Madi Diaz Reimagines a Painful Breakup Into a Communal Journey on New EP

Photo by Lili Peper.

It is a rare opportunity to be able to revise our past feelings, like a second draft of an essay, from a time when we were most vulnerable or wrong and give them new meaning. Make our words sound more eloquent, more forgiving. Madi Diaz gets away with doing just that in her latest EP, a capsule of four rerecordings from last year’s breakthrough album History of a Feeling. In Same History, New Feelings, Diaz reaches the apotheosis of her previous project by enlisting four musicians who reimagine the sorrowful and idiosyncratic anger from her brand of lyricism into an entirely communal experience. Now, Diaz has traded the intimacy of her vividly documented break up for a collaborative approach that ostensibly finds the artist seeking to validate her feelings, old and new, through the presence of fellow indie-folk peers.

A maven of heartbreak, Diaz functions within a duality that acknowledges that, although you can’t take back what you said, you could take them back for your own sake and give them new feelings. While History of a Feeling soberly focused on the inevitable post-breakup histrionics — brimful of private and dark revelations — this new project curiously selects four tracks that move the narrative away from the particulars of her past relationship. Diaz’s breakup with her long-time partner, who transitioned after they separated, became the basis of her album. Songs like “Man In Me” and “Woman In My Heart” candidly chronicled the nuanced, sinuous journey of emotions that Diaz confronted with an unembellished production that prioritized her natural gift for vocal melody. 

Just like her feelings, Diaz’s songwriting also resides in a much-desired duality as she has successfully tapped both the indie rock and mainstream pop world (her hit single “Resentment” was first released by Kesha in her 2020 album High Road). No one seems to understand better the value of reimagining songs than Diaz herself. “Think of Me” originally appeared in artist VÉRITÉ’s 2019 album new skin. The two artists wrote the song together, and the result was an anthemic track with a direct, unburdened chorus: “I hope you fuck her with your eyes closed/ And think of me.” 

Diaz is a champion of collaboration as the foundation of her creations, processing and sharing feelings with her peers as they build these songs together. This group-therapy nature of Diaz’s work may be a surprise given the specificity of her lyrics, but, as she’s proven, she doesn’t want to keep anything to herself. This attitude makes her decision to bring artists Waxahatchee, Natalie Hemby, Courtney Marie Andrews, and Angel Olsen an organic progression in her career. 

In this new EP, she presents us with a third rendition of “Resentment,” this time featuring Katie Crutchfield’s Waxahatchee. A decidedly more bluesy version, Crutchfield’s specific brand of twangy Americana yields a melodic conversation between both women, sitting across from each other in a porch under an afternoon sun as they reformulate and sort out their incomprehensible feelings. In this version, Diaz accompanies the previous bareness of guitar chords with a kick drum, giving the track a more urgent impression. Whereas the 2021 version was Diaz reading a diary entry to us, this new delivery is her stepping up a stage, aware of an audience that hangs onto every lyric, which may provide a path out of heartbreak.

“Forever,” an underrated track from History of a Feeling, becomes the standout of this EP as it recognizes Diaz’s powerful vocal performance in the original recording by pairing it with Angel Olsen’s signature melancholia. Olsen opens the track, belting out each lyric as a lament for a past lover that has betrayed or invalidated her feelings. Though the union of Olsen and Diaz demands our attention, the vast soundscape surprises us in its reverberating guitar work, an almost prescient piano, and a layered synth that give it a transcendental and undeniably affecting quality. It is a Diaz song unlike any we’ve heard before as it showcases her versatile, chameleonic artistry, a hint for what’s to come in her career. She thrives in converting ballads that at face value could be saccharine into quiet philosophical explorations of a “feeling” as an evolving state versus an “emotion” as a resolute condition. 

Grammy-nominated artist Courtney Marie Andrews lends her voice in “New Person, Old Place,” a harmonious track steeped in the kind of country-folk that commands us to sing along. It is a testament to Diaz’s faculty for catchy melodies that inherently recognize the power of a pop song. Their burgeoning voices hit the apex of this duet in the closing chorus. “Can’t be a new person in an old place,” Andrews and Diaz plea together at the end, their vocals stepping over each other. This is a track that moves Diaz away from her floundering ways into an emotionally-assertive territory.

It is as though, all along, these tracks have been imagined initially as features due to an innate compatibility that not only brings the best out of these artists but gives Diaz’s project a fortuitous sense of comradeship. All four artists bring their own brand of sentimentality as if they’re standing alongside Diaz on a long, winding road to tell her that they, too, have lived this history before. The outcome is Diaz forcing herself out of this breakup funk and letting these feelings, at last, exist as a tribute to the intensely human experience of love. 

In the track “History of a Feeling,” featuring country songwriter Natalie Hemby, Diaz sounds wholly uninhibited, as if comforted by the presence of Hemby’s memorable vocals. “And I’ve filled my heart where you were always missin’ / Doesn’t that count for something?” No longer just her words to sing alone, no longer just her rhetorical questions being shouted at herself in a mirror. Diaz, with newfound purpose, invites us to be part of her history and embrace new feelings.

Listen to Same History, New Feelings below.