Playing piano almost before she could walk or talk, Madi Diaz grew up in an intensive musical education class.
The daughter of a Frank Zappa tribute act and child of the American south, the soundtrack of her childhood sways between the extremes of chaotic psych rock and sweet country ballads – the perfect atmosphere to birth a musician as multi-talented as Diaz. Signing her first deal in 2008, her name has been spiralling round the industry for a long time. From various writing rooms to various stages, for the longest time Diaz balanced as many projects as she could after moving to LA, working on her solo career alongside playing in different bands and penning songs for others. And then it all went silent.
Suffering a break up from the industry as well as from her long term partner, Diaz performed the most relatable of moves when she packed up her car and drove back home to Nashville. Retreating to comfort, back to long term friends, and quieter pastures. An album such as History Of A Feeling couldn’t have been written in LA. Having previously been moving towards a more pop-leaning direction, releasing emotionally nondescript bops that only really hinted at her country roots, Diaz’s return to Nashville proved to be a musical homecoming as well. With time and space allowed to create her newest release, as well as the desperate need to return to comforts, Diaz look to her life-long inspirations such as Joni Mitchell and Patty Griffin. Borrowing their bravery to help turn her song writing inwards, Diaz began the process of attempting to articulate her own hurt.
Stripping it back to basics as she sought to make music a hobby again rather than an all-consuming job, she decided to create music in an incredibly organic way for someone who is so clued up on the machinery of the industry. Penning hundreds of songs over the span of several years spent working odd jobs while she processed the losses in her life, Diaz is now ready to return. History Of A Feeling chronicles her hiatus, mapping a path from heartbreak to healing through the various stages of grief as her long-term relationship dissolved as her partner transitioned. Touching every corner from anger to acceptance, Diaz is stepping back into the industry with an intensely personal offering, crafted in her own unique way within a bubble of close friends and collaborators. Adding to the intimacy of the record, the story of the conception and creation of History Of A Feeling is one of reliance and the beautiful importance of honouring your emotions for as long as you may need.
In the weeks before the release, Diaz spoke with a mixture of wisdom and self-deprecation, now able to laugh about the mistakes and melodrama heartache walks you through, from crying on the M-train to kicking down your ex’s door. Awaiting the release of what is essentially her diary, she was calm and charming, crossing her fingers for the catharsis that was to come.
BEST FIT: I wanted to start by letting you set the scene for History Of A Feeling, when did it all begin?
MADI DIAZ: I started writing the record in the fall of 2017, around October right before I made the major jump back to Nashville. You know, all my stuff was in the back of my truck and I was just kind of planning on moving on from a six-year stint building my life in Los Angeles.
What made you feel like now’s the time to draw a line in the sand and release it after so many years writing?
You just kind of know when something is done and when you’ve said everything you need to say. I was going through a major life transition as I was coming out of a bunch of different relationships really - I’d broken up with myself as I kind of stopped doing my own solo career while I was playing with bands, I parted ways with a couple of different managers and labels, I was coming out of a relationship so I moved back to Nashville to reground myself. I felt like a leaky boat. I had all the holes poked in me and I wasn’t really keeping anything for myself. So I moved back and got a bar job for a little while, letting music be the thing that comforted me; the thing I went to as opposed to the thing that was going to save me. I wrote anywhere between 150 to 200 songs over the years for the record, and at some point I had to be like: ‘I think we’re done now’. I was turning a lot of pages personally in the completion of the album, so I felt like I was done talking about being confused or hurt or resentful. I was done grieving.
How does it feel to now finally be handing it over to the world? Is it daunting or is it more of a catharsis?
When I released the first single, “Man In Me”, I didn’t know what it was going to be like or why I was even freaking out and my friends were like ‘well Madi you’ve never written so personally before. Of course you’re freaking out, you’re about to hand over some pretty raw shit’. That first song was tough as it’s the most visceral walk through my former relationship, but 85% of the record isn’t even about that, it’s me sitting myself asking ‘what happened? How did I get here? How do I feel? What am I working with?’ At this point it feels really cathartic to hand it off because it doesn’t feel like it needs to be mine anymore. There’s a sense of relief, I’m obviously still super attached to the songs but they’ve taken on totally different lives in the aftermath.
Obviously the album is about a situation that’s very unique to you, but listening to it from the outside it’s full of big universal feelings of heartbreak and rage and confusion. Having that Death Of The Author type feeling now it’s done must be refreshing...
Thank god! It’s so funny that everyone always thinks their experience is so unique – heartbreak is this weird island that’s so yours and only exactly what you’re feeling and going through. But it’s also the most universal experience on the planet I think. That’s the relief in all of it, no matter what we’re always able to relate to each other when we’re hurting.
Do think having the period of time where you stepped away from music and decided to get a bar job allowed you to write this brutally personal album?
It taught me that the process is really important and it’s going to take as long as it’s going to take. It was really uncomfortable because I’m very routine oriented and I love my job, and deadlines, and feeling productive, so it was hard to come back to Nashville and force myself to stay there instead of knocking on doors to see what kind of deal I could muster up. I’m grateful I steered away from all that and trusted myself, luckily there was a record on the other side of that.
Was recording the album as slow and gradual as the writing process?
It was a bit of a mix. I was demoing stuff here and there, then I started making the record in New Orleans in this studio that was haunted as hell. It was a beautiful situation with friends that heard me play these songs live and wanted to give me an opportunity to sonically explore what I was trying to tackle. It made such a safe, open space for me to steer the ship. I recorded the whole of “Man In Me” there.
Eventually we did end up going to LA and recording the album in one go like a band aid. It was really important to me for this record to be definitively reflective, like a mirror of what was going on and how I felt coming through this period of my life, and at that point I was like ‘we’ve got to do it now’. I could spend my whole life mixing this record if I wanted to, it felt unfair to say that I ever got the perfect recording of these songs, but I had to realise that wasn’t the point. The point was to record the moment.
When it comes to exploring your sound, you have a huge boiling pot of inspiration from your musical family to your Nashville roots. How do you handle all these influences? Do different feelings naturally seem to reach for different sounds?
Maybe someone would call it a wisdom, or just that I’m getting old and tired, but recording this record I mostly wanted to make sure I could stay inside them live and it wouldn’t be a technical nightmare of me trying to figure out of how to plug things in or sync things. I love all that but at this point I’m really hoping me and my guitar are good enough. The bells and whistles are wonderful, but I don’t have the appetite for them anymore. I used to, but I’m done now.
When it came to settling into that more stripped back, confessional style, are there any really key artists that you kept coming back to for a boost of bravery?
I was going backward a whole lot and listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell and Patty Griffin’s Living With Ghosts, and just feeling the power of a raw voice with a raw instrument. I really leaned into my love for that, and asking myself why I always going back to those records gave me the courage to do it for myself. There is a bravery in searching for a new sonic landscape in some wild untamed sound, but there’s also bravery in being as raw and unfiltered as you possibly can be.
Having this incredibly personal album end up as something that feels really relatable, the title feels so perfect. These big feelings are totally ageless and I’m sure cavemen were breaking each other’s hearts at the beginning of time…
That’s so well said! I think my thought was that when you hit a wall over and over again, and you keep breaking your own heart over and over again and you’re going through heartbreak over and over again, I think at some point you’ll ask yourself why. For me it was all about tracing it backwards and delving into family relationships and first crushes and my parental relationships. All of that stuff is so wrapped up in how we’re moving through our adult relationships, so “History Of A Feeling” is asking how do I move forward and also carry with me the most knowledge from everything behind me.
After having this experience and working through your feelings while working on the album, what was the biggest lesson that you learned that you want to pass on?
I’m just glad I didn’t stop, because I really could’ve. When you’re going through something hard, it can be easy to just turn off the faucet and not allow your thoughts to go any further than bouncing around the inside of your head, so I’m glad I wrote it all down. It really taught me how important it is to stay on track. Even if the track is winding, as long as you’re putting one foot in front of another and noting down every dumb thought and saying every dumb idea, it’s all part of the process.