Maggie Rose on Falling in Love with Music Again

Photo: Dusty Barker

Maggie Rose had one of the coolest voices in country until the dissolution of her label in 2014 seemingly silenced it. For a little while, her music disappeared from the Internet and the hard work she’d put into her 2013 debut Cut To Impress was almost all for naught.

But it turns out Rose was far from done, and she’s ready to show fans old and new what she’s been working up in the years since her biggest musical heartbreak. With new songwriting and production work under her belt, and two new EPs (aptly titled The Variety Show Volume 1 and Volume 2) and some cool collaborations on the horizon, Rose is ready to burst back on the scene in a big way.

Wide Open Country caught up with Rose as she prepares to release The Variety Show  — Vol. 1 (in April).

Wide Open Country: For a while there it seemed like your music kind of disappeared. Now that you’re back in the public consciousness, has it felt like a long time?

Maggie Rose: Yeah, it’s felt like a long time. But I was able to fill some roles I’ve never been able to fill before when I was in the trenches of promoting my music at country radio. When I removed myself from that it made me realize everything else there is to do in music. Produce songs, write pop songs, songs for other people, even EDM music. It’s refreshing. Considering what I was able to create and the different things I was able to explore, it really was a short time.

WOC: Has there been a shift in your perspective since your first “leg” of being an artist?

MR: It’s been kind of difficult for me because when I moved to Nashville at 19, my first order of business was to become a better songwriter and figure out what I wanted to say. That’s a different task when you’re 19 than when you’re 26 and 27. I met a lot of people and had successes and failures, so getting back to that creative process was kind of cool. It’s like going back to how it was when I moved here. With a different perspective, of course.

WOC: Why the decision to start with two new EPs?

MR: With the gap in time, I think it was my way of controlling what I was putting out there. Often times artists work and pour over a full body of music like an LP. In a world where people have admittedly shorter attention spans, I thought, “OK, I’ll put a group of songs out, Variety Show 1 and 2.” I wanted each EP to truly showcase a variety. Each song hits on a different note. One is straight up country. “Broken” is more traditional than even most country nowadays. We just did another one that is straight up pop, and “Heartbreak Radio” is more of how I used to do everything, recording with the full band in the room. “Love Me More” is stripped down just to the vocal and piano. But I want it to all still be me. I’m not going to sing a country song with more of a twang just because it’s a country song.

WOC: What made you want to release “Broken” as the first new song to fans?

MR: I wanted to fall in love with music again. Broken is a song I fell in love with during my period of questioning. It can mean many things to each listener separately, but it represents a time for me that I made a pretty critical decision about what I wanted to do. I think broken was my way of saying hello to an old friend in traditional country music.

We didn’t choose it as a single in terms of terrestrial radio or a song to rally around as the sound of the EP because I knew there was no way to do that with how the EP is. But with the state of the world, and when Paris happened, and things going on culturally — and specifically with what I’ve been going through, on a less serious level, but my heartbreaks with my career — it felt right to release.

WOC: So these EPs are unapologetically you.

MR: They really do reflect my musical taste. I grew up in Maryland. It’s not North, not South. There’s no regional music indicative of Marylanders; we love everything. When it came time for me to write I told myself to not worry about the pressures of “Is this going to work at radio, is it commercially viable?” I ignored those confines completely because I stepped out to do this independently as an artist who is multi-genre. Listeners are multi-genre, why can’t artists be?

WOC: Would you say this new music is more indicative of your musical inclinations these past several years, or where you’re going?

MR: Honestly, it’s all of those things. It’s totally something that I had to do out of passion because these were songs — a lot of these songs weren’t originally written for me and I think that’s why in such a roundabout way I was able to be completely honest. When you remove yourself from the equation and you don’t internalize everything you’re saying and go by somebody else’s rules, you think, “Oh what would Rihanna say in the song I’m writing for her? Whatever she wants, so I’m going to say whatever I want.” You do it with a different frame of mind cause you aren’t trying to fit into that really narrow frame of what I was trying to write before.

I realized they were in some ways more honest than any song I had written specifically for my project in years leading up to the last 2 years to me.

“Love Me More” was written from the most honest place that I could find after a relationship. It was the inaugural breakup song I was able to get out in the aftermath. Now I can crank ‘em out but it’s easier because I’m happily engaged and it’s not as raw. It’s easier when you know the story ends happily (laughs). All these songs were written from an honest place, whether it’s a title or melody or track that’s inspiring to you. You have all of those influences but ultimately I can only write what I know.

WOC: A lot of these songs sound equal parts resilient and equal parts broken.

MR: I think what you’re hearing is “not having things line up with your pristine plan that made for yourself when you were 19.” I’ve seen a lot of things in Nashville and the industry, and I’ve had disappointments. It’s really slightly painful wisdom you gain. Broken is the piece you find after certain heartbreaks, a bad childhood, a broken home, disappointments in the career. I wrote it with two singer songwriters who have had a fair number of doors shut in the face even though they’re supremely talented. We wanted to capture this acceptance of that but also highlight the beauty of life and how we all share in something that can hurt us in a way. I think that’s heard in “Love Me More,” too. It’s a reflection of the things I’ve learned over trials in my years here in Nashville. But I’m super content with where I am now and I want that to come across.

WOC: You’ve played these songs out a lot. What have the fan reactions been like?

MR: Old fans are like, “Yes, we saw this coming.” Because I think people who have been fans of me as an individual and not fans of the country genre are all over the place in their musical tastes. And I expect them to have playlists like me that are all over the place and wide-ranging with different artists. I started playing this material that’s more aggressive in production and more pop leaning and they love it, but they also love “Broken.” But I’m definitely ramping up to share where I’m going. As for people hearing me the first time, I think people can see I’m having a lot of fun again and being an open book but also dynamic.

WOC: What inspires you?

MR: I think now it’s “creating for myself.” One thing when I talk about where I come from, there’s this one single I released to country radio called “Girl In Your Truck Song.” I ended up putting the breaks on it because it became politicized by “the state of country and bro country,” and that was not why I got into music. I stepped back from releasing music to country radio because of it. But if you’d asked me why I was writing and creating music at that time, I don’t think I could answer you. But now I can say it’s because I don’t know what to do if I’m not creating. I have to be creating, and it makes me happy. Back then I had a lot of people and a team depending on me, and our focus was finding something that worked at radio, and that just wasn’t making me happy. I’m working with these artists now who have been playing together their whole lives and it makes them happy, even if they weren’t making money. That needs to be preserved. You need to be proud of every note you’re making, and make it with full intention.

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Maggie Rose on Falling in Love with Music Again