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Maddie Ross Talks Upcoming Album and Being a Queer Role Model

Maddie Ross just gets it. From creating down-to-Earth music to being a queer role model for teens across the country, this indie singer does it all. In fact, Ross’ debut, full-length Never Have I Ever, which comes out May 10th, was created entirely by women!
The album is inspired by ’90s and early ’00s film soundtracks, so it was only fitting for Ross to create an imaginary 2000s-style teen magazine equipped with interview questions, quirky quizzes, relationship advice, and more.
In light of the album and news of her upcoming tour, Affinity is proud to give a sneak peek, exclusive premiere of the music video for the fourth track, “Miracle”, as well as an interview with the artist herself.

Courtesy of Maddie Ross

 

Never Have I Ever was made entirely by women, that’s awesome! Can you talk a little about how important that was to you heading into the project?

This was a no-brainer and something that is so important to me. My parents actually founded a company 35 years ago whose mission is to help big tech companies hire women and minorities at the executive level. In my household, we grew up talking about the importance of diversity at our dinner table. I now work for the family business as my day job, so I spend my days working on this same mission, only directed towards the corporate world.

In terms of my own music, my girlfriend/co-writer/Producer, Wolfy is the most talented person I’ve ever encountered, and she is the only person I trust to carry out my vision. I love working with her knowing that she’s one of the few female producers/engineers out there, but more importantly, she’s the best person for the job.

Wolfy and I have been making music together for 6 years, and something we’ve noticed is that our female and queer friends have latched onto our sound and love to sing along. In the indie world, the industry is so dominated by men and so many gatekeepers are white men, that a genre like this is almost looked down upon. We saw that a lot as we started releasing music and getting compared to “Avril Lavigne or Michelle Branch” or being told it sounds like it belongs in a Rom-Com. We were like hell yeah, that’s a compliment! I think certain men who didn’t grow up on this music don’t recognize how fun and nostalgic it is for a girl our age to hear. That’s just one example of why gender diversity is really needed in the indie music world, and why it’s important to me to keep working with and elevating women. Our stories need to be told and our creativity needs to be heard.

Do you find it hard being female and queer in the music industry?

Yes and no. I surround myself with the most fantastic women, queer people, and allies. The energy when you’re in a room full of women or queer people (or both) is infectious. It’s the only antidote to the negativity, sexism, and homophobia that I have absolutely encountered. I know a lot of women and queer people doing exciting things, and what’s cool is that we’ve become such a close-knit community that we are all going to help each other succeed.

Courtesy of Maddie Ross

Has there ever been a time when you doubted pursuing a career in music? If so, what inspired you to keep going? 

Only about once a day! But truly, I feel like the secret to being an artist is finding a way to balance the doubt and fear with the passion, love, and enthusiasm. While I was making this album, I experienced this to the extreme. It was partially due to the pressure of our schedule, and partially because of the financial risk that I invested in the project. We made the album in 6 weeks, and every day I was rapidly cycling through every emotion – bursting at the seams with pride and excitement that what we were creating was special, to questioning if it was good, to deciding that after the album was over I needed to quit music for good and pay off some credit card debt and student loans! I feel more balanced now that we’re done writing and recording, but I will not deny that I face doubt often! But when I think about what I’ve accomplished and how brave and exciting everything we’re doing is, it makes me feel like a superhero.

My girlfriend Wolfy is a major source of confidence and inspiration for me. She is the rare type of person who can sit down at her desk like she’s clocking into a job, and make music for 8 hours. She does it every single day, is always thinking of new ideas and projects, says yes to everything, and has this unwavering confidence that it’s what she is MEANT to be doing. Surrounding yourself with that kind of energy is a great way to stay inspired. She leads by example, and her support has morphed both my artistry and my work ethic.

 

Could you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind the track and video for “Miracle”?  

The whole album, Never Have I Ever, is designed to score a teen movie. We wrote down all of the top scenes and songs from our favourite movies, and then created tracks based off of those. Our working title for “Miracle” was “Love At First Sight”. We based the whole song off of the scene in the movie Can’t Hardly Wait, where Jennifer Love Hewitt walks into the party and everything goes slow-motion. The song is meant to capture the feeling when you see the girl of your dreams walking towards you at a party, and you desperately need to tell yourself to play it cool.

This video is the brainchild of my Australian friends Codie Sundstrom and Caitlin Norris of the band Tether! Crazy enough, we have not yet met in person. The Tether girls found Wolfy’s music online and began following her. Eventually, Wolfy ended up producing some of the band’s music from a different continent (how cool is 2019?). Tether has incredible visuals, all of them designed by Codie. Wolfy suggested I reach out and see if she’d be interested in making a video.

Codie agreed and brought Caitlin on as a Co-Director. Their enthusiasm was explosive, and before I knew it I had received a Facebook invitation to a party they were throwing in Australia to film the video! It cracked me up that their instructions were to “dress 2000s American”, and the guests were asking, “how American should I dress?” They threw the house party and shot some incredible footage, trailing an Australian-Maddie body double walking through the party. Then, they instructed me to take some footage on my iPhone (shot by Shab Ferdowsi of Blushh) wearing the same clothes as my body double, and they cut it all together. The iPhone text bubble is such a brilliant idea for a lyric video, and I yelled in excitement at the end of the song when it says “Read 11:42 pm”. These girls are brilliant, and you should absolutely go check out their music for more.

When did you start creating music? Did your childhood or upbringing influence your music style? 

In seventh grade, my dad taught me how to play the guitar. I began writing songs later that week, and have wanted to be an artist ever since. Before that I wanted to be a writer, and wrote multiple novels, wasting hundreds of dollars in printer ink on my parents’ home printer.

Since you talk a lot about finding inspiration from films, what’s your all-time favourite movie? 

It’s a tie between A League of Their Own, Love & Basketball, Mean Girls and Orange County.

Do you ever see yourself dabbling in acting somewhere down the line? Maybe your very own queer rom-com? 

I’ve had so much fun shooting my upcoming music video for a song called “Liv Tyler” that it’s made me want to be in front of a camera more! The dream would be to write a script for a queer rom-com and use this full album as a score to the movie!

However, the last time I did any true acting was in 4th grade when I was in a community theatre production of ‘Mousella’ (Cinderella but everyone is a mouse, obviously). I was the wicked stepmother and my parents said I “stole the show”. I will choose to believe them.

You also created an awesome imaginary early 2000s magazine to promote your album! What was the best part about making that? Do you have a favourite page? 

Making the magazine made me feel like a kid again! I used to make collages and fake magazines all the time. It’s really fun to have a creative outlet other than music, and the magazine helped bring our vision to life. Wolfy’s “teen-movie” concept for the album is so strong and unique, and we wanted to make sure we stayed creative and original in the way we told our story. This just seemed like the perfect way. We’re so deeply involved that the entire concept makes sense to us, but it would all be a waste if we didn’t do a good job communicating the vision in other ways.

I think my favourite page is “Which Guy Is Right For You?”. These guys are all friends of mine whom I ADORE. Each of them in their own way embodies allyship and non-toxic masculinity. When they showed up for the photo shoot, I was struck by how unique and gorgeous they all are, and knew I had to do something to highlight them. I really enjoyed getting to gush about them on that page. The Got Milk? the ad is also hilarious.

Courtesy of Maddie Ross

You’re also heading back on tour soon, congrats! Any places in particular that you’re excited to perform at? 

Toronto is going to be so special. My parents both grew up in Toronto (but raised me in California). My Canadian family and friends have already helped sell out the show. But what’s even cooler is that we’re playing The Horseshoe Tavern, which is a venue that my dad played with his band when he was my age!!

New York is also going to be overwhelming. I’ve heard of Bowery Ballroom and know it’s an important and iconic venue. I can’t wait to play there on a Saturday night. Mainly, I’m just excited to watch KT Tunstall perform 8 more shows because she is such an iconic performer with a heart of gold.

Who is your biggest inspiration, in music or in life?

Musically, I’ve always idolized Selena and Tegan & Sara. In life, my parents for sure. They’ve owned a small business together for 35 years, and they are the definition of hard work and sacrifice. Everybody loves them, nobody is ever turned away from our house, and every person they meet is treated like family. We very regularly have 15 or more people at our dinner table. They are warm and loving, smart and kind, creative and giving, and I inspire to be like them.

What moment in your career thus far has left you the most satisfied or proud? 

In 2017, I got a message out of the blue from Chris Payne, a writer at Billboard. I had released a song a few months before that I really believed in, and was experiencing one of those wonderful spells of doubt about my career. Chris found my music on Twitter and wanted to help it find its audience. When that feature came out, I felt so much pride. Wolfy and I had been doing things our own way, entirely independently, releasing it on our own label and doing all of the publicity and marketing ourselves. It was a true realization for me of the power of what we could do ourselves. Before then, I often felt sorry that I didn’t have more contacts or money or connections. This was a turning point where I realized that we were going to succeed by relying on each other, making music that we believe in, staying authentic, and not getting discouraged.

The other proudest moment of my career is more recent. I had surgery in September 2018 after receiving a difficult diagnosis. I have a gynecological disease called Lichen Sclerosis that can cause serious pain and scarring if left untreated, which mine was for almost a decade. I learned so much about listening to my body with this diagnosis and went through a lot in the year leading up to my surgery. Just before surgery, KT Tunstall discovered my music on Twitter and invited me to open for her on a 22-city tour! I found the strength to pull through my surgery with optimism and get ready for the tour. We released a music video and an EP, went on tour by ourselves with no tour manager, label, or financial support, and then came home and got started on an album right away! We completed the album in 6 weeks, and I’ve never been so proud of anything in my life. I’ve worked harder than I ever have, and the result is so unbelievably satisfying. Another moment where I realized the power of what we can do ourselves.

What’s one thing you want all your fans to take away from your music? 

I want them to find joy in it. A lot of lesbian and queer music and media is dark and tortured. I have been in a healthy, loving relationship with my girlfriend for 5 ½ years! I want anyone to know that a happy ending is theirs for the taking.

Courtesy of Maddie Ross

 

If you could give young aspiring artists one piece of advice, what would it be?  

“Be yourself” sounds too simple, but I’ll go into detail. It’s really easy to try to please people. I’ve spent my entire life doing it. I’m the youngest sibling who loves when everybody gets along and nobody is disappointed in me. But all of the moments that have brought me true fulfillment and peace, like making an album or coming out as a lesbian to every single person I know, came from trusting myself and being honest about who I am. Coming out was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but in some ways, I’m grateful for the experience because I’m better equipped to say what I believe in, even if it might make some people unhappy or disapproving. Artistically, at times I felt it would be easier to make music more similar to what other people are doing or work with people I didn’t fully trust who had more connections or clout, but I’ve had to trust that with some hard work, my audience will find me, and I am meant to keep doing what I’m doing. You can’t please everybody, and there is beauty and joy in pleasing yourself.

Follow Maddie on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Maddie Ross Tour Dates:
May 08 – Detroit, MI @ El Club*
May 10 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom*
May 11 – Washington, D.C. @ Union Stage*
May 12 – Buffalo, NY @ Buffalo Iron Works*
May 13 – Toronto, CA @ Horseshoe Tavern*
May 17 – Philadelphia, PA @ World Cafe Live*
May 18 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom*
May 19 – Boston, MA @ The Sinclair*
* w/ KT Tunstall

Feature Image Courtesy of Maddie Ross

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Ariel Zedric is a student at Tufts University. When she's not studying, you can find her wandering around on her blog at arielzedric.wordpress.com. Contact via email at ariel.zedric@gmail.com or on Twitter or Instagram @arielzedric

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