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Madi Diaz on Touring With Harry, Antiquing With Kacey


A
t this point
in her career, Madi Diaz is realistic about life on the road. “I’m 37 years old, and this shit is heavy,” the Nashville songwriter says with a laugh. “I’m walking through the airport and I’m carrying a lot of pedals and cables. I’m shoving my guitar in the bathroom stall.” By the time she gets to the check-in counter, she’s dreading the task of talking an airline employee into letting her bring her gear on board. “I’m just not a good fighter,” she adds. “I’m stubborn, but I don’t have the oomph in me anymore.”

Maybe that’s true when it comes to luggage, but it’s definitely not applicable to Diaz’s music. Just ask Harry Styles, who brought her out as an opening act for his Love on Tour shows in 2022 — and liked her so much he asked her to join his backing band in 2023. Other fans of her incredibly relatable folk pop include Angel Olsen, Muna, and Waxahatchee (all of whom collaborated with Diaz on rerecordings of her excellent 2021 LP, History of a Feeling), and Kesha, who recorded a song she worked on in 2019. By all accounts, having the oomph is Diaz’s thing.

It’s an unseasonably toasty afternoon in October, and Diaz is sitting in the lobby of Manhattan’s Ace Hotel, wearing a tank top under a button-down blouse. She says she’s utterly sleep-deprived (she looks alert) and that her bangs look like Edward Scissorhands attacked them (they look lovely). “You can tell how well I’m doing in my actual life based on how many fucking horoscope podcasts and apps I have on my phone,” she jokes. “If I have more than two, it’s not good.”

The night before, Diaz played the Beacon Theatre, opening for My Morning Jacket. Performing at the ornate, 94-year-old venue was a bit overwhelming. “It’s so romantic, I got lost,” she says. “I started trying to talk between songs, and a word literally came out backwards. I was staring at this golden-lady statue. We’re playing the fucking Beacon with these insane horns. I just cannot believe my ears.”

When she says “insane horns,” by the way, she’s referring to Styles’ touring horn section: saxophonist Lorren Chiodo, trombonist Kalia Vandever, and trumpeter Laura Bibbs. “They’re the sweetest, best women,” Diaz says. “It was like a summer-camp reunion.” 

One of the songs Diaz performed with the horn section is “Same Risk,” a brutally honest acoustic scorcher from her new album, Weird Faith: “Do you think this could ruin your life?/’Cause I can see it ruining mine.”

“I had just started to date my former partner and I was freaking out,” Diaz explains. “You can’t control anything. All I can do is just simply keep walking forward. It’s become my own mantra.”

She extends this concept to “Everything Almost,” another highlight, about giving nearly all of yourself in a relationship — while keeping a small portion just for you. Hearing it, you can tell why Diaz calls the track a “straight-up journal entry.” With dense details packed into sharp lines, it’s a future fan favorite they’ll eventually know every word to: “I had a dream there was a baby inside of me/One hand on my belly and the other one pointing/Ordering you around the house like a bitch/And you just laughing and taking it.” 

“Madi has a really pleasing way of keeping everything conversational,” her friend Kacey Musgraves tells Rolling Stone. “My favorite kind of songwriting.” The Nashville musicians have known each other for a long time, but became close in the pandemic — cooking, shopping for antiques, and joking about sharing a house together. “Madi and I will hit the occasional estate sale or go for a long walk and chat,” Musgraves says. “There’s also wine. And horses. We’re both horse girls through and through.”

Musgraves appears on the Weird Faith duet “Don’t Do Me Good,” a dazzling send-off to a lover with a potent chorus about finally throwing in the towel. “There’s something about her voice that just lifts the whole thing,” Diaz says. “I know Kacey’s speaking voice pretty exclusively, so it was fun to be in the studio and put the headphones on and then listen to that voice coming out of her mouth: ‘Oh, right! That’s my friend!’ ” 

Co-written with Ed Sheeran collaborator Amy Wadge, “Don’t Do Me Good” is easily one of the strongest songs in Diaz’s catalog. But she was hesitant to ask Musgraves to sing on it. “I was totally terrified to ask her, because that bridge feels comfortable for me and my friendship with, like, Courtney Marie Andrews,” Diaz says, naming an Americana peer. “But Kacey is in a completely different stratosphere. She’s a pop star.” (Hearing this quote, Musgraves laughs: “That’s ridiculous. We’re friends. I was like, ‘Absolutely. Duh. Yes.’ ”) 

TOP IS DIAZ’S OWN. JEANS BY LEVIS. BOOTS VINTAGE

Many of Diaz’s friends these days are female musicians — something that wasn’t always the case for her. “With our generation, alpha females were taught to avoid each other in our twenties,” Diaz says. “Which is such a goddamn shame. It’s funny how that completely shifted in my thirties.”

Diaz grew up in a musical family in Norwalk, Connecticut (her dad plays in a Zappa cover band), and moved to Pennsylvania when she was seven; later, she studied at Berklee College of Music before dropping out to play gigs at the Bitter End in New York. She moved to Nashville in 2008, grinding it out as a songwriter, then moved to Los Angeles to play in bands, finally returning to Nashville in 2017. 

“I did not literally think for two seconds about being a woman in the industry and how that would maybe, eventually, become difficult,” she says, thinking back to her early career. “It’s fucking different for women, and hopefully people will respect that at some point. I honestly don’t think that men do.”

Diaz names several musicians who tour with their children, from Maren Morris to Elle King to Margo Price (“a fucking badass”). “Or my friend Michaela Anne, who has a two-year-old — like, there are women that do tour with kids,” she adds. “Michaela Anne’s situation is very different than Maren Morris’ situation on the road. And they’re both doing it.”

But despite that line about parenthood in “Everything Almost,” she knows it’s not her time yet. She’s learning to live in the present, citing Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s 1946 memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, as a recent inspiration. 

“It’s about listening to what life is asking of you and responding to those questions,” she says. “And, like, life isn’t asking me to be a mother. Right now, it’s asking me to fucking carry my guitar two miles from LaGuardia Airport, and have a rat’s nest of cables in my carry-on bag that weighs 50 pounds. So I’m trying to be there.” 

Produced by JOE RODRIGUEZ. Hair by DANIEL LUTZ, using R+CO PRODUCTS. Makeup by ABBY BERNI using DIOR BEAUTY and HOURGLASS COSMETICS. Previous page: dress by STAUD. This page: top is diaz’s own. Jeans by LEVIS. Boots vintage. Photography assistance by ELVIS TOWERS.

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