Most regular visitors to Your Life In A Song will be familiar with Margo Price, who many will have seen at 2018’s C2C, but perhaps not as many know much about her songwriting partner and husband Jeremy Ivey. His two acclaimed solo albums amply demonstrate Ivey has a lot to offer in his own right. A very tough childhood both physically and emotionally then a life on the road, often homeless, all lie behind writing that can both dazzle with imagery and pack a punch.
Ahead of his third album, Invisible Pictures, due for release on March 11, Ivey spoke from his home in Nashville to Lyndon Bolton about the new record, writing solo, working with Margo and a whole lot else.
First off, how are you? Has that nasty bout of Covid lingered in any way?
I’m fine, and have no long-term effects that I can detect. It’s been going on two years now since I had it. I got better late May-early June 2020. The only thing I can tell is that I can’t handle caffeine the way I did before! I’m not supposed to have it anyway so I switched to tea (large mug appears on screen).
You describe your new album as, “the real me”. Why is this one the real Jeremy Ivey, does that mean your previous two records are less you?
There’s a couple of reasons behind that. One is that on the new record I really let the songwriting flow, not that it was ever contrived before but I was focusing then more on making a statement. Now I’m more organic. Two, I’d kind of limited myself musically for a long time. I liked to make things simple, three chords straight to the point but this time I’ve opened the door by taking in my other influences like classical. They may be less popular these days but they do come from what I listened to as a kid, which was limited. Those chord movements are ingrained in me so I was able to apply them to the folk song world. I discovered this guy named Elliott Smith who is very chord-y, a Beatles-esque thing. For this new album I went right back to those expansive old ways of writing lyrics and arrangements. That’s the “real me” and the new album lets it all out.
Is there a catharsis about this process?
Yes, kind of. A songwriter friend of mine and I send each other what we’ve written. He confirmed my new songs are so natural sounding, “this is the best stuff you’ve ever written.” So it was cathartic having someone else, and my wife, say so!
From the press material around your new album two quotes stand out. “I’m better on my own” and “I was born in the wrong place at the wrong time”. Your new video Orphan Child gives a clue but how else do these statements appear on the new album?
Maybe these quotes are overdramatic but I was adopted. I didn’t meet my birthmother until I was in my late twenties. My birthfather died in a motorcycle accident in the 1990s. I was born addicted to drugs as my mother wasn’t in a good place. She was coming out of crack the day I was born. Because of all that turmoil I had cerebral palsy. I guess that feeling of loss was just ingrained in me. It was also a metaphor, not just a literal thing but existential. But then a lot of people question their identity. Look at you. Why are you a white male, who happens to be living in the UK? Our identity is so arbitrary. We could have been anything, anywhere. That’s what keeps me loving all kinds of people. It’s easy to have been me. I guess that’s where I’m coming from.
One of the influences that comes out on the new album is the flamenco guitarist, Paco de Lucia. How did you come across him?
I’m not sure exactly. I’ve got a nylon stringed guitar that I play around with a lot. I’ve known of flamenco but never listened to it much. Then I went down a rabbit hole, did a Google search and bought a few records. I needed something to do so, “go get a few flamenco records!” Luckily we’ve got Grimey’s (Records) just down the road so I went and got some. I didn’t set out to teach myself flamenco or take lessons but as I had the music on while I was doing things like cooking dinner, it just seeped in. I heard it and imitated.
Another striking aspect of your work is your videos. Though not exactly new now I loved ‘Someone Else’s Problem’, it’s so simple and stark.
Thanks. My good friend Kimberly Stuckwisch directed that. She’s done such a range of work, from Bob Dylan to a toothpaste commercial and is so good at short film vignettes that are little movies. We talked about various ideas then hit on the guy in the video walking through those situations turning him crazy. I wasn’t even at the shoot in LA but I filmed some footage here at my house in Tennessee that got mixed in.
Your video for Orphan Child from the new record is so colourful. It’s 1960s Beatles psychedelia. How did you think all that up?
Again, that all came out of necessity. We had a group of people all ready to make the video them Omicron came along so everyone had to bow out. We had all sorts of ideas like women in white robes carrying red balloons! The Director and I said, “are we going to cancel?” No! So I found a bunch of colourful stuff. I bought the suits and slung paint all over them! I did the rope on fire bit. It was so much fun. You’re right, there are references to Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. It’s all a very bright 60s sort of thing.
When you’re writing is there any difference to what you write solo and how you write with Margo? Or are they intertwined?
Both maybe? My writing is inspired by looking inward. You look through the window of your perception. With her it’s a little more straightforward. We’ll have a vibe she’s talking about for making a record. I’ll soak up all my reference albums to create a filter, for example Tom Petty or Fleetwood Mac, whatever album we’re talking about. The last album the reference was late Petty, Patti Smith and of course, Fleetwood Mac. We put it all in the blender, with some Joni Mitchell. As for my stuff, it depends on what I’m listening to at the time. I know a lot of people won’t listen to music while they’re writing, they don’t want anything to affect them. But even if you do that it’s kind of BS to me because music is in your head, in your blood, in your memory. If you love music you think about it all the time. I keep listening but I make sure not to rip anything off (you don’t need to worry about that!). What did Johnny Cash say? “Amateurs borrow, professionals steal.”
What are you listening to at the moment?
These days I’ve been getting back to The Handsome Family. It’s kind of 90s Americana before the term was the thing. Great lyrics. I’m always listening to the old stuff. I’ve got back into the Delta blues, really into Charley Patton and, mostly, Skip James to get into the guitar play. He’s got such a cool style, almost flamenco the way he rolls his right hand.
Do you find it demanding to work with such an acclaimed star as Margo Price and build a niche for yourself at the same time?
Sure, some of her fans don’t know what to make of me! Some probably don’t like me but that’s ok with me. And you can absolutely like Margo and not like me. We’re individuals and we like each other! That works for us. My style, the way my voice sounds, whatever, isn’t for everybody and that’s fine with me too. I’d rather be an indie artist than anything big. I kind of like it that she takes the brunt of the fame. I don’t really want it, I just want to make records.
Each of your three albums is quite different. The first, The Dream and The Dreamer is quite country, you had a lot to say on Waiting Out The Storm which sounded more rocking indie and the first couple of songs off Invisible Pictures have a more reflective feel. Do you feel restricted by genre?
Not really. Although I do see a thread running through all three albums, I can’t quite put my finger on it as far as genre goes. For the second album I did something I’d never done, I wrote all the lyrics first then put music to it. That’s why it’s so lyric heavy but it is pretty straight to the point. This new one I started with the melody then put the lyrics on top. That might inform the genre in a way. The record has a lot of British influences; Kinks, Beatles as well as a touch of a 90s Elliott Smith vibe. I think this is where I’m going to be for a while.
Have you got any touring plans?
Yes, I’m going out on the road soon with the legendary Mike Campbell then I’ve got a few festivals over the summer. I’m sure I’ll be travelling with Margo as well!
And over here?
I’d really like to. We’ve talked about it for a while. It would be too expensive to bring a full band but maybe some kind of solo acoustic show? I hope so, as it’s been a while since I was in the UK.
And lastly, what would the Jeremy Ivey of, say, ten years ago before he really got going think of Jeremy Ivey today with his three fine solo albums and work with Margo Price?
He’d probably be surprised! But he’d be happy he got out of his shell a little bit. 10,15 years ago I was definitely scared to do a lot of stuff. People who know my story know that if it wasn’t for Margo I wouldn’t be here. I might be doing this as a hobby but I’d be unknown. When I met her I’d been making records in my basement but no-one ever heard my songs. So, yeah, I’d be pretty impressed! Good job! Not a scared little child anymore.
Again, thanks Jeremy for your time. It’s been a pleasure talking to you and we hope to see you over here sometime, how ever you decide to do it.
Thanks, maybe I’ll open for Margo! We’ll figure it out.