It had been “2 years, 5 months and 24 days” since rising country artist Madeline Merlo released new music, but she came back stronger than ever with her latest EP, Slide.
The spirited four-track that project dropped on Friday, Sept. 23 is entirely co-written by Merlo and follows her 2016 album, Free Soul.
“It’s good to have music out. It’s been a long process, you know, working on it and stuff, so it definitely feels good to have it out in the world,” Merlo told Country Now.
In the time that she wasn’t releasing new music, the world was facing a pandemic and Merlo was approaching the next chapter of her career. The “Dear Me” singer signed with Broken Bow Records in 2020 and continued building her song catalog to the best of her abilities. While trying to perfect her current project, she found herself reaching the point of burnout and having to take a step back to recollect her thoughts.
“At the beginning of it, I think I was so hyper-focused on like, it has to be amazing, that I ended up just getting super burnt out. I wrote too many songs, my vision wasn’t clear, my direction wasn’t clear, so it took me a second to kind of figure it out and I think taking the pressure off a little bit helps.”
Once she felt herself being freed from some of that weight, the pieces started to come together again with the help of producer, Zach Crowell.
“It started to start to sound like me and this kind of next step and evolution that I was hoping for,” she said.
The last few years have consisted of lots of big changes that involved finding a new team that was right for her and figuring out the best ways to share her mission with the world. Taking that extra time to build a project that she was happy with proved to be the best course of action, but the delay was still “nerve-wracking” for the young artist.
“I think the more time that went by, the more nervous I got,” she explained. “It feels a little scary putting it up there and just hoping for the best. I mean, there’s certainly a lot you can do to promote it, but at the end of the day, a good song kind of speaks for itself. So yeah, it’s definitely nerve-wracking and a lot of hard work put in, but overall, I’m definitely very excited to have music up.”
Although the title track to this project belonged to another artist before Merlo was able to record it as her own, she still managed to tweak it to reflect her life. Sam Hunt originally wrote this song with the intention that he would cut it, but as it developed, he and his co-writer Zach Crowell thought it would be better suited for a female artist. Then, Merlo got the call from Crowell.
“He was like, ‘Sam and I, and this guy named Jerry Flowers, we started the song, it doesn’t really have any lyric, it’s just kind of this chorus melody, but we really, really like it and we just feel like it’s a little feminine or something. We’re not sure that it’s right for Sam, do you wanna jump on it? Finish the song, write a hook, write the lyric, would you be interested in that?’ And I was like, ‘Obviously.’”
After working through multiple writing sessions to make the song perfect, by her definition, it became clear to Merlo that “Slide” would act as the leading track.
“It was the first song that I felt like, ‘okay, this feels right. This is the sound that we’re going for. I’ve got it.’ And so there was a lot of like excitement and joy around that song. Honestly, like, I love it.”
In these songs, along with her previous releases, Merlo makes a strong effort to pull from personal experiences in order to create an uplifting listening experience for her audience. This project as a whole embraces a young, blissful energy that clearly defines a sense of purpose in the character that Merlo illustrates. She has far beyond achieved the goals she set for herself when she moved to Nashville to become “the best songwriter” she could be.
“I think as a writer, it’s just about finding your point of difference and when you put that through the scope of being an artist, it’s like, what types of things do you wanna say? And I’m pretty specific in what my character is gonna portray. I’m passionate about the female story kind of, like I want her to always be strong and always be confident and fun and joyful and even, you know, if it is like a sad song, that she like knows who she is.”
Authenticity is relevant in every lyric Merlo sings, which draws her fanbase in and allows them to relate to her narratives.
She added, “I’m less attracted to write songs that’s like, you know, she’s been cheated on 10 times and keeps going back to him, even if that happened to me, I don’t wanna say that. I don’t want that character to be like that. So I would say the female narrative is important to me.”
Merlo teased that there are plenty more songs that didn’t make this track list that she hopes to put out in some other fashion. The ones that did made the cut were carefully chosen based on the themes of happiness, joy, cleverness and a little bit of edge that she had envisioned for Slide.
Everything changed for Merlo after she was crowned the Season 2 winner of NBC songwriting reality TV series Songland. The first act that helped launch her career was when Lady A recorded her song from the show, “Champagne Night.”
“Nothing from that show had ever gone to radio or really gone off and done something, you know, as big as this song did. But Lady A just felt passionately that the song wanted to be more than just the TV show, and so they ended up putting it to radio and it became three-week number-one song. So, very unexpected as well as amazing and it blew a ton of doors open for me as a songwriter and obviously as an artist too.”
This year, she added another accomplishment to her résumé when she served as the female voice on Cole Swindell’s smash hit “She Had Me At Heads Carolina.”
“I had no idea it would be part of the master or that it would, but I knew it would be a hit because I heard it one time and I was like, ‘this is the best thing I’ve ever heard.’ So I was not surprised at all when it became even number one.”
She added, “This music business is just the collection of random moments and opportunities, and it certainly has been that way for me cause I’m like, how is this stuff happening? I was just in the right room or the right circumstance that day.”
Madeline Merlo spent the summer performing at various festivals and venues around Canada and her upcoming tour dates have yet to be announced.