CMchat’s Exclusive (and Honest) Interview with Maggie Rose

“Most times, the biggest lessons that you learn are through, for the lack of a better word, ‘failures.’”

That’s the story of Magaret Rose Durante, known to many as Maggie Rose. She’s lost three record label deals, pandered her music to traditionalists’ expectations, faced backlash on the release of a highly controversial song (during the infamous “Tomato Gate” era), and everything in between. It’s been quite the journey for the Maryland native, actually. Instead of opening the exit doors for her, failure and rejection served as motivation tools to propel her further musically. She details that, her new stellar EP More Dreams > Dollars, industry politics, faith, family and more in this unfiltered and honest chat with us.

What went into deciding the flow of the EP? It’s called More Dreams > Dollars, but “Too Many Love Songs” kicks it off, as opposed to the title track?

I think you kinda have to mimic your EP to the flow of a live show. “Too Many Love Songs” opens up the EP with a lot of energy. It’s an inviting song with the right tone for the project. It’s happy but the lyrics are very thoughtful. And it’s not a fluffy song, but gets your toes tapping into the whole project. “More Dreams Than Dollars” was what I wanted right in the middle of the EP, because it really is like the focal point of where I am in my life- the dreamer who doesn’t care if it’s glamorous or not, (or about) the fancy cars and big houses. It’s the grind and dream of everything. Of course, there’s “Body On Fire” which is the single right now. I didn’t want to start it off with that because there’s a really cool, relaxing state that “Body On Fire” kinda leads you into. It’s probably the most “adult” love song I’ve ever put out. I grew up listening to Shania Twain and Faith Hill, and they were women who used their sexuality in a powerful way. We’re kinda in a weird spot as women. A lot of (us) aren’t taking this rule to heart at all, but there’s something about being sexy but not threatening, and I don’t really subscribe to that. I think “Body On Fire” is a song for women and it’s supposed to be empowering. It’s for men too obviously (laughs), but I want people to be comfortable with their body. I’m a married and grown-ass woman, so I felt like I needed to write that song.

How does this new project differ from your previous one, “The Variety Show: Vol. 1”?

The Variety Show” was my way of kinda showing people that I’m versatile and I had been trying to fit into this little box for so many years leading up to the release of “Variety Show,” but it was intentionally not cohesive. It was like pop, super country, more country-pop, R&B and hip-hop. And, (that EP) was almost my most polite way of showing the middle finger to everyone that I’m a musician—and yes politically, country radio was a bit of an uphill battle for me in a lot of my years—but it wasn’t going to make me stop creating music. I just had to do it for myself and my fans who have stuck with me from the beginning- to show them that there’s so much more ahead. With “More Dreams > Dollars,” I was trying to reach in to myself and make this project cohesive, so that all the songs moved along together from the production and genre standpoint. It’s still a variety, of course.

It makes so much more sense now that you have unpacked the whole track selection process. And you have songs like “I Won’t”, that reminded me of a bad-ass, feisty Miranda Lambert song actually!

I love it! Yeah, it’s definitely more “in your face.” “I Won’t” is a really edgy, unpolished rock song. It’s a love song, but kinda about the gnarly parts of it where you’re committed to someone. It’s like a drunk, hazy, crazy, passionate song about being committed to him and who I am; which might have caused friction between us! (laughs) But, I just wanted it to be more “in your face.”

I guess it’s really just that with this EP. You can’t get any more of the “real” Maggie Rose!

Well, that’s the point. I feel like if you’re acting and not being yourself authentically, it’s hard to keep that up. The best way to give my best performance and still love what I do every day to the best of my ability is by being as close to who I am as I can be.

Speaking of “Body On Fire” earlier on, tell me more about the music video for it.

First of all, the video was like a by-product of my team and their really hard-work. My stylist, Rayna and I basically converted this room at Starstruck studios, where I’m managed, into this “jungle-ly,” “Bridge To Terabithia” bedroom. We played with lights a lot. During the verses there’s more of the blue light that signifies the separation between the two actors that we have, and when the chorus arrives, it turns to red light. The whole video is very dreamy and kinda sexy, but not overly sex. It’s supposed to match the flow of the song. I think (“Body On Fire“) was visually realized. It’s almost like you’re watching something you shouldn’t be watching…

Oh no!!

(laughs) It’s like a voyeuristic take. It’s not inappropriately sexy but like you’re a fly on the wall in a dreamy room!

Let’s just talk about “Love Me More” for a minute. If you ask me, I think it’s the most vulnerable song we’ve gotten from you, with it being stripped down to just the keys and vocals. How did that song come about?

It was kinda right after I had broken up with someone I had been dating for several years and when I had also, in some ways, broken up with my previous label that folded. I had put so many years into promoting myself with them at country radio… It was just so vigorous and repetitive and I felt like I lost myself a little bit in the process of both of those things. I certainly learned a lot, but I had been a little depleted as far as self-confidence went. So “Love Me More” was written at the height of that struggle. I didn’t want to have it be overproduced because I felt like I had been burnt a bit from the traditionalists who would not ever be able to get past production. They’re like “it’s too pop,” “it’s too country!” It’s like this weird line that I’ve been walking on. And, I (also) thought that the lyric and song would be heard more clearly if I only accompanied it with piano. I wanted people to hear it, because I felt I was definitely not the only one who had dealt with that hurt.

I totally agree with on that.

Yeah, I think that’s what music is all about. I’m so heartbroken about this f**king concert in Machester, excuse me. It’s like, all these people go out because they want to connect and feel something, and this person would rob them of that. It’s really hard, but it’s wonderful when you find people whose music you resonate with. That’s what it’s about. It’s like you’re sending out a huge text message to the world when you send a song out.

You released “4 X Life” with Craig Morgan just before the new EP. What’s the story and meaning behind that song?

Craig and I wrote “4 X Life” for a Jeep commercial. And then he ended up releasing it with his label, which I was really happy about. “4 By” is a drive you can put your Jeep in that basically allows you to drive anywhere, like you can go drive up a mountain, on the beach and all sorts of terrain that you wanted. So we wanted to use that coined phrase and analogy as a way to say like, we’re people who will go anywhere that we want, because we believe in ourselves.

You released “Girl In Your Truck Song” before rolling out “Variety Show”. Tell me more about that decision and what happened.

I was getting ready to co-produce my follow-up album to “Cut To Impress” and was working with Dallas Davidson and Brian Kennedy. We had all these amazing songs in the can and the funny thing about “Girl In Your Truck Song” was that it was one that I didn’t write. I liked the song, but I wanted to release another one as the lead single. That was my way of getting my foot in the door so that people would listen to (my music). Lot of bulls**t politics behind it, I have to be honest. When people ask me if there’s a song I released that I would do over, that’s the song I’d choose because it did not totally represent me. It was me trying to sort of insert myself in this trend of guys talking about girls and their trucks, picking them up, and their feet dangling off the tailgate. I thought, “OK, why can’t a girl sing about it?” I think, it was just too political and there was too much of a conversation pouring at that time. “Bro country vs. traditional country”- who gives a shit, that’s not why I got into music. So that’s why what followed after “Girl In Your Truck Song” couldn’t have been any more different. I was like “alright, I didn’t follow my gut”. I love the songwriters who wrote that and think it’s an amazing song, and if it had been released several years before or several years from now it might be received well. I think that was the bridging point for me to kind of re-examine why I was doing all of this at all.

I gotcha. I think I remember scrolling through my twitter feed when you released “Girl In Your Truck Song” and there was so much backlash on it. Like, some people were throwing shade at you for endorsing “bro-country.”

Right! And I was like, “y’know, I’m not a crusader for this, it’s not my conversation.” So we just shut it down.

I guess that’s really good actually, because if it weren’t for that song, we wouldn’t have got such authentic “Maggie Rose” music after, with “Variety Show” and “More Dreams > Dollars.”

Yeah! I think we all know nothing until we do. And most times, the biggest lessons that you learn are through, for the lack of a better word, “failures.” But I also feel like those moments, if I look at them, gave me power because I kinda realized I should believe in myself more, trust my instincts and let myself be authentic, and cater to the people who do appreciate that authenticity; instead of trying to please people who won’t like me for whatever reason already. I’m gonna have fun and keep making music for people who enjoy what they’re hearing at that moment and those who (can) connect with it.

What’s one downer of being an independent act?

Well, there are a lot. I think there are many labels in town that give their acts creative control, so I don’t think labels are the enemy. There a lot of wonderful label people who could be good partners down the road. I think, of course, the financial backing part is wonderful, but I’m also a songwriter for a living, so I’m not just waiting for my shows to come through. That’s hard to make a living (by). I have many irons in the fire and I can self-fund myself right now. I’ve been in Nashville for 10 years and I’m able afford myself of that opportunity. I have a wonderful manager and we kinda have our own little label working right now.

You mentioned song-writing earlier on. Is it important for you to constantly write your own music?

Yes! It’s also important for me to write music not just for me. I like to write for other artists and other ages and frames of minds because it helps me re-focus sometimes. And, it’s like y’know, I’m sick of writing about the same problems! (laughs) I like co-writing with other people too. Like, I think it’s important for me to write my own music because it’s important for me to use it to connect. But I also live in a city where amazing songs are written (by others) that need to be heard. If I’m an artist with an audience and I have an opportunity to showcase it, then a good song is a good song.

What’s one country song you wish you had written?

There’s a lot! (laughs) I’m not even sure which ones to even pick, but pretty much every Patsy Cline song, Kacey Musgraves is one hell of a writer, anything Hillary Lindsey or Lori McKenna; pretty much everything!

I love that you mentioned Patsy Cline because with her music, you can almost hear that tear and ache in her voice!

Right! She transcends generations. I think she, in her time, was extremely controversial. She was pushing down boundaries that people weren’t pushing, especially women. And, she had Willie Nelson as a co-writer, so she’s a badass!

If you weren’t in the music industry, what’s one job you would have taken up?

Well, I don’t have a plan B really. I think one of the reasons why I’ve been in this game so long is because I don’t have another option. There’s a lot of things I could do. I love anything with art, and that’s closely related (to music). And oh, I love cooking! I’d have to go learn a lot more, but I’d love to be an executive chef in another world, in another life.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone entering the music business?

I think you just need to realize that a moment is just that. Whether it’s super happy, super discouraging, it’s still just a moment. And you shouldn’t make an impulsive decision about abandoning what you’re doing because of some voice inside of you or someone saying something negative about what you’re doing. If you’re doing this for the right reasons, just stay in the game.

If there’s one thing you could change about the country music industry, what would it be?

Only one thing?

(laughs) Let’s just keep it to one I guess!

I mean, I love the town and the genre obviously. It’s like we’re in a very serious dating relationship. We’ve had our fights and stuff but, they’re my boo! But, more women, please? I hate to say that but, more women. And more variations of women, artists, and people with different backgrounds. Country music is about storytelling, so let all stories be heard.

Oh, speaking of storytelling, have you heard Kelleigh Bannen’s “Church Clothes”? It’s pretty damn amazing, man.

Kelleigh’s one of my best artist friends in Nashville. We just had coffee the other day. I’m obsessed with her song.

Yeah, that song is one hell of a storyteller.

And it’s a grown-up woman and adult love song, too. It’s kinda scary to sing about and y’know, she’s been married a long time with a wonderful relationship. But (Kelleigh’s) someone who feels like she doesn’t need to put a face on all the time either. She’s comfortable with who she is.

OK, so I can’t wrap this interview without asking about faith. I saw that you and Austin had a Catholic wedding, as opposed to the usual ones out by a beautiful lake. Being in a church must’ve meant something to you. And we talked about how crazy this industry gets. So, how do you stay rooted in that despite everything?

Austin has a huge part in that, and sharing it with me is something very important to our families and us. We want to have a family someday, God-willing, and that would be a part of our family’s lives too. So I think even in the most crazy, tumultuous time of our lives, it was important to center our marriage off that way, in front of everyone and to be proud of it and to show people that it’s a part of our life and how we live. This pursuit, this career that Austin and I have chosen… He’s a manager and he’s gambling on people’s emotions and connection to the music too. Faith plays such a big part in that, to make us get up and do it every day. I think there’re plenty of other trends that we could’ve followed and tried out, but we wanted our wedding to be sacred.

And because you grew up in a religious environment both at home and in school, was it hard stepping out into this creative space in Nashville, and even releasing more risqué songs like “Body On Fire?”

Oh yeah! I was just talking to my Mom on the phone the other day and she was like, “you ruined your life! You have basically undone your whole Catholic school teaching! And cut your hair off and all that stuff!” And I was like, “no Mom, if you had unleashed me earlier, where would I be now? I had to have a little ringing in earlier on!” (laughs) They have been so wonderfully supportive and trust my evolution, and they love exactly who I’ve grow into. It’s kinda funny to laugh about. We joke and say that I’m the black sheep of the family. I’m like the country music person who’s like, “I’m off to Nashville, gonna write some songs!”

And there is nothing wrong with that man!

No, but there was some undoing for sure. I was like “here Mom, here’s my first song…” And I think my Mom and Dad sealed the deal even in that moment when I turned over my first song to them. They were in love with it. It wasn’t the perfect song. There were probably things that was weird for my dad to hear his daughter sing about. (laughs) I mean, I feel that my music has always been age-appropriate for me. But if anything, when I was very young, I maybe didn’t take advantage of that because I was always an old soul and couldn’t have a bit more fun.

Alright! After all that heavy talk, let’s talk about more fun and random things. 3 questions. 1st: you have to take a trip up the world’s most thrilling and scariest roller coaster. Which female country singer would you drag along with you?

Hmmm… Probably Raelynn. ‘Cause she’d probably scream the whole time and that would make me laugh.

You wouldn’t be screaming?!

No, probably not… I mean, I would but I love roller-coasters!

2nd question! What’s one food people love that you can’t understand?

Probably like “Blood Pudding?”

What in the world is that??

It’s an English kinda thing…“Blood Sausage!”

OK, I have never heard of that, but it sounds iffy.

Yeah, right? But it’s like a normal staple. I pretty much eat everything, but I can’t deal with the weirdness (of that). Basically, anything that’s like animal by-product. I love when people use the entire animal and try to be resourceful, but sometimes you just gotta draw the line. It’s their way of saving and respecting the entire animal, but some things should just be left out.

Last one. What’s one hidden quirk or talent of yours that many people don’t know?

I’m actually very “cracky.” Like, I just cracked my back earlier while we were talking. I crack my knuckles and apparently it’s just lke air bubbles going back and forth between the joints, but that’s what I do…a lot.

Thanks, Maggie Rose for taking the time to chat with us at CMchat! We sure didn’t have a single clue that you were really….“cracky”… Ha!

If there’s one life lesson we’ve learned from our chat with the down-to-earth singer, it’s that having “more dreams than dollars” is perfectly fine. The speed bumps we face in our own passionate pursuits can sometimes mold us into better, more confident and authentic individuals. Just look at how comfortable Maggie is in her own skin now. And, we firmly believe that it’s this very bold, authentic trait that will propel her artistry to the next level.

Author: Jeremy Chua

Jesus. Country Music Listener & Music Biz Aficionado. Romans 12:12. ‬I'm currently contributing my pieces from Singapore- which is 9,495 miles away! Talk to me about country music, radio, charts; all the politics behind getting a song played!

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