trangers, that’s the power of a song,” Maddie continues. “Music lets people pour out their hearts and be vulnerable. When people meet us in the meet and greets, it’s like we’re already friends…We know each other through music! It’s hard to drop your guard, but somehow music makes it safe. If we give every person in the audience a voice, we let them know they’re not alone in these situations.”
Laughing, Tae admits of the process, “And honestly, we both had to learn to be vulnerable. It’s not natural to just put your feelings out there. But when you do, you find out you’re not the only one.”
Following the visceral response to “Girl In A Country Song,” their second single “Fly” is a heartfelt ballad that supports someone’s right to dream and doubt – and make mistakes along the way. In being honest, they galvanized fans in a very grounded way.
No one was more surprised than the natives of Sugar Land, Texas and Ada, Oklahoma to the response their real Girl Country evoked in even the most established music industry veterans. They signed with Dot Records Dann Huff had even finished the first single.
“We wanted to write the songs from a girl’s perspective” says Tae. “You know, (in ‘Girl In A Country Song’) how does she feel wearing those cut-off shorts, sitting on the tailgate?”
“Boys, we love you, we want to look good, but it’s not all we’re good for,” Maddie cautions with a laugh. “We are girls with something to say. We were brought up to know how we should be treated.”
Simple as that. But there’s so much more than the song that’s a feminist declaration, an echo of Janet Jackson’s rebuke “I’ve got a name, and it ain’t ‘Baby’,” or this year’s feel-good finger-wag to dumb boys. NPR’s esteemed music critic Ann Powers agrees, “Maddie and Tae are more. They’re songwriters, powerful harmonizers, and in the video for ‘Girl In A Country Song,’ natural comediennes.”
One listen to START HERE demonstrates that. The reeling mean-girl send-up “Sierra,” with its bending steel and trotting acoustic guitar, boasts harmonies that turn in on each other and the kind of truth that’s hilarious and straight-up.
“There was this beauty-queen bully from high school who sent my friends and I home in tears every day,” Maddie explains. “To get over it, I had to write a song. So I brought the idea of ‘Sierra,’ and started singing, ‘I wish I had something nice to say…’ Tae and our co-writer Aaron Scherz lit up and ran with it.”
Any one who’s suffered through and survived high school can relate. But the ability to rhyme “Sierra, Sierra, life ain’t all tiaras…” and taking the rejoinder “you’re gonna find out karma’s a…” to the brink sets these teenagers apart. Effervescent and savoring every moment, Maddie & Tae laugh when they lean into the cautionary “That high horse you’re riding… can buck you off clean,” then let their harmonies swoop free and high on the outro.
Like a lot of young people, Maddie & Tae grew up on the Dixie Chicks’ full-tilt acoustica. Both dreamers who knew what they wanted early, the pair met at 15 through a vocal coach and came to Nashville for a publishing summer camp. They met Big Machine Label Group’s SVP of A&R Allison Jones – and fate stepped in.
As Tae recalls, “She said, ‘If you really want to pursue this, you will need to move to Nashville.’ I knew that was what I wanted. Moving to Nashville meant I had to figure out how to graduate from high school early, and Maddie had to turn down college.”
By 2013, it was done. The pair relocated and never looked back. Publishing deal in hand, they were immersed in creativity, seeking a voice that was both authentic and truly their unique. Like Taylor Swift, the 2015 Academy of Country Music Vocal Duo of the Year nominees knew by speaking their truth, their authenticity as real girls would set them apart.
As Marlow told Rolling Stone Country, “Our whole project revolves around keeping it real. We didn’t filter anything, because we felt like when it comes from an honest place, the truth will resonate so much better. The thing about Taylor, everything is real and relevant to what she’s going through, and that’s why people connect with her.”
Listening to the double harmonies over an acoustic guitar hope-strung-over-doubt mid-tempo “Fly,” Maddie & Tae’s conviction is evident. Will what’s been built be betrayed? How do you keep the faith when you’re so unsure? Where is the courage to maintain your place when you’re afraid of what can go wrong?
Not since “Wide Open Spaces” has an act embraced the will to grow so unabashedly. In perfect synchronization, Maddie & Tae sing, “Keep on climbing, though the ground might shake, keep on reaching through the limb might break/ we’ve come this far, don’t be scared now ‘Cause you can’t learn to fly on the way down…”
“’Fly’ hits home every time we listen to it,” Tae offers. “We really wanted to write a song that was, ‘You may not have anything figured out, but it doesn’t matter. Just try…’”
Townes Van Zandt wrote, “To live is to fly…” For Maddie & Tae, their wings are the music. What they feel, how they live, what they dream – this is where they rise. One listen to the tumbledown hoedown “Your Side of Town,” that’s all high jinx and higher spirits as they pair warn off a no-good man for the last time, to understand: these two mean business.
Even in the hardcore throw-down, all bucking backbeat and bee-sting guitar, there’s a romp and a plucky audacity that shows the duo have no interest in letting anything break their spirits. Just as importantly, they fear no fiddles, no banjos, no steel guitars, even as they have bulked up drums that crash and guitars that slash and sting like the big boys.
“We are Country,” says Maddie. “We love all music, but we’re girls from where Country comes from. It’s who we are; it’s how we live. And that’s the music we want to make. It makes us happy, but like what we write about, it’s also who we are.”
“It’s a little more raw,” Tae admits. “But you can leave it like that, it cuts through. Those organic instruments, the acoustic guitar, the mandolin, the fiddle… When you hear them, you know. And people respond! For us, it’s about the live show, and how it hits.”
“And the stories…” Maddie adds. “The stories make Country cool.”
While Rolling Stone observed, “Sugar and spice and everything nice over hooks sharp enough to draw a little blood,” there is even more to Maddie & Tae. Independent thinkers, strong livers, hardcore dreamers – the pair are reaching for the sky – and winking at us all while they do it.
Whether it’s the sweeping “Waiting for a Plane,” the languid bittersweet “Down Side of Growing Up” or the shining “No Place Like You,” Maddie & Tae are always in the moment and embracing the possibilities. Tae confesses, “I still have the notes (for ‘No Place Like You’), because we come to all these beautiful places… We’re never there for very long, but the people who live in our hearts, they don’t get to see any of it or share it with you… Some days, you’d trade the one for the other, and I wrote it down.”
“Or ‘Downside of Growin’ Up’,” Maddie adds, “I was having a tough night, knowing no one in a new place. It hit me: being grown up is hard! I got my guitar to make me feel better, because that’s where I sort this stuff… When I went in to write, Tae really responded.”
Maddie & Tae are deeply invested in the music. A strong emphasis on harmony, they evoke the Everly Brothers’ tandem vocal style with a nuance and control to their singing unseen in today’s over-vocalizing Country.
“We like singing in two parts,” Maddie affirms. “Tae and I understand the harmonics so well and each others’ styles. People don’t realize how tricky it is, but when you pull it off, it’s the most fun kind of singing there is.”
Sometimes it’s the freshest faces and brightest sounds that pull us in. For Maddie & Tae, who embrace real Country, it’s that merge of what’s right now and what they love that sets them apart and captures our imaginations in the best possible way.
On August 28, after a journey more than 25% of their lives, Maddie & Tae – and everyone who loves their roots-positive sound – can START HERE.comemnt