Channeling her inner Lana Del Rey, the Nashville upstart crafts a distinctively chill vibe.
"The taste of you should be long gone," Nashville up and comer Mags Duval chews on the potency of cinnamon gum on one of her longest-lasting memories of a date. The staunch aroma and savory flavor of Big Red gum is burned onto her memory. "I went on a date with this guy in Nashville. He was wearing a denim jacket with a pack of cigarettes in one pocket and a pack of Big Red gum in the other," Duval reflects over a Popdust email. "He was your stereotypical 'bad boy,' and he had a motorcycle and everything. I was seventeen, and I knew my parents wouldn't be too happy about it, so that was our first and last date. He kissed me and it tasted like cinnamon gum."
"[This song], honestly, came so naturally. I grew up listening to 90s R&B/hip-hop that my older brothers listened to, so I love those drum sounds," she adds about the song's syrupy sweet arrangement. "I was also vocally trained on old jazz tunes (Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday). Those sounds all came together for me in this song, especially."
"I've gone out with a couple other guys," she later muses on the second verse. "Nobody makes me feel like you did, though. I need your sugar and your spice." The imagery is engrossing, like a '50s noir film starring Marilyn Monroe. Co-written with John Hill and county music stalwart Luke Laird--which happens to be "one of the first songs" she wrote with them--"Cinnamon Gum" lingers on the senses. It is the vivacious percussion which hammers home the sugary storyline. "Luke and I got to John's studio in Santa Monica, and John started playing the bare bones of this track. It was just drums and a synth pad at the time, and I immediately started singing the chorus," she explains of how the song's succulent and muggy layers came into play. "We went back in the studio later and built out the track. I was primarily involved in the vocal production side of things while Luke and John collaborated on building the track."
Even when Duval wrote the song, she "saw it in color." She adds: "In the chorus, the line 'tried peppermint, spearmint, tried to move on' is reminiscent of attempting to move on from this person. I saw the song in red (cinnamon), blue (peppermint) and green (spearmint), but it always comes back to red."
Duval previously released the guitar-glossed, dusty banger "Pink Cadillac" and the slow-simmering "Stay Lonely," both of which also sample her forthcoming EP (out later this year). "I'll be releasing songs every eight to ten weeks and will eventually package the first five or six into an EP. I love having the freedom with releasing music digitally to slowly reveal these pieces to the puzzle," she says.
"All of the songs I write mean something personal to me, but there is nothing like the feeling of getting them out there and having them mean something to someone else. I just love getting to connect with people through music," she shares. Her stylistic cohesiveness is engaging, allowing her mellow vocal to flicker between biting and melancholic--but all the while possessing a calming electricity. Having moved to Nashville five years ago, she admits to undergoing tremendous personal and artistic growth, as you can hear rising out of each of her tracks so far.
"There are these two girls, April Geesbreght and Tiffany Vartanyan, that I love working with. We wrote several songs together that I will be releasing soon, but they also sang background vocals on my entire project," Duval notes of two of her go-to collaborators. "The three of us are like a 1950's girl-group; coming up with cool background parts and harmonies is our favorite."
"This town really appreciates the craft of songwriting. I get asked pretty often, 'Why Nashville and not LA since you make pop music?' Honestly, this all started for me with my writing and Nashville has been the best possible place for me to develop," she considers. Currently, Nashville is in the midst of a pop renaissance, of sorts. From such featured acts as My Red + Blue, Dalton Diehl, Jake McMullen and Annalia, the city is living up to its nickname: Music City. It's a melting pot bubbling over with a vast array of styles, including rock, blues, jazz and hip-hop. She also notes such acts as R.LUM.R and Nightly who are also making big waves.
"I just do my best to stay true to who I am, honestly. The minute you allow yourself to start thinking about making music in that light, it takes the joy out of the process," Duval says of attempting to break through the crowd--the proliferation of aspirating singers, songwriters and musicians in recent years is thanks, in huge part, to the hit soapy drama Nashville. The TV series (now airing on CMT) not only hones in on the private lives of country stars but brings songwriting and recording into stark focus. When contemplating her own strengths and weaknesses as a songwriter, Duval offers up a thoughtful response, saying, "Lyrics are probably my strength, I just love words. I'm kind of a nerd about it...I love to read and get inspired that way and think of interesting ways to express myself, lyrically. That being said, I definitely benefit from working with writers who bring something musically inspiring to the table, such as weird chords, an interesting beat or other production ideas to build around."
Nashville, of course, is most known as a country music town, a genre she did toy with previously. "When I was around fourteen I absolutely considered [country music]. I play piano and guitar and usually start writing most of my songs that way, so it could've gone either way production-wise," she says. "However, it never felt totally natural to me to make country music as an artist. I grew up in south Florida, and it wasn't the music I grew up on, but I have such a deep respect and appreciation for the storytelling aspect of the genre."
Take a listen to "Cinnamon Gum" below:
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