There's a haunting vulnerability and stark openness to Nashville-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Maddie Medley's new song, "Coming of Age." The first and only instrument you hear for the duration of the song is the strumming of her electric guitar. It's got an intoxicating verve to it, as she vocally dives into the song. It's a sound that immediately sweeps you off your feet. Like a look back over your shoulder to the earlier work of PJ Harvey, Medley stands alone with just her guitar, singing about a personal insight many 20-somethings grapple with - "coming of age" - and in this case, its with love. "Shouldn't I know how to do this by now / can somebody tell me how to figure this out," she sings. "I am coming of age in the quietest way, you are looking at me, but I don't know what to say" she continues, then questioning over and over, "are you sure it's supposed to feel this way?"
Over the last two years, Medley has released a three-song EP, two standalone singles and, now, "Coming of Age." New on the Nashville music scene, she's starting to play out more regularly, but word of mouth about her strong, confident live performances is spreading. Whether rocking an acoustic or electric, what stands way in front of the songs is her voice. It's commanding and exhilarating, with a refreshing lyrical directness.
We sent Maddie a few questions to answer about her start as a musician, some of her influences, and what it's like to be an emerging musician in Nashville's indie music scene.
World Cafe: How old were you when you first started playing and writing music, and what were some of your early influences and inspirations?
Maddie Medley: I started writing songs and poems when I was really young, starting around maybe 7 or 8. I remember being super moved by the Dixie Chicks' "Traveling Soldier" when I was a little kid, for some reason. I started playing guitar at 11, but it wasn't until I started listening to Fiona Apple and Hole in my early teens that I really aimed to be as expressive and intentional about my lyrics as possible.
Name two to three artists that you love — and what are some examples of their songs or albums that you admire?
I think the Dixie Chicks, Fiona Apple, and Big Thief have been the top three artists that I've passionately loved throughout my life. I think they all changed my songwriting style in ways that it needed to change. When I was really young, songs like "Traveling Soldier" and "Goodbye Earl" by the Dixie Chicks made me realize that honesty is the best policy when it comes to lyrics. As for Fiona Apple, I remember being 14 and laying on my kitchen floor with my face on the ground listening to "Every Single Night" and feeling like nothing had ever made sense before that moment. She definitely helped me refine the honesty that I wanted to express. And then I heard "Lorraine" by Big Thief this past year, and was amazed by the pure magic in Adrianne Lenker's phrasing and the language she chose to use.
The indie scene in Nashville is on fire. What do you love about it?
There is so much to love about the Nashville indie music scene right now. There's an energy to it that is hard to describe and a lack of competitiveness that's surprising. I think the most beautiful and perfect example of the Nashville music scene right now would be a DIY festival called Freezefest. A 21-year-old musician named Nordista Freeze has put it together for the past four years, and the turnout and support for it has always been incredible. This past year, 120 bands played at a deli 25 minutes out of town and a few thousand people came out to listen. There's a lot love and inclusivity on this side of the Nashville music scene and I feel lucky to be a part of it.