Behind the Music: Interview with Madeline Doornaert

‘Whenever I have been faced with adversity, thinking about my next project has always helped me.’

Following the release of her stunning debut album ‘Muddy Water’, we chatted to Canadian pop/folk singer-songwriter Madeline Doornaert about what inspires her sound, lyrically-led personal journeys, and how she creates extra levels of connection within her tracks. 

Describe your sound in no more than 5 words: Warm, nostalgic, and genuine.

Who else is involved in your music and what do they bring to the sound? All of my songs are produced by my partner, Dane Roberts, who also played nearly all of the instrumental parts on the album. He thoroughly understands my influences and many of the ideas I want to communicate in songwriting, so he translates those elements precisely in his production and instrumentation. Being a singer-songwriter, Dane also knew how to evoke the best work from me throughout the entire recording process.

It’s clear that artists such as Carole King and Joni Mitchell influence your tracks, but what drew you to these in the first place? I have always been so moved by the messages these artists convey and how they choose to convey them. Their analog percussion, acoustic instrumentation, and catchy melody lines draw many people into a world of comfort and happiness. Their lyrics are so truthful and transparent, and all of the instrumentation and vocal parts are so raw, making the listening experience so genuine. For example, Carole King brilliantly shares messages of self-love and respect throughout her album Tapestry – specifically in ‘It’s Too Late’, ‘Natural Woman’, and ‘Beautiful’.  These songs evoked my own similar feelings and I wanted to try and write music that could impact others in the same way.

And what about your biggest non-musical influences? The opening track on ‘Muddy Water’, ‘Sunscreen’, was influenced by a bunch of old slides I dug out of my grandparents’ garage, and the lyrics were especially inspired by the images of my mom and my grandma spending time together. I actually featured some of these slides in the music video for the song! Track 2, ‘Baby Calf’ was inspired by a picture posted on Instagram by Charlotte’s Freedom Farm, a local sanctuary for animals who are rescued from the animal agriculture industry. This picture featured a beautiful 2-week-old calf, named Norman, who had been recently saved by the organisation. His soulful eyes made me so happy that he was saved from the dairy industry, but also inspired me to write a song for other calves who could not be saved. 

So when did you realise that music would be an important part of your life? Music has always been so important to my way of living. I heavily rely on creating songs and other artistic projects to get through everything else that I do. Whenever I have been faced with adversity, thinking about my next project has always emotionally helped me to work through any type of hardship I have encountered. Having time to devote myself to something creative has always served as the hopeful light at the end of the tunnel.

Turning to your utterly gorgeous debut album ‘Muddy Water’, what is the background to it and what made now the right time for release? Thank you so much! In creating this first collection of songs, I sought to identify various ideas and relationships that evoke a sense of comfort, strength, and self-awareness. I wanted to express sensual experiences that were relatable, with hopes that this could be comforting to others, and worked to identify connections that withstand adversity, distance, and time. I felt like focusing on these connections could aid others in times of loneliness, especially during the pandemic, while social distancing measures are appropriately forcing people into isolating environments. 

When you wrote the opening track ‘Sunscreen’ in 2019, did you know it would be part of an album? Yes, I did! The second I finished writing ‘Sunscreen’, ideas for the rest of the album started flooding in. I actually wrote ‘Baby Calf’ the next day. ‘Sunscreen’ was sort of a personal landmark for my writing because it gave me an idea of how I wanted to connect with others through songwriting.

‘Although I include personal experiences in my lyrics, I always work to incorporate sensual experiences as well.’

Similarly, what led to you including two contrasting, but equally beautiful versions of the title track? Thank you!! I’m so happy you like both versions. The first version of the title track was written and recorded at the end of 2019, and throughout the pandemic I kept resonating with the song’s message of enduring friendship through hardship and adversity. I really missed performing with a live band and experiencing live music in general. I eventually contacted a few Windsor-based musicians, and with Dane’s production, created a live-sounding version of the track. I made an accompanying live video to try and recreate a bit of that live feel as well. I did not plan on putting it on my album, but the recording turned out so great that I added it on as a reprise!

I love the mix of folk, blues, and jazz influences within your tracks. How do you decide what setting is right for the story you want to tell? For most songs, the setting came before writing melodies and lyrics. I worked to express ideas, feelings, and themes through a certain type of musical feel and then worked on the melody and lyrics from there. 

And linked with this, does the approach to recording vary with each style? Emulating these various influences has a lot to do with our methods of recording. Rather than solely tracking parts to have a good take, we used plug-ins that were more live-sounding and less automated. This helped to mirror the production techniques used in the 70s, and because of modern software and our own personal modern tastes, the production became modernised as well. 

Turning to your lyricism, with there being a highly autobiographical approach, how do you go about ensuring listeners are so easily welcomed into your world? Although I include personal experiences in my lyrics, I always work to incorporate sensual experiences that can be relatable to larger audiences from varying backgrounds – smelling sunscreen and feeling nostalgic about a childhood memory. These sensual experiences are tied to greater ideas and themes like maternal love, sustainability, long-lasting friendship, and self-empowerment. 

Reflecting on the process of Muddy Water, which track took you on the biggest personal journey? Definitely ‘Harvey High School’. The song is essentially about rebuilding strength and self-empowerment after experiencing power abuse, drawing on the stories of individuals who have survived power abuse in various arts industries. These survivors have unknowingly saved many, as their strength has radiated to a multitude of people who quietly suffered in silence. 

And finally, what has music enabled you to do that you would have never thought possible? I don’t think I could have ever predicted meeting so many incredible people through music. Meeting new artists, music lovers, and business owners has been one of my favourite parts of performing and writing music.

Artwork/Photo Credit: Travis Latam 
Thanks Madeline Doornaert for chatting with Listen to Discover

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