Analogue Music | Jeremy Ivey

Jeremy Ivey

By Matt Conner

It was all Margo's idea.

When acclaimed country artist Margo Price was honored with a recent award—what it was Jeremy Ivey, her husband, cannot quite remember—it also came with a cash prize. The sum wasn't too much but it was enough for a brief window of studio time. The best use of those funds, per Margo, was for Jeremy to cut his first record.

Jeremy Ivey is no stranger to the music industry; he's been a writing partner with Margo for years in addition to his roles in bands like Buffalo Clover and Secret Handshake. He is, however, new to the solo artist gig. He's written and even recorded songs of his own before, but he says they're locked away on reel-to-reel tapes somewhere—songs that never saw the light of day for one reason or another.

Now, however, the timing is right, even as he's well beyond the typical age of a debut artist. His experience, inside and outside of the music industry, play a significant role in the excellence of his new LP, The Dream and the Dreamer (Anti-). The barroom brilliance of "Diamonds Back to Coal," the Prine-esque feel of "Greyhound"—you'd think Jeremy Ivey was a veteran at this sort of thing, the LP just another strong release in a towering catalog.

We recently sat down with Jeremy to discuss making his debut at this stage of life and the advantage of living with another songwriter.

Analogue: I want to start with something I read in the publicity materials that came out around the album. There's a line that makes something of you being 40 making your debut. I'm around that age myself and don't think of it as a big deal, so I wondered if that was something that felt significant for you or whether someone decided to spin your story that way.

Jeremy Ivey: I think people make it a big deal. I guess that was my whole point with that. Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway wrote their best stuff in their forties. It's a music and pop culture thing where people think it's over or that inspiration runs out when you hit your mid-thirties. That's an old way of thinking. Back in the fifties and sixties, everyone was basicaly a teenager or twenties when they made it. Things have changed a little bit.

I have reel-to-reel tapes somewhere. I just never had a complete feeling about putting it out until now.

In whatever genre I work in, which isn't pop or whatever, there's no age limit, really. I feel pretty fresh because I'm just now starting to do this. Even though I've written songs for a long time, I've never written them for an album for myself. I feel pretty inspired and I guess that was my point—that I can feel inspired even at this age.

Analogue: Were there thoughts of making this sort of an album in the past?

Jeremy: Well I have recorded before. I used to have this little set-up in our old house in the basement. Technically, Margo and I both recorded solo albums in that basement, but no one ever heard them because no one knew who we were and we weren't really ready for that. But they are somewhere. I have reel-to-reel tapes somewhere. I just never had a complete feeling about putting it out until now.

Everyone says you spend your whole life writing your first record and then you have a hard time with the follow-up but that's not the case for me and Margo. We've been writing this whole time. We've thrown out tons of songs or we've written them and they didn't hold up so we wrote others, you know? These aren't songs that I've kept for years and years.

I write quickly. I'm more Dylan than Cohen. Cohen spent three years on "Hallelujah," which is amazing, but I don't have that attention span. Inspiration strikes and something comes out or it doesn't.

Analogue: So a song is immediately electric to you or not at all?

Jeremy: Yeah. Occasionally I will go back and add a verse or finish things, but the initial pour-out is all at once. Whether it's the music or the words, something comes out.

Analogue: How strong is your success rate? How often do you feel like something is inspired or great and then come back the next day and feel the same way?

Jeremy: It's good to have another songwriter in the house. Sometimes I'll play it for the wife and she'll have a muted response and then I have to figure it out for myself. Maybe it's not as good as I thought. But other times I'll just know it's good. I know when I'll play it for her, she's going to like it. Inspiration is a weird thing. You can't look at it or talk about it. You're either in it or you're not. I think writer's block happens when people start smelling their own sauce a little too much. They think everything they do is great. I have to keep checking myself.

Analogue: Have you learned how to fight that?

Jeremy: I try to compare myself to things that are the best, you know? I will pale in comparison to that, of course, but at least I'm shooting for that. So I guess for the most part, my references are pretty old. [Laughs] But that's good to draw inspiration from the past. I like a lot of artiss now, but I don't feel competitive with them. We're doing the same thing, but I don't get jealous about the music I hear.

Analogue: Earlier you mentioned the phrase "whatever genre I'm in" and then moved on. Do you feel like a man between categories?

Jeremy: I always thought that categories were funny. I've said this before, and I don't want to be redundant, but there are just two genres: good and bad. I like all kinds and write all kinds and listen to all kinds of music, but I don't feel like I have to do something because it's trendy. Right now, country is really hip. I've spent the past three years of my life writing country songs. I'm not over it for good, but I'm not inspired by right now. You can feed off something for a while but then it runs dry.

Some people can write in one genre their entire life and that works just fine, but I have to move around. I get bored. I still love country and I always will. I'll continue to write it, but since 2015 I've been writing with Margo. I've been hit up to write country songs for artists coming up and I have trouble with tht. It's hard to write for others besides Margo. We have our own communication. We both have the same reference, so it's easy that way.

Credit: Ramon Felix
Credit: Ramon Felix

Analogue: You said you wrote all these songs in a single month. That implies you could have written and recorded album at any time. What made this the right time and place?

Jeremy: Sometimes I just need a mandate, something on the calendar. I'd planned to go in and record demos and not an album, but once I had the studio dates booked, that's when I got inspired. There's always stuff going around upstairs for me, but if I can have a deadline, then it's easy for me to focus on it. That's what happened. I knew I was going to record in December, so in late October and November when I wrote most of the songs. There was one song I wrote a year before that, "Greyhound," that Margo liked and thought I should put on the album. I also wrote "Story of a Fish" the night before I went into the studio, but everything else was written in that time.

Analogue: Was Margo pretty encouraging of you putting something official out there?

Jeremy: She's the reason I went and recorded. I can't remember what it was, but she got some award that came with a small sum of money. She told me to take it and record. She was definitely the one who pushed me to do it. I had support from some of my other friends who liked what I was doing and told me I should do my own thing, but it took a while—especially to be with someone like Margo. She's such a great performer and singer. It's hard for me to feel confident enough to do it. We don't do the same thing though, so at this point I feel confident with it.

VISIT: Jeremy Ivey