“There is a misconception about inspiration: that you’re inspired earlier and then run out of steam as you get older,” says Jeremy Ivey, who turned 41 in August and will release his first album as a solo artist on Friday. “I don’t feel that way at all. I feel like I’ve been learning how to write a song.”
Many of them, in fact. While his debut LP The Dream and the Dreamer — a nine-song collection of adventurous folk-rock — arrives this week, Ivey has a second album already recorded, and a third written. Age, or the specter of getting older, is clearly not slowing him down. Instead, he creates and carries himself like a man who has nothing but time on his hands.
Sitting on the deck of his favorite watering hole, the off-the-beaten-path Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge in Madison, Tennessee, Ivey is lazily smoking cigarettes and sipping on a tequila and soda. It’s a place where touring musicians hang out when they’re not on the road, and a stream of well-wishers keeps dropping by his table, including the guys he often plays with in the band of Margo Price — his wife of 11 years. In June, they welcomed a new baby, daughter Ramona Lynn, and Ivey is savoring the rare moment out of the house.
“We still haven’t worked this all out, the two careers thing with two kids,” he says. “I might have to stay home sometimes when she’s out [on tour]. I already decided that I’m not going to be in her band full-time.”
Whether on tour together or not, the couple, who played in the soul group Buffalo Clover before successfully refocusing on Price’s solo career in 2014, remain inseparable creative partners. Price produced The Dream and the Dreamer and duets with Ivey on the song “Greyhound,” a country rambler about an interminable bus ride. She also helped Ivey co-write the record’s first single, the unintentionally revealing “Story of a Fish.”
“That song is funny because I wrote it the day before we went into the studio. I was thinking about salmon and hey, whatever, I’ll write a song about a fish,” says Ivey, unaware that when he and Price were penning lyrics about being “a lonely molecule” who was “born so far from home,” he was really retelling his own story. “Yeah, it was about me, obviously — I was adopted. Whenever you sit down to write anything, you put yourself in there somewhere. Even if you don’t think you are.”
Ivey never met his biological father (“He died on a motorcycle in ’94”), but he does have one nearly indecipherable Polaroid of him. He says he notices a similarity in the way they could each grow a heavy beard from the picture, “but it’s kind of blurry. It’s really hard to see.”
“Certain things you go years and years without writing about,” he says. “I’m just now writing about my real father. I never did before, because it never came up. I didn’t think anyone wanted to hear that.”
Old ghosts creep in often on The Dream and the Dreamer. There’s a song about a girl he used to see skulking around Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood titled “Gina the Tramp.” Its lyrics boast the kind of imagery that wouldn’t be out of place in a Springsteen song: a pimp in the alley, truckers on speed, a “busted-out marquee light.” The comparison is valid, admits Ivey, who recently listened to Springsteen’s 1973 debut Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. for the first time and was taken with the cinematic “Lost in the Flood” and its litany of characters like Jimmy the Saint.
“I’ve just now gotten into Springsteen,” he says. “I always put him off, because I didn’t understand his delivery or what he was doing. Just like people think about Dylan sometimes.”
Ivey is a Dylanologist and, with his wavy tousled hair, black Ray-Bans, and aloof quality, even looks a bit like Bob circa Don’t Look Back. Like his chief influence, he’s fond of lengthy verses that can be both sharp and rich in metaphor. In “Laughing Willy,” he pointedly lambasts the false promises of the cocaine culture (as he did with Price in her song “Cocaine Cowboys”). “There was a dark time in our lives, not that we were doing it all the time, but we definitely were leaning on substances to numb some pain that we had, you know?” he says. “Drugs can expand your mind, but they can also make it very small.”
In the album’s title track, he criticizes the pillaging of the planet: When the Mayflower landed, and the natives came/The dreamer got greedy, the dream took the blame/Now the land is dying and the sea is grey/While the dreamer drives his car on the native’s grave.
“There is this willing that you’re doing when you sit down with a guitar and paper, where you want to please someone,” he says. “With my thing, I don’t want to please anyone. I don’t want to displease anyone, but that’s not the reason or the inspiration.”
That attitude makes Ivey a good fit at Anti- Records, the punk-minded L.A. label that is putting out The Dream and the Dreamer and released Merle Haggard’s stark If I Could Only Fly in 2000. “The good thing about Anti- is they’re not trying to have some sort of image for me. I like that,” he says, snubbing out his cigarette.
Ivey, soft-spoken and reserved, isn’t preoccupied with manufacturing his own star. The idea of creating a social-media persona turns him off and, while he’ll perform a series of shows during AmericanaFest in Nashville this week to promote the record, he isn’t campaigning to fit into a specific club or movement.
“I have a lyric that I wrote that goes, ‘He tried to start a fight for peace/it turned into a press release.’ It’s that idea that everything you do is meant to boost your story,” Ivey says. “I’ve got a story, but I’m not writing an autobiography. I’m writing songs.”