Madison Kozak likes to explain her songwriting process as writing “with minor chords and major feelings.”
“I love bringing oddly specific real-life topics and emotions I’ve experienced into the writing room and working to find the relatable, universal elements in what feels like a very personal song idea,” Kozak tells American Songwriter. “To me, there’s something so comforting to hearing pieces of your individual story or truth in a song, it promotes the feeling of we’re all a lot more alike than we think.”
This duality that Kozak finds comfort in is perhaps one reason why music is often considered a universal language. There’s a sound, a chord progression, a melody for every emotion. Have a blue, blue day? Turn on Billie Holiday. Have the time of your life? Turn on The Beach Boys or some modern pop music.
But then again, the beauty of this universal language is that everyone learns it in slightly different ways. For instance, Kozak was first drawn to music as a young kid in Ontario, Canada, when she heard her “dad playing guitar and singing country-folk songs around the kitchen table at night,” as she recalls. She was fascinated by the electromagnetic pull that melodies have on people. And so, at nine years old, Kozak remembers paying close attention to each lyric her father sang; she wanted to somehow harness that attractive force. This fascination ultimately proved to be a gateway to more country music, and soon, Kozak was imitating the southern twang of Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton.
Several years later and several influences later, Kozak took a page out of her country heroes’ books and wrote a sad country song. The song in question, “First Last Name” is reminiscent of Carrie Underwood’s “All-American Girl” in its ability to evoke those feelings of a father-daughter relationship, but stands out thanks to Kozak’s unique spin.
“I never set out to be the girl who sings songs that make people cry, but after seeing the way that this song connected with audiences, I think I stopped chasing the idea that I need to have an up-tempo smash that people can drink to to make an impact,” Kozak says.
“First Last Name” became Kozak’s breakout hit and helped her lock down a record deal on Nashville’s all-female label Songs & Daughters. Now, with the success of that single in her back pocket, Kozak is unafraid to trust her gut and act on her natural instincts. After all, when in the business of emotions, following your heart is usually a good idea.
Today, Kozak followed her heart all the way to writing the poignant song “What Does Sorry Mean.” More specifically, Kozak wrote the tune over Zoom with friends/collaborators Andy Skib and Thomas Finchum. “There were some big conversations going on in country music at the time and they were weighing heavily on us,” Kozak says of writing “What Does Sorry Mean.”
“I sang the demo vocal in my bedroom, Andy sent us back a mix, and the next day I started getting texts from several people at the label saying, ‘Woah, what is this song?!’” she says.
Sonically, Kozak explains that “What Does Sorry Mean” is a “cocktail” of her favorite ingredients from country music. She blends “a brutally honest lyric, heartbreak-infused melodies, and a crying steel guitar,” to complete her concoction. And at the highest level, Kozak leaned into tried and true inspirations, Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson, for a timeless polish.
“I’m really proud of this single because it feels like a mature departure from where I first started with my releases in 2019,” Kozak says. “I hope when listeners dive into my catalog of songs out there from 2019 to now, they feel like they’re kind of growing up with me. I was 21 when I signed my publishing deal with Big Loud out of Belmont University, and I think the topics I want to sing about now are proof that a lot of life has happened since then.”
Check out the music video for “What Does Sorry Mean” below. It’s a personal take on the stream of conscious lyricism found in the song itself.
Photo by Kate Gallaher/Big Loud PR