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As an artist, Vancouver-native Madeline Merlo personifies her coastal upbringing - and nothing states that case stronger than the laid back, seemingly effortless feel to her sound. With fresh, fun and, occasionally, quirky melodies, and an unmatched depth in both vocals and lyrical storytelling, her music bridges the perfect pop-country gap. “I want people to have fun when they listen to my music… But I also want to be able to say something at the same time.” Merlo delivers a little bit of both with her upcoming release - a trio of singles including “If You Never Broke My Heart,” “It Didn’t,” and Canadian radio single “Kiss, Kiss,” out April 24.
Raised in a musical household that celebrated all genres, Merlo’s sound was influenced by everyone from Etta James and Fleetwood Mac to Martina McBride and the Dixie Chicks. The daughter of a touring musician father, her parents owned a live music venue where she began honing her skills early on. “It was pretty apparent from the start that I was a creative kid, and my mom nurtured it, driving me all over to perform in singing competitions, musical theater - I was even in a few commercials.”
But it was a serendipitous run-in during an audition that really kicked off Merlo’s career in music. Heard through the walls by Canadian rocker Dan Swinimer at just 16, the former Jet Black Stare member promptly hired her for demo work. One of the songs Merlo cut on Swinimer’s behalf - “Sinking Like A Stone” - made its way into the hands of the program director at her hometown station, 93.7 JR Country, who promptly called Merlo into his studio. “He picked up the phone and started calling labels. I couldn’t believe it.” The song became her first radio single and spent 20 weeks on the Canadian country charts. Merlo’s buzz caught the attention of industry veteran Ron Kitchener, who signed her to his Universal imprint Open Road at 17.
Around the same time, she began taking frequent trips to Nashville for meetings and co-writes. Merlo’s next big break came in 2015 when she won CCMA’s Rising Star Award. She released a series of successful singles, including “Honey Jack,” “War Paint,” “Over & Over,” “Motel Flamingo” and “Whatcha Wanna Do About It” - which was her first Top 10 at Canadian country radio and featured on SiriusXM’s #OnTheHorizon. She also hit the road, sharing the stage with Keith Urban, Willie Nelson, Paul Brandt, Dean Brody and Tim Hicks.
In 2016, Merlo made her feature film debut when she co-starred with artist and actress Jana Kramer in Country Crush - further fueling plans to make her trips to Nashville a permanent move. After a meeting with former This Music creative director Rusty Gaston, those plans were put in motion. “I’d gotten my single ‘Whatcha Wanna Do About It’ from Rusty and This Music. When I met with him, he complimented my music, then said ‘It’s too bad you don’t live here.’ Something clicked. I went home, packed a U-Haul, and made the move.”
Since relocating to Music City in 2017, much of Merlo’s time has been spent writing. “I gave myself a year from the day I moved to land a publishing deal. I was offered a deal from Deluge 10 months in...” She continues to push the musical envelope, bringing her own brand of pop-country to studios and stages. In 2018, she performed with Shania Twain at the CCMA Awards in a tribute to her childhood idol and fellow Canadian. “It was incredible. She was such a role model for me growing up, and it was such an honor getting to work with her.” Most recently, she hit the stage as a contestant on NBC show Songland. Merlo’s episode airs April 13th.
Perhaps Merlo’s continued success is primarily due to her efforts to strive for more. Despite much accomplished, she has her sights set on more. “Where to next? It’s time to take on the U.S. A U.S. label deal, a spot on the Grand Ole Opry stage, a performance at Bridgestone Arena. I want to do it all.”
Get to know Madeline Merlo on ET Canada.