HomeEF CountryInterview: Madeline Edwards on crash-landing in Europe, genre boundaries and the secret...

Interview: Madeline Edwards on crash-landing in Europe, genre boundaries and the secret behind ‘Mama, Dolly & Jesus’

We got an email from Warner Nashville last year alerting us to an artist, Madeline Edwards, that they thought was something different and very special. The usual hype. PR spin, right? Wrong! They were bang-on correct on this one as we fell in love with her ‘Crashlanded’ album from the off. You can read our review of the album right here.

Edwards has received notable acclaim for her unique ability to transcend musical boundaries with a one-of-a-kind sound that blends jazz, soul, gospel and country music. In addition to opening for Chris Stapleton’s “All American Road Show” last Summer, Edwards brought her show to SXSW as one of Rolling Stone’s Best of and performed at the Long Road Festival right here in the UK as part of Rissi Palmer’s ‘Color Me Country’ ensemble. ‘Crashlanded’ is her major label debut for Warner Music Nashville and it’s clear from the outset that we are witnessing the emergence of a truly unique artist. It was great to catch up with her at this year’s C2C festival in London to talk to her all about it.

Lovely to finally talk to you Madeline, how are you finding the UK?

I’m just back from Paris, which was the second time I’ve been there. I took my husband, it was his first time, and we hung out in all the Jazz places and really tried to take in that scene. I love y’all’s appreciation for art and culture over here. Everything has been built to last here, from the music to the art to the architecture – everything has been built with depth and longevity in mind.

You don’t see that as much in America. Even in the music and art scenes to a degree, lots of people only get into those things just to be famous. They want their 15 minutes of fame and then they all fade away. It’s not like that over here in Europe as much, and I love it very much! I would love to have a base or another home here, it would be an absolute dream.

I want to say thank you for including my review of ‘Crashlanded’ in your end of year Instagram post. It was there right next to your appearance on the Bobby Bones show!

It was Jim, my husband, that showed me the review of your album. He’s not on social media but he will check up on what’s going on in my life online sometimes! (laughing) So he googles ‘Madeline Edwards’ periodically to see what’s happening and it was him that saw your review.

He said that when he read your review it made him cry and he told me to read it. It made me emotional too. That was the most flattered I had felt in my entire life and I feel like you understood the project more than anyone else I know in terms of what I was trying to achieve, so thank you. I appreciated your review so much.

‘Crashlanded’ is a very special album. I might be viewing it through European eyes – we aren’t held to ransom by genre boundaries here or FM radio hegemony either. You probably wouldn’t have been able to make the album a decade ago because Country wouldn’t have allowed it. All the genres are blurring now.

No, I wouldn’t have. I’m here at the right place and the right time now and I’m very lucky. There isn’t a single day that goes by when I don’t think about how lucky I am. I could have just missed the mark because Country is just beginning to open up to blended sounds and styles and I’m able to sit alongside artists like Zach Bryan and Kassi Ashton and Ian Munsick.

Europe and the UK seems to be less obsessed with genres and ‘what’ things are. This is a very unique time in the history of music as genres begin to blur and I’m so lucky that I am here making music now.

You came over to the UK last year for the Long Road festival with Rissi Palmer and that is essentially her story in terms of Nashville not accepting her for who she was and trying to shape her into who they wanted her to be.

At that time, for sure. And now she’s having the recognition that she is absolutely due, which is great to see. She’s a mom with kids now and can’t tour as much as she’d like to. I talk about artists like Rissi and Miko Marks all the time because I now have access to the opportunities that they didn’t have, whether that’s because of the genre or because of colour, it doesn’t matter. It could be both. I’m just so grateful for them and the doors they have opened up in these past few years.

You came from a musical family. When did you first realise you could sing and then when did you realise you wanted to do it for a career?

I always wanted to sing, I just didn’t know whether I was good enough. There was an old show in the States called Star Search – I think Beyonce was on there at one point, it came before all the X Factors, Idols and America’s Got Talent shows. I remember being about 5 or 6 years old and I begged my mom to let me go on the show and sing! (laughing)

I practised to Mariah Carey and thought that her song ‘Dream Lover’ would be the song I sang! I practised this song for weeks and then performed it for my mom. She immediately cut me off and said ‘You are five years old, you are not singing that song on television!’ (laughing) So I knew from a pretty young age that I wanted to sing. My parents weren’t musical but music was embedded in the house – we were always listening to Miles Davis, The Carpenters, Bread, Earth Wind and Fire and there was a shit-ton of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston going on there too! (laughing) The music never stopped.

My dad was adopted and my mom comes from a Jewish background and so there’s a lot of different influences in our family and me and my siblings are all musical so there’s something buried deep within the genetics of our family somewhere!

Was your break-out moment the 2021 CMA performance with Mickey Guyton and Brittney Spencer do you think?

Yes, I think that was my ‘break-out’ moment. When Covid happened I was playing in bars and in Jazz clubs in Houston and all of those jobs went away. I wasn’t singing or playing as much and that was a turning point for me. I had reached a point in my career where I was very discouraged about what I was achieving. It turned into something of a bad attitude for me – I wasn’t a recording artist, it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, just playing little bars and Jazz clubs, you know? I wanted to be on the stages and arenas and TV screens of a wider audience. I had a really bad attitude towards it but once it all got taken away by Covid my mentality shifted and it helped me to have a better attitude – I didn’t care, then, whether I was singing my songs, cover versions, Kenny Chesney songs, whatever! I just wanted to be singing again.

It made me work a lot harder and push myself to be a better artist as well. The decision to move to Nashville came out of that new attitude too. I knew that I needed to work harder to achieve more.

Was leaving Texas for Nashville a hard decision to make?

It was difficult because my whole community was there. My family, my friends and I had built this little scene that really believed in my music and I left that behind for the uncertainty of Nashville! (laughing) I’m going back soon to celebrate my 30th birthday and play some hometown shows!

I didn’t think I was going to like Nashville but it turns out that I do! (laughing) It’s slowly becoming more like home now.

Were you ever intimidated by the fact that everyone in Nashville is talented or did you always have belief in your own abilities?

I think I always had belief in myself, for sure. I do get intimidated sometimes but I’m a true believer in the saying that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’. I have such a great community around me in Nashville – my husband and my manger Sam will step in when they see me getting into the mindset of worrying about why people are doing things or achieving things that I’m not and snap me out of that line of thought.

There is a place for everybody in today’s music industry and I think Country music is more open and accepting to artists who are more on the Americana side, the Western side, the Country/Pop side – the spectrum is growing and my space is way more unique than a lot of people out there! (laughing)

I feel like ‘Crashlanded’ didn’t have the easiest of births. Did it all come together very quickly or had you had the origins of a lot of the songs for a long time?

I did have the origins of the ideas for quite a long time. Some did come together quickly once we got in the studio, like ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’, for example. We wrote that in one day right after I found out I was going out on tour with Chris Stapleton! I’m so proud of the songs on ‘Crashlanded’ but I think I have record two planned out already! But then some songs will be written because of experiences I am yet to have, and that happened a little with ‘Crashlanded’.

I never planned on ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’ being on the record.

I’m always fascinated by what song artists choose to close down their albums with, it’s such an important part of an album, how you leave the listener feeling. Why did you put ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’ in that slot?

That song is almost like a letter to myself and a letter to the audience to explain everything that I’d been through in order to put the record out. I wanted to get that message of gratitude out and remind people to remember to be grateful for the things they have in life, I thought that was a good message to end to album with.

Life will also send things our way that get us down and I think it’s important to try and keep perspective and be grateful for the things you do have, not what you don’t. For me, I had to work out early on what success means – it is the balance between getting to do my art and no-one telling me how to do it. I’m in a fortunate position right now in that I’m signed to a major label that let me do what I want in the way I want to do it and I get to balance that with my family and my personal life. That is what I’m grateful for – not awards, big tour slots or the things that other artists are doing or achieving. ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’ is a reminder to all of us, me included, to be grateful for what you have.

The title track opens the album, which again is clearly another intentional decision. You sing about alienation on that track – has that been a prevalent feeling for you throughout your life?

It has, probably almost my whole life, in different ways. It has always been there. It changes all the time but growing up in a multi-cultural household in two completely different political environments can make you feel like an alien on your own planet at times! (laughing) I feel like a lot of people feel the same way. I don’t think that’s just me.

The current political environment and things like social media have really changed people’s mentality and has made people feel more and more alone and isolated. Covid didn’t help but we aren’t helping ourselves, either.

‘Spurs’ has a Bruno Mars-esque vibe to it and I can imagine some gatekeepers in Country music would be scratching their heads in confusion if they heard it. How do you cope with people telling you online that you can’t be part of the Country music community?

I loved that you picked that up about that song. It used to bother me, at first. Elle King is a good friend of mine and she got a lot of negative comments about not being ‘Country’ at the start of her journey too. She taught me a good lesson in learning to say to people that you belong here. It might not be the kind of Country that you are used to hearing but it is still Country music.

I have massive respect for older Country music and I implement it into my newer style of writing and production. You could drill right down into what is Country music but that’s a question that people have been asking for nearly a hundred years now and no-one has ever settled on an answer or definition because it means so many different things to so many different people. Some people say that Brandi Carlisle is not a Country artist but to me, she’s the most Country that there is. I’m not going to say that artists like Dan + Shay are not Country either because, depending on what your definition of the genre is, they might be ‘more’ Country than Brandi Carlisle! (laughing)

‘Mama, Dolly, Jesus’ is the album’s signature song. That and ‘The Wolves’. It feels like a nailed on Country radio number one to me. What made you pick those three icons during the writing process?

I’m going to tell you a secret that I have not told anyone else before. Because Dolly is such a prominent figure in the genre, in Nashville and the wider cultural zeitgeist of the south, there was some talk early on about maybe her being an over-used trope. I really wanted to put her into the song because she has been historically controversial without getting under anyone’s skin, everyone respects her despite her being quite politely controversial, right? She speaks her mind and never falls on any one side, politically, in public even though we all know exactly what it is she believes in. I’ve always respected that about her but we were worried that ‘another’ song about Dolly might just be too much so we talked about the song being ‘Mama, Shania and Jesus’.

I love Shania Twain, I’m obsessed with her and when I was younger I probably listened to more Shania than Dolly because she exploded in that late nineties period when I was a young girl into music. But, at the end of the day, the ‘story’ and the narrative behind the song had to be perfect and including Dolly as the reference was more perfect even though lots of other artists use her as a reference as well. Everyone respects Shania but Dolly’s respect is almost at saint-level, right? (laughing)

Has there ever been talk of trying to get Dolly on the song in some way?

Potentially, there has. There was talk of her being in the video at one point. She’s, obviously, a very busy woman but hopefully at some point there might be an opportunity to involve her on it in some way. Chapel Hart had their ‘You Can Have Him Jolene’ song out for quite a while before Dolly ever heard it or got involved. I know she’s going to hear this song at some point and hopefully she might want to get involved on it.

You got to write with so many great writers on ‘Crashlanded’ – Emily Weissband, Ross Copperman, Laura Veltz to name but a few. If you could sit down and write the first single from your next album with anyone – who would you choose?

Laura Veltz just got nominated for a Grammy! I was so thrilled for her. My answer might not be what anyone would be expecting but I’d love to get into a room with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. He also has a side project called The Arcs that I’m a huge fan of too. I’ve written with a couple of members of The Arcs and I think Dan is one of my favourite writers and producers who would compliment what I am trying to do as well.

I would say Dan or Blake Mills, who is a writer out of Los Angeles. He’s worked with the likes of John Legend, Alabama Shakes, Laura Marling and Jack Johnson. They are both my favourite producers of all time and I would be honoured to work or write with them.

Madeline Edwards has just announced her debut London heading show for July 7th – check out her ‘Crashlanded’ album and grab a ticket to the show right here

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