Young Americana: Maddie Medley
From playing bluegrass covers in bars at 12 years old to save up money for a car, to opting out of college, then opening for Nathaniel Rateliff at the Alabama Theater, 20 year old songwriter, Maddie Medley’s drive and resilience are apparent when meeting her. Her recent success can be attributed to these qualities, though she hasn’t done it alone. Maddie talked to us about a Birmingham radio DJ, a Nashville songwriter, and a manager that have taken her music from demos in her bedroom, to songs that people are starting to sing along to.
Can you tell us about your background?
So I’m from Franklin, originally. I am 20 now. I was supposed to go to college, but when I graduated high school, I was like, “I can’t do that. I really don’t want to do that.” So I decided to just embrace the Nashville music scene and moved to West Nashville and met a lot of other really incredible musicians and started playing shows here. I started out playing music in Louisville, Kentucky originally. When I was younger, I really wanted to buy a car, so when I was 12, I Started playing out in bars in Louisville and playing old country and bluegrass covers. Which is crazy because they would pay me like 250, to play a bunch of covers for three hours. So I kinda got used to performing live there, but it wasn’t until I got into Fiona Apple and some really strong female musicians, that I started writing on my own.
Is that the kind of music you grew up on? Bluegrass?
Yeah, I grew up on Bluegrass and Country. My first show was I think the Dixie Chicks, and they’re still one of my favorite bands now. I love country. I love old, sassy, sassy country music.
How did your parents handle you not wanting to go to college?
Way better than I could have dreamed. I thought they would be angry with me a little bit. I had spent the entirety of my high school career saying I was definitely going to college, and then Senior year I was back and forth, but still saying, “I’m gonna go.” Then it was literally the day after I graduated high school when I was like, “I can’t do it.” I remember sitting down with my mom on her bedroom floor, like, “I can’t do it.” They really just encouraged me to focus wholeheartedly on music if that’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what I’ve tried to do since then.
Do they do music too?
No. Well, my mom does some graphic design for a real estate company, which is awesome. Then my dad sells construction equipment. So no musicians in my family other than me, which is interesting. I feel like it made them a little more supportive of me in some ways. Since no one else played music, they always saw it as a special thing to bring the family together. I was always playing at family gatherings and stuff.
So when did you write the stuff you have out now?
So I put out like a terrible - it was when I was in high school - EP of songs on Bandcamp that I recorded in my room back when I was in that Bandcamp phase which I feel like is a really specific genre, like bedroom…
Yeah, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever and I just loved to soak everything in reverb. So I put that out when I was in high school on Bandcamp. And recently, we went and recorded some demos, and somehow decided they were good enough to sell at shows. People seemed to really like them which has been really cool. It’s just me and my guitar. We’ll be putting out a song called, “Coming of Age” soon from the demos on Spotify and stuff so I’m really excited about that.
Is that just you or is there a band?
It’s just me. Which is strange and I feel like putting out demos, people are like, “Why are you doing that?” And then they listen to it and it’s actually pretty cool. We didn’t really put that out, we just started selling them at shows. My last show, I played at the Basement East and it was my first show selling them, and I put on Instagram and everything that I was bringing CDs tonight and I totally forgot them.
Is it all new songs?
It’s all new songs. Pretty much everything in my set I wrote this year. Edith I wrote when I was 16. But all the other songs, I wrote in January and February this year. I just had a surge of creative energy and anger. I just needed to get this out, so they’re pretty recent. When they’re six months old it doesn’t feel real to me, and in the grand scheme of things, I’m like, “Oh, I wrote this seven months ago,” You just have to sit with the new feelings and wait for the words to come out with the new ones. It’s a never ending process, but it’s good.
Do you ever play with a full band?
I used to play with a full band a lot more frequently than I do now. I love the energy of it, but in the past year, I’ve found a lot of power in making my set as intimate as possible because I am so abrasive when I sing and I feel like I just demand attention a little bit. So I’ve gone a little back and forth. So hopefully I’ll start playing with a band soon, but finding the right dynamics in a band can be a little bit tricky and that’s something that I’m trying to maneuver right now and going forward, want to get better at maneuvering.
I feel like it has to be delicate enough, with your music, or it could just sound really loud.
Right, and I don’t even like - my guitar is always too loud. It’s always too loud. So if I’m not even great at making my guitar not too loud, I’m probably not great at managing a band, handling our sound and dynamics. I feel like I’m very singular sometimes in the way that I write music and the way I perform. So I can be a little bit picky. I have a really awesome lead guitarist, so it’s just me and him playing shows recently. People are like, “You just have a lead guitarist up there with you?” and I’m like, “Yeah, we’re gonna build off of it.”
If it works, it works. Are you planning on recording in a studio anytime soon?
In the next year, yeah. I think that’s where we’re headed and where I’d like to be headed soon. There are so many awesome producers in Nashville and so many people I’d like to be working with and I think right now the goal is just to find the right producer because there are so many of them.
Well, and they’ll dictate what your sound is going to end up being.
It’s definitely like a trial and error thing. It’s ideal to have as much control as possible with how your sound comes out.
How did you get connected with Don [VanCleave]?
A songwriter in Nashville, Matthew Perryman Jones saw me play - it must have been at the End. And then a radio show host in Birmingham named Scott Register who is an angel was at dinner with Matthew and was like, “So, have you heard any new bands in Nashville that you like?” And Matthew told him about me. So Scott knows Don and has known him for years and years so he emailed me and was like, “I’d like to call you and have a discussion with you.” So we talked and he told me he knew this guy Don VanCleave who he would like to work with me. So we met in February and as soon as I met him, I was like, “This is the guy.” He has several daughters, so he’s just really good with women and I feel like the emotional landscape of me is very complicated and he’s very cool and understanding. So Reg, Scott Register introduced me to Don and I’m forever thankful for that because he’s opened a lot of doors for me and has been such a rock in the past few months.
What do you have coming up?
I’m playing in Birmingham with Jake Bugg which is my biggest show yet, so I’m really excited about that. Birmingham people are really nice to me. I feel like I wish I could just move all the Birmingham people to Nashville. Jake Bugg is going to be really fun and I’m stoked about that. I like him a lot. He’s got such a unique voice. I think I was nannying when Don called me and was like, “Hey, I think we’re gonna get an offer on the Jake Bugg show,” and that wasn’t even in my realm of thoughts at all. I’m such a dummy. I started crying and was like, “Oh my god, that’s so cool.”
What was the last show you did in Birmingham?
I did a show with Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and Durand Jones and the Indications. That was November 1st. It was at a beautiful theater called the Alabama Theater. It seats like 3,000 and I had never played to that many people before so I was terrified. But I got up there and was like, this is awesome, this feels great. So that was really really cool. That was my first actual big show outside of Nashville. So that’s my second show in Birmingham.
People probably kinda know you there now?
Yeah, so Reg had me on the show in March, right after he introduced me to Don. He played me demos on the radio and would talk about me on air and people took a liking to it a really exciting way. I‘ve been playing music for years but I’m career wise, I’m still in the early stages, so I didn’t expect demos of just me and my guitar to resonate with people and they really did.
So when I was playing that show at the Alabama Theater, I was about to play Edith, which I always play last and somebody shouted out, “Edith”, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is ridiculous. It made me want to cry, I thought it was so cool.” So that was amazing and this will be my second Birmingham show and I’m stoked.
I love that these shows have come from a radio DJ playing your songs on air.
Totally. It’s funny, we’re gonna put out a song on Spotify in January, but I totally see what you’re saying because the way it moves with radio feels a lot more natural. I have some stuff online, but nothing on Spotify. And my boyfriend’s band [Dan Luke and the Raid], as soon as they put their song out, it was instant, on these playlist. Which was awesome, but I think it feels more natural on the radio.