Songlighting with J.R. Price
Welcome to Songlighting with J.R. Price, a new weekly installment of Rock the Pigeon where we highlight the songwriting technique of indie artists from all cultures, genres, backgrounds, and styles. What inspires them to create art, and why music is the answer for them personally. In this third edition we will be covering an album about heartache, and finding inner strength to over come some of life’s hardest losses and separations… no I’m not talking about my music, I am talking about the implicitly talented indie artist Madge Dietrich, whom recently dropped their EP Therapy, that I will be reviewing today, before interviewing Madge and finding out what brings these songs to life.
Born in Grand Rapids MI, Madge is a multi-hyphenate actor-advocate-singer-songwriter-future music therapist, whom has studied at Oklahoma City University, and then ventured to New York City to chase their dreams of starring on Broadway, as so many do. Of course this worked out for Madge as she earned credits like the first National tour of Kinky Boots playing comedic supporting lead Pat, and more professional theatre performances at regional houses such as Paper Mill and Ogunquot Playhouse, two very esteemed regional houses for any non theatre kids reading.
Madge is working their way toward earning a second bachelor’s degree, this time in Music Therapy through Slippery Rock University. The goal is to “harness the power of music to heal” A fierce advocate for a more equitable world, they also lend their voice for justice as a frequent soloist at Middle Collegiate church, because music can make all the difference in every way. I have got to witness a live show with Madge, and it was stunning to say the least. Make sure to check out their show on 8/24 at Rockwood Music Hall: Stage 2, make sure you buy your tickets now! Link HERE because every performance is a true experience! Especially with this album!
Seeing Madge live is a spiritual awakening. Hearing the pure vocal delivery overtake such powerful messages while also delivering hooks, in depth insights, and glossy vocabulary installations that elevate your way of thinking to better your own self worth… it resonates and rejuvenates your soul. The cathartic tears I shed, while seeing her manipulate the crowd with just pure emotion and vocal drive, are just one testament to the power of this Therapy (now available on all platforms, listen HERE) Let’s dive into the album shall we?
The entire 10 track album, including it’s intro overture chant “intake” and the breakdown acoustic version of the lead single “lipstick” which is referred to as the “crying in the club version” to drift away the revelations we had in our session of Therapy, is a soulful approach to a pop singer/songwriter breakup album. The overall messaging is about coming to terms with the loss of a very tumultuous relationship that envelops you because of your past trauma responses and wanting things you necessarily don’t need, or should even want. Ultimately leading you to accept what has happened, and opening doors to new advances in love and life.
The first full song on the album “didn’t wanna” is probably the one I resonate with the most. I mean the first line is “Didn’t wanna write a song about you, but you left me no choice. Burned me up and left the ashes, now the singer’s found her voice… and you’re gone.” I think it is the perfect opener for this tell all Therapy session. Most songwriters fear being honest, but Madge opens up with pure vulnerability, saying… I didn’t wanna do this… but you left me no choice. The song continues to follow our soulful singer as she discovers her own heart and how much love she has to give. It’s a very powerful turn in this song, to say that what broke her is what led her to find her power. They remind me of Cher specifically in her ballad You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me, but I think that is more because of the song structure and production, and not the meaning or vocal performance. This song, while being the first song, gives “end of movie credits” song. So uplifting, and empowering. I really want the screen captions telling me what happened to all the characters after they went on with their lives after graduation, but I digress. I really like the use of melodic structure and the crisp vocal approach. This dry vocal production can really only be used by great vocalists, and Madge doesn’t disappoint. If I were to compare their voice to someone famous I really can’t let go of how much I her Sara Bareiles in her tonal quality. I guarantee, especially after listening to this album that Madge is a huge fan of the Love Song and Brave GRAMMY award winning singer. I also would be remiss if I didn’t notate the musical theatre gradients in Madge’s work. In this first song I hear a reference in the spiritual awakening progression and over all build of the song style, to Jeff Bowen’s obscure musical theatre song “Way Back to Then” from every theatre kid’s revered Title of Show.
Immediately energy shifts from opening the wounds to start Therapy in “didn’t wanna” to recalling the magic that intoxicated us to begin with. “lipstick” is presumably the lead single off the album, from it being the only song with two versions. This version at the beginning is a hooky bop, that is giving me Katy Perry, specifically her deep cut Hummingbird Heartbeat, but also The One That Got Away. Fun fact, Katy also had a bop rendition and an acoustic breakdown of The One That Got Away, which leads me to believe she is a huge inspiration for Madge. I love the snappy rhythm and the catchy melody that I can’t get out of my head, sure, but my favorite part of this song is how it ties the whole album together. We have lyrics foreshadowing to “wonder” some lyrics that directly correlate with meanings behind realizations discovered in “ghosts that I am” and it even recaps the feelings from “didn’t wanna” reiterating that Madge had the power and no longer has thoughts of the ominous “you” they sing about on this album. “Did I want you, or to be like you? I never can be sure which is true. You left your mark on me indelibly, but I dodged a bullet… I’m free.” Those are some heavy words for this poppy tune. Which I’m sure the gravity of these sentiments is what warranted the “crying in the club version” and these lyrical nods to the other songs on the album make it the perfect closer. It is magically recapping the entire Therapy session, almost like the doctor reviewing the notes before giving your diagnosis and setting you free of the pain. It’s truly beautiful.
We then go into a very Jewel type of guitar serenade ballad “parkside” where Madge seems to own up to her regrets and takes responsibility for her actions in what led to the parting. She admits wanting to end things earlier, or at least admits to wanting to end things earlier in retrospect. Every time this person crossed the lines that were set or pushed boundaries created for protection, Madge allowed those lines to get blurred, despite knowing the pain this path would lead, and inevitably did lead. It also has a Colbie Caillat feel to it, for me specifically it has an antithesis to “Realize” by Caillat.
Then, in “21 days” , they express new inspiration to kick their bad habits of this person. All it takes is 21 days to break any routine, at least that is what we learn in Therapy. This song reminds me of niche artist Rozzi, maybe it’s the title, but it’s also in the style and the voice. Listen to 66 Days by Rozzi, cause I think these songs are bookends. 21 days is the beginning and 66 Days is the answer, that it still is hard and there still are no answers, but there will always be trying, and hoping, and making the change for yourself. Madge makes a groove of the pain in this song. I want to vibe out to this song with the best wine I have, almost reminiscent of the way I used to jam to Joss Stone’s classic “Super Duper Love” different meaning, same soulful voice and timeless sway of funky downbeats and musical phrasing. Madge is very soulful. I almost feel guilty dancing to this song, because the lyrics are so dark, but most great songs have the darkest lyrics. This one at least is about having faith in yourself. It drives home, that you can let go of your bad habits, and you can move on past the toxic people in your life holding you back. It’s a great message for this album, and we are all rooting for Madge, psssh, 21 days ain’t so bad, you got this Madge!
“wonder” comes next like a Taylor Swift recipe to make Folklore cookies. Madge suddenly is expressing feelings for someone new, gasp. “I know that I’ve been hurt before, loved and lost so many times my heart can’t keep score. Still I can’t stop thinking… could we be more? I wonder about you.” Finally a real grasp on hope for the future. This song, while very restrained in production is a real turning point in the outlook on love. I think just giving yourself permission to wonder about someone new is a huge step in the breakup process. It comes like a breath of fresh air. Madge captures that essence in a new way that I’ve never heard before despite the clear musical inspirations.
“ghosts that I am” is a song that dives deeper into who Madge is and where she comes from. We hear them express feelings about their family, their upbringing, their desire to run free of that tower a term used frequently in this album. My theory is every time Madge speaks of the tower on this album, they’re alluding to their upbringing and familiar traumas. (Of course Madge debunks my theory in the interview, so keep reading to find out what truly inspired the song) This song to me sounds the most like Joni Mitchell, almost as a clear descendant of “The Last Time I Saw Richard” from Joni’s Blue album. I think it’s the way they both integrate hard facts and descriptors from real life, tossed like a delicate salad of poetry nutrients to make strong bones for a song to stand the test of time. Basically, Madge uses the best instincts any indie artist could idolize and adds a unique signature. This song also expresses a fear of death, and a wasted life, as she discusses losing someone dear, and wishing they were here . I certainly can relate to these fears. What I really appreciate is the comforting glow of Madge’s voice in this song. When she begs “all these missing pieces drenched in reverie, as salty tears and questions flow free, I wish you were here to answer me.” It’s haunting, and rightfully so in a song title “ghosts that I am”.
“i remember it all” is begging me to reference Lady Gaga’s Joanne moment, but the guitar is so close to Shallow that I’m holding back everything in me to not sing “tell me something girl…” That being said, this song is another vocally demanding epic tale. These vocal stacks remind me of the intricate stylings of Emmy Rossum, who most people know from Shameless or new Peacock original series Angelyne, but she had a solo album in the early 2000s “Inside Out” that used her classical training and mixed it with pop variety productions. The musical backgrounds of Emmy and Madge would easily explain the comparison. We all remember Rossum from The Phantom of the Opera.
The last song, “if you don’t” sends a gospel ascension of chords and harmony to the gates of Heaven, where we can finally love ourselves. Lyrics like “I’m a tempest in a teacup, contradiction’s my middle name. But I am open, and I am ready, for that someone to call my name.” and “Get back up, shake off the dust, wipe away the teardrops, hope my iron heart won’t rust. And I wonder is there anyone left to trust.” Show that Madge, is perhaps way more than ready to move on, after doing the work, and going to Therapy. I am wanting to give nods to this sound actually to Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman, because it sits just as smooth and means just as much.
Critiquing this album is really hard for me, because I think it really is a masterpiece. I hear every bit of training in the musicality, every emotion in the poetic metaphors, every teardrop in the cold hard facts, every lesson is learned by the time we end our Therapy session. However, I do have to admit, some of these lyrics are used repetitively throughout the album, not that there should be some sort of lyric police for songwriters or any sort of punishment for using the same words over and over, your art is your art… but I would love a word count on the following words: tower, icy river, left, spark, flame, WONDER. I am hoping that as previously predicted in this review that they are used as choices to reference personally to the situations Madge is writing about, so that they know the inspirations, but it’s hidden in poetic nuance from the listeners. It also could just be to the tie the music together making this album a unified piece of art, but I’m hoping they are Easter eggs for repeat listeners and die hard fans!
I also think that there is a magic lost in the vocal production from hearing Madge live, almost like the polishing of a studio compacts the power of her tonality. A bright belt is really hard to capture in the studio, microphones are so touchy. I want to recommend using a mic that can pick up all of the rich depth of Madge’s undertones, while also capitalizing her resonance, but for the equipment at hand, it is still a clear sound, and very beautiful, just lacking the dietRICHness you experience from hearing her live. Which again is why I urge you to see her live, get tickets to their next show HERE, however with that being said, I don’t think it greatly impacts the power of this album. I was very touched, and some of these epic moments crafted in Therapy genuinely helped me with my own struggles and inspired new affirmations so I too can wonder about someone new, gasp. Let’s read what Madge had to say about their writing technique and inspirations!
J.R. Price: What are your songwriting influences and inspirations? What about those specific writers or songs move you?
Madge Dietrich: Joni Mitchell – the GOAT. The poetry, the raw honesty, the many eras of her writing but at the same time always a style that is distinctively her
Phoebe Bridgers – how she connects these specifically abstract images into a cohesive whole
Jensen McRae – sophisticated, stunning, beautifully unique imagery but also supremely edited.
Brandi Carlile – the unashamedy queer perspective, the connections to nature, the kind of scrappy big-hearted rebel energy
J.R. Price: If you could have written any song that already exists, what song would it be and why?
Madge Dietrich: A Case of You – Joni Mitchell. Hands down. Perfect song, no notes.
J.R. Price: What is your favorite lyric moment that you have written? What inspired it?
Madge Dietrich: This is a two-parter, cause the tones and inspirations are very different for each song.
Serious: “why do we settle for an answer/to a question we don’t really know?” – (Parkside)
I wrote this about a very dysfunctional early relationship of mine. I had just come out and was still figuring out the language to best describe myself and who I loved and what I wanted in a relationship. I was afraid to be alone so I felt like a lot of that dynamic was settling for poor treatment, when I still had so much to figure out, hence the “question we don’t really know” part.
Funny: “I put the THOT in orthotics, I’m having fun and my bunions can’t stop this” – (Comfy Shoes) Listen HERE
Comfy Shoes was sort of a joke but then as I got further into writing it, I realized how serious I was about my commitment to sensible footwear. As an elder millennial, I wanted a dancey disco bop that celebrated throwing down at the club but also with the very real need to be comfy. I love puns and word play, no matter how cheesy, so it only felt natural to have a thot/orthotics joke and then the internal rhyme of fun and bunions just feels like *chefs kiss* to me.
J.R. Price: My favorite lyric from what you have released thus far is:
“We build our castles so tall, and leave boxes behind. Empty spaces on the wall. I traveled miles and miles to get to me, all these missing pieces drenched in reverie, as salty tears and questions flow free… I wish you were here to answer me.” – Ghosts That I Am: Madge Dietrich (Therapy available now on all platforms, listen NOW)
J.R. Price: What does this mean to you, and what do you want your fans to know about this song?
Madge Dietrich: This song is one of the few on the album that is not drawn from my experiences. This song is inspired by my dear college friend Georgeanne and her mother Ellen.
J.R. Price: Wow, that’s not what I thought at all!
Madge Dietrich: A few years ago, Ellen passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, and Georgeanne was left to sort through much of the process of dealing with her car/house/possessions alone. In the wake of Ellen’s untimely passing, Georgeanne and I rekindled a long-distance friendship, so I bore witness to much of this process through text. We were texting the day the boxes her from her mom’s house arrived and somewhere in that exchange Georgeanne said to me: “these are the ghosts that I am.” Georgeanne’s beautifully poetic text struck me so I squirreled it away, and I later asked her if I could memorialize this moment in a song. We talked about her family, including Ellen, and her grandparents Butch and Betty, who also make it into the song. I think a lot about legacy, family, ancestors, and heritage, and how music and stories become a vehicle to convey these things I am deeply honored Georgeanne allowed me to share her story, as well as the stories of her ancestors, and couldn’t be more pleased with how it came out.
J.R. Price: What is your writing process? Where do the songs come from? How are they brought to life?
Madge Dietrich: It’s a mix! A lot of the songs on the album are super personal, ripped-from-the-diary kind of stuff about deeply painful experiences. Some of the stuff I write is inspired by the stylings of other writers, or a guitar technique I’m working on. A lot of it also being open to serendipity. I have 902348283 different notes in my phone of overheard conversations, phrases, stories from friends – all sparking inspiration or curiosity in me.
J.R. Price: What is your biggest obstacle in bringing your songs to life?
Madge Dietrich: Time. Focus. Discipline. The joy of being a multi-hyphenate actor-advocate-singer-songwriter-music therapy student is having my hand in lots of different things, but with that comes the challenge of having the time (or being disciplined about the time I do have) to write.
J.R. Price: What is your biggest hope for your music? Why do you write songs? What does it mean to you personally to continue this artistry?
Madge Dietrich: I hope my music touches people. I hope the specificity and queer lens through which I write speaks to LGBTQIA2S+ people across the spectrum navigating the search for intimacy. I hope it speaks to the straight parents trying to better understand their queer or trans child. I hope it speaks to femmes wondering if they want to be or be with femme across the bar. I hope it speaks to sweaty queers screaming along on the dance floor. I write for me, I write for others. I write of my specificity with hopes of pointing to the universal. We all want to belong. We all want to connect. I hope that through my songs I can inspire people to connect parts within themselves and between each other.
J.R. Price: If you couldn’t write or listen to music for 1 year, what would you do? Would you find other passions? Would you isolate and recoil? What would you do without music for one year?
Madge Dietrich: Not to be dramatic, but I would probably wither on the vine and become very grumpy. While I do treasure silence and quiet certainly has its place in my life, music is a sustaining force.
J.R. Price: Despite your influences, how would your best friends describe your music?
Madge Dietrich: My favorite friend review has probably been “the gay Adele”…..I mean, can you get any better than that?!?!?!?!!
J.R. Price: No, you certainly can not! Here is the greatest debate among all songwriters, are you ready? Lyrics or melody first? Why?
Madge Dietrich l: Don’t hate me but I might be a both-sides-er (but ONLY on this topic!) Sometimes it’s a phrase that comes first and I build the music around it. Others it’s a groove/hook/progression I can’t get out of my head.
J.R. Price: When did you start writing, and did it come naturally or was it a decision you made and worked hard to achieve?
Madge Dietrich: I’ve been writing in some capacity since I was young, poems, stories, or terrible fan fiction. Songs came a little later and were a blend of natural exploration and conscious effort. In 2017 I was touring in a Broadway musical, had just come out of the closet, and gotten dumped by a woman I had real feelings for. A co-worker insisted that I get out of my depressive, post-break-up funk and learn to play guitar. As I plunked my way through learning chords and tormenting my hotel neighbors across America, I started writing songs to cope with the heartbreak and isolation. Since then, it’s been a mixture of things coming naturally and conscious choices to try different forms/topics/points of entry. As I keep writing I want to work more on writing songs from the perspective of other people, whether they be fictional or real.
J.R. Price: What is your latest release? & Where can we listen to it?
Madge Dietrich: My latest release is THERAPY, my debut EP. You can find it on all streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, etc). I have CD’s available for purchase as well, just email me through the contact form on my website! [Listen HERE]
I also just dropped a fun summer single (recorded live at the album release show at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC) called COMFY SHOES which is also available wherever you stream your music! [Listen HERE]
J.R. Price: What are you working on next? Any spoilers? I won’t tell!
Madge Dietrich: I’m playing a birthday show on my ACTUAL birthday! 8/24 7pm at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. It’s my 33rd so we’re irreverently running with the ‘Jesus Year’ theme (for you non-Jesus-y folk, 33 was the year Jesus ministered and was murdered by the state). I’ve continued writing since the album release and am excited to debut some new tunes as well as singles from the album and some fun covers! [Buy Tickets RIGHT HERE! CLICK ME!]
After that, I dive into the world of music therapy training, as I start my internship in September at a major hospital here in NYC.
Follow Madge Dietrich on Instagram HERE, her music IG HERE or subscribe the their mailing list at http://www.madgedietrich.com Also make sure to buy tickets now to the bday bash at Rockwood Music Hall on 8/24 BUY TICKETS NOW! RIGHT HERE! And follow her SPOTIFY HERE
This concludes this week’s edition of Songlighting with J.R. Price, where I shine a spotlight on songwriting, how it happens, what inspires it, and the personal backstories of those who create art and inspire dreamers. This week I had the pleasure of reviewing and interviewing Madge Dietrich, a prolific writer based in NYC who has clear direction in their music, and hits the nail on the head with their latest release Therapy (available now on all platforms) I am so honored to write about such great art. Tune in next week to read more insight into the writing process, and discover more indie talent! Thanks so much for reading! I hope you really take a listen at this album, it really helped me personally! I hope you have a great week! See you next time readers! In a world full of Nightmares, be a Daydream!