If the L.A. pop-rocker’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ reminds you of the ‘Mean Girls’ soundtrack, well, that was the plan
"All this time we were just making music we liked."
As Maddie Ross worked towards her debut album, she and her producer-writing partner Wolfy noticed a common thread in the response to her two previous EPs. "We got all sorts of comparisons like, 'You sound like Avril Lavigne,'" Ross remembers. "[2017 single] '"You’re Still My Sugar'" sounds like the end credits for a rom com.' Wolfy took in all the data and was like, 'People are saying this — what if we did something like that? Let’s lean in, let's write songs that score a teen movie.'"
Never Have I Ever — released last Friday (May 10) their own Sentimental Records — is exactly that: an album based around the narrative arc of a made-up teen popcorn flick.
"The first two songs are like showing up to school, meeting the hot people, meeting the cliques and all that," Ross explains. "Then, track three 'My House Is Bigger Than Your House' is the raging party, when you meet the girl. Track five, 'Liv Tyler,' is the midpoint where the plot’s set in motion: Okay, I’m gonna try to date the popular girl, I’m gonna totally change myself. Towards the end of that act, you’re realizing you're not being true to yourself. The last third is the redemption, which happens to be my favorite part. It’s being like, 'Fuck it, I fell in love for real, I’m gonna come out to my family and friends, I’m gonna be unabashedly in love, I’m gonna make out as the credits roll with the girl of my dreams.'"
For Ross, the concept also highlgihted the sort of happy-ending queer relationship she's experienced herself (she and Wolfy have been partners since their college days at USC) but rarely got to see in their childhood's seminal rom coms. "I realized I wanted to say, yes I am a lesbian, I’ve been dating a girl for five and a half years. It’s pretty safe to say and it’s who I am. My relationship is adorable and exciting and I just wanted to showcase it all. And hopefully influence someone else to feel positive about it."
Ross guided us through the films that shaped her upbringing, the making of Never Have I Ever, and the J-14-parody tween magazine (!!!) she and Wolfy made to accompany it.
SPICE WORLD (1997) SELENA (1997)
Movies were my way into music in a lot of ways. I wasn’t traditionally trained and I didn’t take guitar lessons. I never felt like a musician’s musician. I saw Selena and Spice Girls when I was in kindergarten and both movies shaped my life. I was so fascinated by the music and the characters. I would listen obsessively.
I got in trouble in kindergarten for faking sick so I could go home and listen to my Selena album. The babysitter caught me jumping on the bed doing a fake concert. I was singing in Spanish — but like, obviously didn’t speak Spanish when I was five — so was I just mimicking the sounds I heard. I was obsessed with Selena. My mom made me go to the principal’s office the next day and tell her I faked sick and promise I wouldn’t do it again. [Laughs.]
As we were pre-teens and just starting to do the whole sleepover thing, Clueless was on everyone’s consciousness: "Oh, have you seen Clueless?" It was my archetype for a rom com: This is the type of movie geared towards me. The type of movie I should like is Clueless. It definitely impacted me a lot but not as much as…
MEAN GIRLS (2004)
I was in 6th grade when it came out. Every single girl in my grade except for me and two other girls went to see it at the mall together — I was one of three people who didn’t see Mean Girls… But I’m totally over it, I’m fine!
Mean Girls is probably the single most influential movie of my lifetime. Tina Fey is so fucking brilliant. I don't think I'm alone — most people in my generation can quote 15 to 30 Mean Girls references at any given time. I think it's a perfect movie. You can't even hear [Missy Elliott's] "Pass That Dutch" without picturing the shot of the Plastics walking down the hallway. That inspired "Get My Picture" for sure…. Samantha Ronson's "Built This Way" at the end of the dance scene I definitely used as sonic inspiration for the songs on this album.
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU(1999)
Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) is just a badass, the archetype of someone who is a badass and doesn’t need a man. As a closeted kid who was not aware about my sexuality in any way, I was like, 'Oh something about that registers with me, wonder what it is!'
CAN'T HARDLY WAIT (1998)
It's kind of like Superbad, how it all takes place over one crazy night. Any time a new character is introduced, it’s with some awesome song playing in the background. When you see Jennifer Love Hewitt for the first time it’s awesome: she’s obviously so beautiful and they’ve been hyping her up through the movie. She walks into the party and everyone stops and stares at her and that Sneaker Pimps song, '6 Underground' plays. It’s one of the best synchs I’ve ever seen in my life.
We really wanted to recreate that for the moment in our teen movie [on "Miracle"], where you lay eyes on the girl of your dreams for the first time: you’re at a party and suddenly, gotta play it cool, gotta play it cool. Holy shit, she’s coming towards me, gotta act natural!
EASY A (2010)
It should have been more popular! It stars Emma Stone and it's based off The Scarlet Letter. She’s reading it in class and then someone spreads a rumor that she slept with someone, so she really leans into it and pretends like she’s sleeping with everyone.
There are some really good synchs. There’s a big Jessie J song ['Sexy Silk'] that’s so awesome. There’s also this Natasha Bedingfield synch in it — it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. She gets a card from her grandparents and it’s one of those singing cards, playing 'Pocket Full Of Sunshine.' She’s like, 'Oh fuck this song.' So there's this montage where she’s opening the card and dancing along, 'I got a –, I got a –, I got a –…' It’s this running joke through the entire movie, it’s brilliant. That movie really influenced [Wolfy and I] a lot.
ORANGE COUNTY (2002)
Colin Hanks plays a writer who feels like an outcast. But at the same time he has a deep love for his hometown, his family, and all of the people who made him who he is. He spends the whole movie trying to get out of his hometown and into Stanford, like, "That's where I'll learn to be a writer." But by the end of it he realizes everything that inspires him is already there.
It was one of the most important movies to my family. All five of us liked it so we watched the DVD all the time. My sister just got into Stanford, so over Christmas we were like, "Oh, gotta watch it!" There's this awesome "Butterfly" by Crazy Town synch in it, and I was in the middle of working on "Get My Picture." I have the "Go down my lady" line — that whole section is a shout out to the "Come my lady…" part from "Butterfly."
HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS (2003) 13 GOING ON 30 (2004)
There are a lot of rom coms that portrayed women who work in magazines, like in 13 Goin on 30 and How to Lose a Guy In 10 Days… I thought that was very fun movie job for a girl to have! The main characters play magazine editors. It was part of pop culture; when you’re playing imaginary games as a kid, [you're] like, "Oh I’m gonna be a magazine editor."
Wolfy had the idea to do the magazine… This whole time she was like, "We have to commit to this [teen movie] concept 100%." She’s been saying that from the beginning when she had the idea for the album, before we even wrote it. She was like, "We gotta do pictures, we gotta recreate these scenes, we gotta go all in… It won’t come across if you half ass it." She was like, "Look at this J-14 magazine cover: they have neon green neon pink, yellow, and orange!" It's all loud and in your face. The way they talk to readers is so cartoonish. It's so funny that was the media we were consuming.
Once we got it going, I just went crazy with it. I was on my computer for three days straight, not doing any work that needed to be done, just making this fake magazine.
I was like, "Maybe we should do a traditional press kit, just in case?" Because in the past when doing press, we’ve tried to send funny emails or whatever and then, everyone was like, "No, people want a short, clean email in a simple format." It’s hard to know how creative and fun we can be with it, but like, we’re not professionals. We’re just two girls making fun stuff and this is what would make me laugh if it showed up in my inbox. So we just did it.
Find Ross' upcoming tour dates with KT Tunstall here; find the magazine in its entirety here.