Interview: Jeremy Ivey on “Invisible Pictures” and looking for the key to the lock

Credit: Danielle Holbert

Mr Margo Price on how they maintain artist harmony and why he needs to make his own music.

Margo Price is that rare Nashville artist who has the potential to break through to a large commercial audience, while still retaining her artistic integrity and reputation. Without taking anything away from her achievements, part of her success is due to the musical and personal support provided by her husband Jeremy Ivey, who is a member of her band and has co-written many of her songs.  Jeremy Ivey is also a solo artist who is releasing his third solo record ‘Invisible Pictures’, and Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with him at home just outside Nashville over Zoom to talk about the new record, and to discuss how he manages his own musical career while still managing to support his wife’s successful career. He also shares the fact that he has an uncontrollable songwriting urge and just can’t stop writing songs, something he likens to searching for the key to the lock. This surfeit of songs meant he needed a solo career to help get them out to a potential audience. While he is classed as an americana artist he explains that his influences range from Hank Williams and Elliott Smith to classical music, and all points in-between. This eclecticism helps explain the rich range of sounds on ‘Invisible Pictures’ and Ivey confirms that it was producer Andrija Tokic who added the touch of exotica, which interestingly included the sound of a marxophone.  The fan in Jeremy Ivey is revealed when he talks about mixing ‘Invisible Pictures’ with his hero Rob Schnapf and getting to use one of the guitars that Elliott Smith played on XO’.

The pandemic seems to have had a major influence on you and the music on ‘Invisible Pictures’, but do you see it as a pandemic album?

I think the pandemic influenced me in that I definitely had more time to be reflective, I wasn’t travelling as much, haha, drinking too much probably and a little depressed, and that was an influence I think.

What is the difference between you working on a solo album and working with your wife, Margo Price?

It is more internal, and not to downplay playing with Margo at all, it is more free because I only have myself to think about with what I am doing. With Margo, it is more like we both have a shared reference point like an album we are into or an artist, and we kind of go from there. With my stuff, I don’t have to concur with anyone. She does help me write some stuff on my record,  she wrote ‘Keep Me High’ on the new record, but most of the time it is just my stuff and it is good for me to have it because I write so much it gives me an outlet for my extra songs.

Why are you such a prolific songwriter, what drives you?

I don’t know. I’m just a restless soul, you know. I’ve always kind of been that way, I guess, trying to find the key to this lock. It is hard to say, I’ve always written words since I was in high school, and then I started writing music and really got into writing songs when I was about 15, and I haven’t stopped since. Aside from Margo’s stuff, I usually write about three albums a year’s worth of songs, and I usually take the best ones from that, or if there is one I’m more into then I will just record that. There is always new stuff, Margo’s new record is being mixed right now, and I co-wrote about nine songs for that. It keeps me busy, haha.

How did you record ‘Invisible Pictures’?

I recorded it in a studio that Margo and I used to record in called The Bomb Shelter. It is run by an old friend of ours that we have known forever who does incredible work, Andrija Tokic. He recorded the first Alabama Shakes record, he recorded some of my favourite local artists, and I had just heard a record he had done and I really liked it, and I just called him up and said, “Hey man, let’s do a record.”. I then asked him to get all the players and he put together the whole band, and I just kind of showed up with my songs and we cut the album. It took about four or five days.

You make it sound very easy.

It was fun, all the musicians were so intuitive and adept that they didn’t need very long to work things out, and they are fairly chordy songs with lots going on, they are not simple three-chord songs. It is good to have smart musicians on it because they can handle that.

Did you have firm ideas of how you wanted it to sound when you started the recording or did you go with the flow in the studio?

Oddly I did go with the flow, but it ended up sounding pretty much like I imagined anyway. I wasn’t envisaging string sections and timpani drums and big stuff like that, but I liked the way it turned out. There are lots of instruments on the record that are kind of odd. There is one called marxophone that is like this old typewriter with little buttons you hit and a hammer comes down and hits the strings. It is on a song called ‘Orphan Child’ and it gives a ding ding ding kind of sound. There is stuff like that I would never have thought to put on a record, but that is why Andrija is a good friend to have.

You mixed the album in Los Angeles, not Nashville, is that right?

Yeah, I mixed it with Rob Schnapf, who is kind of an indie hero of mine as far as audio goes. He has worked on a whole bunch of great stuff. He did all the Elliot Smith stuff, he did stuff with Beck, he has a knack of making something that is lo-fi into something that is great, you know.

Again, that sounds like an easy process, was it?

We did like a song a day so we didn’t over-stress ourselves. I would show up and sit on the couch while he fiddled about, and once he had everything in place and sounding good he would ask me what I thought, and I would go yes or no or maybe. It was pretty easy, there was one song we ended up tracking more because it didn’t have electric guitar or piano on it so we add those and I ended up playing one of the guitars that Elliott Smith recorded ‘XO’ with. I was like a nerd in a candy store, all the gear and guitars he has are really cool, so the good thing is we are friends now, and I always want to know Rob Schnapf and so it is a positive.

It sounds as if you have been very careful about who you worked with on ‘Invisible Pictures’, and just allowed people to do what they thought was appropriate for the record.

Yeah, I think it really frustrates engineers and musicians if you tell them what to do all the time. If they don’t have the freedom to express themselves then it becomes uninspired. I have a friend who used to go to a tattoo artist, and he would say I’ve got this spot right here just do whatever you want. It takes a lot of balls to do a thing like that, haha. He has some really cool tattoos because these people were like wow I have this one thing nobody has asked me to do, and they are odd and insane, but he has some really good art on his body because he let these people express themselves, rather than tell them to give him a heart with Mom on it, or whatever, haha. I learnt that working with musicians there needs to be a framework but you don’t really tell people what to do, you should just see what they want to do. The outcome is better I think.

This is your third album, what makes you most proud about it?

I think for a long time I kind of shut myself off from being as musical as I could be. I’ve been in the country/americana world where you have these three chords and you say something simple, and I love that and one of my favourite songwriters of all time is Hank Williams. That simplicity is correct in its own way, but I have done it for a long time and I’ve kept myself from being chordy and notey, and all that, and I have a lot of classical influence as well. I’m proud of it because the songs themselves have a lot of diminished chords and passing chords, and this is an influence I haven’t let into my little folk rock world. I think it has some beautiful moments on it because of that.

You had a tough start to life with your family circumstances and your early health issues. You and Margo have achieved a significant level of success to date, what keeps driving you forward?

I am addicted to the process, the puzzle of putting a good song together. I know people who are my age who have had similar success, or whatever, and they seem to be hitting a point where they are worried that their inspiration is slowing down and they don’t have that fire. I’ve got it, I don’t know if I can get rid of it, not that I would like to get rid of it, haha. I’ve just finished a song this morning, and I’m in love with it so it is hard to call it a job and it would be hard to quit, you know, haha.

This may be a personal question, but how do you and Margo manage both of your careers?

The priority is her because she makes more money than me, haha. It has been that way for a while, and I’ve only recently started putting out my own records. My main focus was to help her get her career established. Once that happened and she was good, that is when I started thinking about my own stuff. I spent years and years in a band where she was the lead singer, writing with her, and the story of her first record where we sold our car and did what we had to do to get that record made. I always believed in her. As far as any conflict there isn’t much because we have the same manager, which is a very smart thing to do. She schedules us around each other so we are never stepping on each other. We just try and remain like I say, inspired, and we will keep to the writing and keeping each other on task. She has just finished a book she has been working on for a couple of years, and now she is back writing songs again. Yeah, it seems to work somehow, and we really don’t get into a lot of fights about music. I mean, everyone gets in fights if you’ve been together for eighteen years, that will happen. Musically we both like the same kind of thing, we know something’s good and the other person will like it too.

Which artists first inspired you to take up music as a career?

It is going to be a bit obvious, but Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles were huge when I was young and really informed me of how to write a song and have respect for melody. The Kinks are a big one for me and Margo, we kind of got together when we first started dating and we had both discovered the Kinks at the same time, that was a big one. The Zombies are in there, and then ‘90s stuff the Meat Puppets, I always liked Nirvana. It is mostly songwriters, I mean Leonard Cohen, poets and people like that, Lou Reed was a big one as well. I also read a lot, I was a dork when I was in school, I read a lot of poetry and that is what started me wanting to write words.

In terms of your songwriting do you get the words first and then think about the music and melody?

It is different every time. Luckily I’ve learnt how to do both. The last album I put out, ‘Waiting Out The Storm’, I wrote all the words first because I was writing a lot of it when I was on tour with Margo in a bus, so it wasn’t really easy to grab the guitar all the time where I was, so I would just write what I envisaged the verse to be but I had no idea about the sound. When we got off tour I came back with a guitar and figured out the melody, and that can be cool because usually, the words do end up being stronger. With ‘Invisible Pictures’ it was mostly the melody and the feel of the song that would come first. I would have what Margo and I refer to as the frame, the framework of the song, and then you write into that frame, and that is why ‘Invisible Pictures’ compared to ‘Waiting Out The Storm’ is much more melodic, and sing-songy and flowy. I have both sides, and it is quite cool because I recently found a notebook I had which was full of songs I’d forgotten about or done anything with from 2006. I found a few I really liked, and I thought this is really good, I don’t know why I never did anything with it. In that context, I’ve been putting melodies to some of those songs because if I had a melody for them, I’ve forgotten it now, it has been too long. It is different all the time, but it is good to be good at both because in certain circumstances you need one or the other.

Will you be able to tour ‘Invisible Pictures’?

Yeah, I’m going out with one of the Heartbreakers, Mike Campbell. He has got his own solo band called the Dirty Knobs, and I’m going to be opening up for him, all of March and a little bit of April I will be out with him. I will probably be playing some americana shows in the Fall as well, but as far as touring goes I think the big tour will be as the record comes out.

Who is in the Jeremy Ivey’s band?

I’m not taking them on this tour, but my band is pretty simple lead guitar, bass, drums and keys, and we sometimes have another guitar player as well, that is the Extraterrestrials. On this tour, I’m just going to be opening up acoustic.

How different is that going to be given your new record has been extremely well produced with a rich soundscape?

It really works. I have spent the last couple of years really getting my chops back on guitar, and I came at this because I know where my career’s at and that it is going to be solo for a while. I really wanted to get better and be able to quiet a room with just guitar and a vocal. I think I’m almost there, we’ll see and I’ve been playing a few shows around town to warm myself up and it has been going well. Other songs on the record you play on acoustic guitar,  and I’ve believed this all my life, if a song is good it is still going to be good whatever instrument it is played on. I believe in the songs and I think they work, I mean there are three or four on the record that are mellow and slow anyway, so that will definitely work. Some songs I won’t play with an acoustic guitar because it won’t make sense, like ‘Keep Me High’ just won’t make sense, some of them will work really well solo though. It is a challenge, but I’m up for it.

This is your third solo album with Anti- Records,  are they looking after you?

They are fantastic, and I know because I am married to someone on a different label, labels can sometimes be tough to work with, but Anti- are beautiful to work with. They say make whatever you want, and we turn it in and they say great, we are putting it out. They don’t interfere, and as far as they are concerned you can put out albums for the rest of your life here, they will never have a problem with that. I don’t see myself going anywhere else any time soon because I really like the people there.

How involved do you get in the streaming side, deciding which tracks should be released when and what have you?

It is all me, they don’t really get involved though they may make a suggestion. With this record, I may have recorded about seventeen songs, and I was kind of getting a couple that I was going to leave off or keep on, and they gave me opinions on that. But they never force an opinion. If I really believe in a song, it goes on, they don’t really interfere and it is rare.

How much time do you actually spend in Nashville?

We are just a few minutes outside of town, and our kids are going to school there and we are always in Nashville. We just got out because we wanted a little bit more land, where we were living in East Nashville we had like a quarter acre yard, small, so now we have five acres and we are out in the country which is kind of nice. I was just at Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge in Madison, which is right by Nashville, a couple of nights ago so we are out there.

We like to share new music with our readers, so currently what are your top three tracks, artists, or albums on your playlist?

I like this artist who is on Oh Boy Records and his name is Tré Burt, and he is a friend of mine and there is a song called ‘Sweet Misery’ on his new album that is really good. As far as stuff I’ve been into for a while there is this band which is kind of hello the ‘90s called the Handsome Family, and they are like americana, alt country when it was first the thing, you know, haha, really good lyrics and really good songs. The guy sings in almost a Johnny Cash way, a deep baritone. They are worth checking out, they are a couple and she writes most of the words and he sings, that’s the Handsome Family. Most of my musical taste happened before 1978, haha, and it is like old stuff I go back to all the time. There are a couple of artists here in Nashville who are really good but haven’t got a record deal yet, my buddy Dillon Warneck who is one of the best songwriters I know, and he is starting to get a little bit more momentum with his shows and he sells out his merch because people are going who is this guy. He is kind of doing it without a label, but I’m sure he would like one if he had one. He has been to the UK and he has just ended a tour opening for Jarrod Dickenson, look for him because he will probably be back as he makes like a yearly trip there. Hopefully, I can come out there soon, it has been a while, you know.

Margo made quite a splash a few years ago.

She will be back,  and I will hopefully be with her if we can get the babysitting done, haha.

Have you any thoughts on coming over by yourself?

I will eventually, hopefully, but this year it would be with her, and maybe next year by myself.

Is there anything you want to say to Americana UK readers?

Make sure you have good hygiene, take a shower at least once a week. I just wish everyone would try and love each other because there are differences. The thing about changing the world is you just have to change yourself, and if we all go by that rule then life gets better. It can be done, it probably won’t be, but it can be.

Jeremy Ivey’s ‘Invisible Pictures’ is out now on Anti- Records.

About Martin Johnson 414 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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