The Noise Madison Makes
Like a true pop princess, Madison goes by one name. But she’s no diva—Madison’s EP, the first in a series of four slated for release in the coming year, is self-released and entirely the result of her own hard work, running point on everything from the songwriting to the mixing to the album artwork. The sunny tunes on The Noise Some People Make belie the Miami-born singer’s sharp music taste and business acumen. She chose the four-EP format for her musical debut not only because of the short attention span of most listeners today; it was a way for her to answer questions like, “How can I do this on my own and make it a good tight project that is going to allow me to keep putting myself out there with new material? How can I satisfy my own artistic needs?” The science nerd-cum-pop singer-songwriter has certainly found a way to put herself out there, and chances are her incredibly catchy songs won’t be getting out of your head anytime soon.
KATIE MENDELSON: Tell me how you found your way into music.
MADISON: It was a circuitous path. I went to school at Boston College. I studied biology and psychology and was really into neuroscience. I moved to New York because I was working with Columbia University in a neuroscience lab and also at the New York Psychiatric Institute. I spent a year working on a lab, working on papers and applying to medical schools.
Then I ended up going to a friend’s one night and everyone was taking turns in the studio he had in his house. They were like, “You go ahead and sing something,” and I was like “No, no, no.” And then I ended up singing something I knew by heart and he recorded it that night and made it into a song. I had never heard myself before—that was a “Eureka” moment. Like, “Oh my God, what? Can I do this?” It was crazy. That started my path. I realized that I could always go to school, but what was this other thing? I had to pursue it. And all the while I’ve been pursuing it there have been small signs that I’ve been going in the right direction.
MENDELSON: You were never involved in music or the arts before that?
MADISON: I grew up loving music, doing dramatic theater. I loved going to shows. I loved all that stuff, but in my family, you’re a doctor or lawyer or a teacher. Being in the arts didn’t seem like an option. I wasn’t trained in anything—I mean, I took piano lessons when I was younger and would sing to myself, but that’s it.
MENDELSON: Can you tell me about putting this EP together on your own and releasing it yourself?
MADISON: It’s meant some good things and some things that are more difficult. When I started doing shows and writing music, there was a lot of question as to what my sound is. It was too pop to be indie, it was too indie to be pop. I heard a lot of, “You don’t fit on a radio format, so we can’t sign you.” I have all these stories of shady producers, skeezy guys. I’m talking presidents of a major label literally licking my hand! It totally happens. [laughs] I just felt like that wasn’t my style. It’s been a lot of being asked to conform or being presented with the idea of conformation. Doing it on my own, I can be as pop or as indie as I want. But the hard part has been lacking—especially for pop stuff—the huge budget, the million-dollar marketing campaign. Also, just not having the muscle to be like, “There’s a deadline. No, really, there’s a deadline.” It was just me, studio, 4 a.m. It’s all me.
MENDELSON: It must have been a challenge to actually make things happen and to keep pushing even though there’s no one counting on you to do so.
MADISON: The music business has definitely knocked me down a few times, for sure. [laughs] But at the end of the day, you’re going to do it or you’re not. I have total respect for any female artist out there because I know what it’s like to get down and dirty. So many doors have closed—you just have to keep going. I recorded half of this EP in Miami. When I left, it wasn’t mixed, and I got a call when I got home that all my tracks had been deleted. It was at that point that I was like, “Are these songs even good enough? I’m going to have to fight to record this all again and pay to go back. Are these songs even any good?” No one was waiting for my EP. No one had me on a deadline. That was a moment of questioning.
MENDELSON: What do you listen to?
MADISON: All of the stuff that I listen to on a rolling basis is super-indie. But what I really like about pop music is that it’s fun and it’s accessible. I can love Twin Shadow to pieces but I also want my Britney Spears. That shit gets stuck in your head! I love my indie, dark, smart music. I love my Animal Collective. But at the same time, pop is a candy bar.
MENDELSON: Do you like performing your music?
MADISON: There’s nothing like it in the world, being so vulnerable, so out of control and so in control. I imagine it’s like what it would be like to be in a play. You can’t really do that take again. Well, theoretically you could. I did that once, where I was like, “We’re going to do that song again.” It was at Pianos, and I was bringing out new material. [laughs] But you can’t do that all the time.
MENDELSON: What would you be doing if you weren’t singing?
MADISON: Still something in music. All through college, I took care of people with multiple sclerosis and did all these research projects, and it feels really good to do good things. I think when all this music came into my life, the idea of doing it made me ask myself if I was happy. Was I satisfied? Did I feel good on my own without doing good? The answer was that I wasn’t truly satisfied. It’s like being on an airplane and they tell you to put on your own mask before you put on a child’s. You need to take care of you before you can take care of someone else. I have to be happy and I feel like I can do good things with music. Music makes people happy.