Sue Bonzell: Welcome to Up N Country powered by vLiveCast. My guest today is Mae Estes, live in Nashville. I’m your host, Sue Bonzell, and I’m bringing you new up-and-coming country artists. You can catch all of our episodes, buy some merch, and join our exclusive VIP club at And I want to say thank you to our sponsors, Soco Private Security.

              Okay, let’s head to Nashville and meet Mae Estes.

              She has traveled all over the world with Arm Services Entertainment, she’s got over a million downloads on her songs. I am so excited to be here with Mae Estes. Nice to see you, Mae.

Mae Estes: Good to see you. Thank you so much for having me.

Sue Bonzell: Absolutely. So we’re here in Nashville, here at your studios, which is very exciting. And now, of course, I did a little research on you and found out that you started singing very young and did a little bit of singing the national anthem at the rodeos, you were on a weekly radio show. So tell me about growing up with country music.

Mae Estes: Yeah. So I started singing at about the age of seven in front of other people for the first time. I think I kind of came out the womb singing if we’re being technical.

Sue Bonzell: Right.

Mae Estes: But I sang the national anthem at a rodeo for the first time at seven. We reodeod, I’d been on a horse since I could sit up straight. My family just always rodeoed and we’d been around horses and my mom worked in the announcement box, so she always played a LeAnn Rimes tape of the national anthem. And I just told her one day, being the sassy individuals that I am, I didn’t grow up to be this way. I was born this way. I told her I could sing it better than LeAnn Rimes did, and that she didn’t need to play that tape. I said, “I could sing.”

Sue Bonzell: Love it.

Mae Estes: And my mom handed me a cordless microphone and told me to go do it.

Sue Bonzell: And you did, right?

Mae Estes: And it was tragic. Hopefully, we got a little bit better, but that’s how I got my start singing.

Sue Bonzell: Okay, so now I did see a little video that you had posted and you were talking about your song, the hell mama raised, right? Which I thought was… I want to talk more about that. But I saw a video of you. Was it you on the bull doing the bull riding?

Mae Estes: I did ride the bull.

Sue Bonzell: Oh my God. How old were you?

Mae Estes: I was, I guess, 18. That was my senior year of high school.

Sue Bonzell: Oh, wow. And I didn’t see the… You didn’t show the end of it. So how did it go?

Mae Estes: There’s a video somewhere, but it’s in a big bag of tapes because my mom also recorded every single national anthem I ever sang. Anytime I did anything, she has it on video somewhere. I think I made it about three seconds, just long enough for the bull to come out, take a left, and I went right. But I did do it and hit the ground really hard and had all the adrenaline rushes they talk about, so.

Sue Bonzell: And you were like, “Check.”

Mae Estes: Oh, man, and I want to do it again. I’m like now I got my nerves out now, I have a better idea of what I’m doing, but mom didn’t agree to that one. Dad did, so.

Sue Bonzell: Oh, I was going to say, did you do it again?

Mae Estes: No, I haven’t got to do it again. I think I might have maxed out my luck for my life. My guardian angels worked all they had to give me that night, so maybe we shouldn’t try it again.

Sue Bonzell: Yeah, so tell me about some of your adventures that’s kind of like along with this song, the hell your mama raised, so.

Mae Estes: Well, mostly it’s kind of just the way I’ve approached life and I think my mom was the one who raised me to just believe that I could take on the whole world if I wanted to. And so my family is really small town and my dad was born and raised in Hope, Arkansas, and he will die there. And that’s what they want to do. My mom hadn’t been on a commercial flight until she was like 53 years old, which people think is insane, but that’s pretty normal back home.

              And I just had this different thing about me, where I was just hungry to see the rest of the world and had crazy dreams that I just believed I could make come true and was surrounded by a family and a mom in particular that made me believe I could do that, so. Crazy things like moving to Nashville by myself right after college and doing all of this stuff I’ve done so far, that just doesn’t seem like it could even be possible, so [crosstalk 00:04:20]. Just approaching life that way. Try not to be scared of anything in the moment and it sounds cheesy, but you do only live once and I think it’s important to be smart and think about what you’re doing to a certain extent, but also live your life, make some memories.

Sue Bonzell: Well, I’m glad that you had that support of your mom, really to go and do and go after your dreams. So you’ve done a lot of songwriting with a lot of people. What was your first song you wrote?

Mae Estes: So I started writing poems when I was probably around the same age I started singing. Probably about 10 I started writing poetry and then started turning those into songs and I started playing guitar at 12, but I didn’t co-write for the first time until I moved to Nashville.

Sue Bonzell: Really?

Mae Estes: So I moved to Nashville in 2015, and I was on a curb writers retreat the next week.

Sue Bonzell: Wow.

Mae Estes: In Georgia at a massive lake house.

Sue Bonzell: They just scooped you right up and said, “Come with us.” Right?

Mae Estes: Threw me in the deep end of an incredible pool. And I just am the luckiest thing in the world for how my story has unfolded that way. But that was my first co-write and it was terrifying and with some incredible writers, so I just really lucked into a group of people who make me better every time I’m around them.

Sue Bonzell: I love the collaboration. It seems like most of the people that we’ve talked to, they’ve done so much collaboration in writing and performing and things like that. And I like that about country music where it feels like everybody’s on your side.

              So tell me a little bit about that. Do you have that same feeling? Do you feel like there’s a little bit of cutthroat? What’s the experience of trying to be a new artist and become successful?

Mae Estes: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a shame if you don’t take advantage of Nashville and the community that it is. I respect people who write songs by themselves and have their artistry and they don’t cut outside songs and all of that. That’s great and it works for a lot of artists, but I feel like there’s… I’m such a fan of outside cuts and how there are certain people that are songwriters and they’re not artists and that’s a form of collaborating too, is searching for the song outside of your artistry.

              But I do feel like Nashville is an industry town and it’s a bubble and it’s really easy to get stuck in and I think honestly, the town in general kind of pits you against each other. It feels like there’s only so many spots at each record label and publishing company and on the radio and all these things. So kind of just the mood of the town is that dog eat dog kind of feel.

Sue Bonzell: Oh, okay. So it’s got a little bit of that.

Mae Estes: But if you dive in, then I think it’s just about what’s important to you and it’s been important to me to not surround myself with people who feel like they’re competing with me or vice versa. So I really just have lucked into a crew of people who are so confident in themselves and their abilities, and also believe in me and mine. And so there’s no competition.

              It’s just, like I said, I’ll play a show with some of my best friends or even strangers and go home and practice and not in a bad way in a I want to be better way. So you can take two different avenues, I think. And I think both of them might get you there, but I’m liking the one I’ve chosen a lot better and making a lot of great friends that way.

Sue Bonzell: Yeah, absolutely. Excuse me [crosstalk 00:07:32], pardon me. Yeah. Please.

Speaker 3: Okay.

Sue Bonzell: Just love that, love that. Let’s see. Okay, wait. Where was I going? I had an idea there for a second, but all right.

Mae Estes: I can talk all day long.

Sue Bonzell: I know, I love this.

Mae Estes: Cut me off when you need to.

Sue Bonzell: Okay. All right. Okay. So you did this weekly radio show and you were how old when you started doing that?

Mae Estes: So I want to say that was around 10, nine or 10. I was pretty young and it was at classic country shows.

Sue Bonzell: I was going to say I heard a little bit and it was classic country. I’ve heard you sing a lot of Keith Whitley, which, oh, my heart. Thank God for you and keeping that alive. I mean, absolutely, I’m a huge, huge Keith Whitley fan. And I’ve seen you do these Tik Toks where you love the duet feature.

Mae Estes: I do [crosstalk 00:08:20].

Sue Bonzell: And you are rocking that duet feature. If you guys have not seen her do a duet on Tik Tok, y’all got to find Mae Estes and it’s like you take your voice and then you add a little bit more and then you add it. And there was one that you did that was like the really high version. And you were like, “Oh, that was really high.”

Mae Estes: It is, yeah. So my background’s in bluegrass. My family had a bluegrass band and so that’s how I wanted to sing harmony. And so harmony has just been a big part of how I grew up singing and I love it so much. It is literally an… Your voice is an instrument. And that is a super… I don’t know, it’s an incredible feeling to match that harmony with another person. It just literally vibrates the whole room in such a cool way, if that makes any sense.

Sue Bonzell: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Mae Estes: So, yeah, I started… I try to sing with other people on there too, which takes a lot of time scrolling to find them, which I really don’t scroll on the app a ton, just because I’m busy a lot but so I started singing with myself and it ended up being really cool-

Sue Bonzell: It is.

Mae Estes: … and impressive to people in a way I didn’t realize because-

Sue Bonzell: Yeah. I was totally impressed. I was like, “Oh my God, this is amazing.”

Mae Estes: Thank you.

Sue Bonzell: Yeah, that was super fun.

Mae Estes: Everyone I know sings harmony. So I didn’t know it was something that not everyone does. So it ended up being something I accidentally stumbled into, but that’s super fun for me. So I really need to dive into that more.

Sue Bonzell: Oh, totally. I think you should record something with that. That would be really interesting. Be like, “It’s all me, all of it on a duet on Tik Tok. That’s what it is.”

Mae Estes: That’s the only way people could handle three of me because ask my husband, it’s a full-time job. You don’t want three, I promise.

Sue Bonzell: Now your style, so, I’ve listened to a lot of your songs. You sound a little bit like Miranda Lambert. I get the Miranda Lambert vibe because you can do those real nice ballads that are very heartfelt and then you’ve got that [inaudible 00:10:13] going to grind in there and you’re a bad ass and I’m like, “Yeah, I like this gal.” So who’s your biggest idol in country music?

Mae Estes: Yeah. I think Miranda’s definitely high on my list and I appreciate any time someone compares me to her. I think I learned so much about music from her and I was still fairly young when she was getting her start, so I definitely grew up on her music. Lee Ann Womack is my number one female artist of all time. She’s a little less commercial and not as known as Miranda, so I think I’d like to take that avenue as far as I want to do all the award shows and I want to do radio and I want all of that kind of commercial part of country.

              But Lee Ann Womack just has a legendary reputation in music. Every album she has has been different and she grows, she’s a big outside cutter, all about the songs and just undeniably talented, so I would love to model her career as far as I want people to be able to say those things about me one day and I think she’s a great human too and so I think that’s really important.

              And then the Keith Whitley thing, I think there’s an authenticity to Keith and really all we have to go off of is his voice and the music that was left. So if he’s able to connect with this many people-

Sue Bonzell: Still, yeah.

Mae Estes: … even after his death, I think that is a quality that everyone should strive to have as a country music singer, so.

Sue Bonzell: Exactly. Now you talked a little bit about… We were talking earlier about giving back and so tell me about touring all over the world with the armed forces. Tell me a little bit about that.

Mae Estes: Yeah. So my friend, Kenny Foster, actually, it’s a crazy story, I’ll to go through fast. But he met an Uber driver who was a contracted worker for Armed Forces Entertainment and so they were talking about each other’s stories and my friend Kenny is one of the best humans ever and he invited him to our show at the Listening Room in Nashville. So he came out to that show to watch us and it was me, Josh Matheny, Marty Dodson, and Kenny Foster in that round and they really liked what we did. We’ve been friends for years, so we all sing on each other’s stuff and just really have a banter on stage. It’s more of a performance in a whole writer’s round instead of just song by song.

              And they invited us to come, so we went to Guam, Singapore and Diego Garcia, and Diego isn’t even open to even the partners of the military there, so.

Sue Bonzell: Really?

Mae Estes: It was crazy exclusive access and we flew in on a military flight, flew back out within 24 hours because it was a holiday, but we just got to see not only a whole other part of the world, but it’s just the most humble reminder of things that are going on outside of your life and it felt like, I know it was the tiniest sliver of giving back to our military, who’s given so, so much to us, and getting to do it in a way that I feel like I was given the ability to reach people through my music. If nothing else, I feel like that was my God-given ability. So that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life is trying to figure out what God gave me and what he wants me to do with it and I feel like that was absolutely a step in the right direction was getting to do that.

Sue Bonzell: Nice. Oh, what a blessing.

Mae Estes: Absolutely.

Sue Bonzell: What an absolute blessing. Yeah, definitely.

Mae Estes: Definitely.

Sue Bonzell: So what kind of hurdles have you encountered as a new up-and-coming artist in country music? You’re obviously very, very talented in the songwriting arena as well as your voice and your performance. So what’s kind of those things where you’re like, “Man, I wasn’t really expecting that.”

Mae Estes: Well, how much time do you have? I mean Nashville will kick you in the ass. I mean, over and over and over again. Actually, I played some shows in Texas, not too long ago and had an incredible drummer that I met down there that played with me and he was like, “Well, I’m looking for a reason to move to Nashville.” I was like, “Buddy, you, ain’t never going to find one.” You’ve got to make your own and get there because Nashville will never, ever, ever give you back what you give it.

Sue Bonzell: Oh, wow.

Mae Estes: And you kind of just have to know that going in. My biggest struggle this entire journey has been just a financial struggle. My family is, like I said, more supportive than I ever could imagine. I know I wouldn’t be sitting here without the support of them, but financially I don’t come from anything. My family gets by and we never did without anything growing up, but we don’t come from any money, so if I was going to do this, I had to do it all on my own money-wise.

              And that’s been hard. I moved from Southwest Arkansas and cost of living, I mean, quadrupled, if not more than that, when I moved here. And so the biggest thing was trying to work as many jobs as I had to work at one time and still somehow find time to write songs and play music for free because they’re not paying you to do that most of the time in Nashville. So yeah, just trying to navigate how to live in this city and afford to live here outside of the music struggle in general, has been the biggest problem for me.

Sue Bonzell: What’s the worst job that you had?

Mae Estes: Oh, man. The worst job I’ve ever had was before I moved here, it was back in Arkansas and I was a line cook in a restaurant.

Sue Bonzell: That’s no fun.

Mae Estes: But I was the only girl, the youngest by several years. They ate my lunch every day. I had no idea what I was doing. I went in to get a waitressing job and they said, “All we have is a line cook position.” So I was like, “Well, I need money, I’ll take it.”

Sue Bonzell: “I’ll take it.”

Mae Estes: But it was awful.

Sue Bonzell: Oh, man.

Mae Estes: Here, I mean, I managed a Victoria’s Secret and that was pretty terrible. That was another accidentally stumbled into something and made money.

Sue Bonzell: Good perks, right, good perks [crosstalk 00:16:02].

Mae Estes: It did have good perks but oh my God, it was the worst job ever. But yeah, I’ve gotten to do some cool stuff too, but just kind of here and there everywhere. I did work at the Grand Ole Opry in the gift shop for about six months and so I have a cool little thing I’m trying to turn that into a cool part of the journey. I have a name tag that says Grand Ole Opry and says Mae so I have a plan when I get to play the Grand Ole Opry for the first time-

Sue Bonzell: Are you going to wear it?

Mae Estes: I’m wearing my name tag.

Sue Bonzell: Can’t wait.

Mae Estes: So hopefully I can just always look back and find something positive in those little jobs and so far I’ve been able to, but that does not mean they did not suck so bad in the moment. I mean, I just got to quit my serving job back in November. Well that’s when we got… Or back in March when we got laid off for COVID, that was the last time I worked my serving job and I signed my publishing deal in November, so it luckily just worked out where I didn’t have to go back.

              But I’ve been working so hard doing nothing to do with music most of my time in Nashville, so.

Sue Bonzell: But you’re here.

Mae Estes: It’s exciting now.

Sue Bonzell: And you’re making amazing music.

Mae Estes: I’ve stuck it out somehow.

Sue Bonzell: So I would love it if you would like to play your new song or whatever song you like to sing the most, we would love to hear it if you’re up for it. I’d love to. Okay, great. Let’s get that all set up.

Mae Estes: Hey y’all I’m Mae Estes and this is my song Roses.


              Thank you.

Sue Bonzell: Okay, that was so fun. You have such a beautiful voice. Thank you so much for playing that song for us.

Mae Estes: Thank you so much for letting me.

Sue Bonzell: Absolutely. So now we have a couple more things we have to cover. Now tell me about your job right now. Obviously, you’re kind of trying to make it doing the music and the songwriting. What are you doing with your time?

Mae Estes: Yeah. So, man, in quarantine, that all shifted quite a bit and I dove into Tik Tok and all my social media a lot, because that was the best way I could connect with my audience while we all were stuck at home and it ended up being a really cool, big blessing, but it definitely was time-consuming. And then the ball has started rolling again now, and I’m playing somewhere every weekend and usually several times during the week and I’m writing five days a week now I have a publishing deal. So I get paid to write songs and that got me out of the restaurant industry, so. So, so thankful, but that’s also pretty time-consuming and pretty brain consuming to have to come up and be inspired every day. Luckily I get to collaborate with a lot of incredible people, so that saves me on that.

              But so just making music every second of every day now, which I couldn’t be more blessed to [crosstalk 00:21:23] get to say I do, so super thankful.

Sue Bonzell: Now, what’s your connection with CMA?

Mae Estes: So I’ve worked in the talent department for CMA for about six years now.

Sue Bonzell: Okay.

Mae Estes: Yeah, so I just started out as what they call a talent wrangler and for big… Which is, man, that’s accurate on some shows for some artists. But we are all just assigned to a particular artist at these big award shows or big performances, just to make sure that they have everything they need and that they are at every scheduled appearance they’re supposed to be at. So we’ll have a media stop and then the stage and rehearsals and all of that. So just working closely with the talent, which has been really, really cool.

Sue Bonzell: And so I understand you sometimes get some interesting requests for items backstage. What’s the craziest requests where you’re like, “Are you really kidding me? Seriously?”

Mae Estes: Well, it wasn’t so much the request that was crazy one year, but I had an artist who needed… They were on a specific diet, which is the case a lot of times. A lot of artists, their bodies are going through really crazy stuff, having to perform that often and all of that, so I respect it if you can get off the Cheez-Its, [crosstalk 00:22:29]. But if you can, I’m more power to you. But this artist needed salmon with no seasoning and some rice and there was only one restaurant. It was like 7:30 on a Saturday and I don’t know if you know anything about Nashville, but holy traffic.

              So I went with another production assistant and we went to this restaurant in a hotel. It was the only place that could do this for us right now. So we went and picked it up and then we were driving back to the venue with it and sitting still in traffic and this performer was going to have to perform in the next hour and she needed her food and so I had to get out of the van we were in and run about four blocks carrying the salmon to get to this artist. So it’s just stories like that.

              I mean, a lot of it are just like very specific requests, something they prefer to eat at their home or coffee creamers, always something funny where there’s an organic crazy, I don’t know, some kind of coffee creamer that you can only find at one grocery store in a massive city kind of thing. And then they won’t even get to go in their dressing room at all because they’re so busy and so it never even gets opened kind of thing.

              I don’t think people understand that’s how the entertainment industry works, but no judgment on my end, but it definitely helps me see the other side of the curtain when I hopefully am sitting in their seat one day and I’m going to be like, “You know what? Just bring me a box of Cheez-Its. You get them at the Dollar General right next store and I’ll be good. Maybe a case of beer.”

Sue Bonzell: There you go. Okay, thank you for the segue into the next question. So, okay. I was going to say what’s the drink of choice? I’m from Northern California out in wine country, so we drink a lot of wine. So are you a wine? No wine?

Mae Estes: I’m not a wine… If it’s free wine, somehow it changes the taste of it for me and I like it a little bit better.

Sue Bonzell: It takes a little bit better, okay. All right, okay.

Mae Estes: I just think I’m not classy enough or mature enough to like wine yet. Hopefully that changes one day. I am a whiskey drinker first and foremost.

Sue Bonzell: Oh, there we go.

Mae Estes: So I like a good bourbon, but also will drink well whiskey dry, completely off your shelf [crosstalk 00:24:40].

Sue Bonzell: She is The Hell You Raised. Look, as this.

Mae Estes: I like it, yeah. I think it’s better the cheaper it is and my friends yell at me. I have a whiskey connoisseur friend who’s like, “Don’t you do that ever again. Don’t you ever order well whiskey.” I’m like, “I mean, really, it gets the job done.” But I also love beer. I didn’t discover craft beer until I moved to Nashville, which some people may argue, I don’t know if Nashville’s like a big beer place or not, but domestic is all we have in south Arkansas and my dad believed Bud Light was the only beer ever created, so I like to try the craft beer and I like the sours and the stouts and the porters and kind of both ends of the spectrums there. So yeah, I like it all. Like I said, if it’s free, I’ll pretty much drink anything.

Sue Bonzell: All right. Well, we’ll have to get you out to wine country. I mean-

Mae Estes: I’ll give it a shot.

Sue Bonzell: And then, I know I can probably wrangle up some free wine for you.

Mae Estes: All right.

Sue Bonzell: It’s going to taste amazing [crosstalk 00:25:30], absolutely amazing. Okay. Oh my gosh. I’m so excited to meet you today. Thank you for your time. Thank you for playing a song for us. Everybody, Mae Estes. You can find her at, on Tik Tok, Instagram, she’s everywhere. Download her music. She is absolutely an amazing singer songwriter, and I’m going to be playing her song Hell You Raised on the radio, 937 The Bull out in Santa Rosa, California. So I’m excited to hear you on the airwaves.

Mae Estes: Yes, ma’am. Thank you so much for having me.

Sue Bonzell: Absolutely.

Mae Estes: And thanks for supporting independent musicians. I’m an independent artist and my song has no other route to radio, except for people like you listening to it and playing it, so.

Sue Bonzell: It is my pleasure. Absolutely my pleasure. So thank you again.

Mae Estes: Thank you for having me.

Sue Bonzell: Awesome.

              Thanks for tuning in to Up N Country where we have new episodes every Tuesday and be sure to visit for all of the episodes and information about our VIP club, where you’re going to get exclusive backstage access. And if you’re on Instagram or Tik Tok, make sure to follow me, Sue Bonzell.

              I’ll see you next week.