Questions of Judgement: An Interview with Madame So.

In July gone I ran a piece on Madame So, a review of the single ‘You Say’. Its thin wiry riffs and clean screw-you ‘tude made track that hung tight on its lean brittle mess and commanded its worthy attention.

Months prior, the blunt post-punk pretty of ‘Generation Y’ landed in my inbox and lingered. The chaos, the heat, the humour, this raw way of tackling music; slim sounds stuck together on shoestrings, makings songs that should all fall apart.

But they don’t and rarely do. A trip through back catalogue (which is older and longer than I gave it credit for – thank you Madame So for corrections) showed a dive into glam garage offshoots, and a voice that’s distinctive and open.

And now with a single that’s let loose today, with shoegaze 90s jangle and a femme Britpop prowess that runs between Sleeper and Lush, it’s my chance to catch up and dig deep. Playfully confrontational and disarmingly warm, Madame So gives her time and her answers.

Do I feel like a rookie for under preparing? You bet! It’s a first to feel so roundly trounced. But the warmth and the ease shown in pre and post talks leaves me free to admit my mistakes…

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There’s been a huge output of music from Madam So since early 2019, 7 EPs and singles not including ‘Who Are We To Judge?’. What keeps you so productive and busy? 

‘The Sell-by Date EP’ was actually first issued in 2013, it was followed by the single, ‘If Only You Were Dead’ in 2014, then  by the EP ‘It’s Not Even A Colour’ off which is the single ‘Black is Beautiful’ in 2015, and the David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ cover…. I had not released any music since 2016 (I hope you’re not too disappointed 😊), focusing on playing live and other endeavours. I guess reissuing these releases last year through my distributor got a bit misleading. This said I had been writing profusely in these four years.

Your new single marks a change from rough jagged cuts of ‘You Say’, ‘Generation Y’, and earlier releases. The music is smoother, your voice calm and cool. What sparked this change in direction? 

Well, I always heard this song as a one with shoegaze undertones, and I also wanted to explore other avenues to my singing. As much as I had embraced the accolades, assimilations and comparisons to Punk/Grunge and some of its major protagonists, that is not where the essence of my songwriting and artistry lie, so I guess ‘Who Are We To Judge?’ is a good way to showcase that. You’ll also be surprised at the electronica versions of song that will soon follow.

I am also working on a couple of collaborations that will see me explore more “rootsy” avenues, so stay tuned.

Even in this new single, there’s a spikey fuss-free lo-fi approach to the writing, the mix and production. At what point do you call a song ‘done’?  

I don’t know, that’s an observation I often get from people and which I am always so surprised by, I guess it’s for you guys to tell me what makes a song finished: does it have a melody, does it have lyrics which tell a story? Is the quality of a song only validated by its production? I am asking because I’ve always heard that you know a song is good when people can feel something by it just being played acoustically. I believe that is the case for my songs.

I consider a song done when I am happy with it – I guess in this day and age that is kind of a sin but I think we see enough fillers and botox on people’s faces not to apply it on one’s art as well. There’s only so many pedals, so much reverb, so many “beats” you can layer onto a song, but then what? I’d rather my music to come with a bare face than hide behind tons of plastic surgery.

This said, we’re in an age where lo-fi is royalty so I still don’t know why my music is being pointed at for it? Is it that far away from its full potential? Maybe, but that’s ok, at least it is a true reflection of me.

One thing that stands out throughout all your releases is the way you take on making music. There’s a bluntness, a force, there’s humour and freedom, and a want to confront and to challenge. Is this something you’re having fun playing with?

That is in my nature, I guess. I’ve never been a follower otherwise I would not be playing the genre I play… I guess that is how I am wired. Plus, I regard all of Charles Bukowski’s literature as my Bible, so you can’t be too surprised with that. But yes, art and music should indeed be blunt, free and challenging, and by that I don’t mean playing rebel without a cause or screaming at the top of your lungs because “you hate yourself and you want to die” [this by no means a diss to Kurt, but rather to his many imitators] if you get me. People would eventually see that this was an act.

Your words bring that force to the forefront. There’s a cut and dry plain-spoken thrust to your lyrics, subjects range from race, to love, to generational differences. How do you choose how to tackle these subjects?

I guess through life and experiences, I am not one to sit and go “well today I am going to write a song about Brexit, then tomorrow I will write one  about Trump and next week I will write one about BLM”…. I do not actually believe in writing constantly and “choosing” topics. Topics and subjects choose you: a series of events led me to write ‘Black is Beautiful’ for instance, so people should not expect me to release a sequel to it. The same goes for ‘Generation Y’ and ‘You Say’, there won’t be any‘Generation Z’ and ‘I Think’ songs by Madame So. In a nutshell, my songwriting is very spontaneous and not calculated or predicted, which might actually answer your previous question about knowing when a song is ‘done’.

And how do these subjects influence you?

I experience them, sometimes they are good experiences, sometimes they are not, and then I channel them out in a way that hopefully people can relate to.  

While I’ve dug through your back catalogue and trawled through your press packs, I still know little about Madame So. And those reading this might know even less. How did this project begin? What got you creating and making?  

Well, I had always dreamt of meeting band mates at Uni, playing in a garage and becoming a band, but first of all, I was a bit of an undercover geek and spent more time at home reading and listening to music in my room than savagely partying during my Uni days, so I never got to meet these mates. And when you are creative or artistic, you just cannot wait for “Bandmates Charming” to come your way, and as you need to channel this creative energy, you just do it.

But a little bit of background: I have always loved music obviously, and the closest I thought I could get to experiencing it fully was by reviewing gigs and records. Then I started hanging out with this lot of wannabe musicians in Camden (they inspired my song ‘Camden Scene’) and I decided to have a go at playing my own own songs live on the open-mic circuit. Both my playing and my voice were a bit too raucous for this scene packed with Dylan-esque and Neil Young-esque derivatives, so I fleshed out my songs with a band sound and that’s how ‘The Sell-by Date EP’ came to life, followed with the other releases, etc…

And what’s in Madame So’s plans for the future?

A remix (or two) of ‘Who Are We To Judge?’ will soon follow. I will also put out two other singles this year, and hopefully be able to play a live set of old and new material next year. Fingers crossed. 

Lastly, there’s a mantra at the end of every email, “If I’ve pushed your buttons, I’ve accomplished my mission”. I’d like to dig deeper into this…  

Naughty, naughty, naughty Will, you’ve obviously haven’t listened to my debut single, ‘Sell-by Date’ in full (hint) 😊!