When Maddie and Tae made their UK debut at London’s C2C Festival in March, they promised that they would return.  They had received one of the best receptions of any artist over the three days for their set, there were massive queues at their meet and greet and their performance was absolutely spot on.

Just three months later, Maddie and Tae followed up on that promise, announcing a run of UK tour dates, including a show at Manchester Academy on 22 October.

We caught up with Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye, one of country’s hottest acts, to chat about their hit debut album, Start Here, writing, returning to the UK and just how Maddie and Tae thought their style would go down.

It’s coming up towards a year since you released your debut album Start Here. How has the past twelve months been for you?

Maddie: Oh it’s incredible. It’s just kind of been a whirlwind. We’re pretty excited too, I guess, to celebrate our one year anniversary. August 28, I think it will be since we released it last year. The music that we write is very personal and we tell very personal stories on the record – I think that’s how we’re connecting with our fans so well. And at live shows we see that connection.  We’re writing a second record right now and we’re still using that, and what we’ve learned about our fans is that they connect to songs that they can channel, experiences.  We’re writing today and tomorrow actually and we can still string that through almost everything we do.

As you say you bring a very personal approach to music and using your own life stories as inspiration. How does that feel? Do you feel nervous about baring your soul in front of people?

Maddie: It is pretty crazy to think we write about our lives and whenever we release our songs people basically know everything that’s going on with our lives – it’s very vulnerable and very personable. But that’s what’s so special about country music, and that’s why we love what we do because we get to be ourselves and fans can relate to that and they enjoy it when we’re just honest with them. So it’s fun that we get to just sing about our lives and be so honest with them.

What sort of technique do you use to get your inspiration and then how do you approach penning the song itself?

Maddie: It’s really interesting because we get inspired by many very different things. It’s kind of funny whenever, at least for me, I’m on an off day or something, my creative brain has kind of turned off, but I’m having a conversation with someone and they’ll say something and I’m like ‘oh my gosh, there’s a song idea’. Like my creative brain gets going crazy but it’s normally when you least expect it that you get a song idea.  A lot of the time it’s either an experience that we went through that we’re talking about or a friend of a friend. But it’s weird because we come up with the songs very differently every time. So sometimes it will be like we’ll have the title and the concept of the song and then I’ll find the melody to go with it or I come in with a melody and then Tai has this perfect concept that will sound great with that. It’s really interesting, it just depends on what we’re writing. But I don’t know. I think my favorite kind is whenever Tae comes in with this concept and then we find a melody to it because it seems like it’s just a really fun little puzzle to put together.

What was the greatest challenge you faced in writing the album?

Maddie: Because we started writing together when we were 15 and we had probably had a catalogue of over 200 songs to choose from for the first album. So really just honing in on the message that we wanted. And obviously a lot of the songs or all of them are very near and dear to us but we wanted our first album to tell a story, to tell our lives for the past four or five years and I feel like we really did that because for the first song it’s kind of like leaving home, through to the last song it all ties in together and we’re looking to do the same thing with the second album too.

And the reaction to Start Here was hugely positive. Were you worried about any potential reaction to for example Girl In A Country Song? Were you thinking ‘well we might strike a nerve with a few people’, or just ‘no let’s go for it, let’s tell the story’?

Maddie: With any type of art there’s going to be people that don’t enjoy your art whatever it is that you do. But I think at the end of the day if you believe in it then people will believe in you and believe in what you’re saying.  The cool part was Tai and I wrote Girl In A Country Song purely out of a sense of frustration as to how women are being perceived in country music and represented. And we just didn’t feel like women really had a voice or a character. So we have a record deal or anything like that, until Big Machine heard Girl In A Country Song and they totally got behind it and the record and did a great job of promoting it. But for us we don’t really let fear get in the way of writing honest music and quite honestly we can really just hope and pray that people relate to it and connect with it.

You made your debut here in the UK back in March at Country2Country. How do you feel that went?

Maddie: It feels like a year ago but it was just last March. We had the craziest time and it was unbelievable experience. We had just been over and playing in Italy and it was the best way to end our trip. To perform at C2C was incredible. You never really know how the fans are going to be. But we did know before we even went on over there that they had gotten our songs really high on the iTunes chart. So we wanted to go over there and meet people face to face and thank them for the support they had given us. The reaction, the live audience reaction, was incredible, just to know that these people are so supportive of us and we don’t even live over there – that is amazing so hopefully we can continue that relationship.

Tae: We were talking about this after the show. It’s so interesting because the UK crowd is very different to an American crowd. The American crowd is fun and we love it here. But they are a little more rowdy, ready to party. The UK crowd is very much a listening crowd. So everyone sitting and really, really soaking in the lyrics that you’re singing and really listening and paying attention to what you’re saying and then you get this giant roaring, which is so cool. It’s so cool to have this giant arena completely listening to every word that you’re saying. That was very beautiful.

There’s a big difference because this time you’re performing at more intimate venues. Are you expecting anything different from the intimate venues?

Maddie: Tai and I love the more intimate venues.  I mean arenas and everything is great but it’s not possible to look people in the eye and see how the storytelling is connecting with them, especially with Fly, everyone has a story in their life or a challenge or trial that they can connect to that song. That’s why we wrote it, because we were going through such a time. Whenever you’re at those intimate venues you can look at people and see that they have a story that is completely lining up with a song. It’s almost like a spiritual experience for us, a really beautiful experience for us – a room full of strangers all connecting through lyrics. We are really really excited to go experience that with the UK. C2C was awesome and we did experience that a little bit but I think in the more intimate venues it is even more so.

Tae: Intimate venues are always fun for us.

And you mentioned you’re currently writing for your second album. Anything you can say about that?

Maddie: Well we’re shooting for either next spring or summer. We are super excited. You’re the first person to know this but we’ve been demoing, basically you’re recording the song before you actually get recorded for the album. You know make sure that you want to record it as sometimes it’s hard to hear when it’s just a vocal and a guitar. And so we went and demoed four brand new songs last night actually.  There’s four songs but we don’t know which one’s going to be the single because they’re all so great. It’s a different maturity, it’s a different time in our life now. You know we wrote the first album Start Here when we were you know 15, 20 or 19 and now this album is kind of about our early 20s and figuring out who we are and what we want to say and finding a place in the world and what that feels like. So we’re really excited to share this new chapter with people because I’m sure there’s plenty of other people going through the same chapter. We’ve got seven songs 100 per cent ready to roll. So that’s really exciting. So we still have a couple more months to write and see if we can beat it. But last night was really really exciting and inspiring to me, like ‘Oh My Gosh, we’ve still got it, we can still write songs’, because we’re not in the writing room that much.

Any message for your fans?

Maddie: We just love them so much and we’re super excited. We’re going to have so much fun.

Tae: We’re going to play some new covers and we’re going to give sneak peeks of the new record, we’re going to play some of our new songs when we get there. We’re really excited to share that and, hopefully, they’ll let us know how they feel about it.

Maddie and Tae perform at Manchester Academy on 22 October 2016.  Maddie and Tae’s debut album Start Here is out now.

Maddie and Tae image courtesy Alysse Gafkjen