The Mile High City transplant and producer Maddy O’Neal texted me 10 minutes before our face-to-face conversation. “I’m over here rn just gonna eat these tacos and then I’ll be good to go,” she typed. This 71-character message was a solid indicator of what was to come—O’Neal’s chill demeanor and unpretentious personality. We sat down on glorified lawn furniture in a soggy, makeshift North Coast Music Festival media tent when she inquired about my buddy Laura’s inconspicuous Phish shirt. Maddy O’Neal graciously shared childhood tales, what chaos led to her joining CHERUB on their current Free Form Tour, the trials and tribulations of creating a third solo release as well as maintaining an admirable devotion to the ’90s English teen pop quintet Spice Girls.
Why does playing a longstanding event such as Chicago’s NCMF further your career?
There’s a much deeper community surrounding every festival, especially Chicago. Last night, I came to town and felt like it was like my second home: I ran into Manic Focus‘ JmaC and went to Breaking Biscuits at Concord Music Hall. It’s a reflection of this city’s culture.
How has your brother Evan inspired you outside the realm of music?
We were super close growing up. He always brought his friends over to hang out, and I wanted to be in the know; he was really cool about letting me do that. A lot of older brothers would have said “Get out of here. I’m hanging out with my friends.”
My dad used to have a barn in St. Louis’ countryside. We’d always throw barn parties. My brother would bring all of his friends, and I would bring a couple of my friends. We would hang out, and they would play music. Those were definitely some cool memories because that was when we merged our friend group and realized it was cool to kick it with each other.
Name the first LP that changed your freaking life.
All of the Spice Girls albums. I went to a bunch of their shows. My dad was a lawyer for someone who was running the big amphitheater in St. Louis, so he got me front row tickets. I was freaking the fuck out.
How has papa O’Neal’s rock ‘n’ roll sound infiltrated your art?
My dad was really into The Band. I remember watching a documentary on The Band with him and being super inspired by it. After my dad passed away, one of his friends reached out and said: “Your dad told me that one of the things he was most proud of is that you have soul.”
Where did the title Dream State originate?
I thought about the progression of my albums. My first album was ‘Introspect.’ It was a phase in my career when I was internalizing where I was at. It was about personal growth. With ‘Parallels,’ I dove deeper into what I was doing and direct reflections of manifesting things. ‘Dream State’ is a reflection of how my life has been moving very fast. I feel disconnected from my own life. I’m living in this euphoric state of mind.
When did the Manic Focus and ProbCause tracks come about?
I’ve been working on this album over the past year. I’ve been on the road a ton, so it’s been really difficult to sit down and get in the zone. Collaborations are really cool because I’ll start an idea and maybe get stuck on it or need another pair of ears. Initially, I sent JmaC a couple of different songs and let him pick which one he was feeling. Then, we went back and forth from there.
The ProbCause one started out as more of a hip-hop beat. I knew it needed something else but didn’t know what it was. The engineer I was working with was like, “You should totally get a rapper on this.” I started brainstorming about who would be a good fit. I sent it to Colin [ProbCause], and he sent me one verse. Then, I didn’t hear from him for two months and thought our collaboration wasn’t going to make the cut. Randomly, he sent me another email with the rest of it a couple weeks before I put out the album. We rushed and finished it.
You try to plan out an album, but you just can’t. The name and everything else just kind of come together magically at the end. That’s how it should be.
Who introduced you to JmaC?
Probably through a festival and mutual friends. That’s how I met a lot of people like JmaC. I met him five years ago at Wakarusa in Mulberry Mountain, Ark. I happened to pull up in an RV with one of my friends, and his bus broke down. I rolled up, and it was three of us in an RV. He was like, “Do you guys have room in there?” I said “Yep.” We let him stay in the RV, and that’s when we became really good friends.
Rehash the funkiest experience you’ve had with CHERUB’s Jordan Kelley and Jason Huber.
They are some of the happiest, most energetic people I’ve ever met. Our friend actually lived in Bangkok for two years, and he met some guy that owned a club in Bangkok. They merged ideas and started this mini-festival in the middle Bangkok called the Bangkok Block Party.
That was my first time going anywhere outside of the U.S. and Canada, so that’s when we really kicked it. I’ve known them for a while, but we totally bonded when we were out there together. I think that’s when they knew I could hang on tour too. Jason and I went up to Chiang Mai, saw a bunch of temples and hung out with elephants.
What is Maddy O’Neal giving back to Denver’s local music scene?
Not enough. I go to other people’s shows to show my support. There’s a really cool thing that Big G is doing. It’s called Youth on Record. They started this computer lab and teach kids about production. I want to be a part of something like that. I want to create a safe place.