Newcomers Maddie & Tae burst onto the scene with their feminist country anthem last year, taking their male counterparts to task for lyrics that bordered on, at worst, misogynistic and, at best, carefree. This summer, the teens proved their no one hit wonder with "Fly," an uplifting ballad emphasizing their harmonies and theme of empowerment.
The duo has officially arrived with their debut album,Start Here, out now via Nashville heavyweight Big Machine. The 11-track album is country through-and-through and, Maddie promises, "You will hear your life in this record. That is a guarantee."
ET caught up with the girls over coffee in between stops on Dierks Bentley's Sounds of Summer Tour in California. Read on for our wide-ranging interview, on everything from country music's rapidly-rising new class and a sweet lesson learned from Bentley, to the one requirement their boyfriends needed to meet.
Tae Dye: Once it's over, it's gonna be devastating 'cause it really feels like this is a huge family and we've learned so much and we just get to hang out with our friends every day. Maddie Marlow: I know, I'm gonna be sad. We've gotten really close with Dierks and Kip [Moore] and their camps and we've just learned so much from them as artists and performers, and I think the thing that I love the most about Dierks is he's an incredible showman and he really engages with his fans but also he balances his family really well. He has his family out and knows when to be in the family zone, but then he'll tell us, 'OK, gotta go get my rock star brain.' You can see how he's so good about compartmentalizing that and really focusing on what the task is at hand but not sacrificing family.
Is balance the biggest thing you've learned from him?
Maddie: I've learned that you can balance your family and your personal life with the career, but you just have to make that effort. You have to go that extra mile and he does that. But I think also the biggest thing that we've learned is how to engage with our fans and how it's so great to sing to the people and make a direct connection. I know for both Tae and I, we used to be nervous about singing directly to people but now if I see someone singing our words at the top of their lungs, both of us will go over there and hold people's hands and sing to them -- and that's kinda what we've learned Dierks. And just being confident and owning your music and being proud of it, and just making sure that the message comes across the way that you want it to.
How did you come up with the album title, Start Here?
Tae: We just really wanted something that basically said, 'Hey, we're Maddie & Tae, we know that we're new to the scene but this is the start of an incredible journey but we would really like for our fans and all of you guys to come along on the ride with us and we really don't plan on stopping anytime soon.' So we felt like Start Here was the perfect way of saying, 'Alright, let's do this.' Maddie: We also feel like it's the start to a road map, and we want to go on this journey. It's already been a beautiful one and we can't wait to see what else it holds. We're just gonna be in our little maze, starting here!
I read an article about how country music's young guns are rising more quickly these days. Do you feel like this is all happening really fast for you?
Maddie: It is crazy, you know, there's still those rock stars like Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, those kinda guys that are always all chart, Eric Church, all those guys. But the newer artists like us and Sam Hunt, Kelsea Ballerini, Raelynn, all of us, it's crazy that we're getting as much support as we are off of a couple songs. It's just cool, especially for us, because we write all our own songs and that's why it's connecting, I think. Whenever you are a songwriter, I think that helps. It just so happens that we're really young because we started at 15.
There's also speculation that Bro Country is on its way out. Do you see it ending?
Tae: I feel it ending. Maddie: Yeah, I feel the 'Hot chick lookin' perfect, slide up in my truck' -- like, I don't think radio is extremely targeted to that as it used to be. I think there is a change and I think people are thinkin' about, 'Wait, we shouldn't talk to women that way.' Even though it sounds like fun and party -- Tae: And it's funny because that wasn't our intention. We weren't saying, 'Oh, we're gonna change country music. We're gonna stop this, and do this,' we were just making music that we believed in and we loved and those guys are making music -- so-called bro country -- that they believe in and love. We are just going to throw our story in, as well. I guess it's really cool that people are saying it's now ending, because I think since it hadn't been called out no one really wanted to stop it or thought it would stop. Maddie: The thing that we are excited to be over is the trend. We love all of the artists that we've poked fun at, but just the trend of, 'This woman had to be this perfect Barbie doll girl and do whatever the guy told her to do,' that's what we were like -- 'OK, this has got to stop.'
What's the biggest thing you've learned about yourselves through this whole process?
Tae: I'm not a wear my heart on my sleeve type of person so songwriting, in the beginning, was really hard for me and I just let my heart be completely see-through, clear, wide open, 'cause I was just always very like, 'No, no, no. I'm not telling you how I feel.' So I'm really proud of myself because I feel like with songwriting I've overcome that fear of showing people who I really am. Maddie: The biggest lesson I've learned over the past five years and especially this year is that you can't grow when you're comfortable. We have a song called 'Downside of Growing Up' on our record that really explains that feeling and the growing pains. I used to hate change and I used to hate being pulled in all these directions and going through so much at one time and your whole world turns upside down and you don't know what to do, but it's actually a beautiful thing. You're learning so much and you're learning all these life skills that you wouldn't have otherwise. I used to fight it so hard, like, 'I want everything to be consistent!' but it's such a beautiful thing when you're put in uncomfortable situations.
What's your favorite song to perform?
Tae: Oh, for me it's 'Shut Up and Fish.' It's our song that we wrote after this fishing trip and we called up two of our guy friends to go with us and they -- Maddie: -- Friends! They were our friends -- Tae: -- They went with us and I don't know why we did that, it was such a mistake. But they thought it was a date like we were going to the movies or something. We were like, 'You know we're going fishing, right?' So they're trying to bust a move the whole time and talking and scaring all the fish away, so we did not catch anything. But the reason I love performing that song live is because you wouldn't expect a song about fishing, from girls telling guys to shut up. So I love seeing the crowd's reaction, they're like, 'Oh, OK. They said that!' Maddie: I think my favorite song we've ever written is 'Downside of Growing Up.' Just because it's a song that I live every single day. It kinda goes hand-in-hand with 'Fly,' and so those are my two favorites. But 'Downside of Growing Up,' every time I listen to it I get choked up and whenever we perform it and I see someone really connecting with it I get choked up. Now I sing that song and I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, we're here!'
You're on the road so much, do you have time to date?
Maddie: We both have really good boyfriends. Tae: Yes, thankfully they're very supportive and they both know how much we're on the road and they've always been accepting of that and they give us great song inspiration.
Are they the ones behind 'Shut Up and Fish'?
Tae: No, no, no. See, our men know how to fish. We would not be dating them if they didn't know how to fish! Maddie: 'Right Here, Right Now' is on our record and that's kind of about [Tae's] situation and then mine is 'No Place Like You.' Tae: The only two love songs on the album are inspired by our men. Maddie: They keep us grounded. They're very normal people, not like famous actors or something crazy like that. We're dating very normal, level-headed guys that keep us in check.
Do they ever have to bring you back down to Earth?
Maddie: Sometimes. Mine's really good about like, if I get too wigged out about something he's like, 'Hey! The world's not gonna stop because this fiddle part on this song is - blah, blah, you know.' We're musicians and perfectionists so he's like, 'Hey! It's not the end of the world.'
What's your elevator pitch for why someone should buy the album this week?
Maddie: You will hear your own stories in our record and we write from our perspective, but our perspective is so honest and vulnerable. You will hear your life in this record. That is a guarantee with this record. Tae: And it's country, so if you appreciate country, you will appreciate this record. Maddie: We had an album release party in Nashville and everyone was like, 'It's country!' I was like, 'We promise we won't ever let you down with that.' Tae: We had our fiddle player on stage with us.
Do you ever feel pressure to go outside of the realm of country just because the genres are blending so much?
Maddie: I think it's cooler to stay in it, 'cause it's almost not as common to be in country. Tae: Of course we experimented with 'Girl in a Country Song,' and a couple songs on the record lean a little more pop, but it's still really, really country. Of course it's fun to experiment, but our roots are country and so I feel like that's what's cool about it. You can see where we came from in this record.
Maddie & Tae paid a visit to the ET offices last year to talk "Girl in a Country Song." See our first interview with the girls in the video below!