by Tim Forster
How long have you been making music? When did you ‘become’ Madame So?
Well, I used to write for various magazines, reviewing gigs and interviewing musicians…I thought that was the closest outlet there was for me to get exposed to as much music as possible. During that time, I got to hang out with some buzzing bands on the London scene at the time and I kind of developed an itch for performing my own stuff. I played my first ever gig circa 2011 and have played ever since. I recorded my first demos in the summer of 2012, then they developed into ‘The Sell-by Date EP’ which I put out in 2013 under the stage name of Madame So, even though, this is not so much a stage name as such as my parents have called me that since I was about three years old.
Who would you list as musical influences?
Foundations in my musical make-up include Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Garland Jeffreys, Patti Smith, Billie Holliday, Fats Domino and all that cool indie stuff like The Replacements, Liz Phair, The Lemonheads, L7 and Hole, as well as some French music (Serge Gainsbourg, Renaud, Christophe Miossec).
Did you have a fairly clear idea of the sound you were aiming for from the start or has it evolved?
Not really. When I was performing the acoustic circuit in London, my stuff was already branded “punk” by promoters and other bands who associate acoustic guitar solely with the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Nick Drake… While when writing a song I never had “punk” in mind: for me it was just me writing a song on the guitar. I like guitars. I did not have any particular sound in mind, I just wanted to flesh my songs out into a full-band performance, and I got to work with musicians (of the band Paintings of Ships) who got my vibe and with whom I recorded ‘The Sell-by Date’ EP. On ‘It’s Not Even A Colour’, my second EP, I had the likes of Gang of Four and Lush in mind.
What sort of subject matter do you explore in your music?
The narrative of my songs tend to revolve around the themes of alienation, addiction and the war on conformity.
What inspires and influences your lyric writing? Books, films, your own experiences?
A mixture of these three. I’m a big daydreamer with a keen interest in words and poetry, so lyrics are something I give high importance to in a song. I like to dig out the poetry in/from the grit, and a genius at that was my favourite-ever author, Charles Bukowski. I have just finished his book of poetry, ‘On Love’: it’s brilliant.
Your song ‘Black is Beautiful’ seems to explore the pressures to conform with expected cultural norms – is that what it’s about?
Yes, that’s one way of seeing it. Ultimately, it’s a big shout out about the fact that being black doesn’t have to be one-dimensional. Not every black person is brought into this world as an all Beyonce/Rihanna/Tyler Perry’s films loving package just because they are born black. And that it’s OK to be black and choose guitars over beats and spits. I could have (like I have been suggested to by black and white friends and acquaintances alike) gone the easy, predictable and expected R’n’B/Hip Hop route. But I am a musician, not a poseur, so best make music I can genuinely express myself through instead of being a fraud to my own self.
“The only pressure, if we want to call it that, is being faced with people’s narrow-mindedness and simplism.”
Earlier this year you released a very interesting rearrangement of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. How did you decide on that reinterpretation? Was your decision to release it as a single a kind of homage?
I was playing a couple of shows in Paris in 2015, and wanted to stretch my set a little. I’ve always loved this song ever since I was little, and for me the best covers are the ones that go in opposite directions from the originals (a band like Nouvelle Vague is a master at that so much so they based their entire career on making covers). For me, it would have been way too predictable to have recreated the saxophones and kept the song “danceable”. I just wanted to focus on the brilliance and purity of Bowie’s songwriting less the flashy production however great it is. When I recorded this cover in Spring 2015, I had no idea what he was going through but my own mother was undergoing chemotherapy… She passed four months before him. So it’s an homage to both of them, really.
What are your plans for 2017?
I’ll keep on performing live, currently with my drummer, Giova, and then we’ll expand the line-up into a four-piece for bigger gigs, hopefully festivals, and aim to have recorded that long-overdue debut album by the end of the year.