Margo in Memphis
Margo Price's first full-length album for Jack White's Third Man Records, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, was probably the most critically acclaimed debut of 2016. Recorded live at Sun Studios where Howlin' Wolf, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis made their landmark recordings, Midwest Farmer's Daughter made Price a household name among Americana fans and quite a few country music fans as well.
We first met Ms. Price during the Americana Music Festival when she came to check out the new Masterbilt Century Collection and perform a terrific version of "It Ain't Drunk Driving If You're Riding A Horse." We spoke with Price from Memphis where she's been doing sessions at Sam Phillips Recording, the studio Sun founder Sam Phillips opened in 1960 that has remained virtually unchanged since it opened. Price is in Memphis to begin work on her second album, which will feature the same stellar band she's been traveling with over the last year.
Thanks for speaking to Epiphone, Margo, and congratulations on a terrific year. Memphis is where things really started for you. Does it feel good to be back?
Oh yeah. We've just started working on the second album. It's been great to be back in Memphis at Sam Phillips Recording. They've been fixing it up and refurbishing it. It's just amazing. Great energy. They've kept a lot of the original wallpaper and original vibe in place. It's wonderful. The first time I came here it was a bit disheveled so it's great to come back and really see it coming together.
When you're writing, do you ever imagine what kind of studio or what kind of environment you might need to perform the song the way that you're imagining it?
I kind of had it in my head that I was going to come back here and work in this space for quite some time. I suppose that does factor in my head a little bit. Of course with my first album, it wasn't an issue at all. It was just kind of finding any space that could work within the budget (laughs). But yeah, I think that definitely does factor into it a little bit. I'm already thinking towards the third record as well. The city in which you go do it--the region of where you do it--kind of does have a little bit of an impact in coming down with a vibe. I also like being able to come here--just getting out of Nashville. And we're not distracted by family or girlfriends or whatever.
How long have you been in Nashville?
In May it will have been 14 years.
When you first came to Nashville, the independent music scene was very private. You could go about your business without much fuss--even if you did have some notoriety out of town. But this has been an extraordinary year for you. Is Nashville still a peaceful place for you when you come home? In other words, are you still able to write with the same sense of peace and quiet that you used to have?
Yeah, I continue to write through it all. That was some advice that Jack gave me: even when I'm on the road is to continue to write all the time. My husband and I are very competitive with one another. We both write a lot and he's always coming up with things--he writes all the time. So I feel like I have to keep up. I try to just exercise that muscle as much as I can. I don't feel stressed--I get happy when I come home to Nashville. But I really do miss the way it used to be. It feels a bit of different. I don't get to catch as many shows as I used to. When I come home I really feel I have to rest and be with my son. So it's a little hard to find a balance. When I do go out, I tend to go to uninhabited places. I try to find the new dives.
You've been using the new Epiphone Masterbilt Century Deluxe on the road. How do you like it?
Yes, we have and everybody in the band really loves that guitar. My guitar player Jamie Davis played it on our NPR Tiny Desk Session. It has such a great tone. It's just amazing. When I pick it up it inspires me to write more then when I'm playing on my J-45. It has a really warm rich sound. I find myself picking on it more than strumming.
Have you had much chance to listen to music on the road this past year and if so, what has been getting through to you?
I think the thing I got into after Midwest Farmer's Daughter was I really got into Doug Sahm. Obviously he had been around for a long time. But I found myself falling in love with him. It was like the happiest and saddest day when I discovered him and found out he had already passed away. So, I really got into him. I read the book about his life (Doug Sahm, Texas Tornado) and immersed myself in all his music. He's definitely been in the forefront of what I've been listening to. I try to check out a lot of new music. Probably 70% of it I don't dig but I'm glad I tried. I like to see what everybody is talking about.
The Americana genre is getting a lot of national recognition finally. Some artists like categories and some don't. Is "Americana" a good fit for you?
Americana is such a funny word. I remember the first time I started hearing it and when I looked it up it means "of America" which is cool. I feel like so many people slap it on anything that doesn't have a genre. That being said, it is nice to have a place where my music is accepted. Where as I often hear about my music: "well that's too country" for country. I had a radio programmer say that to me. But what I think of as "country" is not country now. These days I think people are trying to be more rooted. I think there has been a wave of less pop and more substance. That word "Americana" is a tricky word. But I don't mind because the other alternative is less descriptive of what I do. Definitely that last record I would just call it a country record but other people don't know what to think about it (laughs).
You're getting ready to make a new album. Is the instrumentation that you've been using--bass, drums, piano, and guitar--still the best kind of sound for these new songs?
I'm using the same players. I had really great advice from (guitarist) Kenny Vaughan. He said: you'll have a lot of people giving you advice on what to do with this next record. But my two cents is you should use your band--they're a great band. I had already planned on doing that but it was great to hear him reaffirm what my gut was telling me. Having said that, I think we'll probably paint different brush strokes with the same instruments. My piano player, Micah Hulscher, has been playing some synths during our concerts. That was something during our live shows that I probably wouldn't have expected. But there was some cool Waylon stuff that has synth on it and it makes the sound kind of funky. It's not going to be all synth--there will be organ and Wurlitzer and upright piano and stuff like that, too. But I so love the pedal steel and Dobro. We'll probably bring in a few different elements of instruments. I really like it when people come out to a live show that they're gong to hear what's on the album. They're not going to be let down because it's different players.
And you've got a great band.
I do. I trust them all so much and really respect them. There is a mutual admiration.