"In this digital age, you're able to stumble on talent so easily, so often, that it takes something really special to actually grab your attention. A few years ago, I came across Madi's live video for 'Down We Go' and her voice stopped me in my tracks. It was sophisticated and subtle. I immediately was drawn in.
We caught up with Madi in Los Angeles and almost instantly upon her arrival, I found myself rooting for her. Her energy is contagious and her focus and drive very evident. There is no question that she is doing exactly what she is supposed to be doing. Her most recent songs are such a beautiful evolution from that first video that caught my attention.
Ryan sat down to talk to Madi about writing pop in LA, Americana in Nashville, and how our twenty-year old selves sometimes know us better than we think..."
-Patrick Dodd, Executive Producer
RB: So, you went to Berklee for undergrad. I know it's not uncommon for people to go to music school and subsequently drop out. Standing where you are today, knowing what you know now, would you still make the same decision to not finish at Berklee?
MD: Absolutely. I would still make the same decision to go, and I would still make the same decision to drop out. I’ve never really been a school system person. I don’t think that is really in me. But, I was fortunate enough to know myself well enough to get out before it started to really affect my ability to make things.
RB: Being successful within a school environment has everything to do with making sure you fit within the boundaries that they’ve set for you. You know, some people are great at that, and it doesn’t fundamentally change who they are or how they think or what they do. They can kind of play the game while they’re there. But for some people, it’s a very toxic environment because it literally changes the way that they think about things and removes any of those impluses that could have led to interesting, original work.
MD: A lot of people dropped out of Berklee because they had a million opportunities or they were being offered this that and the other. I hadn’t gotten any calls or offers or opportunities but I definitely knew that I wasn’t giving myself what I needed, and I definitely wasn’t getting anything that I needed at that moment. So I left.
"Making the jump and saying, “Well, shit, I’m going to actually have to give my everything and put it on the line” is a pretty scary step to take. And it takes a totally different kind of discipline."
RB: Wow. I can't even remotely say that I knew what I wanted nor been even close to being able to make that kind of decision at 19 or 20 or 21. I would have just kept at it, the whole time thinking, “I don’t know man, not sure this is the best thing for me…”
MD: (laughter) Honestly, I don’t know whether its self-awareness or whether it’s just being bull-headed enough to say, “Well, I don’t like this so I’m out of here.” Yeah, self-assured – sure. Or, bull-headed. Really you can call it whatever you want.
RB: (laughs) Yeah, well, end result is interesting regardless. So do you feel like it is inevitable that you would be doing music right now or do you feel like you could easily be doing something else?
MD: I really don’t have any idea what I would be doing otherwise. This has become my life in a really organic, amazing way. I mean, I really can’t believe that I can actually pay my bills and I haven’t had to ask my parents for money since I got out of school. I feel great about that.
RB: It seems to me that a ton of people have a kind of multi-tiered approach. The first goal is almost always, “okay whatever it is I really want to be doing, I want to actually get paid to do that.” Then, once that’s accomplished, then people start going and now it’d be great to do X, Y, or Z. But man, that first one is the one not everyone makes it to. Making this your profession is really tough.
MD: Making the jump and saying, “Well, shit, I’m going to actually have to give my everything and put it on the line” is a pretty scary step to take. And it takes a totally different kind of discipline. I make my own schedule, but I’m fucking crazy busy all week. Because if this is what you’re going to do and you don’t keep normal hours. Your clock doesn’t stop at 5. Your clock stops probably around like 10 or 11
RB: Do you have an overarching goal? Are you trying to accomplish something specific or is it literally just seeing where this all goes, as it happens?
MD: I want to see how high I can go. It’s like when you get on a swing for the first time, and you really start to get your legs pumping and you start getting higher and higher. I really want to see how high I can go, but still maintain a healthy relationship with music, with my work, and being happy.
RB: In your mind, is there a line between the writing phase, the recording phase, and then the touring phase? Are those very segmented in your mind, Is there a part of any of those you enjoy more than another?
MD: It always starts with the writing. The writing is the thing that motivates me. The goal is when you get the song written and recorded in such a way I can’t help but to want to show absolutely everybody. That’s when you know it’s time to record it.
RB: So, how do you know when a song is done? Knowing when to stop is one of the hardest skills to develop when you make things…
MD: I don’t think I’ve ever not known when a song is done. There are things that are super critical. You can just tell when it needs something, you can tell when you’re just being lazy, you can tell when you haven’t pushed something far enough, and you can tell when it’s absolutely perfect and you should never touch it ever again.
The goal is when you get the song written and recorded in such a way I can’t help but to want to show absolutely everybody. That’s when you know it’s time to record it.
RB: Have you always known that? Have you always had the same intuition? Or is that like something that you’ve gotten better at as you’ve gotten older and done this more?
MD: I think it’s gotten more refined, sharper. Writing a song used to take me a really long time. It’s a muscle, writing a song. Thankfully, I can tell when I need to come back to something because I’m overworking it in my mind. There are just patterns that you recognize and you can beat yourself to the punch and be your own teacher or your own coach, saying, “Don’t wear yourself out, you’re okay, you don’t suck.” And just come back to it later. (laughs) The not sucking thing is so scary.
RB: I mean, I can tell myself that all day and I just will not believe it!
MD: Like, “Shut up! It’s not true. I’m terrible!”
RB: “You’re just patronizing me.” (laughs)
MD: Yeah, exactly. “You’re patronizing me you sweet nice conscience coach. Stop coddling me!”
RB: One of the things I am personally interested in in my own life is how a place informs the kind of content that we make. I would love to hear your take on what Nashville is for a songwriter in particular, how your time in Nashville helped shape you as a writer, if at all…
MD: Nashville is wonderful. I moved there right after I left college. I had been in Boston for a little while after I dropped out of Berklee and I was definitely living fast and hard in Boston, doing city life. Then all of a sudden, I moved to Nashville and actually had time to sit and focus. I had time to really sing and write, and to figure out what it was that I wanted to say. There were so many people around me that wanted to help; an actual family and a community that was there to push me, pull me, lead me while I was discovering all that stuff. So, yeah – Nashville is wonderful to because since it’s such a small town and evyerone is so talented, when you’re writing a song and you need a bass player or a million people to sing BGV in the studio, it’s all within inches of you at all times.
RB: Do you feel like it was like a safe place to kind of work through some of those fundamental identity questions? Or do you feel like you could’ve done that somewhere else.
MD: In Boston it was pretty rare to find time to be introspective when you’re bartending or going to school, paying your bills, and running around like a twenty year old idiot. It was just at the beginning stages of my life and there wasn’t really a whole lot of time for reflection. I’m sure there are a bunch of great musicians and writers in Boston, but I just knew that I was in a place where I needed to displace myself to really get a good look at what I wanted to say.
RB: As a songwriter, do you feel like you have to have lived what you’re writing about, or is there room for imagination? What kind of role do you feel like imagination has, if any, in your songwriting?
MD: Oh totally. I think the best songs start from something you’ve done, something you’ve heard, even the experience of a friend, and then you try to put that experience on, try to live in it, putting yourself in that character so completely that fact and fiction become one thread that you weave the story with.
"I moved to Nashville and actually had time to sit and focus. I had time to really sing and write, and to figure out what it was that I wanted to say."
RB: As you were getting started, who are some of the writers that made you say, “If only I could write a song like that…”
MD: When I first started writing songs for myself, I was listening to a lot of Patti Griffin and Ryan Adams and the Dixie Chicks. I think it’s wonderful when Patti can tell a story, but she is so close to it that you almost think that it’s about her, but it probably didn’t have anything to do with experiences that she’s ever had.
RB: Some of the most moving songs I’ll later find out were completely made up, I mean, one hundred percent made up?! That’s amazing to me.
MD: It’s incredible the way a good writer can make something so personal, from the heart, but just universal enough so that anybody could sing it. That’s so wild to me, that’s such an accomplishment.
RB: I’ve heard it said that if you want to write something that connects with a lot of people, it needs to be incredibly, minutely specific. Like, if you want to tell a story about capital L love, for instance, then it has to be tiniest sliver of the tiniest moment. Like you might talk about the way the girl carries her phone in her back pocket, you know, you don’t talk about general things you talk about specific things.
MD: Right, that’s so true. (laughs). Incredibly, generally, specific.
MD: LA is so different from Nashville in a writing sense. It’s really interesting actually coming out here and writing, because the Pop world is so much larger than life here. I definitely write for myself, but in my spare time I also write for other people. And all of the artists people reference are so different. They may reference that one line that says everything but says nothing at the same time. You can end up becoming pretty detached from your lyrics, because Pop can end up feeling so universal and generic. It really is a challenge as a pop writer to really find the thing that is generally specific and universal but still comes from an honest place.
RB: Ah, that’s interesting. Talk a little bit more about LA. What have you found to be different about living in LA as a songwriter?
MD: I loved Nashville so much, but I just needed to make a switch. I was in a really long relationship in Nashville and kind of shut myself off. And then I was on the road for a long time, then got signed to an Indie, and then the Indie folded. I just felt like I kept getting my heart re-broken in little ways. It was a rough ride for a little while. I ran into a friend while I was on tour and she told me that she was looking for a roommate in LA. I decided to move, right on the spot.
"Nashville is wonderful because you can build your own world and exist inside of that little world forever. But, I’m the kind of person that really needs to be pushed and pulled to really figure out what the hell I’m doing."
When I first got to LA, I thought, “holy shit this place is like huge.” At first living here is super intimidating because you think, sure everyone has gotta be rich because it’s fucking expensive to live here. But, no, not everyone is rich, it’s not actually that terrifying.There are normal people that live here and who aren’t always all moving at 90 miles a minute. You just have to pick which lane you’re driving in, literally, metaphorically, everything. It’s just a different vibe here. There is a wider breadth of genres to work with and pick from. There are a lot of hip-hop producers, EDM producers, and straight up pop, pop producers. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work with a lot of the people that I’ve worked with here if I hadn’t moved here.
MD: Nashville is wonderful because you can build your own world and exist inside of that little world forever. But, I’m the kind of person that really needs to be pushed and pulled to really figure out what the hell I’m doing.