Maggie Rose's new album Change the Whole Thing, out Sept. 21 on Starstruck Records, represents the creative possibilities for artists freed from the limitations of major labels.
Not to belittle big labels, but it seems fair enough to imagine Rose fitting a modern country or pop singer mold if her 2009 run with Universal Republic lasted. Instead, she's closing an AAA (adult album alternative) charting release with a cover of "The Letter" that crosses the Box Tops' original with Joe Cocker's helter-skelter interpretation.
Funky opening track "Do Right By My Love," swift stomper "I'm Yours," carefree pop song "Lazy Love," R&B slow-burner "It's You," the soul-spilling gospel sound of "Pull You Through," the cat-caller shutdown "Hey Blondie" and country song "Just Getting By" represent the lack of restrictions on an independent artist.
Rose recreated her energetic stage show by recording everything live in the studio with a 13-piece family band featuring collaborators of Kelly Clarkson, The Brothers Osborne and Steven Tyler. It was a bold and challenging project, captured on film for a Change the Whole Thing documentary
To promote her upcoming album, Rose chatted with Wide Open Country about her increasingly eclectic sound and her fun, feminist commercial jingle for Land O' Lakes.
WOC: Leading up to the album, you've done what you called digital 45s where you've paired two album tracks with what in the past would've been the picture sleeve artwork. Were you just looking for a different way to premiere singles?
Rose: I've definitely done this album in a different way than I've done any project before. Part of it was easing the audience into this transition but also giving each song its moment. There's still some that's not been heard yet that'll be heard when the album comes out. It complements the throwback sound of the record, and I like the process of pairing songs with each other.
Did you progressively work toward this new sound, or did this path get cleared for you more organically?
It's organic in how the album came to be. When we started it in July 2017, I had three songs I really loved. We were going to record them live in one take, all the way through. Everyone in the same room with no isolation booths -- kind of like an old Aretha record. That first session was so awesome for everyone in the room. With the way it was sounding, it was apparent to us that we needed to cut more music. Every three months, we'd cut three more songs here and six more songs here.
One of the motivations behind doing it live and having more of this family band aspect was because of listeners and viewers' comments about how magnetic they found the live show to be. It wasn't as if they weren't complementing what was on iTunes and Spotify and all of the recordings that existed at the time. They emphasized what drew them to the live show. What I translate from that is there's a disconnect between what they hear on those recordings and what they see in the live show. This was my way of closing that gap.
I was given a tip to ask you about the house story for "Pull You Through"...
My husband and I were doing the home search for about eight months, which for this market in Nashville isn't that bad. We'd exhausted all of our options, and I think our realtor started to think it wouldn't happen. We walked into the house we ended up buying, and I was convinced that my realtor put on my song "Pull You Through" to set the mood and make me feel more inclined to like the house. I asked why "Pull You Through" started playing as soon as we walked through the door, and it was clear that DJ, our realtor, didn't know what I was talking about.
After the song, it was like, "That was Maggie Rose on Lightning 100." What was so cool about that is one of the reasons my husband and I were able to make a down payment without being financially strapped was my grandparents passed away a year prior, seven weeks apart from each other. It was devastating, and they had such a wonderful relationship. I'm convinced that my grandfather, when my grandfather passed away, was deeply wounded and it may have contributed to him passing away soon after. I think that was their way of telling us that we'd found our place.
Was that the newest single? Would that have been one of the first times it was played on the radio?
That's another thing. I wasn't so used to hearing it on the radio every five seconds that my assumption was that it wasn't playing on a radio station. Also, there wasn't a radio visible in the house. There was a record player, and they just happened to be tuned into a terrestrial radio station in Nashville that I love. The album release show we're doing in Nashville on Sept. 26 is being presented by that radio station, so my relationship with them has only strengthened since we released more music from the album.
And I guess it's good to hear yourself on the radio right before making a big financial decision.
Of course. My husband Austin made a joke that he was going to try to not like the house because that just happened. It didn't work. He liked it.
I like that cover of "The Letter." What made you pick that song to close out the album?
The tracking sequence was very intentional. It's the finishing touch. It's the grand finale, reminding the audience that you've been listening to a band in a room that's making music. The trash can you hear at the end is something you'd typically hear in a live setting and not on an album. It was so cool, and it was like that last firework before the album is over.
My husband sings "A Little Help From My Friends," Joe Cocker style, as the finale of some of our shows that are a little bit loose, so Joe Cocker has a special place in my heart. My friend Scott Simon who managed me for a couple of years early in my career's father is a legendary music publisher. He published "The Letter." He got the Box Tops to cut it and then Joe Cocker. It felt appropriate that I cut this song.
I associate the song with Alex Chilton, who was a Southern musician who didn't necessarily stay in his lane and do just one style, similar to what you're doing.
That has got my name written all over it. When you've been making music for a long time, it's your job to disrupt what people expect from you and evolve. We're not just one one thing, and we change. If you're doing the work, you should push yourself into new territories every time you do a new project. I definitely did that on this one. There were moments when I was like, "What have I done?," but I'm glad we did.
Wrapping this up, whenever that commercial comes up with the "Old McDonald" version you did, I get excited. It's so fun. How did that come about?
Land O' Lakes approached me with this idea. There are so many women that run the show there. I wasn't sure I should be rewriting a nursery rhyme, especially with a new album coming out shortly after the launch of this campaign. But I had Liz Rose to collaborate with, who's legendary and a driving female force in Nashville. We made it fun and authentic. All the things we wanted to do with the update musically were really cool, but I love the message behind it. We did it with some serious intention, and Liz and I had a lot of fun. We drew a lot of parallels with what we deal with in the music industry, as far as women not being celebrated as much as they should be. We could get on board with that, definitely.
You still have a country audience that'll love a song about farming and hard-working women, like our own mothers and grandmothers.
Absolutely. It is a nurturing work that they do. I got to meet some of these farmers personally throughout this collaboration. They're young and they're smart and they're not what people associate farmers with being. They're agricultural scientists and they're moms. They're on Instagram. They're modern-day people who take this really seriously. It was cool for me to be able to see that.