Maddy Jane on playing the cards she’s been dealt

From quiet beginnings on Bruny Island off the south coast of Tasmania, Maddy Jane has quickly grown into one of this country’s most hardworking musicians.

She has toured non-stop over the last two and a half years, gained millions of streams and even caught the attention of global superstars Harry Styles and Red Hot Chili Peppers — both of whom she supported on their Australian tours. She has now found herself in the extremely unprecedented position of releasing her much anticipated debut album, Not All Bad Or Good, in the middle of a global pandemic.

Maddy Jane is no stranger to isolation. Having grown up on what they call ‘the island off the island off the island’, she never had an urge to move to any of the Big Smokes. Instead, she relocated to Wollongong. When asked about how she’s coping in iso, she seems unphased. 

“We were in isolation before all this happened,” she says down the line from her home. “We’re used to it now, I guess.”

For a lot of artists, the thought of releasing music at a time like this is terrifying. Not to mention a debut album. Musicians spend months and years working on it – often dreaming of it when they were kids. They hone their skill and song craft through countless hours of playing live and touring. They have to find the right producers, the right players, the right teams. They have to build their audience. All of this before they produce the first record. Then it’s a matter of finding the right track order, the right artwork, the right campaign. 

And they want it to be good. They want people to hear it. They want it to sell.

But throw a global pandemic into the mix and things get more than a little complicated.  

For now, touring is out of the question. Management and publicity teams are flying by the seat of their pants to generate content and promotional opportunities. There are no major income streams. There is no government support. All the while, the fans are at sitting at home, itching to see some goddamn live music. 

A lot of artists would wait. But, for Maddy, it’s for those reasons that she decided to push through with the original release date. 

“It’s kind of a constant battle,” she says. “This is the most exciting time of my life and there’s also this huge crisis happening around the world. We decided that we didn’t want to hold it off any longer. We thought we should get the music out. People can still listen to music – and as much as we can’t get out there and play, we just wanted to keep that feeling of ‘things are still happening and we’re still going.’ Because things are still going to happen after this.”

The album isn’t the only content Maddy is getting out there. Maddy has recently taken to TikTok, producing hilarious, bite sized sketches – including a brilliant homage to Mr G of Summer Heights High featuring her housemates. Definitely worth a look

Humour has always seemed to steer Maddy Jane through her career. Her heartfelt and earnest lyrics are often offset by the spirit of not-taking-yourself-too-seriously. The lead single off the album, ‘Perfection’s a Thing and You’re It’, is a sarcastic, ironic anthem preaching a message to the masses to love ourselves, faults and all. Presenting herself this way creates an accessibility for audiences to dive into the music head first, but Maddy has always found humour to be a coping mechanism. 

“I don’t know exactly where it came from,” she says. “I’ve always been quite independent. I went to boarding school and I was always finding ways to laugh stuff off. It’s always been really interesting for me to identify the ironies in life and laugh at them. Life is ups and downs and you’ve got to recognise that it’s something that you can’t control and laughter helps with that.”

Life’s ups and downs is a theme that runs right through Maddy’s songs and has manifested itself into the albums theme and branding — that being life is like a game of cards, you play what you’re dealt. The cover art features a true-to-form Maddy posing as a King/Queen/Jack/Joker. But the theme of the record took some time to figure out. It wasn’t until the photoshoot and a couple of in-depth conversations about the visual representation of these songs with management and PR that Maddy finally settled on the idea.

“My team were really wanting to focus on branding,” she says. “This was quite an early idea while we were putting the songs together. When we were working out artwork then it really started to become clear. And through a few conversations it became this idea of ‘you play the cards that you’re dealt’ and there are all these aspects. They’re all these different cards with different meanings.”

Branding is a necessary evil of the music industry. A lot of artists relish the idea and pour as much thought into the image as they do the songs (sometimes more), but others would prefer to focus on the music. Maddy is a part of the latter. 

“Those things — especially as a muso — are really hard to come up with, those concepts on top of the music you’ve already written because, to us, it’s almost like… that’s all I have to do. That’s done. The song’s there. The context is in the song. So it was a team effort, but thank god this actually really does make sense and helps the situation.”

The title, Not All Bad Or Good, was decided a bit closer to home, albeit in passing during a conversation with her guitarist, James, about what to call the album.

“I’m very inspired by Courtney Barnett and I remember I had the title ‘Thinking Hard or Hardly Thinking’ and that’s pretty close to Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit. And then I was like, ‘I’m not sure. It’s not all bad or good.’ And as soon as I said that James was like ‘That’s it! That’s so you and it says it all.’”

The branding and concept wasn’t the only difficult part about making the album. After touring non-stop for two and a half years, Maddy and the band barely had any new material or any time to record. 

“I actually hadn’t written a proper song since all that [touring] happened,” she laughs. “So it was totally like, ‘What even am I?!’ And then my management were like ‘Right, take some time off. You’ve exhausted yourself. We won’t plan anything and we can book studio when you’re ready.’ I was surprised that songs were still coming out of me and that I could still do it.”

Maddy and the band ended up doing stints at the Grove studios in Newcastle, working with producer Jackson Barclay. Maddy loved the bush and felt at home up there. It gave her the time and solitude she needed to finish writing the record.

“I’m quite private about how I write,” she says. “I want to have a song quite finished in my head before I even take it to my band. That’s probably something I want to work on a little bit. But there was a lot of private moments during our time at the studio and then when they were ready to share we’d jam it out until the songs were really comfortable.”

Two and a half years non-stop on the road is not only a testament to Maddy’s music and popularity, but also to her work ethic and humbleness. People obviously keep wanting to work with her and have her on board. She couldn’t quite narrow it down to one, but when asked about major turning points in her life on the road she named her time with Maz from WAAX and Harry Styles. Because, of course. 

“There’s definitely a learning that comes from every different bit of touring you do,” she says. “I was the opening act on the Kingswood tour, playing solo, and WAAX were the main support. Maz will forever be…” she pauses mid-thought. “I admire the shit out of her. That was my first national tour and she was the only other girl on the tour and she brought me in and we just really looked after each other on that tour. She was really like ‘Yeah, let’s get it girl!’

“And Harry Styles and his team were insane in that it was world class touring. Just how lovely and humble they are in that situation because that is like their home. That was an amazing experience in just how human and lovely they were. And not to put down the Australian music industry at all, but there are some egos amongst our little community and it was nice to say to Harry ‘Thank you so much for this world class experience.’ It comes with absolute kindness and human empathy. 

Oh, and Flea from the Chilis is an absolute legend.”

Despite all these world class experiences, meeting the planet’s biggest stars and Australia’s local heroes, it was her music teacher, Mr Hewitt, back on Bruny Island that might be counted as the biggest influence in Maddy’s life. 

“Mr Hewitt was the music teacher at our rural little school on Bruny Island and he wrote all these amazing songs about Bruny and the history of the island and we performed them. He was amazing and encouraged me from the get go. He could see that I wanted to make music. He was like ‘You. You can do it and want to and like it. He got me on the bass first. He taught me rhythm and that the relationship between rhythm and melody was really important. I learnt a few instruments with him. We were a bit of a duo in this little school. I used to sing somewhere over the rainbow with him all the time.”

Mr Hewitt has since passed away and Maddy has thought of a beautiful way to celebrate his life and contribution to the community. 

“I’ve been talking to my mum recently and I think I want to rerecord Mr Hewitt’s songs. They’re just so good and they’ve only been heard by the little Bruny community. So we’re in the talks with the family about that. I’d love to do that. He’s huge. Teachers like that have a huge affect.” 

Listen to Not All Bad Or Good.