The last few years have been pretty epic when it comes to queer women musicians. Joining the ranks of beloved queer pop-rock stars like Hayley Kiyoko, King Princess and Kehlani, is LA-based singer/songwriter, Maddie Ross. As if Ross’ infectious melodies and soaring vocals weren’t enough, this year she debuted the album, Never Have I Ever, which is an homage to 90s-00s teen rom coms like Mean Girls, 13 Going on 30, Empire Records and more. The result is a delicious mix of women-loving-women nostalgia and songs you’ll be happy to get stuck in your head. Maddie Ross was kind enough to take some time to chat with us about Never Have I Ever, and why it was important for her to sing about loving women in her music.
BMC: Maddie, where did your love of 90s and early aughts teen movies come from?
Maddie Ross: I grew up in this era, and I adored watching movies! In hindsight, I’m able to see how much they shaped my understanding of the world, and more specifically my understanding of the dynamics between men and women. But I also learned a lot about the kind of person I wanted to be. I was captivated by these beautiful, unique, often strong leading characters, by the friendships and the drama and the adventures they experienced in their daily lives. These movies hold so much power even now when I watch them. They immediately transport me to that exciting time in my life – I believe that’s what nostalgia is!
BMC: When I listen to Never Have I Ever, it sounds familiar and new all at the same time. I hear homages to bands I loved during the 90s and 00s, like The Donnas, Blink 182, The Sundays, Sixpence None the Richer. How did you go about crafting a style that was all your own but definitely gives nods to the music of that era?
MR: I love that you’re able to name so many of the major influences on this album! I’m glad it comes across. My girlfriend Wolfy had a really strong concept for this album. My music was often getting compared to teen movies. I think my song is a natural extension of growing up listening to that music, and also because the songs are written on guitar. They’re very poppy in nature, but they don’t sound like a lot of what’s happening in current pop. So Wolfy thought “let’s lean into, since we’re getting those comparisons anyway”, and she decided to write an album where every song scores an iconic scene from our favorite teen movies.
We watched a lot of movies, and made note of the best musical synchs and scenes. She had a massive playlist of songs that when you hear, you immediately think of the movie scene they scored. And then we loosely constructed a generic teen movie plot, and made a song for each part of the movie. Each track on our album had two or three songs from the big playlist as musical inspiration. Then lyrically, I injected my own story and personality into it.
In some ways, I felt more creatively free than when I can write about anything I want. Putting yourself into a box causes you to naturally push yourself outside of it. Sonically, our ideas were sparked by various iconic guitar riffs or styles of music, but it’s pretty easy to make them your own because you don’t know any other way to be! Also, Wolfy put her signature production stamp on it and included so many cool sound effects and original parts. She also likes to blend genres that I would have never considered. She’s really influenced by Dr. Dre’s production, and had been dying to put some NWA era record scratches all over it.
BMC: The album, and the accompanying videos, make no bones about the fact that you are a queer artist making queer music. You could have made the pronouns vague, but you didn’t. The audience knows you are singing to women. What made you decide to this album unmistakably queer?
MR: I spent so much time in the closet, and even more time struggling to find pride once I was out. Now I find immense joy in being direct about loving women. I actually get a jolt of empowerment and pride every time I sing these songs. It didn’t feel like I had to make a decision to use female pronouns or sing about women on this album, although that’s because of a lot of years of emotional labor.
BMC: One the songs on the album is called “Liv Tyler”, and it really does seem that if you talk to a lesbian or queer woman who came of age in the 90s and early 00s, we all have Liv Tyler on our list of roots. There’s something so universally appealing about her. What about Liv inspired the song, and does she know about it?
MR: No, she doesn’t know about it! I considered trying to reach out on social media, but I don’t think she’s very active on it.
And that’s perfectly said – there’s something so universally appealing about her. One very confusing part about growing up female and queer was how sexualized women were in the media, because you’re constantly noticing them and thinking, “whoa, she’s magical. Do I want to be friends with her? Do I want to be likeher? Do I want to kissher? What am I supposed to be feeling?” It was aimed at young boys and men, but it ended up entrancing all of us!
When we wrote the lyrics to this song, I was imagining a young girl in her bedroom, daydreaming about the movies she loves and trying to picture herself in them. The verses depict her frustration, and the choruses express what she really wants! I identify as lesbian, but I like that the chorus includes something for everyone. Liv Tyler and a hot English teacher are pretty universally attractive, no matter where you fall on the gender and sexuality rainbow J
BMC: What’s your favorite teen rom-com and how would you queer it up if you could?
MR: I love 13 Going On 30! I love any movie that has some fun body switching/role reversal. That movie is amazing because it’s nostalgic, with all of the 80’s throwbacks. The plot is all about how the adults have forgotten their roots, forgotten what made them happy as kids. Jennifer Garner’s “Jenna” gets to live out her fantasy (being rich, successful, having boobs), and then in the end she learns to appreciate her youth, her family, her loved ones, and who she is. I think that would be SO cool to make a movie like that, but for the leading character to go forward in time to a world where being queer, trans, whatever, is totally accepted and wonderful, and then in the end can go and experience that unabashed teen romance without fear.
I also adore Mean Girls and would love an alternate ending with Janis and Regina making out. Now that I think about it, there’s gotta be some fanfic I can turn to for this…
BMC: Your creative partner Wolfy is also your romantic partner. What’s it like creating music together with the person you love?
MR: At this point, making music with Wolfy is the easiest thing in the world. It was a challenge earlier in our relationship, because making music is so intimate, and she is incredibly straightforward and clear about what she likes and doesn’t like. And I’m incredibly sensitive (shocker). We had to figure out how to navigate speaking to each other constructively. But a huge part of me falling in love with Wolfy was admiring her brilliance as a songwriter and musician. We met in music school, and started making music together a few years before dating. She was already producing my first EP when we fell in love. I trust her completely (musically and personally), and making music in such a safe and loving environment has given me the freedom to explore my feelings and express myself better than I ever could have dreamed!
BMC: You recently toured with KT Tunstall, who has a huge LGBTQ following. I saw she reached out to you via Twitter to ask you to be her opener. What was the experience of being on tour with KT like for you?
MR: KT is an unbelievably rare human being, and the fact that she noticed me tweeting about her and then listened to my music and invited me on tour is just bonkers. It doesn’t happen. But she doesn’t follow any rules. She’s 100% genuine, 1000% badass. Being around her is crazy – she’s magnetic. She’s hilarious, she’s positive, she’s real, she’s gracious and engaging to every single person who interacts with her, from huge celebrities to fans to the bellhops at the hotels where she stays.
So it’s no surprise that she’s attracted a huge LGBTQ following. I honestly was a bit nervous when we first traveled to some southern states with her, because I had no idea what to expect. My music is all about coming out, loving women, dating women. Every single night of the tour, when I would introduce myself and then introduce Wolfy as my girlfriend, the crowd would scream with excitement! Seriously – they were signaling to us that they accepted us, and it would immediately ease that small worry in the back of my brain that I didn’t even realize was still there. Her fans are loving, respectful, accepting, and I’m still so grateful that I got to play for them.
Some of my favorite moments of tour were talking to fans at the merch table afterwards. I had a lot of queer people thank me for our visibility, or tell stories about their coming out experience! They would recommend other artists in the scene, and they were stoked to wear our “Stand Tall & Gay” merch. For the last 8 shows of tour, we set up a Trevor Project donation stand at our table, and on stage I invited her fans to contribute to that to support those in the community struggling with depression and suicide. Her fans donated over $700. It was really beautiful. I couldn’t be more grateful to KT and her fans, and I couldn’t have dreamt up a better experience for my first tour!
BMC: Who are some of the musical artists that have helped shape you as a musician?
MR: I loved music SO much as a kid. Selena, Britney Spears, and the Spice Girls consumed me for years. As I got older, I loved all the mainstream pop punk and emo. I had older siblings who exposed me to a lot of music, and I went through a massive Eminem phase. My brother bought me a Tegan & Sara CD and a Sleater Kinney CD for Christmas in 7thgrade, and that was huge. Tegan & Sara were my roadmap after that, and to this day are probably my all-time favorite band.
These days, I’m actually most inspired and influenced by my friends. The cool thing about having gone to music school is that I have this community of alarmingly talented friends. Most of the new music I listen to comes from them, and I am always watching what everyone is doing. There’s something to learn from all of them, and I really appreciate their art because I can see what goes into it.
BMC: Where can readers catch you online and on tour?
MR: I don’t have any touring plans on the books, but I had such an incredible time on the road and am dying to go back out. I feel like I unlocked a whole new level of love for performing. I will keep you posted once my next shows are booked. I’m always playing around LA though, hopping on bills whenever I can.
I’m on Twitter (@maddieross), Instagram (@raddiemoss), Tumblr (@raddiemoss) and Facebook (@raddiemoss). I made my own website and am constantly adding things on there for fun, so if you’re curious, definitely check out www.maddieross.comas well!
Thank you so much Bella Media for taking the time to talk to me, and for highlighting queer media!