Margo Price is in her element in KCRW’s Annenberg Performance Studio.
Photo by Dustin Downing.

Margo Price: KCRW Live from HQ

Nashville country singer-songwriter Margo Price has long been drawn to strays — for a while, she was one. At 19, Price dropped out of college to pursue music in Nashville, busking on street corners, stepping up to open mics, and even dumping her TV so nothing would distract her from songwriting. After meeting her future husband and collaborator Jeremy Ivey, the pair spent more than a decade pursuing music together, left with no label and no band, and plenty of heartache, loss, destitution, drinking, and the road-worn scars of aspiring artists.

Undeterred, Price channeled those would-be breaking points into the songs that would make up her 2016 breakthrough debut album, Midwest Farmer's Daughter. The collection of vivid, poignant country classics earned near-universal acclaim (and a No. 1 in the UK). Three albums later, Price has a Grammy nod for Best New Artist under her belt.


Margo Price suffers no fools behind the scenes at KCRW HQ. Photos by Dustin Downing.

In October 2022, Price published her story of life on the margins in her memoir “Maybe We’ll Make It,” which garnered praise from the likes of Willie Nelson, Lucinda William, Kirkus, and Rolling Stone. Not one to slow down, in January she released her fourth album Strays, a rock ‘n’ roll mission statement produced by Jonathan Wilson and featuring contributions from Sharon Van Etten, Lucius, and Mike Campbell. 

Ahead of hitting the road for her “Til the Wheels Fall Off” North American tour, Price stopped by KCRW for a live performance and interview. Humor, insight, and killer one-liners abound in both her songs and her conversation with KCRW Program Director of Music Anne Litt. 

Price and her three-piece band light up the Annenberg Performance Studio with an intimate set of Strays highlights, including “Radio,” “Lydia,” and “Hell In The Heartland.” The artist also opens up about writing her way through a pregnancy, drawing inspiration from rock venue-adjacent methadone clinics, and that time she and Ivey fabricated a booking agency. 

More: The Church brings influential space-rock live to KCRW HQ

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

KCRW: When you hear the word vulnerability, what does that bring up for you? 

Margo Price: That's a skill I have acquired as I have aged, and I really do see it as a strength. It's taken me a long time to get there. Midwest Farmer's Daughter was the first time I was ever vulnerable. I was calling it self-deprecating during that press cycle, but it really was vulnerability. I just didn't know it.

It’s arguably a very female thing, to refer to vulnerability as self-deprecation.

Yeah, always trying to make it a little more light-hearted and funny. But I think Brené Brown is teaching people what feelings are right now: happy, sad, mad… there's more!


Photos by Dustin Downing.

What does the title of your new album, Strays, mean to you?

I like that it's a little bit ambiguous, and that people can find their own meaning in it. It can mean somebody who wanders, or somebody who has strayed from the herd… that lone rogue black sheep out there. 

Going back to [Midwest Farmer’s Daughter] that I put out with Third Man Records, there’s a line in my song, “Since You Put Me Down,” that says: “I'm an outcast, I'm a stray, and I plan to stay that way.” And when Jeremy [Ivey, Price’s husband and bandmate] and I started writing the songs for this album, we just kept finding lots of themes of wolves and dogs. We toyed around with a lot of different names. 

It was Desert Dogs for a while, and [lead track] “Been To The Mountain” was such a big part of the record, but I didn’t want to title an album after a song again. And all of my album titles have been so long [Laughs]. This one just felt like it was a change in direction, and I very much feel like a stray, I think.


Photos by Dustin Downing.

You wrote most of this album during the height of the pandemic, and you were writing your memoir, “Maybe We’ll Make It,” at the same time. Tell us more about your writing process.

I started writing the book in 2018, when I found myself knocked up. I’d just come off the road, and I needed something to keep myself busy. I started writing, but I didn't really know if I had any plans to release it. But I did Tweet something about it, and long story short, somebody wanted to read the manuscript. I had, like, 500 pages, so we got to work. 

It was a really eye opening experience because I was writing very unabashedly about all the ups and downs. I was able to give myself a lot of forgiveness throughout it. I got rid of a lot of the shame that I was harboring. So now if somebody wants to blackmail me… too late, I already wrote it in the book [Laughs]. 

It's not like I wanted to write a tell-all or anything, but I really wanted people to know what Jeremy and I went through during that decade of struggling in the music business, struggling in Nashville, not fitting in. Also what we went through after we lost a child — it wasn't like we just stayed together, and everything was just fine. It was a really difficult and long journey. And I'm still in it. I'm still in the middle of it.


Photos by Dustin Downing.

One of the best stories in the book is the one about your “manager” during the early period of trying to get your music out there. Can you give us the condensed version?

When we were starting out, we were having a hard time booking gigs. We really didn’t want to be on the internet, so we’d take our CDs around, and try to get gigs that way. It was really tough. We did have an EPK [electronic press kit], which I would send through emails, signed Margo, but I got no response. And then Jeremy and I thought up the idea of fabricating a manager. So we made up an email, made up a booking agency, and just fabricated this man — John Serota — out of thin air.

A major touchstone of Strays is the song “Lydia,” about a woman struggling to break through her lot in life. It feels very much along the lines of a Townes Van Zandt song. Is that what you were going for, and how did it come about?

I wrote that song several years ago. And I remember that I happened to have my phone recording because I felt something bubbling up in there. And then I just sat down, and all the words came out. It was a strange moment because that doesn't usually happen for me. Usually, I'm wrestling with the words and everything. 

But I'd been in Vancouver recently and there was a methadone clinic with a needle exchange out behind the venue. The owners were like, “Hey, be really careful, don't walk barefoot because there's needles on the ground.” I think there were a lot of people around who were struggling with addiction. I had a really eerie feeling. 

When I sent it to Jeremy, he told me that it reminded him of Townes Van Zandt’s “Marie,” and I just thought that was the best compliment ever. I have listened to enough Townes that it’s seeped into my subconscious.

More: Explore KCRW Live From sessions


Photos by Dustin Downing.


Photos by Dustin Downing.


Photos by Dustin Downing.


Photos by Dustin Downing.

Credits:

KCRW Music Director / Interviewer: Anne Litt
Recording / Mix Engineer: John Meek
Assistant Recording Engineer: Henry D’Ambrosio
Video Director / Editor: Angie Scarpa
Camera Operators : Dalton Blanco, Matt Smith, Angie Scarpa, Leslie Bumgarner, Nacia Schreiner, Jessica Amodeo
Event Producer: Liv Surnow
Assistant Producer: Anna Chang
Art Director: Evan Solano
Lighting Design: Jason Groman
Digital Producer: Andrea Domanick

More from KCRW

Coachella 2024 is upon us!

from Music News

KCRW's signature music program features new releases, live performances, and artist interviews hosted by Novena Carmel.

from Morning Becomes Eclectic

The Past Is Still Alive, is the next phase in Hurray for the Riff Raff ’s progression as a raconteur.

from Today's Top Tune

Music to make you feel.

from Francesca Harding

New music. Emerging artists. No boundaries. Served fresh every weeknight, 8-10pm, only on FREAKS ONLY by Travis Holcombe.

from FREAKS ONLY

Young Fathers hit MBE in between Coachella weekends to share cuts from 2023’s “Heavy Heavy” including “Rice” and “Geronimo”.

from Morning Becomes Eclectic