She’s the type of girl who can change your oil without messing up her hair, and if she did, she wouldn’t give two shits. As Margo Price, lead singer of Buffalo Clover, puts it, “You can’t care what people think, if you look cool or not on stage, because rock ‘n’ roll can get really sweaty and ugly when it’s good.” When you go to a Buffalo Clover show, all eyes fall on Price. Between her old school microphone and Dusty Springfield dress, it’s hard to look anywhere but at her. And then there’s that voice. A born performer, the girl can’t help it.
Though the sleepy Illinois farm town she grew up in was devoid of art and culture, Price’s upbringing was rich in the arts, music especially; she took lessons in dance and piano, and joined the school choir. When she was eight, singing in the kitchen, the quality of her voice left her mother and grandmother astonished. From then on, you could find her singing Bob Dylan and Tom Petty songs out in the cornfields, though she had no idea what “Last Dance with Mary Jane” meant.
Price’s heart soon led her to Music City, and to Jeremy Ivey, whose similar lust for creative expression found the two both starting a band and sharing marriage vows. Today, that band, Buffalo Clover, stands out among Nashville’s brimming music scene, largely by virtue of its stylistic fluidity. Buffalo Clover began with Price and her acoustic guitar rocking in the Americana vein of Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris. Then the band dipped into a pool of rock ‘n’ roll with soul and the blues creeping in.
But because Buffalo Clover changes styles so often, it’s difficult for people to keep tabs. “We just have a wide range of influences,” Price said, “and I think that that has maybe been to both our benefit and demise.”
Their most recent album, Test Your Love (due out nationally August 12, along with a live album, Live at the Five) draws from a wide range of inspiration. It boasts a perspicacious, bittersweet sense of home (à la Johnny Cash) with Price singing like a reincarnated Janis Joplin, while also evoking the Muscle Shoals sound. “I love stuff like Tina Turner covering Bob Dylan,” Price said. One look at the album artwork and it’s clear: Price is a boss, smoking a cigarette in a no-smoking laundromat (although you’d have to get the U.K. release to see that cover). “My mother convinced me to not promote smoking [for the U.S. release],” she said.
While Buffalo Clover began with four people, it has, at its peak these last two years, welcomed anywhere up to 14 people on stage, including a horn section and backup singers.
The resulting sound is loud and rambunctious—and everyone digs it, including Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard (who sings backup on Test Your Love) and Rolling Stones sax man Bobby Keys (the guy who once lit Hugh Hefner’s bathroom on fire). But the heat that trails behind Buffalo Clover is completely due to the musicians themselves, a group of people who live by the lyrics they write and play their instruments exceptionally well—sometimes multiple parts.
“I love playing drums,” said Price. “Every now and then I’ll jump back and play a song during the set or grab a guitar and play.” It’s strange, she points out, because “I feel like, a lot of times, people come to a show and don’t know I play piano or guitar.” Price, who writes most of Buffalo Clover’s songs with Ivey, has become skilled on multiple instruments. She’s even well-versed in multiple genres; the gears are in motion for a country record she has planned with a separate band of hers, Margo and the Pricetags. For Price, the country endeavor is a walk down to those familiar cornfields she grew up in, listening to Waylon Jennings and Loretta Lynn—except now she can write a song or two.
Mark your calendars, New York. Come October, Margo Price will take CMJ Music Marathon by storm. Until then, check out “Truthfulness” below.
– Melissa Caruso