For a music industry still reeling from the 2020 pandemic as artists and fans debate the pros/cons of vaccination cards or mask mandates before getting the most enjoyment out of a live show, everyone involved should pause to see Maggie Rose in action.
While health concerns are certainly valid, the Nashville-based bundle of energy is the Human Booster Shot we all need right now, guaranteed to stir the emotions and provide a feel-good potion without causing any harmful side effects.
The expressive singer-songwriter who offers a powerful blend of blues, funk, gospel, soul, and rock ’n’ roll (with a dash of Americana) to raise the rafters, is delivering two strong doses of her positive vibes this summer and fall. A long-awaited concert tour that got sadly interrupted in March 2020 has resumed in earnest filled with invigorating tunes preceding the Friday (20 August) release of Have a Seat, Rose’s explosive 11-song album.
“It’s surreal to even say that, but this has been the plan for many, many months,” Rose offers over the phone on 11 August, when she was “doing all the things that one does” on a rare off day in Nashville before hitting the road again. “It just feels so good to get it out there, especially in tandem with all these live shows, and I think it’s become real to me again with just the opportunity to showcase this music with the band.”
If Survival of the Fittest was a company seeking a spokesperson, Rose would be at the head of the pack of applicants. Scratching and clawing to succeed since moving to the Music City in 2008, Rose doesn’t hold back in detailing her career struggles while continuously finding ways to overcome them. Readers are invited to Have a Seat to learn how a Catholic schoolgirl who led a “prim and proper childhood” grew up to become a marvelously entertaining 33-year-old mover-and-shaker for female empowerment and DIY ingenuity.
A Dash to Nashville
Born Margaret Rose Durante on May 19, 1988, in Potomac, Maryland, Maggie grew up singing in church and school choirs while knowing that her family was “incredibly supportive of my love of musicians. … That’s one of the reasons my parents’ heads didn’t explode when I dropped out of college [as a Clemson sophomore] to move [to Nashville] as a teenager. (laughs)
Raised in a town where there wasn’t a “huge creative community to collaborate with and bounce ideas off of,” Margaret Durante was 16 when she joined the New Jersey-based B Street Band to sing Bruce Springsteen covers. A couple of years later, well-known music magnate Tommy Mottola, who had listened to some of her original songs, gave her a valuable piece of advice: Move to Nashville.
While her parents and two sisters — who became attorneys — stayed put in the Maryland/Washington D.C. area, she still jokes about setting off “black-sheep vibes” but feels “they’ve never made me feel weird, just special,” since departing at age 19.
“I can kind of understand why, when I did move to Nashville and I had all these powerful people around me, I was polite,” admits Rose. “I said, ‘Yeah, sure. If that’s what you say, we’ll do that.’ Like I hadn’t really galvanized my own voice.
“I was always a great singer and I was gung-ho and a good worker, but I think the most interesting artists that I want to look up to are the ones who really formed their voices. My parents and my sisters have very much been helpful to me since I’ve pursued this in earnest but having the Nashville environment to comfortably exist in and also learn from and realize you’re a little fish in a big pond has been a really great way to accelerate my learning.”
Yet initially pegged as a country singer might not have been the right career path for someone who told Rolling Stone she admired Bonnie Raitt and Etta James for making “their own timeless albums in this town.”
Signed to Universal Republic in 2009 and with numerous singles released to country radio, Rose remembers, “I was kind of thrown into this whole baptism-by-fire sort of deal where ‘This is how things are done. This is the template.’ You go and promote this single to radio for 60 weeks and kind of live and die by the success of your single on the charts. And I don’t think that anyone around me was not wanting me to succeed, but it certainly isn’t my idea of success.”
After she and the label parted ways a year later, it was time to basically start over.
Still going by Margaret Durante, she did have a couple of singles that landed on the country charts and released one EP (Maybe Tonight) with an independent label in 2011. But the metamorphosis continued in 2012 with a stage name change to Maggie Rose, a new management deal and an attempt to broaden her appeal with the release of Cut to Impress in 2013.
“You just kind of have to lose everything,” Rose declares about reassessing her situation. “I definitely felt like that happened in some way to me from a career standpoint. … I kind of had to downsize to this little apartment. I was completely independent, and I still wanted to do this. I just felt like everything had been kind of taken away, the rug had been pulled out from underneath and it was still plain to me that I was gonna stick around and make music. That’s when I first got to just explore my sound with my own template and not do it in the way that someone else told me how to do it. …
“As a young person knowing that others’ livelihood is entirely depending on you and whether or not you screw this up and make friends at radio and if they like you or not, it didn’t feel like the songs were a priority. It felt like other things were. And I was evaluated on them.”
While Cut to Impress still had country leanings, it was called “one of the more entertaining listens of the year” by Taste of Country. The review of Rose’s full-length album debut also pointed out its “dark, swampy sound,” warned that “her bad girl persona and downright chilling stories” might scare off some loyal followers and concluded she “is at her best singing dark, sexy, rowdy, Muscle Shoals-inspired country songs.”
One thing’s for sure — Rose was headed in the right direction.