Here’s a good way to kick an interview into full gear when you’re talking with a journalist from Austin: “I greatly looked up to Doug Sahm. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him …”
Rising Nashville star Margo Price’s shoutout to Sahm, the legendary Tex-Mex-country-rock-soul-blues synthesist whose music practically defined Austin culture in the 1970s, came after a question about how her debut solo album, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” launched her into the country spotlight this year.
Country probably always will be a big part of her identity. “Yeah, it seems the labels have been placed now” on her music, she acknowledges, adding, “I think I will always like country music in some form or another.”
But she wants more, and that’s where Sahm comes in. “As an artist, I always hope to keep growing, and I don’t want to box myself in,” she says. “So I really identified with him when I found him.
“He always had elements of the blues, and elements of rock ’n’ roll, and all these different flavors coming in — yet there is still something kind of rooted in what he did. So I always try to keep him in mind when I think about my future vision.”
The future looks wide open for Price. She played NPR Music’s high-profile showcase at Stubb’s in March, then appeared on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” in April. In July, she returned to Austin for Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic. Now she’s back again to play both Sundays of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, plus a taping of the “Austin City Limits” TV show on Oct. 3.
All of which is a far cry from funky northside dive the Carousel Lounge, where Price’s former band Buffalo Clover played their first Austin show in 2008.
“Is that place still there?” she asked. Yes, we told her. “Wow. It’s got that elephant inside,” she remembers. Elephants never forget, but one never forgets elephants, either, especially when they’re in the form of a big pink statue behind the stage.
Originally from Illinois, Price moved to Nashville with her husband and bandmate, Jeremy Ivey, a native Texan, around a decade ago. Buffalo Clover issued a couple of roots-rock records and built a modest following, but Price’s determination to make an album in more of a classic country vein led her down a different path.
“I had wanted to make a country album for a while, even when Buffalo Clover was going on,” she says. Price wrote to several producers and labels but got no interest, so she and her new Price Tags lineup went DIY, booking time in Memphis’ legendary Sun Studios and recording “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” in just three days. “Because we ran out of money,” she admits.
They added a few overdubs back in Nashville. Ben Swank, a co-founder of Jack White’s influential Third Man label, loved the final results and agreed to put out the record just as it was. Shortly after its release in March, it reached the top 10 of the Billboard country albums chart. Recently, the Americana Music Association awarded its Emerging Artist of the Year honor to Price during a star-studded show at the historic Ryman Auditorium.
That’s the second such award Price has received this year, after winning Best Honky-Tonk Female honors from the Ameripolitan Music Awards at Austin’s Paramount Theatre in February. Price didn’t attend, but she taped a colorful thank-you speech in her kitchen that aired onscreen at the theater. “I’d never had to make an acceptance speech before, so I sat in the kitchen and tried to give myself some liquid courage,” she recalls.
The previous year, Price had been nominated for an Ameripolitan award that she didn’t win, but she made the trip down to Austin for the occasion.
“It was a wild event,” she says. “It was like more of a ‘Hee-Haw’ version of the Americana Awards. Everybody is so prim and proper at the Americana Awards, and at the Ameripolitan Awards, everybody’s hooting and hollering and having a good time. It’s pretty fun.”
Playing ACL Fest, and appearing on the television show, is a whole other level, of course. She got a sneak preview of what the latter will be like when she was here for South by Southest in March.
“We went and saw Iggy Pop” tape the TV show at ACL Live, she says. “It was a wild experience to see him there. But I’m really excited to get out there and spend as much time in Texas as we can.”
Margo Price at ACL Fest
3 p.m. Oct. 2 and Oct. 9 on the HomeAway Stage.
‘Austin City Limits’
8 p.m. Oct. 3 at ACL Live, 310 Willie Nelson Blvd. Ticket lottery information at acltv.com.