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Artist Q&A: Faith Maddox

Faith Maddox. Photo by Tatianna Patapearu-Ariki.

Brought to you by 90.9 The Bridge.

Faith Maddox is a singer-songwriter currently based in Lawrence, Kansas. Following three EPs released on her Bandcamp page over the last three years, she has just released her first full-length album titled Subtle Hauntings. Maddox’s quiet, mathy style of guitar playing pairs well with her detailed, introspective style of lyric writing, allowing listeners the space to absorb her words and ruminate on all of the feelings invoked. We spoke over Zoom a week before she announced the album.

You mentioned on a recent podcast that you played in some bands while you were living in Topeka. What can you tell me about those?
It was pretty lowkey. I was in my school's jazz band and I played piano and sang. I was in, you could call us a math rock band, because that's really what I became super interested in, in high school; math rock and post-hardcore. And so my senior year of high school, I formed a band with my partner at the time and one of my other best friends who played Dungeons and Dragons with us, because that's how I spent most of high school, playing Dungeons and Dragons in somebody's basement.

And so yeah, so our band was called Kukeri. It was a really interesting experience, but it also deeply scarred me in the way that it made me never want to work with musicians again, which is very different now because I like playing with people for fun, and I really enjoy connecting with people around music, but I guess just being in that environment made me really question my abilities as a musician, especially because I'd only been playing guitar for a year and the only reason I wanted to play guitar was so I could sing in a band and actually be in a band.

Have you done any full-band performances of your solo material yet?
No, actually, I never have. I've definitely wanted to and I've jammed with people around it. I can definitely say with confidence that within the next two months, there will be more full band material, both coming out and being played live.

You recently won the Langston Hughes Award. Who awards that and what work of yours was awarded?
So the award was sponsored or run by a little coalition of local businesses and organizations. The Lawrence Art Center, The Raven bookstore. It was judged by a panel of different poets from the community, one of which was the poet laureate of Kansas, which is super cool. And honestly I feel like I enter everything that I do expecting to fail and expecting to not get anything, I guess. So, it was a really spur of the moment decision for me. I submitted a collection of [about] 10 or fewer poems and I primarily write prose poetry. And you had to give the collection a title and I had a really hard time with that, because I hate naming things.

I showed it to my poetry capstone professor, and she was like, the name is too emo and I feel like it's not you, which was like, I really, really respect them and that was totally the right call. But yeah, I just submitted it and was like, probably, absolutely nothing is gonna come of this, you know, but I'm, I did it anyway, whatever. And I ended up getting the call while I was having the worst day where I was just like, I'm never writing again. I'm never doing anything again. And then I get a phone call later that's like, hey, you won this award. And yeah, it was really cool. Just a really amazing opportunity, especially to be to receive that specific award named after somebody so impactful.

What was the original, too-emo name?

I don't even know, it was so bad that it's probably not even worth remembering. But I ended up changing it to a line from one of the poems: “Maybe Then The Moon Will Know My Name.”

I love that a college professor would use the phrase “too emo.” I guess it helps that it’s Lawrence. So you mentioned that math rock is influential in your songwriting. What got you interested in that sound and what were some of your first favorite bands in the genre?
Yeah, I’m trying to remember the first show that I went to in Lawrence when I was in high school, because I feel like that's definitely where that interest kind of started for me because my friends and I would drive up from Topeka to Lawrence to go see shows every weekend. And I think one of the first bands that really captured my interest was Foxing, because that was like 2014. And when that album came out, it was like, oh my God, I could only dream of making something like this.

I've always admired the lyricism of that a lot. Because for me, my writing is so much about that overlap of lyricism with atmosphere. That sounds kind of pretentious. But after that, it was really like everybody who came and I was like, I would go to every show, even if I didn't know them. But Covet was a huge inspiration for me that young and how she came to play guitar that really inspired me a lot in this part of the reason I picked up guitar. Dance Gavin Dance, TTNG. I saw Hail The Sun like every time they came to Lawrence because I was addicted to them. I think those were the big ones.

You've also done some work in graphic design before? Do you end up handling your own album art?
All of the artwork that's been done so far was by me. My first EP’s art was just a picture we took on 4/20 and I was crying because I thought that oranges are the most beautiful thing that I've ever seen [laughs]. It was just a really fun moment. And so I did that one and then the little demos I released, but the album that I'm releasing is a photo that somebody took and then my handwriting over it for the title, but I didn't design that one myself.

Do you enjoy doing album art or is it more of a chore for you?
It's kind of both, I guess. I enjoy things that are both fulfilling and inherently stressful as a person. And so it was really nice to kind of put the vision into somebody else's hands with the new album, to give them control over the photography element of it. But I also am very nitpicky, especially when it comes to things that I create and so I'm a little bit of a control freak. And so it's been nice to do that at the end and feel like, okay, I have control over what this first impression that people have with my music is, but also just being able to synthesize my experience with making it. Even if it's very minor, like the orange thing, it still felt like the synthesis of the emotions I was feeling when I was writing that album.

What can you tell me about the new album? What kind of sounds are on there? What makes it different from past releases?
Yeah, this album will have three tracks with full instrumentation, which is really exciting, because that's a direction that I want to continue moving in. For me, this album feels a lot more mature than my other stuff. Which makes sense because I was like 17 and 18 when I wrote a lot of my old music, but for me, this album feels a lot like synthesizing a lot of the experiences I've had in the last two to three years and feeling like I get progressively older by the day, like genuinely feeling myself age.

The title of the album is Subtle Hauntings and it was based on the initial concept for my undergraduate thesis in school, which is supposed to be this series of essays about the very minor and almost insidious ways that like small things haunt us and not in the overt, terrifying, you-think-about-it-constantly ways, but the way that things plant themselves in the back of your head and influencing you without you even noticing. That was kind of the concept or the overarching theme that I feel like a lot of those songs kind of worked with. So it was just this extension of a topic that I'd already been thinking about and writing towards in a different medium for a while.

It’s funny, I’ve definitely had the word “haunt” in my head for a few years when thinking specifically about the places around where I live that I associate bad memories with, which I guess is more likely to happen in smaller towns, or if you just move around less. Is any part of your concept geographic to you?
Yeah, definitely. I feel like that, especially having gone to high school in Topeka, because I moved to Topeka when I was in middle school. Through the pandemic, you know, I would go over to my mom's house to do laundry because my old apartment before this one didn't have a washer dryer situation. So I would drive to Topeka once a week, pretty much, on a weekend and I would drive by places that I used to visit every day when I was like 15 and 16 because in high school, I spent most of my time sitting in a coffee shop reading because I just needed to be perpetually alone and that was like my safe place in a weird way. So it was weird because I would pass these businesses that had meant so much to me that were now closed because of the pandemic and it felt like I could just see all of these ghosts of things that had already happened or even ghosted myself in a weird way.

I became very obsessed, visiting places that were uncomfortable to see or like constantly fearing specifically in Topeka people who had really, severely hurt me. I felt like I was constantly looking over my shoulder, but I also felt like I was looking over my shoulder for a version of myself that made me really uncomfortable. And I think that is often true when you live in a place that's kind of in the middle of nowhere, I guess. Like, you do have to confront other people in places that aren't comfortable, but you also have to confront former versions of yourself that are really uncomfortable and kind of haunt you in a weird way.

Subtle Hauntings is available now on Bandcamp and all streaming platforms.

[This article first appeared in issue 6 of Shuttlecock's free monthly print edition. Click here to order a copy online, or pick one up for free at locations around KC/Lawrence/JoCo.]

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