Madelyn Grant elegantly charts a new creative course.
The Detroit neo-soul singer-songwriter opted for a classic Motown-inspired sound on her debut EP, Purpose, after forging an initial electronic, trip-hop pathway.
“I love the sound of Emancipator and FKJ, but after touring and performing with them, I realized I wanted to capture more of that Amy Winehouse-Sade vibe. At that moment with electronic music, I wanted to go more in an organic direction of being live with everyone in the studio, and I think these songs lend themselves to that,” Grant said.
“I’ve got this combination of songs, and they sound like Motown, Al Green, Bill Withers and Stevie Wonder. They don’t sound like sound like trip-hop, FKJ or Emancipator. The people who helped arrange these songs with me were U-M jazz school alumni, and they added some jazz influences in there.”
Grant beautifully jazzes up her nostalgic, soulful project across five introspective, fervent tracks. Out today via all streaming platforms, Purpose delves beneath the surface and explores the challenges of reaching self-actualization during a personal transformation.
“After listening back to these songs and realizing this intense process I went through creating this EP, I had this image of a butterfly that kept coming into my mind. When moths and butterflies go through this transformation and reach their final stage, they have to go through this intense cycle. It’s not always pretty, but in the end you’re left with something that’s worth waiting and being patient for,” she said.
Finding ‘Purpose’ and ‘Reasons’
As the first spellbinding stop on the Purpose journey, the groovy, contemplative title track instantly permeates the mind and soul as glistening keys, rhythmic finger snaps, vibrant horns, thumping bass and steady drums instill a renewed sense of confidence. Grant reflects, “How do you measure/Happiness and pleasure/Let me take one guess/You base it on success.”
“It goes back to that time in my life where I was involved in meditating weekly and going on walking meditations. That level of being present really lent itself towards me writing this song. I actually took a walk after I heard the melody in my head, and I sat down with a journal,” Grant said.
“I just stream of consciousness wrote the lyrics down, and it was a testament to what I was feeling at the time. I was discovering this new part of myself, which was music. But in terms of writing and recording music, I realized, ‘What if my purpose is to make music? What would it be like to lean into that side of things and trust myself to follow it?’”
After discovering her initial sense of “Purpose,” Grant sashays along her reflective, groove-filled adventure to find the “Reasons” for making her next move. Booming electronic drums, tingling cymbals, shimmery keys, throbbing bass and exuberant horns quickly reveal the way forward.
Grant openly sings, “The daylight’s shining through/But I’m still stuck in déjà vu/Getting tired of the same old place/I woke up in a dream/Now I’m rippin’ at the seams/Resistance shatters me to pieces.”
“I was listening to a lot of Earth, Wind & Fire, D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill, so the harmonies were inspired by all of those people. I was sitting down one day, and I was working two jobs at the time. I felt really frustrated because I wanted to spend so much time on music, but I only had a limited amount of time and energy. I was feeling really stuck and kept ruminating about possibly moving to LA, but I didn’t have enough money,” Grant said.
“I was also reading ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield, and he talks about the concept of resistance and how it’s an arch nemesis for creatives. Instead of creating, we resist it by eating, watching TV and going on our computers and phones. For me, it was a combination of feeling really stuck, but still resisting this creative process and finding reasons why I should stay.”
Grant celebrates the “Reasons” for staying in a carefree video directed by Joseph Cavanaugh. Filmed inside Detroit’s Michigan Building parking garage, Grant dances and glides underneath the weathered, ornate ceiling of the former Michigan Theater. It’s invigorating to see her spin, twirl and reach throughout the buoyant video.
“I’m dancing and feeling in comfortable in my body throughout this video. It was a huge discovery for me in the process of making it. I think dance is really healing when it comes to feeling present in your body and feeling at ease. For me, the dancing is another exploration of what it means to be a creative, especially in Detroit as a dance-centric city,” she said.
Despite staying in her current environment, Grant continued to battle internal frustrations on “Can’t Get Out” as pounding bass, sheeny keys, clicking cymbals, calm drums, tranquil electric guitars, ascending strings and thoughtful trumpet urge her to keep trying.
Grant soulfully sings, “Try to escape this reality/It’s haunting/Lost a spark that ignited my energy/And now too you wanna change me/You wanna fit me to your mold and rearrange me/I’m just trying to break free from these chains.”
“‘Can’t Get Out’ is in a similar vein to ‘Reasons.’ The idea came a lot earlier than when the song was finished. I always think of the colors purple and maroon, which reflected the mood I was in when I wrote the song. There was a lot of rumination and a combination of feeling stuck, but also stuck in your head and not being able to find a way out,” she said.
“With music, I was feeling kind of boxed in at the time with people thinking I was just this EDM singer. I didn’t want to stay in a box that other people create for you.”
Grant easily stepped outside her EDM box on Purpose and collaborated with My Dear Disco/Ella Riot co-founder and producer Tyler Duncan. She invited a talented roster of guest musicians to bring a fresh, neo-soul sound to Purpose, including Julian Allen (drums), James Cornelison (bass), Vulfpeck’s Woody Goss (keys), Marcus Elliot (sax), Willy Wang (trombone), John Douglas (trumpet), Ingrid Racine (trumpet), Jeremy Kittel (strings/string arrangements) and Katie Van Dusen (strings/string arrangements).
With Duncan at the helm, Grant recorded Purpose’s five tracks with Allen, Cornelison and Goss in Ann Arbor. It was an intense weeklong recording session that produced the vibrancy and spirituality that’s woven throughout Grant’s debut project.
“I met Tyler through the Michigan music scene, and I asked him if he would produce this EP for me. I call him a wizard because he’s just so present and knowledgeable, and he has that genius quality. He summons this energy that makes you feel really calm, focused and centered. In terms of production, he has so much experience being in bands and being a master of his craft,” Grant said.
Carving a Soulful Pathway
Grant started finding her soulful groove while growing up in Royal Oak and joining choir in middle school. Along with her classmates, she sang music from “Wicked” during her seventh grade choir concert and discovered a natural ability to perform before a crowd.
“The year after that I sang a lot of Motown music and ended up doing duets, including ‘Respect’ by Aretha Franklin, with my best friends. My dad was also into music, and he would play Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. He’s the reason I discovered Motown music,” said Grant, who’s also inspired by Adele, Sara Bareilles and Feist.
Grant stayed in choir throughout high school and later joined an a cappella group while attending the University of Michigan. That served as a turning point for Grant, who originally majored in biology, but decided to pursue music instead.
“My friend introduced me to this group called ODESZA, and they were looking for female vocalists. I decided, ‘Why not? They were my favorite group at the time. I might as well send them a demo and see what they think,’” she said.
“I sent them music while I was on winter break, and they messaged me back saying they wanted to use my voice in this song. I realized from that point on the internet is such a connective thread for musicians and creators. I saw this world of opportunity that opened up to me from that collaboration.”
That fateful collaboration resulted in Grant’s mesmerizing vocals on ODESZA’s 2014 EDM smash, “Sun Models,” which has racked up nearly 164 million streams on Spotify alone. It wasn’t long after her initial ODESZA collaboration that Grant teamed up with FKJ (aka French Kiwi Juice) and Emancipator to provide vocals for several of their electronic and trip-hop tracks.
“It was a lot of emailing back and forth and me producing my vocals and figuring that out as I went along. I ended up going on tour with FKJ and Emancipator, and it was the wildest thing to graduate from college and then go on tour,” Grant said.
Grant joined FKJ and Emancipator for tours in 2015 and 2016, including stops in New York City, Chicago and Detroit as well as the east and west coasts. It served as an initial, welcoming taste of life on the road with emerging electronic acts.
“When I went on tour with FKJ, we did a show in Times Square. That was the craziest thing that I could imagine at that moment. We pulled up, and I thought, ‘This is insane,’” she said.
After returning from the road, Grant focused on writing and recording Purpose and DJing live sets on the side in Detroit. She also joined the Motown Accelerator program, which provides mentorship, industry connections and grant money for aspiring musicians.
“It meant the world to me because I grew up on Motown music, and the artists associated with Motown are some of my biggest heroes. Purpose also sounds like a Motown reminiscent album,” she said.
Grant will celebrate the release of Purpose with soul and R&B jams at 8 p.m. tonight through a Club Velvet livestream show on Instagram. She also will release additional new solo and collaborative material later this year.
“I have a new single that’s almost ready, and I definitely plan on releasing new music soon after this EP. I’ve also been writing a lot of music with my friend Jacob Sigman, and we’ll get some songs out into the ether soon,” Grant said.