“I’m in such a better spot since X WATERS,” twenty-three year old Madeline Finn reflects on her first album as The Whiskey Hollow, a solo project beautifully colored with Americana and blues. “When I wrote that record I was really messed up. It’s been interesting to see how it has evolved, especially since I’ve gotten a core group of people behind me, I’m getting more sure of myself and growing into my own.”
After her previous band, Envoi, dissolved early last year, Finn was desperate to achieve the emotional release that songwriting awarded her. While not their first vocalist, Finn brought an edge to the pop punk quintet that had Spotify listeners at once eager to compare them to early Paramore and touched by Finn’s emotional tale of coming out on the track “From A Cage”. Despite drawing more inspiration from Jeff Buckley than Fall Out Boy these days, Finn still works with a similar set of themes when writing The Whiskey Hollow’s material.
“Most of what I write about are like, weird experiences that are individual to me. ‘Hudson Hill’ is about my struggle with being gay in the church, and ‘Neat’ is about me trying to figure out what to do with music, whether I wanted to go back to school or not,” she explains, revealing some of the masked meaning behind the stories she includes in song. “I try to put out the most raw, genuine performances that I can and I try to really be in a state of vulnerability. I think I did the same thing with Envoi.”
At age twelve, Finn got her start as the bass player and lead singer in a Christian rock band out of Streetsboro, Ohio. Every Sunday she would play as a part of her church’s worship team, improving through the mentorship of older members. As a sophomore in high school, she formed Maddie Finn in order to play the “Tri-C High School Rock Off” in 2010. She was the first female lead singer to win since the competition’s inception in 1997. However, it was Envoi that finally broke Finn out of the Akron-Kent bubble and into the Cleveland music scene. “I’m not your average folky songwriter,” she admits.
The Whiskey Hollow has been a big transition, not only for Finn, but also for her fans. While many have followed her from her power-pop past to this new experimentation in contemporary alternative country, it hasn’t been easy for everyone to accept Envoi’s demise. “I noticed people that followed me and told me they really just loved what I did, and the passion I put into things. You know me, that’s how I’ve always tried to present myself.” Even the musicians she found herself surrounded by were of a slightly different ilk, blending together peers from her past with new friends like Ray Flanagan, Brent Kirby, and Austin Stambaugh.
It has been almost 18 months since Finn began recording with Gabe Swarts at Engine Room Recording, and she has finally been able to lay some of the demons that appeared on the last album to rest. Finn has always worn emotions on her sleeve, or in this case in revealingly expressive facial features exposed by her signature short haircut. “I noticed that I wrote my first song in a major key for the most part the other day, which was really fun for me,” she laughs. “It’s crazy to think that I would ever write happy music, but here I am.”
Finn’s voice holds a convincing twang accompanying acoustic guitar for much of X WATERS while maintaining a controlled, pulsating power so strong it could knock you over. “We did a Sofar Cleveland show and you could hear a pin drop,” a wide-eyed Finn says about one intense performance of the song “Seasons”. “When people are really there to listen to the songs and connect with music on a deep emotional level, you can expect some silence, but I think for Brite Winter it’s going to be a little different.”
For her CD release party, a cast of eleven musicians rotated through the seven songs found on X WATERS at The Grog Shop. The surprise guests were fun while they lasted, but Finn was set on finding a dependable group of musicians to move their sound forward. Finally friends Tom Stankiewicz, drums, Griffin Pereksta, bass, and Liz Bullock, one of Finn’s former students and previous Tri-C Rock Off winner, were incorporated into the mix. The stability has allowed Finn to concentrate on additional live elements such as the organ to give new material they’re writing together a Black Keys flare.
The Whiskey Hollow plans to record a full-band single to be released in the coming month and then a small collection of striped down, acoustic singles. Finn hopes fans will provide feedback as to what their approach on the next album should be. “It’s been hard, because some of them I know are full band tunes,” she says of the fifteen odd tracks already written for a follow-up, “but some of them are not. It’s trying to find the balance and I’ve been learning that about everything in my life: it’s all about balance.”