It’s 8 o’clock on a Wednesday evening when I call Madeline Adams. She’s in the midst of cooking broccoli for dinner. Her voice is quiet and friendly as she apologizes for the radio in the background. It’s NPR. She’s also been listening to Nina Simone lately, some stuff from The Microphones. Her first influences are the ones that throw me for a loop. Neutral Milk Hotel I could see. Lucinda Williams and Bjork, sure. When she says “Michael Jackson,” I nearly drop the phone.
Madeline’s a fan of his vocal stylings, which, when applied to her own phrasing style, doesn’t seem too far off. Her latest album, White Flag, mixes a bit of pop, folk, jazz, and blues, all expertly played by a handful of Athenian regulars. Madeline is on Orange Twin’s label, so it’s not surprising that the record’s roster includes a few familiar faces from Elf Power and the like. Despite all their talents, it’s Madeline that’s the main draw. Her voice draws comparisons to Joni Mitchell. Her writing style, however, is all her own.
“You just start picking at a chord and you end up following it vocally and next thing you know, it turns to jazz or blues,” she explained. “It’s not intentional, it just comes out that way.”
Madeline’s lyrics are usually first, coming to her at random points in the day. It’ll start with her humming a part and then finishing it up with a guitar later. The feeling is a familiar one. She has been playing gigs since she was 15, claiming that even at that point she wasn’t nervous about performing. A few stints in musical theater during her earlier years probably helped, even if she was just “Teen Number 2” in Bye Bye Birdie.
Madeline’s spent a lot of time since then on the road, switching between studying Anatomy & Physiology to playing gigs with the White Flag band. Her experiences find their way into White Flag, tossing around the idea of surrender and all its complexities. “Belly of the Beast” is about her grandmother, “Blackout” is about a rough night in Vegas, and so on. Do you keep fighting or do you admit defeat? They’re the kind of questions you’d expect from someone twice Madeline’s years.
Madeline is not one to lay down arms completely. There’s new material in the works, temporarily on hold while she studies. But while we surrender to the wait for the next album, we still have a few opportunities to catch up with the amazing songstress. I highly recommend you do. Madeline will be flying her own banner high for a very long time.
Madeline will be opening for Dead Confederate and Meat Puppets at the 40 Watt on Saturday, October 24th.