By Madison Vain
September 09, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT

Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye — who record as Maddie & Tae — gave Nashville a shake 18 months ago when they took on the cliches of bro country in their debut single “Girl In A Country Song.” Speaking to EW at the time of release Maddie said, “We made this checklist, and on the checklist it had bare feet, cutoffs, tan lines, tan legs, but the most important one is the girl…And this smoking-hot girl is typically in cutoff jeans with long tan legs dancing on a tailgate shaking her money-maker. Tae and I were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t think we can live up to those expectations.’ We  thought it would be kind of fun to give this girl in these songs a voice.”

They didn’t have a record deal at the time but Big Machine came in quickly, helped the song reach No. 1, got the girls on tour (they’re currently on Dierks Bentley’s Sounds of Summer Tour), and started work on an album. Their self-titled full-length came out Aug. 28. Today they received recognition for their long march, scoring three CMA Nominations: Vocal Duo of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Single of the Year (for “Girl In A Country Song”).

“You can get in your own head,” Dye says of the nominations’ significance for her and Marlow. “You can know how hard you’re working, you can not get any sleep, and you can wake up some mornings and question, ‘Are people noticing things? Is this going anywhere?’ And getting recognized makes us step back and realize it’s all paying off and going somewhere.”

Distance from release has given them time to think about why “Girl In A Country Song” struck such a positive nerve. “It really showed that the format and the fans and radio wanted something different,” says Dye. “I feel like that’s why we’ve connected so well with the fans and everybody. Our songs are unfiltered, un-sugar-coated and I feel like that’s what people were craving: Something that they could listen to every single day, something that they could believe in and representative of their lives.” Their album, which EW previewed, offers more of the same.

Their most hotly contended category is perhaps the New Artist of the Year list which includes Sam Hunt, Kelsea Ballerini and Chris Stapleton, and Thomas Rhett. “If we lose to Chris Stapleton, we will be totally okay with that!” Marlow says with a laugh. “I have worn Traveller out. I love his style and his willingness to talk about things other artists aren’t talking about and look at life in such an honest way.” 

In the meantime, the girls head back out this weekend for the final string of Sounds of Summer dates, and despite having been on the road with Bentley and Kip Moore all summer, they’re not looking forward to the break. Dye says, “This is the way that I put it: You know when you’re still school-aged and you go into WalMart in July and you see all the school supplies out? You start getting sad about summer ending — you don’t want to go into WalMart just to avoid having to see the school supplies. That’s how I feel about the Dierks tour. I don’t want to talk about it ending!”

Marlow, for her part, was mid-crafting end of tour-gifts — though we won’t spoil the surprise for Bentley and Moore and say what she’s making. 

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