still draws material when playing live (one of the highlights of her last show in Leeds being ‘All American Made’, which satires her home country’s politics).
Her time in the industry has provided her with a number of lessons that have helped her deal with her newfound success.
“Let’s see what I can offer,” she muses before reeling off a list of invaluable life lessons. “Less is more. Don’t f*** with the groove. Never sleep in a motel room that is available by the hour. Don’t drink beers in the van. Don’t over sing, don’t under sing and never take advise from guy named ‘Doc Holiday’!”
Margo Price plays at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on January 25. margoprice.net