Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
"Try and understand if it isn't too hard."
"I think I understand, Willie," he said.
"Oh shit," Willie said. "You never understand anybody that loves you." - Ernest
Hemingway, "Islands In The Stream"
The way that you break a horse is similar to the way that you break a person. You show it that you love it. Breaking a horse is often seen as an act that helps the horse, an act that tames it and removes the spooked wilderness from its thick muscles and wary, watery eyes. Breaking a person is not typically a triumph, though via love and its many loose structures, it is often approached as sport. Kindness, trust and soft, raw words are all that are needed to accomplish a total breakdown of defenses - a takeover.
Madi Diaz found herself in various states of brokenness before, during and after the making of her new album, "Phantom," a record that lugs a lot of dark clouds and heavy silver linings around, even when some of the minty, pop hooks kick in. She dealt with and survived a lying and cheating man as best she could. Finally gutted, in St. Louis of all places, she returned to her newfound home (after a lengthy/ongoing love affair with Nashville) of Los Angeles, with its Dr. Seuss foliage, and tried to figure it all out. She took long, late, orangey night walks through the misty streets and along the continually brooding ocean and tried to return substance to her vapors. She gets a line such as Hemingway's above, about never understanding anybody that loves you, adding for consideration that you never understand anybody who doesn't love you either.
She had fallen in love. It wasn't the first time, "but it felt like it may as well have been. It was wide and warm and grown up enough to really feel like I was right there in it and not just wandering around, tumbling in some crazed love dream state," she explains. She'd been spending the last two years, since moving to LA, going on writing binges with other songwriters/music crushes, until she met Nick Ruth, a writer and producer who coincidentally used to play house parties for her ex. The first time they got together, they spent hours doing nothing but talking, eating Mexican food and drinking margaritas. From there, they traveled to and shaped that two-faced dark side that Diaz had been confronting on her own. The first song to really crack the code in their working relationship was "The Other Side," a tale of a silver-tongued serpent - the perfect encapsulation of the shape shifter she'd been so intimate. It gives off a slithery eerieness that moves into a collision course with the very weight of her love's evaporation. The echoes and the faint feelings get painted back hotter and brighter, the colors and the breaths brushing across an unwilling face or neck.
The conflicting emotions that stir everything into madness at the point of a breakup are everywhere on "Phantom," where one moment is a kiss-off and another is sweetly reminiscent of smoky, dark rooms and all-night drives into the mountains and the stars, as heard on, "Dancing In The Dark." There's no helping the sense of abandonment and still there's nothing to be done, but to process the pain and just roll with it. All of Diaz' hurt has a role here. It serves as the catalyst and the rebirth. It serves as the search and the findings. It acts as a healing agent as it bleeds itself out. The romantic dreamer in Diaz was chasing a feeling and what she wound up with was a better one, one that sounds like new life. Love's always best two-out-of-three and the horse awaits the next saddle.