Maggie Rose is a mere thirty-two years of age, but the Nashville singer (by the way of Potomac, Maryland) has lived through what most would consider a lifetime’s worth of experiences while attempting to navigate the minefield of today’s desperately struggling music industry.
Rose initially rose to prominence as Margaret Durante back in 2009, when the sublimely talented vocalist signed with Universal Republic. The label and Durante quickly churned out what turned out to be a very well-received cover of the Kings of Leon‘s smash hit, “Use Somebody”. The following year, the singer chose to abandon the major label structure when she signed with indie label R&J Records.
Despite the success of songs such as “Maybe Tonight”, which garnered praise from many of the country music world’s pundits, Rose once again decided that change was going to be her constant. In addition to jumping ship to RPM Entertainment, Maggie also began to reinvent herself by changing her stage name from Maggie Durante to Maggie Rose. No matter where Rose chose to ply her musical wares, success soon followed. Singles like “I Ain’t Your Mama” and “Better” from 2013’s Cut to Impress quickly found themselves on repeat on Nashville’s radio airwaves, while also steadily climbing up the Billboard Country Music charts.
In 2016, Rose released her Variety Show EP, and in doing so made a statement much like Taylor Swift showcased with 2008’s Fearless: a drastic migration away from the sonics of her country music origins to incorporate more pop and mainstream elements. Variety Show, like Swift’s Fearless, was both pop/rock-driven and a little over-polished. Was Nashville big business attempting to hijack Rose’s sound and become the permanent wizards behind the curtain in regards to her music?
The path Rose chose to pursue following the release of Variety Show may provide some organic insight into this quandary as it was at this very point in her own musical journey that Rose seemingly vowed that enough was enough. Rose apparently had come to the conclusion that she’d rather die on the hill of artistic integrity than continue to wave the colors of a Nashville music industry that valued profit over her own desire to simply make the kind of music she dreamed of making as a child growing up in Maryland.
2017 saw Rose embrace a new creative vision when she struck up a relationship with Nashville based Starstruck Studios and Entertainment. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence at all that the very next album Rose released—her first under Starstruck Studio’s umbrella—was entitled Dreams > Dollars. The five-song EP was lavished with praise from a wide range of critics while also spawning hits like lead single, “Body of Fire”. Upon listening to Dreams > Dollars, it seems as though the album may have been the blueprint that Rose and her bandmates would later use to build the foundation for Change The Whole Thing, named one of the 40 Best Country & Americana Albums of 2018 by Rolling Stone.
Rose took some time recently to speak with Live For Live Music about topics that ranged from her creative relationship with Marcus King and her involvement with King’s on-going Four of Kind concert series, the evolution of her music, the fearless choice she made to transition away from the trappings of the Nashville music machine, and what the immediate future holds for the songstress.
Maggie Rose – “Help Myself” > “Smooth” – Quarantine Comes Alive
Live For Live Music: Maggie you’re currently in the middle of helping out The Marcus King Band pull off their wildly entertaining and unique Four of a Kind live streaming concert series. When was the first time you heard King’s music and do you remember what your initial reaction was?
Maggie Rose: Several years ago I had taken in one of Phish‘s New Year’s Eve shows [12/28/17] in New York City. Afterward, me and the group of people I was with decided to go see Marcus and his band play this after-party at Gramercy Ballroom. I walked away from that performance absolutely astonished. Later on that night, I also found out how old Marcus actually was at the time and that took me aback even more. Marcus presents his music in a way that’s so humble while at the same time also having this quiet confidence and calmness about his abilities that you don’t typically see in an artist that is so young. If Marcus were just a singer, that alone would be something to behold, but he’s so much more than that.
Live For Live Music: When did you first meet Marcus and when was the first time the two of you had the opportunity to share the same stage with one another?
Maggie Rose: At first, Marcus and I were just admirers of each other from a distance and through social media. However, it was probably six months prior to his Grand Ole Opry debut last fall when he and I got together to write our first song down at Muscle Shoals called, “What Makes You Tic”. We actually played that song on night two of the Four of a Kind live streams.
Marcus’ debut at the Opry, where we performed his song “Autumn Rains”, was the first time the two of us had the chance to share a stage with one another. I had played the Opry so many times before and each time I kept telling everyone over there that they were sleeping on Marcus King because he was going to be Nashville’s next legend. That first night performing with Marcus at the Opry will always go down as one of my favorite memories.
Live For Live Music: The backing vocal tracks on King’s new solo album, El Dorado, are somewhat reminiscent of the kind of work the singers from Lucius have done for artists such as Roger Waters, Dawes, and Lukas Nelson to name just a few. Although you’re a frontwoman by trade, how excited were you to tackle the El Dorado material with fellow singer Kate Barnette and what challenges, if any, did the material pose to you?
Maggie Rose: Marcus put these live stream shows together fairly quickly. We had been discussing the Four of a Kind stuff tentatively for a little while, but I actually ended up receiving the invitation to do all the backing vocals not all that long before the first night of the live stream. Fortunately, I was very familiar with the El Dorado material in large part thanks to Marcus, so I just ended up cramming for the show as if I were studying for an exam. The first night of the live stream was one of the most intense experiences of my career, but it was also so exhilarating and just so damn fun. Being on stage with Marcus and his band is beyond electrifying.
Live For Live Music: Your last album Change the Whole Thing is about love, making connections, and making a difference while you still can. Considering how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world and all the negativity that has sprung up in its wake, are the themes that resonate throughout the record even more relevant now than even when you originally recorded it back in 2018?
Maggie Rose: Absolutely. I think there are a lot of political undertones in the songs that I write. I’m not someone who is super didactic about the state of politics outside of music, but I do think that I can use my music as a vehicle to project some positivity out into the world. However, I also don’t want to over-specify my lyrics or tie them to a singular story to the degree where they may isolate the listener or not let them in. People who are just now discovering Change The Whole Thing sometimes think it’s a new release because the messages still resonate, maybe even more so now, with what’s going on in the world. And you know what? I think that’s what good music is supposed to do—it’s supposed to be timeless.
Live For Live Music: The sonics and the overall feel of Change The Whole Thing seem to stand in stark contrast to a lot of your previously recorded material—in particular, the music you put out in the early part of your career. Was this deliberate or was the shift simply tied to the fact that you had put yourself in a position to make the album you had always envisioned recording?
Maggie Rose: It was definitely intentional, because I think I was deliberately trying to separate myself from a lot of the politics of country radio as well as all the bullshit that I had to swallow for a long time. I also wanted to make a live record that wasn’t auto-tuned and comped to death where all the soul was taken out of it. Change The Whole Thing was also a record about my being in a peaceful place in my life as well as being happy with who I was and the path I had put myself on. A lot of what came out of that record was only possible because I did so many things the wrong way the first time out.
Live For Live Music: You choose to record Change The Whole Thing live, which was an you had never taken before at that point. What was it about the album’s recording process helped you bring the songs to life in ways that maybe you never even thought possible?
Maggie Rose: There are so many things that tug at me from my earlier music that [were] unfortunately never fixed the way I would have liked, because perhaps back then I didn’t have the bravery to address those issues the way I do now. I learned so many things from recording Change the Whole Thing. I’m not just talking about the technical approach we took to recording it, but also the things that I’m never going to do again to overly manicure my sound. That record was a big turning point for me. I realized it was so much more fun to make music that I can stand by and feel proud of and not cringe when I listen back to it and think, “That’s not me.”
Live For Live Music: Would it be too far of a stretch to then say that today you’re happier today than you’ve ever been not only professionally but personally as well?
Maggie Rose: I’ve never been happier. This may also sound kind of corny but I’m just happy to exist and be creative now. The things that scare me these days are things such as collaborating with Marcus versus my being worried about having to swallow my words or my ideas to go along, to just get along. Today, I feel as though my music is much more about my overcoming personal challenges instead of me putting all of my time and energy into trying to over obstacles that were ultimately out of my control. I’ve been given so much that I don’t deserve and I do sometimes stop to think, “Why me and not the next guy?” Fortunately, these days, I have all the means necessary to not just keep being creative but also to stay healthy. I think if I choose to squander all of that, I’d just be being this huge asshole. I know there’s a lot of people hurting right now as well as artists who didn’t even have the opportunity to get off the ground when all of this sh*t started. Right now, I have enough momentum to sustain what I’m doing while at the same time having the opportunity to keep my band employed. I damn well better make the best of it.
Live For Live Music: What can fans expect from Maggie Rose this year and as the calendar turns toward 2021?
Maggie Rose: I’m putting out two new songs in early September and calling it the Quarantine 45, which my bandmates and I wrote, recorded, and produced in isolation. Writing and keeping the music going was our answer to our whole world being essentially canceled and in a state of dystopia. I think you’ll see a lot of virtual concerts from us in the coming year, especially specialty projects to honor our favorite albums and artists, which push us as musicians. We’ve already got one of those in the can and I’m very eager to share it. But I’m most anxious to share the full album that I recorded at Fame Studios with Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes) at some point next year, so I feel as though the music is not stopping for us by any means.
For all things Maggie Rose, head to her official website.