It’s both weird and quietly awe-inspiring how a specific song can transport you back in time. I’m going to drag myself and share that Smashing Pumpkins’ “Stand Inside Your Love” stills remind me of my first proper boyfriend, when we were careening towards the end of secondary school and realizing that Nothing Would Ever Be the Same again (and that moving to different countries for uni spelled the end). Look, seen through teen eyes it felt like a dramatic time. You probably keep note of the songs that remind you of the euphoria of your early twenties, the drudgery of a commute, the comforting rat-a-tat rocking of a train carriage along a well-worn path to visit family. We’ve even written about the songs that people find too hard to play now or the ones they just never want to hear again.
But smaller moments lodge themselves in your mind alongside those seemingly seismic ones. And the music we listen to can delicately soundtrack these ephemeral shifts too. In the case of pop-funk singer-songwriter MAAD, one of her own songs might just turn into the marker of a transition in her life. So far, the New Yorker has put out an exciting disco-inspired EP—last year’s Le Funk—stuffed with buzzing synths, keys and wobbling basslines. Yet on single “New Religion,” which we’re premiering here, she’s turning on her heel ever so slightly, both sonically and in terms of subject matter.
“You know, ‘New Religion’ started off feeling like a love song. Something people could relate to, where you find this new love and it feels like you’re washed—you feel free,” she says over Skype from her live-work space in California, looking remarkably fresh-faced for someone who’s been up since 6AM. “But as time went on and I got closer to the song, as I connected to it more, it felt like it was talking to me about my music. The lyrics connect back to how I feel about the record, where I’m at with my career.” With its ascending vocal hook and light-as-candy-floss energy, that seems to spell good things for MAAD. Because sure, you could read this song in its first iteration as a celebration of how a new love makes you feel like you’ve just shed a skin. Seen from another view, though, the track could become one that MAAD returns to for a sense of what it felt like to be trying to push herself to the next level as a musician.
If its chorus, with a thudding bassline and keytar-like squelch of percussion, makes you think of Nao’s debut album of self-described “wonky funk” then you’ve got a good ear. The electro-R&B of “New Religion” was, like lots of Nao’s work to date, produced by London-based Ipswich lad GRADES. “He started playing some chords, which were initially the beginning of the song,” MAAD remembers. Then co-writer Chiara Hunter jumped in, humming the line “new religion” to herself, which sparked something in MAAD’s mind. “Even the first line—‘of all the songs I’ve sung, this is the one’—really hits close to home for me. I feel very attached to this record. I have this sense that out of all the records on the upcoming EP, this is the one I feel super-strong about.” She mentions past single “Wonderland,” a pure pop thumper from last year, as hitting a similar nerve. “It dug into how I was feeling at that moment but now… I don’t know, I feel as though ‘New Religion’ has dug a bit deeper.”
It’s a bold move to verbalize your hopes for the future so bluntly, on the record. Most of the time, artists at a stage in their careers this early will stick to ‘taking it as it comes’ lines, appearing less concerned about how much may hinge on one release. But MAAD sounds ready to throw her chips in. Though this current project is relatively new, her solo career has been several years in the making and along the way she built up one of those multi-talent CVs that send baby boomers into a tailspin. Starting off performing as a child—“mum enrolled me in every class: tap, jazz, modern, hip-hop, ballet”—she’s since made a living modelling, DJing and initially making music under the name Maad*Moiselle (see this A$AP Ferg collab from a few years ago). When I ask whether she’s dealing with self-doubt as she prepares to put out not only this song, she looks like the most delighted insomniac you’ve ever met while saying “I’m getting to a place where I’m not really having full nights’ sleep” because she’s that excited. Later in our conversation, though, she returns to the idea of this song coming to mark out a particular time, which will be the case whether “New Religion” becomes a cult hit, a banger or a fan favorite.
“I always love records because they act as a little diary—where I was, what I was going through, what I was thinking about at the particular time I wrote the song,” she begins. “So I guess ‘New Religion’ has a double meaning—at this moment I relate to it as being about my career but I’m sure a lot of people will take it as a lurrrve song,” she says, smiling and rolling her “r” over the word. “Love is universal, so it works out. Anyone can take out whatever meaning they feel from it.” Well, options never hurt. From now on, when I play this song, I’ll probably end up associating it with some version of the more personal situation she’s described. Just as Billy Corgan has adhered himself to my teen boyfriend, “New Religion” will always take me back to the day when, over a temperamental Skype connection and an eight-hour time difference, MAAD visualised her future.