Margo Price: midwest farmer’s daughter’s rocky road to success

The US country singer’s story reads like a tragic country song, but a deal with Jack White’s Third Man Records and an acclaimed debut album has opened up a new chapter

There are as many variations of the same subject as there are people, and what makes the best story is how they're told. Margo Price knows this only too well. The 33-year-old singer and songwriter – born in Buffalo Prairie, Illinois, but now resident in Nashville, Tennessee – released her 2016 debut album, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, to the kind of acclaim usually reserved for veterans of the Americana genre back on track after a fallow period.

The record conveys, often in sparse, no-holds-barred detail, a sequence of painful and unjust events in her life. They amount to distressing cliches usually to be found in, well, country music songs. More than 10 years ago, Price left home and her father (who lost the family farm when she was a toddler) with less than $60 in her jeans pocket. With rudimentary musician skills, a head full of dreams and a soul full of prayers, she moved to Nashville. Cue the violins: she played the bars, she hit the booze, she hooked up with the bad guys, dallied with the married guys, became pregnant, had a miscarriage, and spent time in jail. She had a notion to make enough money to buy back the family farm, so she pawned her wedding ring and car to pay for recording sessions.


Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

– the title a reference to one of her C&W heroines,


Loretta Lynn

– is a bruised listening experience that uses tradition instinctively without being tied to it. On her way to Memphis for a recording session, and feeling “a little under the weather, but I’m doing all right”, Price is philosophical as to why it took so long for her music to be unearthed.

“In America, there are a lot of unknown musicians trying to get their music heard. It’s a hard business to break into. I was certainly under the radar for quite a while, but even at this point it would be true to say I’m not a household name. I know I’ve definitely put the work in, so I’m happy that I’m making a dent out there. I went for a long time being unsuccessful, as it’s called, so I know how careers can end, how dreams can finish, but I’ve always tried to enjoy what I do, to work as hard as I can, and to let it not matter to me if I’m broke all of the time. It’s been like that for most of my life, pretty much.”

One listen

Rescue, of sorts, came via Jack White’s

Third Man Records

; White apparently took one listen to

Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

and offered the songwriter a record deal. With the album having been rejected by more than 30 labels (see panel), Price admits that her self-belief was slowly unravelling. What prevented this, however, was a conviction that truth mattered more than commerce.

“I tend to do and play what I want,” she says after a sneeze and a few sniffles. “It’s possible that if I had signed to a larger label they would have tried to steer my artistic direction, but I’m very happy to be myself. So far it seems to be working out, because I really think that being yourself works the best. The entire music scene would be in a much healthier position if you allowed people with raw talent to do what they wanted, rather than mould them into the same character over and over.

“I’ve kept fighting all this time. If you’re passionate about something, then you have to keep working at it until you get it right or until you die. It helps if you are okay with people telling you ‘no’ a million times, but are also able to hold on until one person says ‘yes’.”


One thing she has tried to do over the years is to keep her expectations low. “Many times your prayers will not be answered, so there’s a lesson to be learned in there, as cliched as it sounds. Life never goes as planned, but there’s a notion that the rejections I’ve experienced have and will lead up to something greater.”

Price’s songs are as true and as full of life, good and bad, as the face staring back at you in the mirror. So what has she learned mostly about herself in the past 15 years? She gives a solid, wry laugh.

“Oh, that I’m wiry and that I put up a good fight! I’m a lot tougher than who I once was, that’s for sure. I’m really emotional, sensitive, but I always got through the hard times – it makes the skin thicker for what might come next.”

Margo Price plays the Button Factory, Dublin, January 22. Midwest Farmer's Daughter is on release through Third Man Records.

Rejection blues: ‘We already have a girl on the label’

“I wrote to record labels all over the US, not just to Nashville; labels from New York to California, and all points in between. Many of them weren’t sure about the album, but I’ve kept the rejection responses – pretty much all of them are via email – and I’m thinking of getting them framed. Sometimes, the letters mean more than the awards.

“Of the replies that I got, I think the nicest was along the lines of, ‘we really like this, but we don’t know if it fits what we do.’ One really sexist reply was, ‘we really like you, but we already have a girl on the label.’ Another was ‘we really like you, but we want you to take off the fiddle and change the bass lines’. One of the meanest, however, was, ‘yes, we’re aware of who Margo is and we’re just not hearing it.’ I’m not sure they even listened to the album.”