Madison Kozak has had a terrific year. The budding country star signed a deal with U.S. record label Songs & Daughters (a subsidiary of Big Loud Records), made her debut at the Grand Ole Opry, recently released three radio-friendly singles and was selected by Nashville’s Country Music Network to be a member of CMT’s Next Wave of Country, Class of 2020. The cherry on top maybe that tonight she’s performing at The Stone Pony in New Jersey, a club that served as the launching pad for the careers of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi. That’s pretty heady stuff for a small-town girl from Lindsay Ontario, and it’s certainly not the route taken by most Canadian country performers who first try to establish themselves north of the border. Madison’s career path was shaped by her family’s move to Nashville, which allowed her to firmly plant her roots at an early age and become part of the musical community.
“Growing up in Lindsay I always listened to country music because my dad was always playing classic country from the ’60s and ’70s,” says Madison, calling in from Asbury Park, N.J. “I listened to the music of Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash while I was growing up, and then I learned about their stories and lives. They all trace from the same place which is Nashville, Music City. After begging my parents to make several trips there and finding mentors along the way, we finally moved to Nashville when I was 14 years old. I found that it was commonplace in all of my heroes’ stories and that’s just where I had to be. I’m thankful that I have a family that was willing to support me through that.”
Madison pays tribute to her family in “Household”, the first of three late-year singles she released. The song is a sentimental testament to the mixed emotions of leaving home, and you can clearly feel the bittersweetness when she sings the line “You can’t pack a life in a Samsonite”.
“The biggest part of my story is the household that I grew up in and I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without them,” she explains. “I grew up with seven brothers and sisters so it’s like a small village when we get together on holidays. That’s created so many memories of fun times and song inspirations for me. I think having to fight to be heard in a family that big probably has something to do with why I love to be on stage and have no fear of that. For people to know me as an artist they have to know that part of the story and the household that I was raised in.”
Her fearlessness on stage was no doubt tested when Madison made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry in October. Of course, it always helps when you have a little hometown support.
“Walking out on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry was definitely the highlight of my career so far,” she begins. “To me the Opry is such a sacred space. Everything that I know and love about country music stems from that circle of wood they have in that centre stage. It was the most electric feeling ever. I was just thinking about my heroes who stood right there at the microphone, singing their hearts out and telling their stories, and I felt really privileged for having the opportunity of telling mine.”
“When I played the Opry, about 50 people from back home in Canada, both family and friends, found their way to Nashville and came to watch my show. If that doesn’t say home town support, I don’t know what does. It was a very special moment for me. They first saw me when I was playing on the back of a trailer that was hooked up to a pick-up truck at a local park. They’re a big part of my story and a big part of why I get to live this dream”.
A summertime release that preceded Madison’s trilogy of singles, “First Last Name”, was the tune on which she felt she was coming into her own as a songwriter. She co-writes all of her material, ably assisted by some of Nashville’s finest tunesmiths. While “First Last Name” is another family number, this time about her dad, her latest single OMG ILY finds her mining new songwriting territory. It’s a romantic number that finds her at a party when she would much rather be alone with her significant other.
“I never considered myself a person who wrote about love because I’d never been in love before,” she says somewhat sheepishly. “This summer I found someone and it’s come into my writing because I’m in a relationship for the first time. That song is just about being somewhere and realizing I could care less about where we are, I just care about being with you.”
Signing with the record label Songs & Daughters was key in furthering Madison’s career. Not only is it important for her in terms of personal support as an artist, Songs & Daughter has an all-female roster and it gives Madison the opportunity of helping to raise the profile of women in country music.
“It’s a great honour for me to be the flagship artist on that label,” she says. “To be part of this movement is really cool and special to me. When I think about Shania Twain and The Dixie Chicks and all of the other female artists that inspired me, I hope I have the opportunity of doing the same thing in terms of inspiring the next girl from a small town. It’s tailor-made for me to be on that label and I think it’s an exciting time for females in country music. It’s not the easiest time but I feel that we’re on the cusp. To have my foot in the door at a time when we’re about to turn the corner and hopefully hear more females on radio, I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Madison is also pretty pumped about being picked for CMT’s Next Wave of Country, class of 2020. It’s a prestigious honour and past members include Maren Morris and, from the inaugural year of the award in 2013, Kacey Musgraves.
“That was the coolest thing,” Madison admits. “I always admire the artists that they handpick for the list. I always thought that if I ever got put into that class I’ll know that something is happening in my career. I’m very thankful to be in a class of artists that I admire and came up with so it’s cool to have that happen.”
What probably helped Madison land in the 2020 class is her unique songwriting ability. Although her singles have fine country instrumentation, it’s her voice that’s way out front and you don’t need to go a lyric site to understand the meaning of each song. On the single “Click”, she boils down the spark of her relationship to one word and it’s not hard to get the drift.
“I’ve always considered myself as much of a storyteller as a songwriter,” she says. “That’s part of who I am and why I wanted to pursue music because I like to tell stories. I think I was drawn to country music because of the storytelling aspect and the way that country songs make you feel. Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton were the trailblazers that told their stories like it was, and there was no sugar coating. Although stylistically you might not hear any resemblance, I leaned on the way they painted pictures with their lyrics. Even though you may not have lived exactly what they’re talking about, they paint the picture so well it feels like you have. That’s always something I’ve aspired to do, to tell my story so vividly and honestly that someone else can relate to it.”
Madison is wrapping up some American dates in December before heading to the U.K. for some shows in January. She played her first leg of Canadian dates in November, with shows in Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary and Edmonton and she hopes to be back in 2020, “doing some festivals or hopping on another tour”.
Digital Stocking Stuffers
Gord Bamford has a new Christmas single, “Storybook Christmas”, available on all streaming platforms. Gord wrote this song with his own family Christmas experiences as the inspiration, and it’s all about the good and the bad when you have your whole family together for the holidays. He will be hitting the road across Canada in 2020 with his #REDNEK Music Fest tour that will showcase a broad range of homegrown country music artists.
Congratulations to Calgary’s Lindsay Ell, who has scored her first U.S. #1 hit with “What Happens In A Small Town”, a duet with Georgia native Brantley Gilbert. It’s the fifth #1 record for Brantley. “I have dreamed of having my first No. 1 since I was a little girl,” says Ell. “It honestly feels surreal, and it’s changing my life as an artist. I’m beyond grateful.”
Aaron Goodvin does a fine job covering Charles Brown’s classic “Please Come Home For Christmas” on his recently released seasonal single. The song was most famously covered by The Eagles way back in 1978. Wonder why no-one’s ever covered the flip of that single, the Henley-Frey original “Funky New Year”?
Speaking of covers, you may want to check out the latest version of The Christmas Song by Vancouver’s Cross Parallel, with help from Aaron Pritchett and AtlantisOne. It’s a very low key rendition, but the chestnuts roasting on this open fire are indeed very soulful.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, y’all.