'Songland' Winner Madeline Merlo on Working With Sam Hunt on New 'Slide' EP: 'It Was an Amazing Phone Call to Get' (Exclusive)

Songland winner Madeline Merlo just dropped a fun and vibrant new EP, titled Slide, which finds the singer-songwriter working with some A-list country music stars, such as multi-Grammy nominee Sam Hunt. The project's title track, "Slide," was written by Hunt and his longtime writing partners Zach Crowell and Jerry Flowers, but the trio brought Merlo in for a re-write when they knew it need a more feminine perspective. Notably, Crowel produced the project, and Merlo co-wrote every single track. Ahead of Slide's release, PopCulture.com had a chance to chat with Merlo about Slide, her upcoming nuptials, and how her big Songland "blew the doors open" on her career.

"They've got a lot of success together. It's very clear that they work well with each other and kind of bounce off each other," Merlo said of her "Slide" co-writers. "Jerry, he's played in Keith Urban's band for 20 years. He's the most musical person I've ever met." She added, "All three of those people are so talented. I was so excited to be able to be a part of that song." Merlo went on to explain that the three songwriters "started it originally" as a tune for Hunt. "They just kind of had that chorus melody," she shared, adding, that the trio eventually decided the song would be "better suited" for a woman's voice, "and so I got to jump in and finish the song, and write the hook, and do the lyric and all of that stuff."

Merlo continued, "It was an amazing phone call to get. He was like, 'Do you want to finish a song?' 'Yeah, of course!' So I'm really lucky and it turned out so great. She then shared a little of how the track evolved, explaining, "It was also one of the songs that... sometimes songs kind of fall and they fall out of you and it's like one day, boom, it's done, over. This one, it went through different phases. We went back and rewrote it and changed this and changed that, continually tweaking, and that's kind of their process. So that was me going into Zach's kind of world and that world is a lot of tweaking involved. So I learned a lot as well from all of those people."

While all four songs on Merlo's Slide EP are incredibly eclectic examples of pop-flavored country, another song certainly stands out... "Girl Where He Grew Up." Discussing how the track came about, Merlo said, "That one's funny. I wrote that with Jon Nite and Nathan Chapman, and it was such a great day because we went in and Nathan had this idea called 'school.'" The "concept" behind this idea, Merlo says, was, "I'm going to teach you how to love me. I'm going to take you to school. And he said it'd be a fun vibe. And I said, as a joke, the funny thing about that is you teach these boys how to love you and then you break up and then they go and use all those skills and date the next girl and then you get to watch them be awesome for them. And they both were like, 'Wait, that's so cool.' And so it really happened out of ... I just made a jaded comment back to them which is so funny that they were like, 'I've never heard that perspective.'"

Merlo continued, "And then everyone's wheels started spinning and I remembered Nathan, who's brilliant, Nathan Chapman produced Taylor Swift's first record. He is one of the most prolific writers and producers that we have in Nashville without a doubt. And I remember him saying, 'You were the girl where he grew up.' And I was like, 'Nathan, that is so good. That hook is perfect.' So I mean what an idea and a story to sink your teeth into. So it was just a blast to write."

Elaborating on some of the feelings behind "Girl Where He Grew Up," Merlo said, "I think that I've certainly been that person and maybe I've been on the other side of it. Who knows? Gender aside, I think that in a relationship sometimes someone's a student and sometimes someone's a teacher because you learn a lot. With every love that you have, you learn something. So that one was such a fun song to write because, again, there was so much meat on the bones for you to take and it turned out so good. I'm so proud of that as a songwriter for sure."

Slide comes two years after Merlo emerged in the spotlight from her Songland win, which ended with Lady A recording her song "Champagne Night," which she won a Canadian CMA for, along with Shane McAnally, Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley, Dave Haywood, Tina Parol, David Thomson, Patricia Conroy, Ryan Tedder, Esther Dean, and Andrew DeRoberts. While many country music fans might think that this was where her career began, Merlo had written songs and performed for many years prior. "I'm from Canada originally and so I put out music there and that market is amazing but unfortunately doesn't really translate outside into the rest of the world. So I did put out music, toured and did all of these awesome opportunities and stuff that garnered a lot of experience.

She continued, "Then I moved to Nashville and it was like, okay, I want to do this here. I want to play in Japan one day and America is the place where anything is possible. So I moved to Nashville about four years ago and was like, 'Okay, I'm focusing on Nashville and I want to become a great songwriter.'" Merlo then revealed, "Songland was an Instagram DM from a casting director, which is so wild. I mean that's the thing about the industry, it's so hard and then something like that comes and you're like, 'I don't know what this means, but okay. Just be brave and go for it.'"

Merlo went on to say, "I could have never imagined I would get not only the win out of that, but a number one song. I mean they had never taken a song from that show and put it on the radio ever before. That was never even a possibility. I was not like, 'Well, I might get a number one out of it.' That was never in the scope of reality. So what a wild, amazing thing to happen and it blew the doors open. I got to meet a bunch of record labels and got to write with people I could have only dreamed of getting in the room with. So I mean what an incredible random opportunity that really changed my life truly."

She also pointed out that Lady A "had another song on the radio at the time and took it off and put Champagne Night on. So, for them to do that and Big Machine, their record label at the time, to do that is huge." Merlo gushed, "That's Lady A, I love them all so much. I'm like, 'Thank you guys because you took a chance on a song from this show that I wrote.' It's crazy. So I'm very grateful to them. They changed the game for me for sure."

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Finally, we couldn't not ask Merlo about her engagement, which came earlier this year when her boyfriend, Nashville attorney Chase Fann, got down on one knee in a beautiful farmland proposal. "I got engaged in April which is crazy." She then joked, "That's such an adult thing to do... It feels pretty weird. Even like, 'Hey, fiance,' I'm like I don't know. That's too weird."

As far as wedding plans, Merlo explained, "We're trying. It's tough. I think too, by nature, I'm not a super Type-A, spreadsheet-organized person. I'm a little more... I'm an artist. Right? So... there's a lot of decisions and spreadsheets necessary to do a wedding so I'm leaning heavily on the wedding planner. She is a gift from the Lord above to me. She's got things organized more than I do, but we're trying. It's just there's a lot to think about. It's a lot of work for sure." While fans will have to wait a while to see Merlo's wedding day pictures, everyone can go listen to Slide right now, as it's available on a number of streaming services, including Spotify and Apple Music.