Hearts Bleed Radio: For starters, give me a little history of Madam West.
Sophie: Well, Todd and I met in early 2011. We found out quickly that we had the same musical tastes - we both had named our dogs Elliott Smith, for example - and so we started covering our favorite indie tunes every week in his basement room in Bushwick. We started out as a duo, writing solely electronically (on Logic), but once we decided we wanted a live sound, it was natural that we recruited Todd's long-term friend Mike from AZ (where they went to school). So he was on drums, and I recruited Christine and Will, who both played with me in our college folk band, Feste. Now the band has a few different combinations - as a duo, I play drum machine and Todd plays synths, and as the onstage group changes we shift a few of the instruments around. And that brings us to today!
HBR: Do you have a favorite lineup? When you're all together?
Sophie: I change my mind all the time! If you had asked me last summer, when Todd and I had played as a duo in montreal, I would have said the full band. I got really horrible stage fright and a case of sticky fingers with the drum sequencer. I almost cried onstage. I just wanted Mike there, drumming and pumping us up! But now that I'm more comfortable with the electronics, I don't really have a preference. It's nice to have the flexibility to say yes to a show on the spot, without making sure everyone's available that date.
HBR: Is that the most embarrassed you've ever been onstage?
Sophie: Probably. Montreal, to me, is like the holy mecca of indie bands. All of my favorite bands were from there growing up. It was insane that we got to play there, so I really built it up in my head before I got onstage. I think I was most embarrassed afterwards, when I was crying so hard I forgot to man the door (all of the bands were switching off door duty).
HBR: But you survived? The show went on?
Sophie: Of course! And then when I listened back to the recording, most of my mistakes were barely noticeable, of course.
HBR: Yeah, that's how it goes
Sophie: But in my head, it was total chaos.
|Sophie ponders the cultural significance of V-day|
HBR: Where does the name "Madam West" come from?
Sophie: Todd and I have a bad portmanteau habit. We love wordplay. It's probably infuriating to be around us most of the time. So Madam West is Mae West+Adam West... I forgot that "Madam" means "chick who runs a house of prostitutes," but oh well.
HBR: Haha, I was wondering if it was a play on Adam West.
Sophie: Yep! Most people think we spell it "Madame," which would be great if I didn't have to worry about them ever finding us on the internet.
HBR: If Madam West was a real person, what would she do for a living? Would she run a brothel or something else?
Sophie: Yeah, probably a brothel, but it would look exactly like that place on Twin Peaks. (But hopefully no one would get super murdered).
HBR: But you never know, it's a tricky business...
Sophie: Ha! Yeah, guess not...
HBR: Your voice is central to the sound and vibe of the band. When did you start singing?
Sophie: I started singing very young - I was in plays and community theater shows from elementary school on. I took formal voice lessons from the ages of 9-12, but have probably ruined most of that by smoking.
HBR: Did you ever consider becoming an actress?
Sophie: Yeah, actually, I went to school for theater, but I didn't fit in at all. I started playing shows at this little dive called Banjo Jim's and various East Village bars, and I was finally like "Hey, yeah, THESE are my people". It was such a relief.
HBR: What is the biggest difference between theatre folk and music folk? You'd think they'd be similar, but they aren't...
Sophie: Absolutely. I think that there's a lot of ego in both fields, but musicians tend to hide it better. Same goes with twenty-something life drama; actors are very loud about it, whereas musicians will a) write a song about it or b) soothe their sorrows over a glass of whiskey.
HBR: There are a lot of musicians who are like, really shy, but they are on stage all the time none the less.
|The Band, doing what bands do.|
Sophie: Totally! Have you ever seen videos of Elliott Smith onstage?
Sophie: There was this one special he did with Jon Brion, where he barely spoke above a whisper.
HBR: I mean, it's like, your instrument is a shield, or a weapon really...
HBR: ...even if it's your voice.
Sophie: It's nice to have that barrier. I mean, in a way I think music is scarier, as a songwriter, at least.
HBR: No, not our kind of music! Not rock and roll, I don't think...
Sophie: Because you don't have a part or character to hide behind. I just mean it creates a lot of vulnerability.
HBR: Yeah, but you also don't really have a script to fuck up!
Sophie: That's true...I really, really sucked at memorizing lines. My one huge role in college, I paraphrased and jumped around the whole script for two hours...Those poor freshmen running lights and sound! They were so lost.
HBR: So there's the vulnerability of the performance... But there's also the vulnerability of the creative process.
HBR: How does MW write songs?
Sophie: It usually starts as a 'space jam' with just Todd and I. I carry a Moleskine around all week to write down potential lyrics, so I'll try some stuff out, and we record everything. We send the recordings to the band and try the new tunes out at our next rehearsal. Then we drill down to specific parts, chords, solos etc.
|Performance of what was once a space jam|
HBR: How does it feel the first time that someone hears your lyrics?
Sophie: Haha! I wish I could say 'liberating,' but usually the boys are in their own worlds while we're writing. So when I tell them what a song is about, they're just like, "What?! I had no idea."
HBR: Yeah, same thing here... And I'm kinda glad it's that way!
Sophie: Right! When my mom used to come to shows in college, she'd be like, "So what boy was that sex song about?"
HBR: I'm sorry... I'm really happy that my mom just, I don't know...
Sophie: Haha, my fault for playing it.
HBR: Do you think you could write lyrics collaboratively?
Sophie: Probably! I think it would be easier if we chose a story or a central theme first. I've always wanted to turn a literary corpse into a song. You know, that game where each person writes a phrase or a sentence? They read like James Joyce.
HBR: Yeah. Personally I couldn't function that way. If I could write words with someone, they'd probably be my soulmate.
Sophie: That's adorable.
HBR: I think that local bands should do more stuff together though, collaborations are always fun. I'd like to do a show where each band is made up of two bands.
Sophie: Absolutely. Supergroups!
HBR: Supergroup Showcase Showdown
Sophie: We had our friend Ty Rone from Chuck Burns play steel pedal with us the other night on a song at Cameo, and then they played. We've been talking about doing some vocal duets as well, on their tunes. It's been really awesome playing with them and this other group, The Private Eyes. Just to have someone else keeping an eye out for bookings, and promoting, and working their asses off in obscurity helps.
HBR: What's on the horizon for Madam West?
Sophie: Haha! A lot more shows, a single release, and recording in the spring. We're might be booking a music festival on the West Coast in the summer, so fingers crossed.
HBR: Sweet! We will cross our collective fingers for you!
Sophie: We're super pumped for V day though! It's gonna be one for the books.
HBR: I hope so, last year's was fun.
Sophie: We should each have a bottle of champagne and some rose petals to pour out on the audience full of everyone missing out on their sexy dates at home.
HBR: Before you go, do you have any advice for a single person coming out to the show, looking for some V-day magic?
Sophie: Yeah! Have enough beers to dance with a special someone, but not enough beers to puke on their shoes.
And with that pearl of wisdom, Sophie is out. We'll see her on Valentine's day. It can be kinda a shitty holiday, y'know? We can't make it perfect, but we're there for you, like, we really always have been, and I, I guess I just didn't realize it till I saw you walk in with that dress on, and hair, I mean, your hair is so.. and I was just wondering, if you.. you... KSDHGIHSDKFGHSKJLGKJSKBSKBFK O;IJF;GSH;KFJHSMFGH;SKJFG KLJHFKMSHFBN;SDNB;JSKDHGBN;JN;BKFNB;JN;KBJNS;JBNSJ.FBN;SJKJNSJFBNSKFBJ;SKB;SKBNSBGNSB;SBG;SGBJSNG;BN
aww shit. sorry about your shoes.
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