Interview: Maddie Medley at The Embassy - Extra Chill


Interview: Maddie Medley at The Embassy

It is easy to forget sometimes the strength that comes with vulnerability. In a world that’s content with being cold, emotion can seem like an innocence, something we’ve been conditioned to hide. However, Nashville singer-songwriter Maddie Medley recognizes the power in feeling. Expressed through unabashed narratives about love, faith, heartbreak, and optimism, her clenched fists and shut eyes exude the most graceful strength.

Evident in her set at Charleston house venue The Embassy on May 25th, Medley’s music evokes a type of unparalleled passion from anyone lucky enough to experience it. With people slouching against kitchen countertops and those sprawled out on the apartment floor there was a silence pierced only by her haunting voice as she romanticized the agonizing process of coming of age. A captivity that comes with comfort, the thing Medley desires most to communicate, it is impossible not to sink into an almost prayer-like trance.

After the lights came on and the spell was broken I had the opportunity to speak with Medley about love, faith, songwriting, and being a woman in the music industry.


Samantha Sullivan: Who’s the most inspirational female?

Maddie Medley: Fiona Apple is my number one. When I was like 13 or 14 my aunt took me to see her at the Ryman in Nashville which is like the most gorgeous venue in the whole world and she sang so hard and so emotionally that she balled up her fists and she was like hitting her legs. She curled up into a ball on the stage and like rolled around when she was singing and I was like "holy shit!" and so ever since then I’ve been so inspired by her. She’s just an incredible woman. But she’s like my number one as far as female artists go and the Dixie Chicks are also up there too. Which is random I know but they’re so fun, they’re such badasses. They're very outspoken, well I mean they're not as much anymore because they're older but they’re still fun.

Who’s the best female artist to emerge lately?

So Adrianne Lenker from Big Thief, they’re so good. Her song writing is just, it’s kinda blunt, but the language that she uses is just really delicate so I admire the way she can use really delicate language and still make it so powerful. She’s really inspiring to me as far as musicians go.

What do you think that inspirational quality is for you?

I think honesty and vulnerability. I think it’s really important to me. Being vulnerable is the number one thing.

What do you think is the most empowering thing about being a woman in music?

It kind of gives me goosebumps, I think there’s a defiance that I see in every woman I know that plays music, especially in Nashville. I’ve really only played shows in Nashville But there's a defiance and I feel the need to prove myself in a really good way, not in a bad way, and I feel like I see that in a lot of female musicians I know. Just this defiance to be heard and no matter how you do it whether you’re like loud as shit like me or like Jamie who’s like so soft, I mean there are so many ways to do it but regardless there’s almost always this defiance in it that I adore and I think it’s so cool.

How do you think that women in the music industry are evolving?

I think with the things that are happening politically it will get easier. I don’t know that it will happen now. I think that there’s always going to be like a weird feeling when you walk into a show and you’re the only girl on the bill, you know? Especially with local shows of any sort. I hope that will change but I think in the future it will. I think there are a lot of people that in so many ways are trying to do that and so much more.

Despite all the struggle that comes with it, what makes it worth it?

I was telling my friends in the car on the way here that there’s always this moment when I’m playing where I just shut my eyes and I forget that I’m absolutely anywhere and all I can see in my head is like the words that I’m singing. I love to see that too, I love to see people closing their eyes and just really feeling it.

Yeah, during your set I noticed that a lot of people had their eyes shut and where just listening.

It’s such a cool feeling, it’s so rewarding as a listener too just to go to a show and feel comfortable. I was talking about this with my friends today on the way here too, the thing that I want most out of my music is for people to go to shows that I’m playing and not feel anxious about who’s there, or what’s happening around them, or how they look, or how fucking sweaty they are. I want them to feel comfortable at my shows, at any show that I play, and just content and ready to listen. If I had a wish that would be it, for people to just be comfortable and not anxious at shows. It’s so easy to be so anxious at shows.

What artists make you feel that type of comfort?

Fiona was one of them. I think there's a lot of really amazing female artists coming out of Nashville, like Savannah Conley is somebody you should look up, she’s fantastic. Not even just female musicians, there's so many artists that even if their music is sad or a bummer or whatever they try to make the environment positive and try to make people feel included. I think it’s the way you talk to people. There’s one part of it that is loving the music and there’s another part of it that’s just respecting the environment you’re in and that comes with time. I mean I’m 20 so it’s taken a long time and also very little time but I feel like it’s taken years of going to shows to know when I’m comfortable and know when I’m not and figure out what that means to me.

So you started making music in high school right?

Yeah! I grew up in Nashville, I started playing shows when I was like 12 and 13 in Louisville Kentucky because Nashville doesn’t pay. Like you can’t play a show and get paid for shit, you don’t get paid at all, just because it’s such a big music town it’s an honor to get your name out there. In Louisville you could play at pizza places and bars and play covers for 3 hours and they’d pay you 250 bucks. So I really wanted to save up for a car so that's where I kinda got started playing out but I started writing a lot in high school.

How did that time in your life influence your songwriting? Where do you get a lot of influence from?

Probably like love. When I wrote all the songs on my set, I haven’t written anything in like 6 months that I’m really proud of, but I had just met my boyfriend and it was about a year and a half ago and he lived in Bowling Green Kentucky and I lived in Nashville so it was like an hour and a half away and we just had a lot of feelings. It was my first adult relationship so it was very strange to me and I’m a really emotional person and it was weird like navigating that emotional landscape of like ahhh this is a new person. So I get a lot of inspiration from love and also feeling like a crazy person.

Why do you think it’s important to talk about all of those emotions and feelings?

I just don’t want people to feel alone, you know? Especially with women. Like girls will come up to me after shows and tell me that a certain song meant a lot to them, and I always tell girls especially like I play for girls. I play every show so other girls will know that I felt the same way, or like it’s totally okay how you feel. There's so many times in my life where I felt like what I was feeling wasn’t right or I shouldn’t feel the way that I do, and I just think it’s really important to let other women and men, but it’s really important for me to let other girls know that their emotions are valid. That it’s okay to be crazy, that it’s hard to be a girl.

Do you feel like girls as listeners get overlooked in the music scene?

Yes absolutely. I feel really grateful that my career is moving in the way that it is and I do feel like I have been listened to in a way that’s more thoughtful by men. Like my whole team businesswise my team is men, my managers a man, like the people that have been helping me are all men, but they’re men that consciously listen in a way that’s thoughtful and considerate. On the other hand just playing shows in Nashville that are small, it’s really easy to be talked over or just not listened to fully. Or I have a big problem with how many incredible female musicians I see put on a bill full of guys and then they’re stuck opening the show when they’re way better than the dudes that are playing after them.

If you could snap your fingers and fix everything what would change?

My boyfriend is in this really great band and they’re awesome but he plays with such ease. Like he doesn’t care if he’s fucking sweaty, people don’t talk over him. I don’t know I guess that there was more ease in playing shows for women. I would make people listen more, and listen harder. I feel like girls listen so well.

I heard your single on Spotify! Have you been working on any new music?

The thing about that Spotify single is that it’s just a demo. So it’s just me and my guitar and it’s not produced at all so what we’re doing right now is trying to find the right procedure for me to work with. I’m really grateful to have a team that is really focusing on me building my sound the way I want it to sound and so I mean a producer can change everything about a song so we’re focusing on good production right now and deciding on that person and then once I decide who I want to work with I’ll be able to put something out.

What are you looking for in a producer?

I think I’m looking for honesty and I just want to be listened to. At the end of the day like in all aspects I just want to be listened to and it’s so important in a producer. I have so much to say, I have so much that when I feel things I want to tell the world this, and I hope it doesn’t sound shallow to say this but I feel like what I have to say is important. Just like I feel like anything you have to say is important. I feel like I want to be heard. I don’t want any element of production to overshadow that whether it’s over processing of vocals, or too much guitar, whatever. I just want the producer to be willing to listen.

You play by yourself most of the time, do you find empowerment through that?

I used to play with a band. It's actually my manager that suggested that I kind of strip things back and play alone for awhile and it's just become something that’s empowering to me. Like this is just me and I’m laying out all of my feelings for you and it’s just really special. It feels like the only time I can really be with myself, honestly be with myself and like really get in touch with everything inside me.

Is that ever intimidating to do?

A lot of times it is. A lot of times it’s super fucking intimidating. It’s not really about being alone though, it's just about wanting people to like it and wanting people to know like as angry as I do probably come across in my songs I say these things in my songs to get them out of me, not because I’m a really angry person. So I also have that anxiety before I play like I hope people know I want to talk to everybody and I want to be nice to everybody and I want to hear everybody, whatever they have to say about my music, anything in the whole world, I just want to talk to people. Playing music is a way to make friends, I want people to know I want to be their friend. That I’m not like mean.

Do you ever feel like as a woman there’s a pressure to justify that emotion?

Absolutely, I feel like my emotions aren't as valid sometimes so I feel the need to explain it. I normally say before I play ‘Coming of Age’ like “I’m going to yell at you now.” It literally infuriates me, seeing my boyfriend play I love him so much and he’s so talented but it’s like, why is it so fucking easy for you? You get to feel your feelings and nobody gives a shit. Nobody calls them angry.

For all of those setbacks there is something so unique about being a woman in music, what do you think makes it so special?

I just love that I can talk to girls after shows and know that they identify with things. That’s so fucking special to me and it means the absolute world just that no matter how specific my songs are sometimes I feel like a lot of women just know the feelings. There’s just so much kindness that I’ve received from other girls. It’s just so special honestly. Even though I do feel this weird oppression and I do have a lot of anger right now I am grateful for it. I think that’s going to make us stronger, like everybody, every woman.

I agree, I feel like there’s such a camaraderie in that.

It’s so special. It’s like yeah, there’s the girls. We have shit to say and we all serve to be listened to just as anyone listens to a man.

When you write is that connection and comfort something you focus on?

I think so. In "Coming of Age", the bridge part "is your roommate asleep? Am I talking too loud? I want to watch you try and figure me out”. I feel like a lot of women have been like I really love that bridge. I feel like a lot of women know the feeling of like being with your boyfriend or whoever and being like am I too much for you right now? LIke with "Edith", it’s about if I ever had a daughter, that’s the oldest on my set, I wrote this when I was 16. I was really inspired by the women in my life, like my mom and my grandma. I think a lot about what’s going to happen when I have a kid, if I have a daughter what kind of world is she going to have to face? But whatever that is I’m going to be here for her, I’m going to be proud of whatever she does.

That’s such a special thing to write about.

I feel like writing a lot of time is just realizing how you feel. When I was in high school I was like this really kind of tough-ass brutal feminist. I still consider myself a feminist absolutely but I try to be softer in the way that I talk to people about things. Not because I feel the need to because I’m a woman, but because I want to be a good listener and I want people to know that I hear them and no matter what their political or whatever opinion is I’m going to hear them out, and I’m going to talk to them, and I’m going to show them love. But that was like part of realizing that I wanted to show people love, when I wrote that song I was like, “wow, no matter what happens down the road I’m going to teach a little girl how to be okay in this world and that's all that matters.”

How did the song ‘Jesus Moment’ come into being?

"Jesus Moment" is actually my favorite song on my set. My grandmother passed away last year and she was really really sick and I wasn’t super close with her so I had a lot of guilt there. I grew up Catholic, Catholic guilt is intense, it’s crazy. So I went to Louisville to see her and she was in hospice care, she was in the downstairs bedroom and I was in the upstairs bedroom where I had gone every time I had gone to my grandmother's house since I was a little kid. So I was sitting up there and I was really wanting to drink, I was like 19 so a little over a year ago and I wanted to call my ex-boyfriend for some reason. I was just feeling so much right then. I was so sad and I felt so guilty about so many things. I think all of that came together in that song. It’s just a really special song to me. As far as the chorus goes I’m really saying everything I have ever wanted to say about faith and feeling kind of at a loss about faith, and God, and growing up Catholic.

I feel like that’s a powerful thing to talk about and it gets overlooked a lot.

I feel like it’s weird to play that song cause it’s like I don’t want to offend anybody at all...You feel guilty about it and it’s the worst fucking feeling. You want to force yourself to believe it, and it’s so hard to explain that to people who are very religious or have a lot of faith. Like I want to believe so badly.

It would be nice to be one of those people who could just believe.

I think most people aren’t, and that’s the strange thing. Or at least in 2018 I think most young people at least are really trying to figure out what to believe in and at the end of the day with how fucking crazy this country is right now like what is there? Other than things that are of this world? We’re so focused day to day on what is of this world and what is around us immediately, it’s really hard to imagine what’s after this when this country is such a shit show.

I feel like it’s important to be honest about that. You’re so honest about love too, how do you just lay it all out there?

I feel like I have to, like I feel like I have to for my own mental health. The past year or 6 months since I wrote the songs on that set it’s been really hard to be honest because I am in like a committed relationship, I live with my boyfriend. There are times when I feel things that I feel like I can’t write about because he’s going to hear them. So coming to terms with that is really weird, like at some point I’m going to have to say these things that I feel. I love my boyfriend more than anything in the whole world, but at some point I’m going to have to play these songs for other people, and allow myself to do that, to say what I have to say. So sometimes it’s really easy and sometimes it’s really really fucking hard.

Yeah, I definitely think there’s a freedom that comes with independence, but there’s something to be said about how you describe love.

Absolutely. I want to keep a level of romanticism in my music because I feel that. I feel like I romanticize a lot, but I also have this part of me that’s constantly like rationalizing things. So I have 2 things that are totally opposite about everything ever that are just fighting. I feel like when I let the rational outweigh the romantics when I don’t write as well or I don’t want to be as honest.

How do you keep that romanticism? Is it something you automatically feel?

I think it comes with newness. Like when something new it’s really special. Anything new to me is like mindblowing for some reason. With all new things it’s like, "wow this is so exciting". As far as being in a relationship goes it’s weird playing these songs. I still feel them as much as I felt them. It’s like well I feel differently now and I have to say something. I think it’s newness and coming to terms with at a certain point I’m going to have to romanticize what is happening now but it might take a little bit and I have to let myself do that.

Do you ever play a song and there's something you want to change because you just don’t feel that way anymore?

Yes. I don’t know yet, all these songs I really really love so dearly but also like the reason I want to go in the studio so bad and I want to find the right producer so urgently is because like I don’t feel the same way and I’m going to have to really really get them out of my system and be able to dive into them and either change them or leave them alone and leave what’s left over to be said later. I don’t know. I do want to change things a lot, or I do want to say more. I want to tell people sometimes this is how I felt after the fact. I don’t know.

Do you ever feel like when you get up there to perform those really emotional songs you don’t want to? Just cause it’s so draining to be that honest?

Sometimes. Sometimes I feel tired. Like tonight, halfway through the first song I just felt weird. I picked up later in the set I was like oh actually people are listening. I felt a little strange, sometimes I do feel a little strange. Sometimes I just don’t have the emotional energy to say what I need to say in the way that I want to say it.

It probably gets exhausting, when something means that much to you it’s really hard.

I think it’s like that with any art form you pursue probably. Photography, art, writing, anything like that I think at a certain point if you really really super care about it and you want to pour everything you have into it there are times when the circumstances are just totally fucking exhausting to the point where you’re like I don’t give a shit.

What’s the Nashville music scene like?

It’s really fun! There’s a lot of positive young people coming out of there...It’s easy to weed out the bad people or the people who just want to show their shit like brag on it or want something from you. It can be kind of frequent in Nashville like somebody that's trying to brag or tell you who they’re working with. Like I really don’t give a shit, if I like your music I just like you and I don’t care who you’re working with, I want you to be successful. It’s a weird scene but it’s so much fun. I feel really blessed to be a part of it. It’s really cool.