Her Story

Some songwriters will tell you that the Muse can be fickle: apt to come and go on its own unpredictable schedule and demanding a level of devotion and patience that can try all but the most committed of suitors. But sometimes, the Muse can be patient, too — as if fully understanding that sometimes it’s the artist and not just the art that’s worth waiting for.

Monet Maddux was worth that wait. Sure, it may have taken her a bit longer than most to discover — and embrace — her born-with-it voice as both a songwriter and performer, but a decade down the line from picking up a guitar and setting words to her own melodies for the first time just north of her 30s, the multiple business owner, proud mother of two and resilient breast cancer survivor is at long last ready to answer destiny’s call and take it for the joyride of her life.

Where that ride takes her is anyone’s guess, which of course is part of the thrill. “I’m not putting any pressure on the outcome,” she says of her modest aspirations for her full-length debut, “because I’m just doing it for me.” But if that makes Monet Maddux (August 2018) sound like a “vanity project,” bear in mind not just that it was produced by none other than Americana music legend Ray Wylie Hubbard, but that he offered to do it.

“I had sent him an EP I made (2017’s 11:11), because he said he wanted to hear it,” Maddux explains, “and after he heard it, he told me, ‘If you ever want to do a full album, I will produce it.’ And I about fell down. Because someone came to me! It didn’t seem real. It almost seemed … outrageous. I mean, these things just don’t happen to people in their 40s!”

But as Hubbard of all people could testify, that’s actually right about the age when more than a few artists of genuine grit and substance really find their groove; by his own admission, Hubbard didn’t even begin to take his own songwriting seriously until after he hit the big 4-0 himself. And although Maddux didn’t have a comparable 20-odd years of industry experience going into her own midlife musical awakening, doubtless Hubbard intuitively recongized her as a kindred spirit “condemned by the gods to write.”

“Ever since childhood, my happy place was always writing,” says Maddux, recalling how, as a little girl growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, she would spend many a long afternoon in the back of her mom’s station wagon — her makeshift “office” — filling up notebooks with poems and short stories. “I would lose all track of time in there; I would come out hours later and my mom would be like, ‘Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you!’

“So I always knew writing was my thing,” Maddux continues. “I just didn’t know where to ‘put it’ — or how I would do it for a living when I grew up.”

To wit, her idea to maybe try writing childrens books never panned out, and neither did her stab at journalism, even after studying it at Auburn University. “I had a professor tell me when I was in school that if I was going to be a journalist for a living, that I was going to be broke and skinny!” she admits with a laugh. “I actually did have a journalism job in Birmingham, and I was terrible. I guess I just didn’t like relaying information, or felt I couldn’t be creative enough, but it didn’t suit me at all. After that, I decided I needed to get my head out of the clouds and move on, and sort of excluded myself from the whole idea of writing — at least as far as ever doing it for any kind of a ‘job.'”

The last thing on her mind at that point, even after a move to Nashville — Music City, U.S.A. — was songwriting. “I just wanted to go to another city, start over and sort of look around; it had nothing to do with wanting to find a songwriting career,” she says. But she did end up finding her future husband, Scott Maddux, and together they spent many a night making the most of the vibrant Nashville music scene — albeit only as fans. “We were always at a live show somewhere,” she recalls. “As soon as we got paid, we spent the money on concert tickets, beer, and rent — and in that order!”

A few years later, after marrying and moving to Maryville, Tennessee, the couple ended up opening their own music venue, The Shed Smokehouse & Jukejoint — conveniently located right next to their own Harley-Davidson dealership. Running two demanding businesses on top of raising a family was hard work, but 14 years down the line, so far, so good: Their Smoky Mounain Harley-Davidson dealership was recently honored by the world-famous motorcycle company with a Bar and Shield Award as its No. 1 dealership in the country, while The Shed has hosted a veritable who’s who of Americana and roots rock’s biggest names, ranging from the late Leon Russell to Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and of course the aforementiond Mr. Hubbard.

As for how Maddux would one day come to make her own record with Hubbard, not to mention find herself regularly singing her own songs onstage at The Shed (sometimes solo, someimes backed by a full band featuring her husband Scott on lead guiar), well … all it took was a subtle push from her older brother.

“He had started writing his own music, down in Jacksonville, Florida, and he had this piece he’d written as an anniversary gift to his wife and asked if I could write some lyrics for it,” explains Maddux, who continued to share her poetry with close friends and family long after she ruled writing out as a viable career option. “It was just a favor for my brother, so I wasn’t intimidated or anything. I remember getting the music online and taking out some paper, listening over and over, marking when the verse started and when the chorus began. I didn’t know anything about charting music so I just made up a system of my own. Then I wrote some heartfelt words that told a story. That’s when I had an epiphany; songwriting was a lot like writing in my journal, just with a little timing. Soon my brother was sending instrumental music all of the time. That’s when the fire was lit and I fell in love with turning words into musical lyrics.

“I was up early and up late every single day consumed with songwriting,” she continues. “I’d finish a song and ask him to send more music; he couldn’t keep up I was writing lyrics so fast. I finally picked up a guitar of my husband’s and taught myself some chords. I was 40 years old. And that was it. I remember crying out loud, just from playing my own song on the guitar.”

Even then, she still didn’t ever see herself performing in public or making a record — but she did begin booking studio time so she could submit demos to a song-plugging agency. She didn’t land any cuts out of the process, but the critiques she got back by the professional song “experts” proved invaluable in bolstering her confidence. And it wasn’t just the positive reviews that did the trick, either. “I submitted one of my favorite songs, called ‘Beg Me to Stay,’ which opens with the line, ‘We’re locking horns when you slam the door …’ And the girl who sent the critique back, I guess she was like 25 years old, goes, ‘Locking horns? I don’t get it. Like, a car horn?”

Monet can’t help but laugh. “It was so absurd that I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you!’ I’d become frustrated over the years, feeling like I couldn’t go forward, so I really needed to read that review. I realized (some of) the people critiquing my work just plain didn’t understand me or my songs. That was the day I stopped sending my work to people who were never going to hear me. It was liberating!”

So liberating, in fact, that Maddux soon found herself “pumping out two or three songs a week” — the kind that come straight from the heart and gut with no filter. And it wasn’t long after that that people in the industry who did “hear” and recognize that substance in her songs (not to mention in her vocals, too) began to further bolster her conviction. The award-winning songwriter Stephony Smith (Tim McGraw, Dixie Chicks, Reba McEntire) — who happened to be the aunt of Maddux’s tennis partner — became something of a mentor and career coach, and Knoxville artist, producer, and mult-instrumentalist Will Carter produced the Muscle Shoals-inspired 11:11 EP that ultimately led her to working wih Hubbard.

“Ray was very complimentary about the EP, but he said, ‘I think your sound could be a little more swampy and grassroots … a little more … Red Dirt,'” she recalls. Which is how Maddux found herself at the beginning of 2018 deep in the heart of Texas, recording at The Zone Studio with Hubbard’s hand-picked crew of some of the best players in the greater Austin area (and by extension, in all Americana music), including both Hubbard and his guitar-slinging son, Lucas, “Scrappy” Judd Newcomb, Andrew Hardin, Kyle Schneider, and Pat Maske. Maddux wrote every song on the album, but she let Hubbard hand-pick those, too.

“I remember when he listened to the first song I sent him for this, which was ‘Sweetheart or Heartache,’ he said, ‘You just got lucky! Let me hear another one.’ Then, ‘Holy crap, send me another one!’ I ended up sending him like 30 right out of the gate, and he chose the ones he thought he could really put his flair on.”

And sure enough, you can hear that patented Ray Wylie “grit ‘n’ groove” all through Monet Maddux. But true to the album’s eponymous title, it’s Monet’s own true grit that registers loudest of all across all 11 tracks. And though it may be her debut, naive it’s definitely not. When she sings about the walloping punch of love at first sight in the opening “You Make Me Boom Boom,” she lays it all on the line right from the start with the no-nonsense manner of a woman with no time for playing games: “What’s it gonna take to make this a done deal?” Maddux notes that she makes a concerted effort to avoid writing about herself “75 percent of the time,” but there’s no denying the degree of first-hand experience and personal insight behind her observations about how to make real-life relationships last long past the honeymoon stage through compromise, sacrifice, and mutual understanding (“60/40,” “Yin & Yang”). Ditto the balance of deep-rooted spirituality and candid self-awareness that informs “Open Up this Gate,” a sinner’s prayer that finds Maddux reckoning with her maker with both humility and swagger; to paraphrase her case before St. Peter, “I ain’t no saint, but I’m not leaving until you hear me out!”

From start to finish, the whole album sizzles with that palpable sense of hard-earned, lived-in wisdom, passion, and release. It’s the joyous exhaltation of a grown-ass woman emboldened by the rush of finally finding the perfect outlet for her artisic soul — and with it the reassurance of an ever-patient Muse that never left the side of that little girl from Alabama who loved to write, even when Monet herself came damn close to giving up and losing faith.

“I want to support this album, because I believe in the writing and what these songs turned out to be, but I already have enough songs to do another album, as soon as I can,” enthuses Maddux. “This is how I know this is supposed to be happening now. I literally write songs all the time: in the car, in the shower … even when I’m cooking at the stove, I’ll have a guitar over me and an iPad on hand to write down ideas. I mean, I’ll wake up around 5 in the morning, and as soon as I open my eyes, I’ll be thinking of songs. As soon as I learned how to do this, it was like the faucet turned on.

“I wish I had the foresight as a teenager to know I was suppose to be, not just a writer but, a songwriter — it would have saved me years of frustration!” she continues. “One thing is for sure, though: I have always valued the power of words and been transformed by the lyrics of a powerful song. In the past there have been songs that seemed to actually know me, and in some special cases, lyrics that seemed to know me better than anyone else. Those are the songs I wanna write; that’s what wakes me up early and keeps me up late.”

Monet Maddux may be a relative newcomer to the performing singer-songwriter playing field, but there’s no mistaking her for a “rookie.” Although the Alabama native didn’t begin writing songs, singing and learning guitar until well into adulthood (when she already had a family and two very successful businesses — including an award-winning Harley Davidson dealership — under her belt), Maddux’s passion for words and music has informed her entire life: from the hours she’d spend as a little girl escaping to her “happy place” — writing poetry and stories in her notebooks — to the 14 years and counting that she’s co-owned (with her guitar-playing husband, Scott Maddux) The Shed Smokehouse & Jukejoint, which has brought many of the biggest names in Americana and roots rock to their beloved adopted hometown of Maryville, Tennessee. As for why it took her so long to begin composing and singing her own songs, well, just chalk it up to her unabashed awe for the art form and respect for those who created it for a livng.

“I have always valued the power of words and been transformed by the lyrics of a powerful song,” she says, noting that it honestly never occurred to her that she, too, had the soul of a musician and the ability (or gift) to channel that same transforming power herself. At least not until right around age 40, when her older brother asked her for help in writing words to some songs he had written. “He knew I had always liked to write, so it started with me just writing lyrics for his music, just as a favor,” she recalls. “But once I began playing an instrument and started putting words to my own melodies, I was up early and up late every single day consumed with songwriting. It was like turning on a faucet.” Early on in her discovery, she was still uncertain as to what to do with all those songs, and it would be a while longer — after sending a handful of demos to song pitchers for professional feedback, some of them sung by hired vocalists — before she came to the realization that she needed to start singing, performing, and recording them herself. It was that leap of faith that led to the recording of her 2017 EP, 11:11, with Knoxville artist, producer, and mult-instrumentalist Will Carter. Upon hearing the EP, Texas songwriting legend (and Shed favorite) Ray Wylie Hubbard made Maddux an offer she couldn’t refuse: “If you ever want to do a full album, I will produce it.”

Recorded deep in the heart of Texas with Hubbard’s hand-picked crew of some of Austin’s finest musicians, the resulting Monet Maddux is a debut that plays like a seasoned troubadour’s career best: 11 Monet originals packed with Southern sass and swagger and the grit, wit, and wisdom of a grown-ass woman emboldened by the rush of finally finding the perfect outlet for her artistic soul. Better late than never? Hell no: More like right on time — and she’s just getting warmed up.