Premiere: “Nicotine” by Madeline O’Moore
In her debut song release, the folk pop singer explores the upside of loss.
“Loss” tends to signify something negative: losing a football game, loss of a loved one, loss of your AirPods (if you’re me). It’s rarer that any type of forfeiture feels, somehow, like a gain. And yet life is rife with these moments.
Folk-Pop singer Madeline O’Moore touches on this point in her debut track “Nicotine,” premiering today on V Magazine. The song, written by O’Moore and produced by Jordan Topf of Windser, captures a reflection on a relationship that’s gone awry. Without being some sort of in-you-face breakup anthem, the lyrics carefully tread the thin, bittersweet line between missing someone and feeling relieved to no longer put up with said someone’s bullshit.
O’Moore, originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia and now an LA resident, mixes her experiences DJing, doing theater, playing piano and guitar, and more to create her music—more of which is on its way. In the meantime, enjoy “Nicotine,” below, as well as an interview about the song.
V: The song itself is a good place to start. What’s it about?
Madeline O’Moore: It’s about that feeling of being in a relationship, how much you really care about the negative qualities of someone else, because you love them so much. Not negative qualities, like, “Oh, they’re annoying,” but negative qualities in terms of if they’re hurting themselves, drinking too much, or specifically about smoking too much or doing something that you see is harming them in some sort of way that you wish they wouldn’t do.
You care so much about it when you’re in the relationship because you love the person and you really want what’s best for them. Then when you break up all that energy just doesn’t exist anymore. You’re like, “You know what? I don’t care.”
I think that’s this kind of bittersweet relief. It’s sad to not want the best for somebody anymore. Not even wanting the worst, just feeling ambivalent about it. To feel that spending the mental energy, caring so much about this person’s wellbeing is not worth my time. And it’s also sweet because you think, “This thing that I didn’t like, I don’t have to care about anymore. I don’t need it to be part of my life.” You sort of lost it, and it’s sad that you lost it, but you’re also relieved because it’s not something that is on your plate to worry about anymore. I think it’s that thing of losing a relationship where you just lose all of these parts of someone, the good, the bad, the ugly, it’s all just gone.
V: Do you feel this is a song that you could have written six years ago?
Madeline O’Moore: I don’t think so actually. One, because I felt with songwriting, that I wanted things to be really complicated. I didn’t feel that if it was simple then it was good, melodically mostly. It’s really not hard to sing. I felt that when I would write things, I would not think that they were good enough songs because they didn’t have enough complicated melodic structuring. So, not in that way and content wise.
V: If you write something that’s a really personal song, that’s pretty clearly based on a true experience, do you ever fear, that either the person you wrote the song about is going to hear it or just generally that you’re putting yourself out there in a really vulnerable way?
Madeline O’Moore: I think it’s a really good question. It’s horrible to hear yourself feel things.
It’s so hard. I think that’s why it’s taken me a long time to make music and want to put it out, because who am I to say that my feelings are this important? When people would be like, “I write songs as therapy,” I don’t feel that way.
When I’m really sad, I don’t feel the desire to write. I feel the desire to cry. I’m not in writing mode. I actually didn’t write the lyrics when I was feeling sad. I wrote a lot when I was feeling sad in my journal. I talked a lot with all of my friends and processed a lot. Then I went on a vacation and I listened to my voice memos, just went through all the ones I’d written in the past year. I heard this melody and I thought that’s a good melody. And then I double checked that it wasn’t already a song.
There were no lyrics on it. I just kind of listened to it a lot. And then I wrote the lyrics, but I think they came out so quickly because I wasn’t sitting there being sad. I’d already meditated on these feelings for three months. Now it felt really easy to just get them out. It didn’t feel as vulnerable. It felt like I could really understand what I was trying to say. And so now putting it out doesn’t feel as scary or anything.
What’s so cool about turning something into music is it’s cinematic. It’s auditory, you can take it with you. You can experience it over and over. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about with songs. With art you can always return to it and have the same experience that you want to have over and over and over again. If you and I create a memory together, you know, we do something, we go to France, we do it once and we can always go back to our photos and look at them.
But when you listen to a song you sort of are having an emotional experience. Let’s say you’re listening to Robyn’s “Dancing on Your Own,” which everyone has their own connection to. The first time they hear it, you have this emotional experience of where you are. But every time you have that experience, you can keep going back there. The sensory signifiers are the same. You’ll always have that sound. You just get to go back there all the time. I think that’s the thing about writing a song.
V: I think sometimes you have a creative moment where you’re like, that’s exactly what I’m trying to get across. And I wonder if there’s a specific part of the song.
Madeline O’Moore: Totally. The song is written in a folk structure. Which means that you have just verse, verse, verse, and you don’t even have to have a bridge with a folk structure. It’s usually just verses and I kind of wanted it to be like that because it’s droney. It’s repetitive because I feel what I was going through was so repetitive that I needed to make something that was sort of illustrating the obsession that happens when you’re going through a severe anxiety or depression cycle of just having the same thought over and over and over again. But in some ways it’s so soothing.
I felt that was a really good bed for the song to live in. And then when I wrote something that I was like, “Oh, this is what I’m trying to say,” It was the last verse, which was the first verse, but became the last verse. That I’m sitting inside, and you’re smoking out in the driveway so that I don’t see it, and you’re going to die from all the nicotine.
The reason I wrote “I’m sitting inside” is because I’m like, “Okay, you’re hiding something from me as one does when relationships start to kind of fall apart, we’re hiding the parts and things that we don’t like, because you’re just kind of trying to separate, but without really doing it.”
I always think that really good songwriting is when you can imbue an object with a lot of meaning and it becomes a simple experience. I think that’s why people love the song “Driver’s License,” because it’s just an inanimate object but when you imbue it with this long history of what it means to have freedom et cetera, et cetera. I think that’s really good songwriting. I felt nicotine was a really good word and an example of this thing that held so much meaning to me that just doesn’t mean anything anymore to me.
V: In 2022, for someone who’s just sort of starting to put out music, how do you feel about the landscape?
Madeline O’Moore: It’s really intimidating to the point that I almost don’t want to even have a plan or have expectations because I’m totally afraid of disappointing myself with them and that’s scary. But I feel that for me right now, the idea of, of just starting out, is so daunting. I’m not going to share my shit on TikTok. I’m an adult, so my music’s going to resonate with adults. I’m not going to capture the teenage audience. But I also feel some of my favorite artists of all time have put out music in their later life that has been incredible. Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers.” I mean, he started when he was younger, but some of the work that he did that was the best was when he was older or Carol King put out “Tapestry” when she was 30.
V: But also it’s worth saying that you may be just starting to put out music now, but you also started playing and making music decades ago.
Madeline O’Moore: I’ve been playing music since I was born, so it feels like something that I’ve always done. It’s really intimidating, but I think I just don’t want to do anything inauthentic. Whatever feels right to me is what I’m going to do. I’m not going to make the goal to become something because I hope that whatever I’m making resonates with people and that they care about it.I just hope that what I’m making is landing with the people who want to hear it. And that might require a lot of work to get people to hear it.
I’m also more interested in exploring my songwriting process and writing things that I feel are worthy of putting out and having other people hear them.
But I will say the authenticity part is something I’m really interested in right now. My friend and I are doing open mic nights because I feel everything is so buttoned up. What I enjoy about music is the practice of sharing. I think the thing that has always compelled me is the idea of sitting in a room with someone and watching them talk through or sing through what they’re feeling.
That’s always so much more interesting to me than watching someone perform on Instagram live, even though that has its benefits. And I love the experience of an open mic night because my friend and I went to the most random one in LA. It’s so small. There’s no one there. And the people that are there are literally here because they have something to say, it’s so genuine. It was horrible, but it was so genuine. It was so authentic. And it wasn’t bad because you’re just this person that genuinely feels so strongly about this thing that they made this poem, or this song that they’re here on a random Friday night to perform it in front of 10 strangers. There’s something about that community that’s really sweet and beautiful. I think maybe the pandemic’s made me more excited about that than I am about communities on the internet that feel really foreign. ´Cause I really miss sharing in real life. I think that’s such a beautiful experience.