Meet Maddie Ross, the fresh face of queer bubblegum pop

If you’ve yet to discover the fizzy pop talent of Maddie Ross, wonder no more.

Maddie Ross‘ sophomore EP, “Touch Hands, Touch Bodies”, is a nuanced journey through the complexities and revelations that come with realising that not only are you gay, but that you’re in love with your best friend. We caught up with Maddie during her current US tour supporting KT Tunstall to talk about the relationship that inspired the EP and of equal importance – Maddie‘s dog, Zeus.

HighClouds: You’re currently opening for KT Tunstall across the US; after she reached out to you via Twitter, how was that rush of excitement and process?

Maddie Ross: It was beyond surreal. When I saw the DM from her inviting me to open, I thought I must’ve been misunderstanding something. I handed my girlfriend Wolfy the phone, and I was like “wow, the bots are getting really sophisticated these days! It’s even got a blue checkmark and everything!”

Things moved super quickly after that, and we just went straight into work mode and it’s been non-stop since. It was only about a month and half ago! We are self-managed and don’t have a tour manager either, so we just quickly began rehearsing, put together an Indiegogo to help afford the tour, released a music video, and released an EP so that it was all out the week before tour started! I’m only now beginning to process everything.

Maddie Ross by Jayme Dee

Maddie Ross by Jayme Dee

Speaking of the tour, how are you finding life on the road and playing your own songs to KT’s audiences?

It has been more fun than I ever could have imagined. I love playing live, and I LOVE meeting new people. There have been strangers singing the lyrics during my shows, which is the coolest feeling in the world.

The road has been really enjoyable so far! Wolfy and I both work so much that we actually haven’t been on a vacation alone together in the 5 years we’ve been dating! It’s been great doing this thing together that we’ve dreamed of and worked towards for so long, and it’s been a blast concentrating on music as our full-time jobs for a bit.

“Touch Hands, Touch Bodies” is your second EP, how do you feel your music has developed since your first EP came out in 2016?

We’ve gotten really comfortable writing songs and recording together, and now that we’ve developed that muscle I feel like I’m getting even better at expressing myself lyrically. I’m also more willing to get weird and creative, and do things with my voice I wouldn’t have necessarily tried a few years ago. “Making Out Is Easy” was a really important collection of songs for me as a writer. I feel like it unlocked a lot of barriers and freed me to be myself. All of the music we’ve made since then has been stuff I’m completely confident and stoked about. I’m making stuff that I would want to listen to, and that’s fun to perform, so I can’t really ask for anything more!

I can’t wait to dig into writing for my first full-length when we get back from tour. Wolfy has a really cool concept for the album and has already started a few tracks that she wants me to topline. It feels like a fun challenge that I’m ready to dig into.

The video for “Hometown” sees you running around various locations including a football field; which I believe you snuck into?! How was that to film, and are there plans for any more videos as yet?

I would LOVE to do more music videos. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with making music videos with my friends– I would do one every weekend, lip-synching to my favourite songs. Making “Hometown” reignited that childlike feeling. I was like wow, I have permission to just make shit and have fun and play around. We made the video with Kerry Furrh and Olivia Mitchell, my two college roommates who are crazy talented. We’ve all been making stuff together for years, and it’s INCREDIBLE to witness their talent in combination with all of the experience they’ve gained in the last few years.

We shot the video in a whirlwind couple of days, all in my neighbourhood in LA. There is this awesome football field at a high school near my house, so we climbed an 8-foot-tall fence with all of our camera equipment and just snuck in! And Wolfy used to work at this beautiful indie movie theatre, so they let us in after-hours to shoot. Everything worked out perfectly.

Your dog Zeus also features in the “Hometown” video, how’s he finding his new found career as a music video star?

ZEUS!!!! Zeus is very handsome, so of course he’s used to the attention. He gets stopped on the street by strangers who tell him he’s beautiful, so this is nothing new. But he doesn’t love sitting still, and we had to motivate him by holding his favorite toy next to the camera. He also loved the scene in the kitchen where we made a huge mess—he helped us clean up the floor.

Maddie Ross by Shabnam Ferdowsi

Maddie Ross by Shabnam Ferdowsi

Queer artists are so important when it comes to representation, did you have any that you looked up to as you were growing up once you’d begun to identify as gay?

It’s interesting in hindsight that I always looked up to any singer or actor who emphasized being yourself or struggling to fit in. I was really attracted to those stories. I think it’s because for so many queer people, there’s a part of our brain (as well as external messages from the world) telling us there’s something different or bad about us, so we find our strength in seeing others be brave and original. Tegan & Sara have been my favorite band since I was 12, and their visibility and representation has meant the world to me. I have always looked up to Pink! and Alanis and Ani DiFranco, as well as bands like Say Anything and artists like Andre 3000.

Also, KT Tunstall is a fantastic ally. She has a big queer fanbase, and that has been one of the coolest parts of the tour. A young guy said to me “thank you so much for your LGBTQ visibility”, and I almost cried! I love that KT has fostered this safe, loving community of fans, and I’m honoured to be included.

So many portrayals of young people discovering their queerness is steeped in sadness and turmoil, your EP challenges that with its brightness – was it a deliberate idea to do so, or did it just come naturally?

It was a combination! I was very aware that the songs I wrote when I first came out were incredibly dark. Which is sad, because that was during my first time EVER falling in love, which should be something beautiful. But I wasn’t able to tap into that at the time, because I was processing so much fear and anxiety. Now I’m in a really stable, optimistic, happy place, so my music is true to that! I’ve written a few dark songs this year. But a lot of times I sit down to write and these fun, happy songs just come out! Also, Wolfy loves upbeat, fun pop music, so whenever she’s making a track her ideas usually send me to a giddy place.

Maddie Ross by Kerry Furrh

Maddie Ross by Kerry Furrh

How did the EP start to take shape, and how would you describe the writing and recording process that brought it about?

Everything about our process is so natural and easy. We live together, and Wolfy works in a studio, so we are able to use it whenever it’s open. I usually send her all of my song ideas and demos, and then she picks stuff she likes and makes a track and a more official demo. Then we flesh the rest of it out together and add new ideas. Or, since she is a producer and is always making new stuff, she’ll show me something that she thinks would sound great for my stuff, and then I’ll add lyrics and some melodies.

We record everything at home or at PieTown Sound, the home studio where our mixer Keith Armstrong works. Wolfy has worked for him for years and we love his wife and daughter, so a lot of times I can go inside and get yummy dinner and get my baby fix, and then come back into the studio recharged and inspired!

Writing wise, this collection of songs was not intended to fit together until all of the songs were finished, and it became clear that they told a PERFECT story. I introduce my hometown and my feelings of being repressed because of my sexuality. Then I move on to falling in love—Loners tells the story of us in college beginning to secretly date before telling our friends. Physical is fun and playful and all about getting ready to dive into something full on with another person, and Give In To Me explores having a crush and wondering if it will ever become something more than just in your head. It ends with You’re Still My Sugar, which is still my favorite song I’ve ever written. It’s about how everybody’s braindead except for the person I’m in love with.

Following on from that, were there any specific other artists or influences that had an effect on the sound of the EP?

What’s cool is that I am obviously deeply influenced by everything I grew up listening to, but for these songs I haven’t been trying to sound like anything. I just make stuff that sounds good to me and that feels good to sing and say, and the rest falls into place. Wolfy listens to music obsessively and is constantly getting inspired by new production ideas and writing ideas. We obviously love pop punk and rock, and she also listens to a lot of interesting production like Kero Kero Bonito.

The EP has come out through Sentimental Records which you co-founded and operate, what’s it like running your own independent record label?

It’s SO awesome. My parents have owned a small business together for 35 years, and I always wanted to run my own business one day. I have been surrounded by self-starters and hard workers all my life, so I’ve tried to absorb as much of that spirit as I can. It was tough when I first found myself in LA trying to do music, and I would get swayed by different advice and opinions. Now I just feel so sure of who I am, so lucky to have Wolfy as my teammate, and totally confident in the work we put out. It’s great getting to make decisions about when and how to release stuff, and to not have to deal with input unless it’s from someone who loves and understands me. I’m not against listening or taking advice, but I also find it empowering to be in charge. I would be really into working with a bigger label at any point for my music, but I would have to work with people who have this same spirit of love and trust and authenticity.

We have been working to put out music by our friends on Sentimental, but right now we’ve only released music by Maddie Ross and Wolfy. We love the excitement of planning a release, making artwork, building the story, and producing it all. It’s something we hope to do for a long, long time.

Maddie Ross has just released new EP “Touch Hands, Touch Bodies” which you can stream on all music services, and is currently on tour throughout the US, supporting KT Tunstall. Follow Maddie Ross on Spotify

Rachael Scarsbrook

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