Oxford, Mississippi, will be getting a heavy dose of Nashville on April 11 when rising star Maggie Rose takes the stage at Thacker Mountain Radio and later Proud Larry’s with her backing band, fellow Nashville rockers Them Vibes. Fresh off of Kelly Clarkson’s Meaning of Life Tour, Rose was also billed on the 12th Cayamo Cruise with artists like Jason Isbell and Emmylou Harris.
Maggie Rose has been belting out tunes that range from country to soul to rock for a decade, and her most recent record, Change the Whole Thing, was recorded entirely live in Nashville. The effort earned her a nod from Rolling Stone, which listed it among the best “Country/Americana” albums of 2018.
“Change the Whole Thing . . . is an album about love and how to hold onto it when life isn’t perfect, about reaching out to one another and making a difference in the world,” wrote Marissa R. Moss for Rolling Stone.
Love is a big theme in Maggie Rose’s life and career. She recently played on The Today Show, playing a track from the new album called “It’s You.” “It’s a love song—we’re all about love,” Rose said as she slid into the sultry lyrics.
And love, in a way, is what brings her to Oxford. Her husband, former Oxford musician and Local Mail Radio host Austin Marshall, has deep roots in the area. Marshall played drums in local bands including Shady Deal and Dickey Do & The Don’ts before moving up to Nashville to work on Music Row.
We chatted with Maggie Rose about how she got started in Nashville, what it’s like to play more than 50 times at The Grand Ole Opry, and her future plans.
How did you get started in music and what drew you into a music career?
I had always been a singer. Even from the time that I was super young, my family encouraged me to sing in front of their friends, they drove me around to choir practices, and they eventually drove me up and down the east coast to go meet The B Street Band, which was a Bruce Springsteen cover band, when I was a teenager. That really allowed me to begin performing in front of a real live audience. That’s when I really fell in love with performing.
It was an unlikely pairing . . . and my opportunity to sing in that kind of a setting. They would back me up, and I would sing different cover songs. Eventually I would start sneaking in my own original music. When the whole world didn’t fall apart after I did my first one, I thought, oh, I can do this! I can start writing my own originals and finding my own voice and not just covering other people’s songs.
During that time, what were some of your other musical influences—bands or artists that you really connected to at that time?
There was a lot of soul played at my house—Aretha Franklin, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Winona Judd. I loved the Stones, the Beatles. When I moved to Nashville, I think that was really where I got a lot of exposure to more roots music, and Austin certainly had a lot to do with that, too. His Mississippi and Missouri upbringing and the music that he listened to really expanded my vocabulary. I think that’s where I realized how much that clicks for me, too, as a singer. Just that raw emotion of it all.
What led you to Nashville from Maryland?
Everything is pretty unconventional about the path from where I started and how I got to Nashville. I was studying music at Clemson University of all places, and I had been playing with The B Street Band on and off and just trying to split my time between meeting them for weekends but also living my life as a college student and taking my study seriously. I got my music to Tommy Mottola, who was huge industry mogul. He heard some of my original songs and melodies, and he invited me to come audition for him in his Manhattan office. I was on my way to Econ and got a call from his assistant. I pretty much thought it was a prank call at first. And we went up a couple weeks later to sing for him. He was the liaison between my first producer, James Stroud, and myself. That was pretty much it—that was the catalyst that I needed to make the jump from college student to doing this full time. I got a record deal shortly after that with Universal and was put on this high-speed trajectory to putting a single out, and then in six months [putting] a record out, and all these things that now I know aren’t realistic. They don’t encourage the artistic process to evolve in the way that it should. I hit the reset button. I rebranded, and I started going by Maggie Rose. And I gave myself the opportunity to catch my breath probably two years after that and decide who I wanted to be. I just continued to work under that idea that we should all be constantly evolving as artists and pushing our audience to do the same.
I’ve done two full LPs, and I’ve also released three EPs, so I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve been releasing music for a decade. That’s what’s been so exciting lately in the last couple of years—being completely independent and being able to successfully bring people over to this new place that we’ve gone to musically with the more roots and soul vibe. Having released so much music in the country world, being able to retain those people but also exposing our music to new fans has been the most exciting and revitalizing time for me.
Rolling Stone named your recent album, Change the Whole Thing, one of the best Country/Americana albums of 2018. That must have felt great.
Yeah, especially [alongside] some of my favorite albums coming out this year. It was nice to be in that company. And that’s not what we had in mind when we went about recording this album. We were just going to cut three songs initially, and wanted to do them all live. But then the product was so compelling, and we had such a fun time making it. I did it live with all my friends, and we concluded that that’s how we had to finish up the rest of the record.
You toured with Kelly Clarkson recently, as well as the Cayamo Cruise with Jason Isbell and Emylou Harris and Dawes and all. Tell me a little bit about what it’s like playing with those artists.
I think the most exciting part about all of that is that our music can live in all of those different settings. And they could not be more welcoming. For Kelly, it was her tour, and she invited us to be on a bunch of dates. It’s a different approach than your own headlining dates, because you’re potentially unknown to the audience members, but you’re given an opportunity to extend your music to all these people who are possibly hearing you for the first time. And then with the Cayamo Cruise [I was billed with] all those people that I consider to be timeless musicians that I’ve been listening to for a while. It’s just a different beast. At the beginning of the cruise I felt like a bit of an outlier. By the end of it I felt like part of that community. The clientele wanted to know about each artist, whether you were newer or more established. They didn’t just care about hearing your one hit in your set; they were there for the entirety of it and wanted to know your story. Their motto is “Journey through Song,” and it really felt like that was being done. Everyone was a community and Tommy Emmanuel and Molly Tuttle, people that I had just learned about made such a huge impression. Just the fact that I got to see and hear that music and be immersed in it for an entire week and also be part of the lineup was really cool and empowering to me.
You’ve played The Grand Ole Opry over 50 times. What’s so special about that venue and can you tell me a few favorite memories of playing there?
The Opry is an institution in its own right, and I think one thing that they’ve really done successfully is embrace so much of what Nashville musicians have to offer. They’re not dictated by what’s on country radio and what’s charting. Sally in particular, who works there and books for he Opry, is really trying to be inclusive to everyone that makes Nashville so special. One of my favorite memories was the Opry Stage at Bonnaroo that I got to play last summer. I think that it’s married together two really amazing things that are in Tennessee’s music history, and it was cool to see all the people who were at Bonnaroo all weekend come to celebrate this longstanding Opry tradition onsite in Manchester. It was the first time they ever did the Opry Stage, and it felt like I’m part of this family no matter where I go musically. I think that it’s probably more Country than even Country radio in a lot of respects, because it highlights new artists but it also upholds artists that have been around for a long time that we all revere and who have led the way.
You’re currently touring with Them Vibes and y’all have a new single out, “Right On.” Can you tell me a little about how you got together with Them Vibes and who they are?
Them Vibes is a rock n roll band that I’ve loved for a long time. A lot of the members in my touring band they would also use for their shows, so I decided to just bring the rest of their crew out since the drummer who’s been with me for 7 years is married to Larry, the front man, Brother Love, and my bass player plays with them and they also use my keyboard player, so I was like, you guys are so important to my sound and we’ve written so much of the music together that I wanted them to also have the opportunity since they’re backing me up to play their music because it’s amazing and I think we both offer really different sounds but it makes for a great night of music with them opening up with their original music and backing me up during my set. They’re just phenomenal, and mostly we’re friends. They’ve dedicated so much of their time and creativity to my music and Change the Whole Thing. Not only can we perform together onstage in a compelling way, but we love each other and we spend so much down time together. We drove home from Chicago on a little bus yesterday and we still love each other at the end of it. I think that that’s just what every band needs, because you’re here to serve your audience and make them have fun. But if you’re not feeling the love onstage then the audience can sense that.
Tell me a little about what it’s like being a young woman in the Nashville music scene. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman?
I think there’s challenges certainly that come with that, but for me it’s just being an independent artist. There’s challenges that come with that in the sense of keeping the ball rolling and continuing to be prolific. I did The Today Show last Tuesday and it’s so funny how with all the other things we’re doing, these legitimizing factors mean so much to the industry around here. And The Today Show is massive and I was so excited to be able to do that and I do think that it has moved the needle. For me the biggest challenge as an individual, regardless of gender, is just the fact that I’ve been making music for so long, and I feel like I’ve really found my lane. But then people [in the industry will say] “but what do we do with her?” It’s not your job to figure it out. The audience will tell you. So that’s something I struggle with. To feel like you fit in a few different places, but instead of being celebrated for your versatility, people find you to be a conundrum. And I’ve seen that with people like Kasey Musgraves, she’s just absolutely phenomenal, but she can’t get arrested at country radio. That’s just fear. The biggest challenge in Nashville is the fear of taking a chance and going out on a limb and getting behind an artist like that who might not necessarily fit into a template that you’ve seen before.
Do you have any advice for young women who may be interested in pursuing this kind of career?
Yes, and I wish that I had a little more of this early on in Nashville, especially as a teenager, but just have conviction. That doesn’t mean be stubborn. Listen to what other people have to say, but make sure that at the end of the day what you do contribute is something that you can be proud of in ten years and not just something that will appease the people around you. Or if you feel pressure to do something to make ends meet, that will usually end up biting you later. So just have a true sense of self and be ready to work your ass off. And people will be drawn to that.
What is up for the future?
We’re doing a bunch fun festivals this summer with people like Robert Plant and Foo Fighters that are very exciting to me because it shows that people’s view of what we’re doing has widened. I’m already working on my next record; we have a few people who involved to work with production. What I can say now is that there is definitely going to be a little Muscle Shoals vibe in there. We’ll be recording part of it down at Fame Studio, and just continuing to bring that live energy to the studio. I think we will go a little further with the production and maybe get a little funky, a little psychedelic with this next one while still keeping that soul and that family unit together.
Them Vibes is also about to start working on their next EP. They have a song that they just released with me called “Right On.” We have a music video coming out pretty soon—its super fun and we just kind of switch off collaborating. They have a more funky sound—it’s a Sly & The Family Stone kind of vibe, and I’m featured on it. It’s helping me cast a wider net.