Margo Price will do just what she wants, thanks
Awards can be hazardous to the humility of the musicians who win them, especially when the category in question has the indisputably badass name of Honky Tonk Female. So when Margo Price won exactly that at the 2016 Ameripolitan Music Awards, it might have seemed that she’d earned the right to strut at least a little. But two years on, the singer hasn’t let that victory (or title) go to her head too much, and for a very simple reason.
“I still haven’t gotten my trophy,” says Price with a chuckle. “I couldn’t make it out to the awards show because I was in New York filming ‘CBS This Morning.’ I sent in a video thanking them that they ended up playing there, where I think I might have had a Johnny Paycheck record over my face and I believe I was smoking a joint during the acceptance speech.”
It’s good that Price — who plays the Paradise on Wednesday — still has practice remaining humble, both because a down-to-earth relatability is the lifeblood of an indie country artist and because she’s having a career that could easily go to a singer’s head. Price’s solo debut, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” racked up best-of-2016 plaudits from the likes of Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and NPR, and if anything, her recent “All American Made” is stronger.
She still makes like an updated Loretta Lynn in throwback songs that address social and especially feminist concerns (see “Wild Women” and “Pay Gap”), and Willie Nelson makes an appearance on “Learning To Lose.” (“Man, I still don’t know how I pulled that off,” she says.) But there’s a wider palette at work, one that spans Little Feat-style country funk (“Cocaine Cowboys”), girl-group soul (“A Little Pain”), and cosmic psychedelia (“Nowhere Fast”).
“We really wanted to push the boundaries a little bit with this record. We didn’t want to make a traditional country record again,” Price says. “When we were running ‘Nowhere Fast,’ I accidentally mixed up those chords at the end, and it was one of those really happy accidents. We were like, ‘Oh, we should do that.’ We really wanted to space it out and threw a Mellotron on there, just to make it breathe a little bit more. Like you’re going through the desert and maybe took a little bit of mescaline.”
Despite the new album’s grander sonic ambitions (and an unexpected infusion of $25,000, courtesy of her winning the 2017 American Music Prize for best debut album), Price still likes to oversee a lean operation that can run fast and loose. Recalling her first appearances on national TV, she talks as though a dedicated tour manager, sound technician, and merch-booth salesperson still feel like luxuries.
“I think back to ‘Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’ and going out and doing all those television appearances for the first time, and people would just be mind-blown,” she says. “We walked into ‘SNL,’ and we had one guy with us that was our crew. He did sound, he drove, he did e-mails, he did merch. He was wearing like six hats. I mean, I’d be carrying in my own suitcase and my own guitar, and I think that shocked people.”
Price brings a similar approach to the recording studio, according to Grammy-winning engineer and producer Matt Ross-Spang (Jason Isbell, Lori McKenna), who worked on both of her albums. “I like to work really fast, and so do Margo and [husband/guitarist] Jeremy [Ivey],” he says, figuring that “All American Made” took eight or nine days to record, while they banged out “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” in just three.
“We just caught lightning in a bottle a lot in three days,” says Ross-Spang. “‘This Town Gets Around’ off the first record is the first take. We did it once, and it was all live. The mix you hear is pretty much how I did it live. We all thought that was a great take and it was done, and Luke [Schneider] thought he could do the pedal steel solo better. So we did it a second time, and it was like everybody knew the song too well and it didn’t translate, so we went with the first take.”
It’s just one way in which Price seems to be out of step with country music, or at least the meticulous and heavily produced mainstream wing of it. And if there’s one area in which her humility falters, it’s in her shrugged indifference to how she fits, or doesn’t, in the genre in which she’s made her name.
“The crazy thing is that we’re too country for country,” she says. “Maybe it’s the topical songs. Maybe it’s the fact there’s no Auto-Tuning and there’s no drum machines and, I don’t know, our live show doesn’t have a bunch of smoke and mirrors.”
With another chuckle, Price adds, “I’m just gonna do my thing and not really pay any attention to it.”
At the Paradise, April 25, 8 p.m. Tickets $20, www.ticketmaster.com