From 2011 to 2020, SAAM hosted Luce Unplugged, a free, monthly concert series that celebrated the work of local musicians in its Luce Foundation Center. Since in-person events have been restricted during the pandemic, we teamed up with a local music podcast, Hometown Sounds, to continue to bring you music and conversations from your favorite DC artists. In our February episode, singer-songwriter Maddi Mae describes her approach to writing the music she wants to hear in the Virginia home she loves. To hear the full interview, visit hometownsoundsdc.com.
Hometown Sounds: “Quiet Corners of Virginia” is the title track of your six-song EP, Quiet Corners, which came out in September of 2020. Could you tell us what living in Virginia means to you and your music?
Maddi Mae: I wrote "Quiet Corners of Virginia" in 2019, right before I went into the studio to record. At the time, I had so much optimism about things that were happening in my life. I had some big people talking to me about big breaks. Everyone around me was saying, Maddi Mae, it's about to happen. But I've been told it's about to happen since I was like 15 years old. So, I was thinking, I don't think so, something bad's gonna happen and nothing will come of all this.
I wrote the song about debating the inner voices that were saying it's not gonna happen and about hiding in the quiet corners of Virginia and enjoying my peace and quiet and my status as a no one. COVID hit and I knew I was right. It hurts to say told you so to yourself.
Virginia is the best place. I love it. I love the mountains. I've grown to love this flat region, full of fields. When I moved up to Northern Virginia, I was living around too many people. I was getting stressed out. I moved out onto a 500-acre farm and I'm much happier now. I live on a big, old farm surrounded by the Rappahannock River. It's great.
What did you learn by releasing this breakout EP during the pandemic when you weren't able to do things a release show and touring?
I think I was reminded of some things, if anything. I put a lot of effort into that record. I play every single instrument on it, except for the drums and one slide guitar part. I spent savings that I had worked hard for. I took five weeks off my job to focus on it. Everybody was telling me to throw caution to the wind and just go for it. I worked with Kyle Miller of the band Tow’rs at Lower Audio out in Flagstaff to record. I had some specific people interested in the work that I was doing, and I was really excited about showing off what I could do. I dropped “Here Right Now” and it like blew up a little bit.
I had 12,000 monthly listeners that first month, which was huge, because I was nobody. I felt so much hope. That was earlier in 2020. Then, as the months went on, I had to release music as the world was crumbling around me. Even out on my little farm, I knew that things were really bad. I felt horrible releasing music. It was an ego death in a lot of ways.
I think what I learned from that experience is that I should only be making music if it's what I really, really love. I want to make songs that I love listening to and think less about a consumer. I'm not just talking about listeners; I also mean consumers in the industry that have those little golden tickets. I learned that, wait, I gotta make music for me. I want to put good things out in the world and things that I really care about. Knowing that it exists in the world is enough for me. I've been writing songs that are more authentic and uplifting and a little less surface level since I released that music.
Do you have a favorite place to write? Where do you get your best ideas?
My favorite place to write is out on the farm. 100%. I live in a mid-century modern architectural experiment cottage that’s on the property of a pre-Civil War manse. I live in a small pool house with windows on all four walls and skylights. I watch bald eagles fly by. I'm on a hill and I can see the valley and I can see the Rappahannock River. There are cows, foxes, groundhogs, and coyotes. There are tons of deer and turkeys, and occasionally, bears. I feel very peaceful there. It's so quiet and I write my music there. I can whip a song out in half an hour to an hour.
As far as inspiration, I am inspired by the things that happen in my life and processing them. I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder. I was raised in a bit of a cult-like environment, very abusive, and I was homeless as a teenager. I’ve spent ten years un-brainwashing myself, and songwriting has been such a huge part of that. I’m reminding myself of reality, reminding myself of my values, comforting myself, processing my grief. Out there on the farm, I feel like I can do that. Then, if I'm exhausted afterwards, I get in my hammock, or I can curl up on the couch, or I can go lay in the sun, or walk to the river and ground myself again.
Maddi, you have a music video coming out in a couple of weeks. Is the video driven by a story or concept?
It's a live performance video in an artist's home. I'm excited about that because I think that's what I've really gotten good at. I've played over 500 shows and most of them have been three hours long. Live performance is really like where I feel like a craftsman.
I recorded it with Wallflower Wanderer, really top-notch videographers who are interested in capturing other artists, at no cost to the artists, which is really kind and special. It was nice to collaborate with them and to help spread the word about what they're doing.
Can you tell us about Maddi Mae’s Sound House?
Due to the pandemic, I had to reduce the number of gigs I was playing and I also could not visit students at home. I had private clients that I would drive to and spend time with their families and play music with them. It was great, but it was also dangerous. I taught online for about a year. Then when things were going back to normal in the beginning of 2021, I was like, oh, I can't go back to that much driving and I don't think gigs are gonna come back yet in the way that they were. So, I opened this little studio on the main street of a little town, and I teach about 25 people.
I love it because I feel like it’s a safe place for people to be themselves. Sound House is also a safe space for me because, when I taught at other studios, I faced a lot of sexual harassment as one of the few women in the space. It was hard. I would try to lean into the expectation of being fun and flirty and easy going, but I was really hurting inside.
It's a great little space. I teach beginner, intermediate, and advanced and I also do workshopping for songwriters and drag queens and anyone else who wants to work on their craft. I love all the people that come here every week. It's special.