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‘I want the freedom to be myself’: Margo Price on breaking down country music’s mould

Holly Gordon

Margo Price is often referred to as country music’s outlaw; a woman who makes raw, honest music that isn’t aiming for a slot in the country hit machine, but whose self-funded and critically acclaimed debut album made her a known entity in Nashville, where the Aledo, Illinois-born singer now lives.

Living on the edge of mainstream with her politically outspoken music isn’t what Price set out to do from the beginning, though.

“I always wanted to have a message in my music and I've sung about many different things, but the more I spent time in the music business the more I felt like I was treated unfairly and objectified and talked down to,” she says, on the phone from California, a stop on her months-long tour. “Those things kind of made me angry and so then I began writing about it. My song ‘This Town Gets Around’ [from 2016], that was a #metoo movement before #metoo was #metoo [laughs].”

Price’s first album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, debuted on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart at No. 10 — the only solo female country singer to have ever debuted in the top 10 without any previous charting history. And while Price has released a second critically acclaimed album since that debut, it was a road of personal devastation and industry rejection to get to 2018.

After quitting university, Price hustled for years, making little money. In 2010, she lost one of her twin sons just two weeks after he was born, and has detailed her depression and drinking afterward, and how she ended up in jail for three days. Price and husband Jeremy Ivey later self-funded the recording of her debut album — pawning Price’s wedding ring and selling their car — but when it was done, labels sent rejection letter after rejection letter, either not wanting the music or wanting to change it. Jack White eventually heard of her, though, and when Price sent her album to Third Man Records, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter had found its home.

With songs like “Pay Gap” ("Pay gap, pay gap/ ripping my dollars in half") and “All American Made” ("The part of me that hurts the worst is the one I just can't spot/ and it's all American made"), Price has more critically zeroed-in on 2017’s All American Made. While it’s never seemed like Price has hesitated to be outspoken, it sounds like she’s found her space — no matter what the industry thinks.

“When I decided I was gonna put ‘Pay Gap’ on my album, I kind of knew it wouldn't be a radio hit but really nothing I do is and I'm just trying to make good music — I'm not concerned with the mainstream perception of it. I think down the road it will be looked at as one of those moments because it's insane that in 2018 people still think the pay gap is a myth. It's pretty mind-blowing.”

We talked to Price about the cost of being a feminist online, what she wants to see in the future of the music industry and how Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard helped her through a tough day.

On disrupting the music industry’s perceptions

“[I’m] trying to break down the mould that has been set aside for women and, you know, the thought that women can only sing about love and that women should be opening for men and there's a lot of standards I think that, you know, women feel like they have to live up to as far as beauty standards go; how you should dress and how you should act. And I want the freedom to be myself. Just kind of do my own thing without having to abide by any rules.”

“I just found that after years of not fitting in that the not fitting in was actually working in my favour. So it's just trying to be honest with myself and I think that a lot of people relate to that — not just women but everybody because when you see something that really comes from the heart these days I think it stands out, you know? Because there's so much of a smoke show ... I just kind of started writing for myself and as a form of therapy and getting all my feelings out and my songs and not holding anything back, and it seemed to be working so I'm sticking with it [laughs].”

On dealing with online bullying

“I've been internet bullied on a pretty high level after playing SNL. They had me do an Instagram takeover for them and the amount of comments I got from just the general public, just people saying you are so ugly, fix your nose ... or I don't understand why you're on TV because you're not pretty. You know those things, they hurt, you know? I've been through worse and don't let it get to me.”

“When the Women's March happened I put up a photo of a girl who had made a protest sign and it had the lyrics to ‘Pay Gap’ on it and I posted it on my Instagram. And I had 500 comments from men and women, people saying I was a bigot and man-hater and that I was lying, that there was no such thing as a pay gap because ‘Oh I make more than my husband’ … but even if people are talking about it that just makes me happy, and I've got thick skin so they can hurl all the names they want. I'm not offended. I mean, I play with a bunch of guys, I'm married [to guitarist Jeremy Ivey], I have a son. I love men. I love men that respect women and that's the kind of men that I surround myself with. I love them all very much for standing up there and playing that song with me.”

“I think it's just a very slow long burn trying to get equal rights. And we go back to the '60s and the '70s and you know, we're thinking that we're making progress and it's just very tedious work but you know maybe after I'm dead in a hundred years they say the pay gap might be closed. I'm not holding my breath [laughs].”

On what she wants for the future of the music industry

“I'd like to see more women on festival lineups. I mean, a lot of times you look at the festival lineup and you only have like three women playing. I'd like to see more camaraderie between women. Where it's not a contest but we really support each other because we're not going to get anywhere if we're not supporting each other.”

“With festivals and stuff, not only just having more women on them but letting women headline. It's so rare that you see a woman's name at the top of the bill. And I think that I think there's room for that [laughs].”

“I want to be a role model to girls that, you know, you don't have to sell sex to be cool. You don't have to get a bunch of plastic surgery. I'm 34 and I've never had any work done and I hope that less women feel that pressure because I know for years in my career I just thought, 'Oh, if I just had a nose job, you know, if I just had bigger boobs' or whatever. But I really started to, in my 30s here, I've started to really love who I am and accept myself with my flaws. I think that we're just advertised to all the time, that we have to be perfect and have to be beautiful and men just get a lot more relaxed rules, you know? But I hope that that will change too and people will start to come back down to Earth.”

On needing a 'bad bitch' reminder

"A friend of mine, Brittany Howard who sings in the Alabama Shakes, she's such an inspiration because she just plays her ass off, she's a great singer. And she's just contagious to be around. And I remember I was having kind of a bad day and got talking to her and she said, 'You know what I do? I set an alarm on my phone every day, at like 4 o'clock or something, and it just says Brittany, you're a bad bitch.' [laughs] You know it's just that little extra bit from yourself just to remind yourself [of] that if you're having a bad day and somebody's talking down to you and making you me feel like you're not worth it. That self-affirmation, it goes a long way.

"Set your reminder; it's worth it."

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