Friday (March 11) marks a big day on the country music calendar – and it’s not just because we finally get to enjoy live music at C2C in the UK. It also sees the release of a raft of new albums from artists including Jeremy Ivey, The Shires and Drake White.
We’ve been talking to each of them about their music, and kicking off the first of these interviews is our chat with US singer-songwriter Jeremy, who steps out with Invisible Pictures, his third solo album to be released via ANTI- Records. Alison Dewar writes.
Already a familiar face as Margo Price’s guitarist – and husband – Jeremy is building a growing reputation for his solo work. Invisible Pictures builds on his previous music, bringing us lush orchestration with a plainspoken delivery, full of honest self-reflection and candid explorations of identity and belonging.
Two singles – Orphan Child and Trial By Fire – have already been released and the wider album draws on a mix of musical genres, including everything from classical music and flamenco to vintage indie rock.
Jeremy describes the album as “the real me” and says writing the songs was his way of dealing with being stuck at home during the pandemic.
Never afraid to shirk away from issues such as depression and drinking, he explains: “The last one (2020 release Waiting Out The Storm) was so much about the world. I wrote it when the world was open, I had seen the world and was writing about things I had seen, and suddenly all of that fell off and I was stuck at home.
“I think for one, I was getting that bit too far into drinking and the dark, I was depressed and I had to work through that. My response was to write about it, that was my therapy, so I wrote about my moods, about depression and about being displaced.”
Always keen to break the mould, the album sees him working with celebrated producer Andrija Tokic, who brought together a band of players from different musical backgrounds that Jeremy had never played with before.
“I think Andrija had a vision of it. When I worked with him before, it was years back. This time, I heard a record he’d done with my friend Ryan Jennings, it was really good and I said ‘hey, this recording, I want you to take this over’. During pre-production, we listened to the songs and he’d already figured out the instruments he wanted to put on it.”
Among those instruments was a marxophone (a fretless zither played via a system of metal hammers and sounding a little like a mandolin), which was played by Jeff Taylor: “I had no idea what it was, it’s an old instrument from the 1900s and it makes the ding, ding, ding sound you hear on Orphan Child,” says Jeremy.
“My world has always been bass, drums, guitar, organ…you know, to have some of these instruments – we’ve put a tubaphone on a track – it was cool to get into all that.”
Trial By Fire was inspired by Margo and written as the couple sat around the firepit one night at their home.
Their shared songwriting experiences have grown over the years but he says: “Margo only co-wrote one song on the record this time. We’ve always co-written on her albums, probably because she wanted to give me something to do (laughter), we always wrote before in our old bands, everything was 50/50 you know.
“I think when she started doing her solo things, on her first album she had about four or five songs that she had written by herself and then there wasn’t really enough to have an album, so I started working on a couple of things and she would come in and kind of pick the ones that she liked.
“We’ve always had that kind of relationship, when it comes to my records, I think she lets me do it because it keeps me busy, I’m a very restless person, I like to write a lot. I’ve got a lot in to get out, so I think she just kind of gets out of the way for me for the most part. Her opinion is very important to me. I always run something by her and I can tell by her reaction if she likes it or not.
“Keep Me High (featured on the new album) is a song that she helped me on the chorus, I knew I had things to say and she helped me on that.”
Noting that took him until he was 40 to start doing his “own thing”, he talks of a backlog of subjects he has never written about – including his first marriage and his upbringing – describing himself as a someone who “soaks up things and writes about them later”.
The couple already have a son and more recently welcomed a daughter, whose arrival he writes touchingly about in the beautiful and upbeat Keep Me High, describing her as the “new love to keep him high”.
Asked if parenthood has changed him and the way he writes, he sounds doubtful: “I don’t know if it will change, I could have 15 kids and still see the world the same way. They keep me from drinking too much, that’s what kids are good for, they keep you focused on something that’s real and good for you,” he says.
It was Margo’s encouragement that made him step out as a solo performer. He confesses to being shy and says it was his wife who told him to go and record the songs that were piling up and not being heard by the wider world.
“I just had so many songs that weren’t being played anywhere and I still have a problem. As a performer, I’m pretty shy. What I was always afraid of was people knowing I was Margo’s husband and giving me a record deal because of it.
“Anti (the record company) heard the demos through a friend of mine and didn’t know who I was. Although I had other offers, that was the one I went with. They liked me because of me.”
You might think with two singer-songwriters under the same roof a collaboration would be underway before too long, but despite the fact they have featured on each other’s songs previously, he’s not so sure.
“We talked about doing a joint record at some point, it’s hard because we have such different voices, although as far as inner voices and the way that we write, we are very similar.
“I would have her on my records and I’ll be on her records, we’ve always talked about it, so maybe one day.”
While Orphan Child was the first single to be released, he says that’s not his favourite, citing a preference for Trial By Fire or Black Mood – as the name suggests, the latter is about reaching out to be saved by an “angel of mercy” from the middle of a deep depression and making friends with his “demons”.
The title track Invisible Pictures, was a song sparked by the Christmas Day bombing in Nashville in 2020, when Jeremy says he realised that between the bombing, the pandemic, and everything else going on, he was either going to “snap” or find his own “contentment”, adding: “That was the whole thing…it was like nothing can bring me down ‘cos you kind of decide in your own self what affects you and what doesn’t.”
Bob Dylan is often referenced as being an influence on Jeremy’s songcraft and laid-back delivery and he admits there is “definitely a little bit of mimicry”, but notes that in today’s world you have to be more than careful about what you say.
“It’s harder now because words are weapons. I think in his day in the 60s, you basically had the whole plethora of words, now you’re thinking about the words and the use of the words. With the Beat Generation, with Dylan, there was a lot of freedom. Jack Kerouac wrote never stop thinking and writing – I feel that way as a songwriter, I am always writing, I never stop writing. If I have a moment, I grab the guitar.”
About to embark on a US tour (also starting March 11) with Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs, plus a couple of April dates with Margo, he hints that there may be an announcement soon from Margo about returning to the UK, a place where he believes he does better than back home.
He cites the audiences here as being a little more “introspective” and more likely to read poetry, joking: “There’s not a whole lot left in America that way, but there are a few.”
Invisible Pictures is out on March 11 and available to pre-order via the normal streaming and download services.
Jeremy Ivey – Invisible Pictures – Track Listing
1. Orphan Child
2. Trial By Fire
3. Keep Me High
4. Downhill (Upside Down Optimist)
5. Grey Machine
6. Phantom Limb
7. Empty Game
8. Invisible Pictures
9. Black Mood
10. Silence And Sorrow
Photo credit – Danielle Holbert