photo by Jayme Satery
Maddie Ross wants a cheerleader girlfriend, an English teacher boyfriend, and Liv Tyler at the end of the world (who wouldn’t)? She is making space: for herself, for queer kids struggling, for anyone who enjoys traditional bubblegum pop with a modern spin. A graduate of USC and a current Glassell Park resident, she has the academic merit and Angeleno cred to back up her undeniable talent, which is gaining traction as she gears up to release debut album Never Have I Ever on May 10 and hit the road with KT Tunstall.
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Maddie Ross: “Too loud for the minivan.” This always makes me laugh. After the very first song we (me and my girlfriend/producer, Wolfy) recorded for my first EP, we showed it to her mom, looking for some easy parental approval. Her mom covered her ears and had this look of shock on her face. “Why is it so loud?!”
My music ranges from mellow and poppy to some louder rock songs, but I love this description because it strikes at the heart of the message. My songs are about taking up space as a female and lesbian, being free, being bold, being loud, and unlearning all of the ingrained tendencies to know your place and be pleasing to others.
ND: What got you started in music? What is the reason you are here today?
MR: Family is the reason I’m doing what I’m doing. My father is musically brilliant, and taught me to play guitar at a young age. I immediately began writing songs, and was always encouraged to express myself. I’m definitely plagued with the doubt and uncertainty that many freelance artists seem to deal with, especially as I get older and take on more and more financial responsibilities. But whenever I’ve questioned my path or my potential, my parents, brother and sister have filled me with courage and belief in myself. I know how rare that is, and I know how lucky I am to have that foundation and support system.
ND: How do you hope to influence your audience?
MR: I began dating my girlfriend 5.5 years ago, when we were seniors in college. We had been in the same music program at USC together all four years. We made my first EP (the loud one) the year we started dating, and my music was very dark and brooding. I was dealing with a lot of anxiety, fear and shame as I came out of the closet and addressed a very massive part of my identity.
Years later, I made an EP called “Making Out Is Easy”, and I realized that my songs were happy, upbeat and full of light. I had been in a stable, happy relationship for a few years by that point, and was comfortably out of the closet. I realized that I hadn’t had the opportunity yet to write about my beautiful love story, because I didn’t have any gay pride when we first started dating. Once I had that realization, I started writing my favorite songs of my career. It became my mission to provide people – allies and especially queer/LGBTQIA struggling kids – with an example of a happy, fulfilled gay person. I want my audience to know that a happy relationship is theirs for the taking, and that being queer is wonderful and exciting.
ND: What do you do when your creativity is blocked?
MR: Honestly, the only answer is work. There are all sorts of tricks and tools you can do to get out of a block, but the one thing you can’t do is wait it out. Of course I believe in the ebbs and flow of creative bursts, and I have periods of time where I just live my life and don’t put pressure on myself to create. But, to be an artist, it’s important to always keep moving, start new projects, set new goals, and put the work in.
ND: What fires you up and gives you energy?
MR: The song “Lime In the Coconut”. And being a room with lots of queer people or teenagers or minorities with a fire to change things, or anyone passionate.
ND: Can you tell us a little known fact?
MR: The average trained dog knows about 150 words. The world’s smartest dogs know about 1,000 words. My dog, Zeus, is supposedly smart and trained, but he conveniently forgets certain commands from time to time.
ND: Where is your favorite place in Los Angeles and why?
MR: I adore my neighborhood, Glassell Park. It feels like the suburban Northern California town I grew up in, and you forget that you’re 15 minutes away from Downtown LA. I know a lot of the neighbors because I walk Zeus every day and say hi to everybody, and there’s a beautiful trail by my house that overlooks the city skyline. The absolute best spot in the neighborhood is Lemon Poppy Kitchen. I go there whenever I get paid! It’s a neighborhood café unlike any other I’ve ever been to. They’ve created a wonderful community, the entire staff from the kitchen staff to the servers to the owners are all creative, engaging, and passionate, and the food is stupidly good no matter what you order.
ND: How do you make music? Briefly chronicle your creative process.
MR: My process is fairly solitary. I record a lot of ideas using the Voice Memo app on my phone, and once I have a section or idea I like, I make a demo on my laptop. My demos usually are just acoustic guitar, some background vocals, and occasionally a few percussive ideas or instrumentals. Then I send them to Wolfy, and that’s where shit gets done! She is hands down the most musically talented and creative person I’ve met. She takes my ideas and turns them into a fully produced song. She’ll often add sections or change the chords, or come up with additional melodies. Then she’ll give me a fully fleshed out track, and from there I finish all of the lyrics and melodies. Then we’ll go to the studio where she works for a few days and re-record the instruments, add new parts, etc.
I’ve tried writing music a lot of different ways and with different people, but this works really well for us and we’ve been able to be really productive this way. I also love when she gives me a fully finished track that she thinks fits my sound, and then I topline it (write the melody and lyrics).
ND: What is coming up?
MR: SO MUCH. My debut album is out on May 10th, and I’ll be on tour opening for KT Tunstall from May 8th-May 19th.
One of the craziest moments of my life occurred last summer, when I tweeted about a festival she was playing. She saw my tweet and ended up checking out my music and inviting me to open for her on tour! She’s a role model to me in so many ways, and I feel crazy lucky for the opportunity she gave me.
Once the album is out and tour is done, it’ll be the first moment of pause for me musically in almost a year. I’m excited to write a new album over the summer and to play some shows. It’s a little scary not knowing what the Summer and Fall look right now, but I’m finally developing faith in our process and hope that more exciting things will come up.
ND: Describe your style – musically and otherwise.
MR: Musically, my style is anything that you would want to sing along to in a car with your best friend. I grew up loving a diverse range of music, from rap to emo to bubblegum pop, but the common thread in the things I gravitate towards is honest lyrics and insight into the person making the music. I don’t like to be mysterious – I prefer to put myself out there and let everyone in. Maybe it’s a side effect of hiding a huge part of who I am for so long. Music is my place to express myself, so I’m not going to hold back.
Fashion wise? I grew up on hand-me-downs from my older sister and have never had much of an interest in clothes. I think tomboy-ish, comfortable, and casual define me but, who really knows?
ND: What is the best advice you’ve received and the best advice you can impart onto us?
MR: My girlfriend is constantly asking “what’s next?”. She has an insatiable desire to create, and is stunningly fearless. I try to absorb as much as that as I can, and the longer I’ve been doing this with her at my side, the more I have seen that it’s the key to everything. When you first put music out it feels so permanent and grand and serious, but you should never be pinning your hopes on any one thing and you should never stop creating, or you will no longer be a creator. It’s a muscle that requires work, and I’ve had a lot of tears and tough conversations when I’m feeling discouraged. But life moves forward, and nobody makes things happen for you. I try to always remind myself of this, and hope everyone in the world can find and foster that internal drive.
ND: Any closing words?
MR: Thanks so much for featuring me! And thank you for doing the often thankless job of connecting art and creators with the rest of the world.
I’d love to see some of you out there on the road this May, and I hope you check out my album Never Have I Ever, out everywhere on May 10th!
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