Country Next: Madison Kozak

Madison Kozak; Photo by Jessica Amerson
Madison Kozak; Photo by Jessica Amerson
Madison Kozak; Photo by Jessica Amerson
We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with Madison Kozak.

To say that 2019 was a big year for Madison Kozak would be a massive understatement. The rising country songstress, who moved from her native rural Ontario, Canada to Nashville at age 14, has achieved a great deal of success over the past 12 months. 

While finishing up her degree in Music Business at Belmont University, Kozak made it a priority to get her songs in front of some of the biggest names in the music industry. “First Last Name,” a nostalgic song, which she co-wrote with James Slater and Claire Douglas as a tribute to her relationship with her father, immediately struck a chord with Big Loud Publishing, earning Kozak her first publishing deal.

Months later, the breakout ballad inspired hit songwriter and producer Nicolle Galyon to launch the female-focused label Songs & Daughters, an imprint of Big Loud Records. Gaylon signed Kozak as the label’s flagship artist, which couldn’t have made for a better fit for both ladies.

Since signing with Songs & Daughters, Kozak, 23, has joined CMT’s Next Women of Country Class of 2020, toured both in the U.S. and overseas supporting artists like Morgan Evans, Chase Rice, Aaron Watson, Tanya Tucker and more, and made her Grand Ole Opry debut, performing “First Last Name” to a standing ovation.

On July 22, 2020, Kozak celebrated her one-year anniversary at Songs & Daughters. But she has no intention of slowing down. Although COVID-19 has ultimately halted artist tours across the country, Kozak, who was recently acting as opener for the legendary Tanya Tucker, has managed to find new ways to stay creative and engage with fans. Not only has she been hosting her Household World Tour via social media, but she also has written several new songs over Zoom co-writing sessions.

Country Now caught up with Kozak to talk about her whirlwind 2019, her music and what’s to come. Continue reading to learn more about Madison Kozak. 

When you moved to Nashville, how did you navigate your career before applying to Belmont University? 

I did my best to dip my toe in the waters of the songwriting community. For me, that meant going out to as many writers’ rounds and performances as I could. I tried to meet as many people as I could and listen and learn in the front row. But, it was a bit tough being underage. I remember a lot of venues being 21 and up, and that broke my heart at that age. I just wanted to get into [those places] and be able to listen. So, it was tricky, in the beginning, trying to balance high school and then getting my degree at Belmont. But I knew it was all a part of the plan of waiting my turn, being in Nashville, having my foot in the door, and just trying to meet as many people as I could, learn as much as I could, be kind, and have some fun.  

You became the flagship artist for Songs & Daughters before graduating from Belmont University. What does it mean for you to be the first female represented on that label? 

It’s such an honor! I’ve been dreaming of landing a record deal for so long, ever since I started stepping on stages and learning about the music industry, and watching the history of country music in documentaries like Coal Miner’s Daughter, about my hero Loretta Lynn. Then, when I realized, like, everybody moves to Nashville, and they find this thing that’s called a record deal. And, then, you go to Belmont, and you learn about record deals, and you learn to be a bit skeptical of them at times. I knew when I met Nicolle Galyon, who was already one of my biggest songwriting heroes, I trusted her so much. I thought that she had such a great vision for this label. You look at someone like her, and you can see that her passion crosses over in every part of her life, whether that’s being a mother to her adorable kids or a mother to songs or a mother to artists and writers. I’m honored to be a part of that culture and to be on this journey with her. I think it reflects the kind of family I come from. I’m one of eight kids. So I know what it’s like to be a part of a big family. And, I knew, when I met Nicolle [Galyon] through Seth England at Big Loud [Records], it felt like a big family, and so that’s why it felt like home to me. 

How has your relationship with Nicolle Galyon grown from day one? 

The first time she and I met goes back a lot further than you’d think. I moved to town at age 14. But, I recorded an EP around 16-years-old. I was searching for songs for my EP, and I found a song called ‘Scarecrow’ that Nicolle [Galyon] had written with Eric Paslay. I loved the song, and what the song had to say. So, I put it on my project. But I didn’t know Nicolle, and I didn’t think she had any hits at that time. But, she was a writer signed to Warner Chappell [Music]. I remember walking up to her at a songwriter round, and I said, ‘I put your song on my EP. I love your songwriting voice. I’m a big fan of you. Thank you for letting me record your song!’ I don’t think she had any idea who I was or knew that I recorded her song. So that stuck with me.

What have you learned from your experience with Songs & Daughters over the past year? And what kind of goals are you setting for yourself as you look forward to another year on that label?

I think I’ve done a lot of growing up in the last year as an artist. I’ve matured a lot and settled into my sound and my voice. I’ve also grown more confident in being both a performer and a writer. I think I was naive before signing my record deal in thinking, ‘Okay, I have to get the record deal, and everything will be golden from there.’ In the past year, I’ve learned that this is where the real work starts. It’s been fun to get to dive in with a supportive and knowledgeable team. I think I’ve learned more in the last year about myself and about how to navigate being an artist in general than I have in the past nine years while living in Nashville. So just a lot of learning, especially in the climate we’re in right now with COVID-19, and all of my touring getting canceled this year, I’m just learning to pivot a lot. We have to be more flexible and be able to still have the same long-term goals in place, but maneuver how we’re going to get there. 

How have you been adjusting your creative process during the coronavirus pandemic? 

I’m grateful that I got to be out on the road for a quarter of the year. I missed the [coronavirus] pandemic by a hair because I got to tour Europe with Chase Rice in January, which was a great experience! I’m also grateful for getting to go out on the road with CMT and Tanya Tucker. I learned a lot there. Then, when everything hit, I came back home to Ontario, Canada. I got in my car and drove 15 hours to be with my family. That felt like a safe and comforting move in all of this because there was so much uncertainty. Working from home, and living with my parents for the first time since I was 14, has been an adjustment. But they live on a lake, so it’s nice to get out here and get back to what I write songs about. For so long, I’ve been writing on Music Row about this place. Now, to come here and to be in the middle of it, it feels inspiring and true to who I am and what I want to create. I think it has grounded me a lot more. There are certain days, I won’t lie, where I get bummed out, and I feel like I’m missing out on things or like this year hasn’t gone on as planned, but I also try to remind myself that this is time with my family that I haven’t had in years because I’ve been chasing this dream. And what a blessing it is to be able to come home and still be able to create and work remotely. I’ve been writing every day from my parent’s front porch. I also embarked on my household tour on social media, where I share a new song, whether it’s an original or a cover I’m digging in a different room of my house every week. So that was fun to be able to show the fans some of my childhood home as well as new songs and songs I’ve been loving recently. 

What kinds of conversations have you had with your parents since you’ve been home? And what are you doing together to stay busy? 

It’s been pretty special. We’ve spent more time together, which has been fun. And, I’ve been able to share songs that I’ve been working on with my parents daily. Usually, I send them a text with the latest song, but now I’m right here. I can pull out the guitar and be like, ‘Hey! I just wrote this song today. Do you like it?’ It’s very nostalgic being home and being this close to my parents. I’m taking every day as such a gift. My dad had a bit of a health scare this spring, and I was here for that. I can’t imagine if I would’ve been on the road, that I would’ve been able to get home in time to be here for that, and to have my family to lean on, so I believe there’s a reason for the season. 

‘First Last Name,’ which was written as a gift for your dad, resonated with so many people last year. Can you tell me about that song?

My dad is probably the most influential person for me when it comes to music. He’s the one who taught me everything I know about country music. He took me to my first Loretta Lynn concert and always had Johnny Cash or George Jones playing in the background of my childhood. Before I moved to Nashville, my dad and I traveled from town to town in Ontario, playing different fairs, festivals, and Jamborees. Then, about four years ago, I sat down with my friends, Claire Douglas and James Slater, who are talented songwriters in Nashville. I said, ‘Hey guys, Father’s Day is coming up, and I live far from home. It would be nice if we could write a song for our dads that I could send to my dad as a Father’s Day gift.’ They thought, ‘Yea, that’s a great idea.’ Claire’s father, Tom Douglas, is also in the music industry. He’s very successful. He’s a renowned songwriter, who wrote Miranda Lambert’s ‘The House That Built Me.’ So music was in Claire’s blood as well. I believe there was a spark in the room already with the right people at the right time coming together to share a message that we could all pour our hearts into. I have so many fond memories of growing up and always having my dad being there for me, whether that be with music or being front-row at a dance recital or teaching me how to drive for the first time. It was a quick write because all of those things were in a bank in my head, and they just started flowing around. I remember sending my dad this song on Father’s Day, and I hadn’t heard from him. So I checked in with my mom, and she was like, ‘What did you send your dad? He’s bawling his eyes out!’ I was like, ‘Oh no!’ But I also knew that it must be because he felt it. So it was a cool way to pay homage to him. I never thought twice about it being a song that would jump-start all of this for me. I just thought this is the most personal song I’ve ever written. I brought it to song critique nights at Belmont [University] when they had publishers come in and critique student songs, and I remember playing it for a panel of publishers. I remember one night, there was someone from Disney and Sony, and my future publisher at Big Loud was there, and none of them had any critiques. They were three women, and already, they were emotional and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh!’ One of them said, ‘I wish I could’ve danced with my dad at my wedding to this song.’ I thought, ‘Wow. That’s cool!’ I never thought that it would be the song that lands all the deals.

After receiving such an emotional response with that song, do you feel pressure to top it when it comes to your writing?

It’s been an encouraging note for me. The reactions have given me the confidence to lean into that avenue of just pouring my heart out on the page. I think sometimes we get caught up in what’s out on the radio, and we’re like, ‘Is that how I should sound or what I should be writing?’ But seeing the reaction from a song that was ripped out of my diary pretty much, now, encourages me to do more of that and feel okay about it. 

Female country artists like Gabby Barrett and Ingrid Andress have seen success with country radio lately. What’s it like for you to see your class being represented during a time when people can’t go on tour?

I’m thrilled to see more females on the chart! Every day that there are more females on the chart, I’m more stoked to be a female in country music! I think back to all of the artists who inspired me to want to get on stage and sing my heart out, and it’s all-female artists! It’s Loretta Lynn, Shania Twain, [The] Chicks, Dolly Parton, and all of these powerhouse females that had something to say. That’s one thing that females in country music all have in common. They all have something to say, and it’s just a matter of being given a platform to say it. I think our genre is opening up that platform more and more. 

Can fans expect another Household World Tour for August? 

So I just wrapped up what we call the US leg Household World Tour 2.0. I went back to Nashville for a little while and re-filmed new songs in different rooms there. I’m back home in Canada now, and I’m focusing on songwriting. So, I’m writing for myself, I’m getting to write for other people, and I’m looking forward to, hopefully, getting my songs cut by other artists this year. That’s a big goal of mine that the team is all-in on. I want to pass some songs onto fellow artists. I’d be so proud to wear that hat! 

Any song in particular that you’ve written during quarantine that you can’t wait for fans to hear? 

There are several songs that I’m going to be sharing on my Instagram page through what I call, What Ya Been Writing Wednesdays. I might change up the name or day a little bit. But, I’m, for sure, going to be teasing more new music. And, honestly, that helps me gauge the reaction of what people like versus what they don’t like, and it gives me confidence in knowing what they’re digging, and I love that!

What’s next for you? 

I would say, more, new music on social media. Hopefully, sharing stuff there, and also working toward my full-length project this year is the big goal.

Fans can keep up with Madison Kozak on Instagram.

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