What happens when you sign a publishing deal at 20-years-old?
When singer-songwriter Madi Diaz signed a publishing deal at the young age of 20-years-old, she (likely) imagined a never ending list of opportunities and doors opening for her dreams to come true by becoming a successful musician. And for a while, it looked like it was actually happening.
According to an interview with NPR, Diaz landed songs on major TV shows left and right, including Pretty Little Liars, Drop Dead Diva, and more, and this was all leading up to what she thought would be the release of her breakthrough album. Unfortunately, her label backed out, causing Diaz to rethink it all, releasing music that was much more upbeat than the music on Diaz’ 2021 album, History Of A Feeling (think Maggie Rogers in the 2010s). During this time, Diaz also started working as a songwriter in Los Angeles, earning credits on records by artists like Elle King, Bleached, Vérité and Kesha (more on those second two later).
This eventually led to Diaz looking for inspiration in new projects: specifically working as one half of a couple musical partnerships and in bands. During this time, Diaz and her partner were going through the end of their relationship: eventually splitting up in 2017. Her ex-partner, who Diaz met when they were living as a man, was transitioning into living as a trans woman.
Diaz was able to start working on music, writing as many as 200 songs—eventually editing them down to just 11 tracks. These 11 tracks make up History Of A Feeling, an album described by Pitchfork as a “rare record that captures how visceral it can feel to work through, and truly understand, your own feelings.”
I first heard Diaz’ lead single for the album, “New Person, Old Place,” earlier this year, and I knew she was an artist I needed to keep my eyes on. Fast forward to the release of History of A Feeling, and it all clicked for me that she was not only a veteran of the industry, but one who has songwriting credits for some of my favorite songs released in the past decade: “Resentment” by Kesha, Sturgill Simpson, Brian Wilson, and Wrabel, and “Think Of Me,” by Vérité. Though it’s debatable which of the final versions of these songs I prefer, what drew me to both of these songs in the past were the lyrics. Hearing these songs from Diaz herself gave them new meaning, brought new emotion, and made me understand Diaz as an artist more than I ever thought I would, considering I was unfamiliar with her solo music even last year.
History Of A Feeling has quickly become one of my favorite records of the year, so I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see Diaz perform at Spoke Bicycle Cafe this past Monday: an outdoor patio cafe on the East Side of Los Angeles. Diaz is touring with Caamp and The Tallest Man on Earth, so the opportunity to see her perform an entire set as the headliner was an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss.
I imagined Madi sitting on a stool playing acoustic guitar: a very coffee shop style performance, including a small (yet engaged) crowd sitting at individual tables, mulling over half-drunk beers and half-processed emotional baggage. I was wrong! (maybe about everything except the baggage).
The set was very much like a traditional performance: Diaz stood on a slightly elevated stage with a band in tow: set up in front of a beautiful backdrop of flowers and greenery. The crowd was maybe 100 people deep. There was an acoustic guitar present: but for the most part, Diaz opted for an electric guitar. This choice helped elevate the songs immensely: Diaz’ vocals sound better in person than they do on record: a compliment I have given maybe up to three times to any performer I’ve seen in my lifetime.
Hearing the songs in full from History Of A Feeling live made the songs so much bigger than they do on the album: I admittedly arrived a few minutes past Diaz’ start time, and on the walk up, it was amazing to hear how powerful her voice sounded in comparison to what I heard on the record. Whether you can chalk this up to production choices or simply Diaz’ uncanny ability to convey her emotions during a live performance that may not come across on a record, the impressiveness of the skill is worth noting. Diaz’ vocals ebb and flow in the way that the emotions do throughout the album: her voice takes you on a journey of sadness, guilt, and essentially the seven stages of grief.
Highlights of the set included performances of “Resentment” and “Think Of Me,” the two songs I’ve mentioned more than once in this post. “Crying In Public” was met with a baby crying in public…which garnered some laughs from the crowd. Diaz welcomed supporting act Charlie Hickey, who we’ve covered before, onto the stage for the last two songs, “Do It Now,” and a deep cut of “For Months Now,” a song released back in 2019 by ‘the three of us,’ a project based of Diaz, Wrabel, and Jamie Floyd. I hadn’t heard the song before, and it was arguably one of Diaz’ works lyrically that I’ve heard so far.
Check out History of a Feeling and Diaz’ upcoming tour dates here.