Chloe Madeline says Taylor Swift is her idol, yet it was at her synagogue on the Peninsula where she learned about music’s power to bring people together.
Having just turned 17, the rising singer-songwriter from San Carlos has already broken into the Los Angeles music scene with a heavyweight producer and an impressive four-track EP focused on her original songs, “States of Mine.”
Like many recording artists born in the 21st century, she has grown up as a passionate and devoted Swiftian.
“Taylor’s the person who inspired me to start taking singing lessons and writing songs,” Madeline said by phone. “She truly set a precedent for what pop music is, and all of her songs tell stories.”
When it comes to first-hand musical experience, however, Madeline draws on a source far closer to home. She said she found major inspiration attending services at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo and listening to Cantor Elana Jagoda Kaye.
There’s the power of the liturgical music itself, she said, but the cantor plays a key role in elevating a community gathering into a sacred communion.
“She brings everyone together,” Madeline explained. “She inspires me to work really hard with my music. I also do songleading at my temple, and that has been really important, learning how you connect with the audience. I love singing the songs I grew up hearing the older kids sing.”
The cultural distance between Taylor Swift and the Beth El bimah might seem vast, but cantors have played a vital and often unheralded role in shaping American popular music since the dawn of the 20th century. For example, Irving Berlin and Harold Arlen, two of the American Songbook’s definitive tunesmiths, were both the sons of cantors, and many of their standards are laced with Hebraic modes.
That said, no one is likely to mistake Madeline’s sleek pop songs for the Shema. Signed to L.A.-based InRage Entertainment as an artist-in-development, she has been recording with music biz veteran Automatic (aka Bruce Vanderveer), a Grammy Award-nominated producer who has worked with James Brown, Pink, Christina Aguilera, Pussycat Dolls and K-Pop superstar Kim Junsu (Xia) from the group JYJ.
Initially drawn by her bright, confident vocals and evocative lyrics, Automatic has been duly impressed by her professionalism and work ethic. “We call her ‘one-take Jake,’” he said with a chuckle. “She’s so well-rehearsed when she gets into the studio. When you listen to ‘States of Mine’ a lot of what you’re hearing is Chloe top to bottom. She’s got a real mastery of her craft.”
Her songs focus on the protean emotional states of adolescence, which seem more relevant than ever. Her song “Stay Away” might have registered as teenage angst two months ago. Now, when she sings “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from me,” it sounds like an anthem for the social-distancing era.
Living in San Carlos with her parents and younger sister, Madeline attends Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto. (Chloe Madeline is her stage name.)
She started begging her parents for singing lessons around the age of 5, but they held off until she was 8. Her studies included expert vocal coaching and music theory, and by the time she started high school her interest in writing poetry had transitioned into crafting lyrics.
Singing in the Kehillah school band has offered some opportunities to hone her stage act. “I used to be awkward with a mic and not know what to do with myself,” she said. “I’ve developed some stage confidence.”
She gained a different kind of confidence last summer on a NFTY In Israel trip on which she “connected with my Jewish identity like never before.” She added: “Seeing the Western Wall and walking around Jerusalem, it gives you perspective. Seeing the diversity of culture there was amazing. I still talk to everyone I met on the trip.”
When she talks about her future plans, Madeline comes across as well-grounded and unfazed by the lure of pop stardom.
As a high school junior, she’s been thinking seriously about colleges, with a particular focus recently on the USC Thornton School of Music, which has one of the country’s best songwriting programs. But then again, she’s also drawn to English, political science and marketing, so she might not even major in music.
“I just want to go where life takes me,” she said. “I haven’t performed in front of a huge crowd, but I always have fun singing for people. I also love being in the studio. Whatever happens, I’m going to follow my heart.”