About three and half years ago I was falling in love hard with the music of Madi Diaz, a singer/songwriter — who grew up in Bucks County and went on to be a star pupil of Paul Green’s School of Rock – who had recently shifted her aesthetic from wonderfully poignant alt country to equally impressive, yet far-more-uplifting, sunshine pop, but that was able to take on the heaviest experiences of the heart with admirable gusto. These songs would go on to comprise Plastic Moon, an LP released in January of 2012, produced by John Alagia, best known for his work with Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Rachael Yamagata, and Liz Phair. And while those sounds were largely a product of Diaz moving to Nashville in 2010 with longtime collaborator Kyle Ryan, she has since relocated to Los Angeles, appropriated a more electronic aesthetic, and released two additional LPs, 2012’s We Threw Our Hearts In the Fire and, most recently, 2014’s Phantom, released by Nettwerk.
Madi Diaz is about to embark on a short string of East Coast dates in support of Phantom that will conclude at our very own North Star Bar on Friday, April 24th (which you will have the opportunity to win tickets to, if you keep reading). The record, which is a “Breakup Record,” is equally as existentially profound and sing-along-able as earlier releases, but also her most electro-and-bass-indebted yet and, by far, her most danceable. The record was produced by producer extraordinaire Nick Ruth, of Mikky Ekko and Active Child fame, and mixed by John O’Mahony, known for his work with Coldplay, Metric, and Oh Land. It has afforded her the opportunity to tour alongside the likes of Echosmith, X Ambassadors, and Fitz and the Tantrums. I’ve described my favorite album track, “Mess,” as “soulfully sincere, but also playfully sassy, in equal measures.” Although the record hasn’t taken anything away from Madi’s abilities as a “singer/songwriter,” it proves that she is just as competent in the postmodern brand of the term, that is just as easy to wiggle your ass to as it is suited to soundtrack a weepy, rainy Sunday.
After several years, I recently caught up with Madi Diaz and asked her about the most significant changes and highlights of the past three years or so, and she tells me that the geographic relocation has been quite significant.
“Moving my music stuff from Nashville to LA has been pretty major and, in turn, starting to work with Nettwerk, and also starting Riothorse Royale with Emily Greene – we’re about to go on tour. It’s such a huge city, LA. It’s a beautiful city. The West Coast is very different from the East Coast. There’s an air of wistful freedom, but also a lot of time and space to get lost, so you’re really forced to focus yourself.”
I inquire about the evolution of Madi’s sounds over the past several years, which would seem to navigate from affiliations with an exceptionally anthemic and heartwarming First Aid Kit to an exceptionally wise Taylor Swift (with wonderful synths), and she tells me that she views her songwriting as being more or less the same, with only the instruments changing: “When it comes to thinking about if there’s a difference, I think ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ I was learning new toys and learning new tools and trying to apply it to my work, but the songwriting has always been the most important part, so even if it’s changed sonically, the songwriting remains the same.”
Although Phantom presents the seeming spectrum of Madi Diaz’ influences, I’m a bit surprise when I ask her what she was listening to when writing and recording the album, which tends to be a bit more “flashy” than singer/songwriters like to admit to: “I went back to Garbage 2.0. That was a really huge record for me. Between Garbage and Nine Inch Nails is were a lot of my inspiration wound up falling, and a little bit of Madonna and Janet Jackson, because that’s what I grew up with.”
Finally, I ask Madi Diaz what can be expected of her upcoming Philadelphia date at the North Star and what we can expect of her in the near future and she tells me that Phantom is very much still at the forefront of her mind: “You can definitely expect a lot of the new record and some reworks of the older stuff. I hope to step into the world that I’ve spent the past year and a half creating. I hope it finds the audience I think it deserves. I worked really hard on it and I just want people to continue to find the record.”
*If you would like to join me in attending Madi Diaz’s April 24th performance at the North Star Bar, we happen to be giving away a pair of tickets. For a chance to win them, get on your Twitter and Tweet “@philthymag, I want to see @madidiaz at @NorthStarBar.” Submit your Tweet by noon on Thursday, April 23rd, for this shot at two spots on the guest list.