Maddy O’Neal Collaborates With Members of STS9, Lettuce, the Motet and More on New Album

EDM producer Maddy O’Neal is in a state of evolution. The release of her sophomore album, Ricochet, sees O’Neal expanding her palate and embracing new genres, recording techniques, sound design and collaboration.

When she started producing in 2010, O’Neal considered herself a sample-based beatmaker, digging through vinyl records, searching for the deepest cuts that she could assimilate, manipulate and osmose into her own brand of funk-loaded EDM. However, throughout the process, she felt that the space and texture that she saw many of her contemporaries accomplishing was missing from her body of work.

“I actually took a month, month and a half, creating a palette, creating a vision for what I wanted this project to be,” says O’Neal. She put an emphasis on sound design by diving into the ins and outs of synthesis, resulting in a sound that she says is more textured and full-bodied than that of her previous releases.

Despite her concentration on sound design, sampling is still at the core of what she does. However, for this record, instead of ripping off other people’s intellectual property, O’Neal reached out to a network of musicians to lay down instrumental tracks, guided by her direction. The most predominant example is found in the song “Affected,” a collaboration with scene stalwarts Ryan Montbleau, Motet guitarist Ryan Jalbert, STS9 bassist Alana Rocklin, Lettuce trumpeter Benny Bloom, and indie-pop trio WhyAwake. The track opens with crescendos of synths and vocal harmonizations, which give way to a punchy, disco-infused rhythm laden with an incisive kick drum and a stylish, g-funk bass line. Floating in the frequencies above its rhythm sits Jalbert’s reverb-tinged funk guitar and the vocalizations of Montbleau, which oscillate between spoken-word verses and melodic choruses.

Like a lot of art, “Affected” was never meant to materialize the way that it did. All O’Neal wanted was a sample-based nod to disco, so she had started with a basic drumbeat and layered in some organ. Realizing that the classic disco vibe is synonymous with rhythmic guitar, she tapped her partner, Jalbert, to track some licks.

“After I heard his guitar, I was like, ‘No, there’s no way that I can play something as funky as [what] this track needs,’” recalls O’Neal. “So I sent the song to Alana from STS9, and she loved the idea, recording it the next week.” What resulted was a perfect pocket bass that she says she is incapable of making as funky as Rocklin did. “Then [all these collaborators] just snowballed from there,” says O’Neal. However, rather than using these instrumentals in their raw form, she decided to treat them like samples, chopping them up to create something new.

After rearranging the audio, O’Neal realized that she needed some horns. At first she tried to sample some, but they sounded flat, so she tapped Bloom, who “nailed it, of course,” she says. Originally, O’Neal intended the song to be instrumental. However, after all of these collaborations, she realized that it was missing vocals to give it a more textured element. Her manager suggested that she tap Montbleau, since they are both represented by Mammoth Music Group. He was into the idea. Then, needing backing vocals, O’Neal tapped her friends in WhyAwake to round out the body of the recoding, accomplishing what she’d set out to achieve on this LP: a richer, more topographical record than her previous outings.

Beyond “Affected,” Ricochet is an album of collaboration in many ways. The first song to break was the debut single, “Never Fades” — a glistening, rapturous future bass song that highlights the anthemic, mezzo-soprano vocals of Sink. Shortly after releasing “Never Fades,” O’Neal released “Follow Me,” a reggae- and trap-infused track that features producer and trumpeter Balkan Bump. Other collaborations on the record include “Change of Pace,” a glitch-infused bass banger that features producer MOONZz, as well as “Back to Basics,” which has O’Neal collaborating with rapper Def3 to create a song that combines the artist’s pitched flow with core-rattling low-end and crunchy synth leads. Additional featured contributors include Denver vocalist Michelle Sarah, turntablist Brisco Jones, multi-instrumentalist Honeycomb and lyricist Lily Fangz.

In regard to playing these songs live with her collaborators, O’Neal admits that may be a challenge, but not out of the realm of possibility. “It would be a miracle if we were all in the same place at the same time with touring schedules. But if I’m at a festival at the same time as STS9, the Motet or Lettuce, I’m sure any number of them would be down to sit in and play it with me live,” she says. “This is really fun, because [the songs] can translate live in random scenarios when you’re on the road, especially at festivals when you overlap with your musician buddies and get to bring a song to life in a way that doesn’t exist on the record.”

Maddy O’Neal’s sophomore LP, Ricochet, is out now. It’s available on all major platforms.