Awakening | An Interview With Maddie Zahm

Album release days are always a bit special for bands and artists from all around the world. Let us not forget the anticipation that derives when the finished record awaits patiently to be heard by the masses. The culmination of the writing process followed by the detailed, arduous venture into curating instrumentals that precisely seize the right direction, then moving along with mastering takes so much out of those involved.

At midnight on August 12th, singer-songwriter Maddie Zahm will be staring deep at her phone or clock hanging on a wall inside the room she will be residing in, and a giant sigh will come out of her. Following this will arguably be one of the biggest grins stretching from ear to ear. The release of her debut EP You Might Not Like Her will now be unbridled for all that have been clamoring to hear more since singles such as “Fat Funny Friend” has amassed over 28 million plus streams to date, and TikTok creators such as Elyse Myers have reaped their undivided support.  

You Might Not Like Her paints vividly the vulnerability and strength that Zahm has fostered over the past year or so. Having been institutionalized within the church community she grew up in (and ultimately assuming the worship leader), Zahm became disenchanted and recognized that what she was exhibiting was nothing more than a façade. Zahm viewed Los Angeles as a place where she could begin planting a better life and later become a lesbian. You Might Not Like Her chronicles this maiden voyage of self-discovery with effortless ease and dramatic storytelling.  

On the release of You Might Like Her, Zahm shared in a press release, “This EP is so incredibly important to me as I have changed about as many times as a person could in a year. I was a twenty-three-year-old raised in a church that taught me that my only goal was to be a good kid. But good kids get older, and unfortunately, that means we’re not ready to face the world when we should be. I was lucky enough to be able to process these things by writing a project to my younger self, my hometown, my parents, the world, etc. 

This project quite literally saved me, and I hope it reaches even just one person who is questioning if they’re allowed to be their full selves. I never imagined releasing this, so I hope you’ll take care of her like you all have taken care of me.”

So much has been happening over the past year, personally. I must ask-how are you doing?

Truthfully, I am processing all this as best as I can. I am grateful for the reaction and the community of people following my journey, but I definitely feel the anxiety and pressure that comes with talking about such big topics. Why couldn’t I have written songs about boys I over-romanticized instead of exposing all my secrets (laughs)?! I want to make everyone proud and also be able to acknowledge that most of these things are so new to me and are still things I am going through.

Leaving a church community is rather challenging and, for most, complicated. What moment or events made you realize that you needed to leave? 

Honestly, I think it was a gradual realization of the pain my church community had caused that woke me up. I acknowledge that I played a part in that for a really long time. The beauty of this all, though, is that I have this opportunity to have conversations with people in the church and have grace for them, as I know most don’t understand the pain they’re causing. We are taught at a very young age that protecting the church is loving someone when really, it’s encouraging a harmful system with little accountability. 

Being in the church led to you discovering music. What else impacted you so much that you wanted to explore being a musician? 

Leading worship in church always felt strange to me. It was like I was conveying someone else’s story and emotions. I worked in special education music classes in my free time in middle school and high school. Seeing the joy the students experienced really played a part in my passion for it. 

Do you often miss what was good about the church you attended?

For sure. I miss church quite a lot, actually. I had a few great experiences with churches and the people in them after leaving the church I was raised in. And although I don’t know if they’d ever want to meet my future girlfriends or attend my wedding, I miss them a grave deal. They were my community, and I truly know how scared they are for me as someone that used to align with their beliefs. I hope my project helps ease their mind that I am more me than I have ever been.

Many may not know that you auditioned to be on American Idol. What was that experience like for you?

American Idol was wild, man. It really is reality TV! I am so grateful that those shows exist to help light a fire under us artists. That being said, I have learned now that it’s not an accurate depiction of how the music industry works. The biggest takeaway for me was seeing all the original music. I remember thinking, “I think I can do that!”. 

Being in Nashville for a brief time, you have relocated to Los Angeles. What has been one of the biggest takeaways since moving? 

I never lived in Nashville, but I had planned to move there instead of LA, and truthfully that was the first decision I made on my own. I remember how much my previous team thought I needed to be in Nashville. I called them up and said, “guys, I am not country and I am staying in LA” it was the first time the person I am now shined through my people-pleasing younger self! It kickstarted me trusting myself and my gut! Thank God I stayed in LA. 

Before recording the EP, how much was written?  

All of it! Adam and I would tweak some of the lyrics here and there to get an extra emotional sucker punch in there, but we kept most of the lyrics very close to the day of’s!

Who were some artists you found yourself listening to while writing the EP? Were there any specific albums that were impactful?

I listened to a lot of music I felt I had missed out on. That said, most of the inspiration came from old worship songs I listened to growing up. 

Was it therapeutic when you started to put your thoughts, feelings, and experiences onto paper and then record them?

ABSOLUTELY. When I started to relieve the pressure of my artist project and truly didn’t think the songs I was writing would ever see the light of day, my artist project became clear. I remember thinking my songs were far too personal and specific for anyone to release. But what a whirlwind to realize I have not had a SINGLE unique experience, haha. It’s made me feel so much less lonely to have people relate to even the most specific lines of my songs. 

Were there any topics you felt were too much to reveal when you wrote the album?

YES- purity culture has been the toughest thing for me to get over. Acknowledging that I am allowed to kiss a girl and talk about my traumas regarding sex and romance. That was even bigger for me to get over than sharing my sexuality. 

Seeing some of the comments on singles, such as “Fat Funny Friend,” you have been a beacon of hope for some. What has hearing and seeing others speak about how impactful you’ve been? 

Seeing the reaction has helped me acknowledge how much of a need there is for these conversations. How is someone supposed to know how cruel society is to bigger bodies if they don’t have one? I feel honored that I get to be a voice that speaks out on this stuff even as I lose weight. I was so afraid that shrinking this much would mean I lost out on a community I love, but if anything, they’ve supported me the most through the change. 

What was the experience like working with Adam Yaron?

I could talk for hours about Adam Yaron, but it would get repetitive. Adam Yaron is my platonic musical soulmate and has written most of the songs with me on my project. I have never had someone hear what is going on in my brain the way he does. Not only that but he’s a safe space to create and rest. We had written twenty-plus songs I loved, but the day I knew we had something special was when the first song on my project came up when I was exhausted and anxious and couldn’t sleep. I fell asleep in one of our sessions, and he let me nap for two hours. Just worked on his tracks and let me wake up naturally. I was so embarrassed, but the guy wants our space to be free to create whatever we wanted to. He is my family in LA, and I owe him a lot of my success.

Having now put a lot of yourself into the debut EP, do you still feel that you are now ready to move forward?

I think so! The beauty of this project is that it opens up my life to be whatever I want it to be. I keep expecting to run out of things to write, but because my project is so personal, I’ll always have new things to say. And that is absolutely exhilarating to me. 

What should we expect soon? Any tour plans? 

Not sure about touring yet, but I am the most excited for the things following this EP. Thankful to my team that they update my calendar and tell me what’s coming up because I’m either writing dramatic music or at an aquarium, not answering my phone. But you guys will be the first to know!!

Photo Courtesy: Gus Black