Interview: Madi Diaz

by Vanessa Valentine

Through masterful songwriting, peppered with Nashville magic, Madi Diaz acknowledges pains of the past to move forward – one step at a time

‘I’m not afraid, I’m not done making mistakes / It’s not a phase, I’m going to rage,’ opens the latest album by Nashville-based artist, Madi Diaz. Her vocals deliver an enchanting melody that glides the lyrics across a spotless concoction of soothing folk, welcoming you to the journey of History of a Feeling. Of the opening track Diaz says, ‘Rage was part of a realisation that there is no arrival. There is no ‘all of a sudden I’m better at doing everything because I’ve figured everything out,’ it’s not a phase. It just is what it is. Like with everything, I’m just going to roll my sleeves up and do it.’

The curation of History of a Feeling was fuelled by a relationship breakdown that chronically coincided with her former partner transitioning and questioning their gender identity – a complex reckoning that Diaz approaches with empathy, candour and care. ‘The whole record is really covered in a lot of love and a lot of pain,’ she shares. ‘I guess I’m just trying to explain how the two of those things really can coexist. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean that there isn’t so much love wrapped around it.’ Throughout the record, she skilfully dances the line between personal and general with her lyricism. ‘I think songwriters use the creative process to process our life experiences. I was really fortunate to have music while I was going through a pretty intense transformation. It helped me work through everything, and just gave me somewhere to put the love, the hurt, the open wounds and the healing of the wounds. I think the songs just become vessels for all of that.’

Man In Me showcases Diaz’s ability to turn a barrage of turmoil and emotion into art. Lyrics, ‘Tell me now whose lips I was kissing, It’s all about whose lips I was kissing / The man in me and the woman in you,’ solidify her talent as a first-rate songwriter – a craft she’s spent years perfecting. Diaz signed her first publishing deal at age twenty-one after dropping out of Berklee College of Music. ‘I went to music school in Boston at Berklee, and then, like so many before me – my dad included – ending up dropping out. I’ve pretty much been in Nashville ever since. I’ve never felt the way I feel in Nashville anywhere else; this is the spot.’ 

Reflecting on her journey thus far she says, ‘I know my sound has changed a lot over the years and I think that’s almost the point. You have to keep looking and shifting. Trying on different things until you settle in your shape.’ Diaz started working on History Of A Feeling four years ago, before beginning collaborations with co-producer Andrew Sarlo (Big Thief, Bon Iver) with whom she worked closely to flesh out the album’s instrumentations. ‘I started writing at the end of October 2017. I definitely wrote about a hundred songs, just for the making of this record alone. I always knew that this was the record I was going to make; I wasn’t going to wait for somebody to jump in and give me permission. I was really just paying attention to my own clock and my own intuition. Releasing it now feels like the right time.’ 

Diaz pulled from a range of folk, country and pop when creating History Of A Feeling. Gushing, ’If I could have a slumber party, it would be Gwen Stefani, Courtney Love and Kathleen Hanna, doing each other’s hair, talking about boys, picking each other’s clothes and just raging!’ The record is as much influenced by Patty Griffin and Lori McKenna as PJ Harvey, and it is composed of some of the most unequivocal and introspective songs Diaz has ever written. 

Nervous is expertly arranged. With its thumping guitar rhythm and effervescent vocals, it’s hard to believe the song was crafted by the same artist whose gentle hollowing tones are so delicate on Man In Me. Diaz shares, ‘Nervous is just like a fun, little panic attack. It’s an interruption to a heavy feeling-centric record. I felt like it was important to put it on the record, otherwise, it would have just been one long sob story.’ Title track, History Of A Feeling, embodies the whole album in both sound and lyricism. The effortless finger plucked guitar and intricate honeyed harmonies make for a gratifying listen. ‘To me, History Of A Feeling points out that every time you go digging in the past, that that’s where you’re living. You have to learn to say “that’s just what happened and it’s part of who I am.” It’s not like you can drop it off by the side of the road and keep going. It carries with you, but you have to go on. The song is me, very gently and compassionately, compartmentalising,’ Diaz explains. 

Do It Now is Diaz’s current favourite song on the record. ‘I love it because it feels like turning the page. Figuring out what to do with all the new information with no actual resolve yet, but still trying to positively walk forward, one foot in front of the other.’ The gentle piano and charming vocals of the track marry to create a charming and polished end to the collection. 

History of a Feeling is the sound of an artist in full bloom. It’s Diaz acknowledging and accepting her past and moving forward – one gut wrenching hit at a time. Its themes of heartache, heartbreak, anger and passion make it an album we all can relate to.

History of a Feeling is out on 27th August on Anti Records.

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