Margo Price, Nathaniel Rateliff Discuss Navigating the Line Between Struggle and Success
Margo Price's take on the notion of what success looks like in country music is an unflinching yet irreverent narrative. "I should probably get some sort of 'Nashville veteran card,'" she offers. "I've been here since I was 19, and back then, they told me it was a 'five-year-town.' Then someone told me it was a 'seven-year town.' Now you're telling me it takes ten years to succeed here? I don't know."
Margo Price has lived and worked in Music City for literally half of her 38-year-old life. The iconoclastic and roots-driven singer-songwriter is nominated for CMT Performance of the Year -- alongside a fellow outside-the-box, rootsy individualist, Nathaniel Rateliff -- for a performance of Price's 2020 single "Twinkle Twinkle," from a recent appearance on CMT's iconic Crossroads program. As more a symbol of the journey from being a wild "outsider" to being a mature performer and part of the respected corps of top Nashville artists, the irony of the honor isn't lost on Price.
"Maybe when I first got here, I was invited to a CMT Next Women of Country event, and I think...I don't even know if I can say this...but I did a kegstand on a wine dispenser there, and I thought, after I did that, that I'd never be invited back to do anything [with the network]."
In the past five years, Margo Price's acclaim has exponentially grown. 2016 saw her finally release her debut album Midwest Farmers Daughter. Two years later, she was nominated for Grammy's Best New Artist trophy. By pandemic-stricken 2020, she was a critically-acclaimed and multiple-time Americana Music Honors & Awards winner. As the world paused last year, it served as a perfect time to really take the full scope of Price's jaw-droppingly difficult journey into account.
Famously, Margo Price's husband, guitarist Jeremy Ivey, sold their car and recording equipment, plus pawned her wedding ring to finance her debut album. Oddly, the power of such a profound sacrifice has resurrected itself in Price's life, but her recent acclaim has allowed her to both materially and psychologically overcome the profound setback.
"Jeremy got my wedding ring back from the pawn shop. However, sometimes I'll be driving, and I'll see the car that we sold, on the streets of Nashville. It always happens at the most interesting times. I was driving on my way to the airport to record my appearance on Saturday Night Live, and there it was. I thought, 'wow, I could buy another one of those cars if I wanted.' However, when it came time to buy another car, I didn't. I bought a much bigger truck!"
As for Nathaniel Rateliff, the 42-year old performer is bittersweetly as well known for his struggles with grief as his exemplary song-crafting. The vocalist best known for being the lead singer of his R & B-driven band the Night Sweats tragically lost his father at 13, was a plastic factory employee at 18, has been open about past struggles with addiction, and in 2018, weathered both the death of his frequent creative collaborator Richard Swift, as well as a divorce.
In the midst of this, he's crafted a career that's best defined as being the most visible of journeyman blues troubadours. He's crafted a lane in what Billboard calls the "Adult Alternative" genre. For lack of a better term, in Rateliff's case, on tracks like 2015's "S.O.B." and 2020's "And It's Still Alright," music in that space sounds like cool soul on warm vinyl that uniquely winds its way into a listener's heart and soul.
Rateliff's especially humble about his unexpected breakout 2015 success. "People's interpretations are entirely up to them. It's hilarious to me that'S.O.B.' became as huge as it did because it's just me talking honestly, and making fun of myself having issues with alcohol withdrawal. But apparently, a lot of people needed to hear my take on that." Continuing, he adds a note regarding the seeming effortlessness related to how he plumbs into the depths of his soul for his creative output. "The emotional stuff surfaces whether you want it to, or not. I mean, I've written songs about having delirium tremors because of alcohol addiction, divorce, and losing my best friend, producer, and collaborator. So, it's like you're sitting there when the song is done and you say, 'oh s**t, I can't believe I wrote about that.'"
Overall, regarding "Twinkle Twinkle"'s CMT Awards nomination, Margo Price -- in a manner that feels entirely similar to Nathaniel Rateliff -- offers a note of pleasant fascination about the occurrence that has a note of gravitas about reaching the end of one of many professional journeys attached:
"This is the first time that I've been nominated for an award in the mainstream Nashville country music industry. I thought my name was on some 'Do Not Nominate' list, because 'you never know what Margo's gonna say at the party.' To be nominated though reflects that maybe Nashville is ready to be musically inclusive across the board. I know so many people who sound like, create songs, and speak like Nathaniel and I do, and I'm glad to see that we're gaining this recognition."