“I keep saying we are the queens of catching curve balls,” says Maddie & Tae’s Maddie Marlow, calling from her home in Nashville. “We can catch a curve ball like no one’s business.”
Like so many, Marlow and her musical comrade Tae Dye are sequestered at home in an effort to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has halted much of the music industry, requiring the halting or rescheduling of tours and album releases, and dramatically shifting the album release plans for artists and their teams.
Mercury Nashville duo Maddie & Tae released their new album The Way It Feels today (April 10) and are among those artists who have had their album release plans change, but they are taking it in stride.
“We did have to change most of our plans, but I will say, I think God kinda prepared us for this because we’ve experienced a lot of change with really, really big life changes in the past three to four years,” Maddie says. “Just the fact that it’s been such a crazy world to live in right now, that just getting to release this long awaited project has been a light at the end of the tunnel for us and has been such a bright spot in our world. So we’re just grateful that we’re finally getting to release this whole entire story.”
That story has been an emotional rollercoaster Maddie & Tae, who first made serious inroads to success after signing with Big Machine Label Group in 2014 and releasing their breakthrough No. 1 hit, “Girl In A Country Song,” which took aim at gender stereotypes in country music. The song has since been certified Platinum. They followed it with their debut album Start Here and the Top 10, Gold-certified hit, “Fly.”
However, by 2017, Dot Records suddenly folded, leaving the duo without a label home. Maddie & Tae kept their focus on their friendship and the music.
“We definitely leaned on each other a lot, and I think some people may do the opposite under stress and pressure. We’re really grateful for the friendship that we’ve built over the past ten years, because it’s that foundation and that strength that has persevered through so many crazy times throughout our career and just throughout our life. I couldn’t imagine being a solo artist going through all of that by myself,” Maddie says. “We just wrote during that entire time. That’s why all of the stories are happy and sad, because everything we were feeling during that. That’s the only thing we knew to do, was write about it.”
Maddie & Tae were barely out of their teen years when they penned their first album; the new project is filled with even deeper, more vulnerable lyrics, paired with a more mature, polished brand of pop-country, added to their tightly-woven harmonies.
The Way It Feels’ first single, “Die From A Broken Heart,” was written two weeks after Tae had gotten out of a three-year relationship and while the duo was still looking for a label home after their deal with Dot Records dissolved.
“There was a lot of uncertainty and unknown ahead at that point,” Maddie says. “And poor Tae, she was so fresh off of the breakup and yet still was willing to dig in there and write this song.” They penned the track with Jonathan Singleton and Deric Ruttan.
“Jonathan actually had the title,” Maddie recalls. “He said that he saw some like Instagram post that said, ‘Can you die of a hangover?’ He thought it was awesome and was like, ‘I wonder, can you die from a broken heart? That would be a great song title.’ And we thought, ‘Man, it’d be so cool to tell the story from a whole bunch of different characters and include a whole bunch of different people.’ So we are really proud of that song.”
A few months after the exit from their former label, Maddie & Tae inked a new deal with Universal Music Group Nashville, home to artists including Little Big Town, Eric Church, Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood. Last year, they played 55 cities on Underwood’s Cry Pretty Tour 360 and to date, they’ve earned 812 million streams.
Among the champions at UMG Nashville is Stephanie Wright.
“She’s our guardian angel. That’s what we call her,” Maddie says. “We came in very discouraged when we had our first meeting with her because we didn’t really know what to do. We were confused, and we were defeated, honestly. But she put that confidence in us and just allowed us to have true creative freedom. A lot of people say that they want you to have creative freedom, and then they put their thumb on you. But she said it and completely meant it. She wanted us to go home and feel whatever we needed to feel, write about anything and everything, and there was nothing off limits.”
Emboldened by a new label team, the girls got to work, upping the intensity in the writing room and challenging themselves to be open about the highs and lows of their journey. Maddie & Tae are writers on 14 of the album’s 15 tracks, collaborating with writers including Jordan Reynolds, Dave Barnes, Josh Kerr, Jimmy Robbins, Laura Veltz and Jon Nite.
“Trying On Rings” draws from Maddie’s love story with her husband Jonah Font; the couple wed in 2019. “Friends Don’t” examines the “are-we-or-aren’t-we” questions that come with transitioning from “just friends” to a couple. They welcomed former tour-mate Dierks Bentley on the sultry “Lay Here With Me.”
“I think a lot of the best songs that we wrote for this project work because we are so self aware of what we were struggling with and what we were happy about. We wrote with writers that were not afraid to deep dive or just have open minds and open hearts. We really had to know ourselves to write this album,” Tae says.
The stunning “Water In His Wine Glass,” tackles alcoholism and was inspired by “a family member, someone really close to our family who was struggling with alcohol,” says Maddie. “We were all hurting for him. I was really nervous in the writing room, because that’s just not a subject that comes from Tae and I, typically. We hadn’t covered that topic yet, so I just said, ‘Let’s write from that story, and let’s write a prayer for someone that you love that’s struggling with that.’ And we wrote the song in like 21 minutes. It was the fastest song we’ve ever written.”
“We walked into a writing session with Jon Nite and Jimmy Robbins. I asked for a bottle of water and Jimmy was like, ‘We don’t have any bottles. Can I get you a glass?’ I was like ‘Oh, that’s perfect.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, we’re out of clean glasses. Can I get you water in a wine glass?’ And Tae and I are suckers for alliteration so we loved it and we thought it was such a cool title.
“Actually when I sent the song to my dad, he got so mad at me because he’s like this big, burly Texas man, and he said, ‘I’m sitting in Longhorn Steakhouse, and you did not give me a heads up, and I just started balling.’ And the waitress was like, ‘Are you okay? Are you okay?'” Maddie says, laughing.
Just weeks before the album’s release, they made another bold move, opting to change the project’s title from One Heart To Another to its current listing, The Way It Feels.
“Maddie actually had the idea,” says Tae. “We had done the photo shoot to match the title One Heart To Another, with that photo of us standing back-to-back and we’re holding hands, because it just shows a lot of strength and vulnerability. One day Maddie was listening to [SiriusXM’s] The Highway and they played one of the songs from our album, called ‘Bathroom Floor.’ When the line ‘I bet you’re gonna love the way it feels’ came on, that line just hit her differently and she thought it should be the name of the album.
“Thinking about it now, this album is 15 songs and it’s so many stories. In every story there are so many emotions, but that’s life and that’s definitely been our journey over the past three years. So we felt a lot of things, and The Way It Feels is just very fitting for this record,” Tae says.
Along the way in making this project, they also made headway in reaching some songwriting goals they’ve long held.
“We wrote with a bucket list songwriter, when we wrote with Dean Dillon and Jessie Jo Dillon. I was freaking out,” Maddie says.
Tae says there at least one more writing goal she’s working on.
“I would love to write with Tom Douglas,” she says.
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