Singer/producer Maddie Jay’s music sounds like it’s pulled from the collective diary of the millennial generation, taking inspiration from phenomena like the sitcom Friends and Jay’s own struggles with mental health. Her debut EP, Mood Swings, out April 30, puts a comforting spin on anxiety, depression, and restlessness in her signature fashion.
Jay first taught herself to play the bass during high school and moved from Canada to Boston to study the instrument at the Berklee College of Music. She relocated to LA after school, and soon, she was working as a session and live touring bass player.
After a few years, she decided to make her own music, which first reached people largely through Instagram. She’d share clips of “beat videos,” where she’d play every part for the camera then splice it to show her process. The clips of her productions earned her a spot on Mixmag’s “Best Producers on Instagram” list in 2019. More recently, she’s begun streaming her production process on Twitch.
“A lot of people do this now, but I was one of the first people to hit that niche, and I think people were really excited to see a girl doing everything,” she says. As few as two percent of music producers are female, but Jay was able to break through that barrier thanks to inspiration from artists like Tal Wilkenfeld and Esperanza Spalding.
Jay also chalks up her success in part to her early bass-playing career. “I am very rhythm-section oriented,” she explains. “I think it really helps me as a producer because before I was a singer-songwriter, I was very focused on all the other moving parts and roles of the band.”
In 2018, she released her first single, “Lunch Break,” an atmospheric, upbeat track about getting tired of your day-to-day life and lost in your daydreams. Her next single, 2019’s “I Got You,” sounds like a love song on the surface but is actually an ode to her roommate’s dog.
Mood Swings includes those two songs plus four newer ones. In “Shakes,” a track she wrote after binge-watching Friends, she sings about a hand tremor she experiences, which flares up when she’s anxious. “I literally watched Friends all day for two months because I was too anxious to do anything else,” she remembers. “I heard that theme song over and over again, and I started to love it and wanted to write about my anxiety with that early 2000s pop rock style of song as the backdrop.” Despite the somewhat dark subject matter, the melody is somehow comforting and familiar.
Anxiety and other difficult emotions constitute a repeated theme in Jay’s music. “I think this is a millennial kind of approach — we are all about therapy and talking about our feelings,” she explains. “We relate when someone says, ‘I’m sad literally all the time and I don’t know why.’ It’s a lot different than older songwriters like Paul Simon and The Beatles. They were all about stories and painting pictures of other lives. I’m trying to focus directly on my own life, shining lights into crevices in the hope that someone else will say, ‘Oh, damn, I’ve felt like that before.’”
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