The first time I heard Circ’s “Destroy She Said,” I fell in love with the voice of Madelin Zero. Her breathy angelic vocals were both soothing and haunting at the same time. Her solo album was a visionary fusion of rock and electro that was, frankly, ahead of its time. She’s gone on to work with everyone from ATB and Tomcraft to Richard Morel and Shah. Teaming up again with Estonian producer DNS, with whom she recorded Another Day, she goes a bit darker and more progressive with “If I Just Listened.” The sound is quite warm, with effected vocals used in the intro as if another instrument. The vocals in the verse start off almost spoken and gradually become sung with a hushed tone. The groove intensifies until the big breakdown when Madelin’s angelic vocals become the focus over minimal backing. The music builds again to a hands-in-the-air progressive groove with electro flourishes that will sound amazing on a big sound system. “If I Just Listened” is one of those songs that might not grab you on first listen. I played it in a radio show, and when I listened back to the set I found myself falling for the track big time.
In these days of producer-driven dance music, you see a pretty girl singing in a europop video and wonder what role she really played in making the music. Watching the video for Circ’s “Destroy She Said,” I hoped there would be more to come from the girl called Madelin. Flash-forward a year, and the CD “Dirty Purple” arrives with 14 tracks of electro and Madelin Zero proves she is not just a pretty voice. The former rock goddess wrote all the songs and worked with producers ATB, Bill Hamel and Tonetrager to create her own unique vision blending electronica and pop.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: So where am I talking to you from today?
Madelin Zero: I am in freezing New York City..
RS: Your music is so electro-based and European that it’s hard to believe that you are from the US. Who are your influences?
Madelin: Early influences are Terri Nunn/Berlin, The Alarm, The Cure, Gene Loves Jezebel, Echo & the Bunnymen, Pink Floyd and the Doors.
RS: Weren’t you in a rock band for a while? How did you discover electronic dance music?
Madelin: Yes, I was in a band. I wanted to play live but really I am a songwriter so I think of it like painting my songs with certain colors. If you choose a guitar and live drums everyone calls it rock. If you use a computer, it’s electronica. To me, it’s about the songs. I have always loved electronic music, dancing to everything from the Pet Shop Boys to the Sneaker Pimps, Lamb to Underworld.
RS: Was “Destroy She Said” your first foray into dance music? How did you meet up with Circ?
Madelin: Kind of. I worked with Bill Hamel and Sam Mollison a few years before I worked with Alexander Perls (Circ). Oh god, you don’t want to know how we met…
RS: Well.. when you say it like that, I have to ask. How did you and Alex meet?
Madelin: Apparently we met at a Sonic Youth concert, although I’ve never been to a Sonic Youth concert.
RS: The first two lines “Like the tower fallings down, like a bomb blast in your town” caused a bit of controversy. When you wrote the song, what inspired that imagery?
Madelin: Alex wrote “Destroy She Said.”
RS: Ah, so what is your songwriting process?
Madelin: I usually come up with the song concept, writing the lyrics first and then the melody, sometimes I use a piano or a drum loops. Then I drop the lyrics out and see if the melody is cool enough to sound good by itself. After that, I drink some coffee and take a break. When I come back, I am ready to listen with fresh ears and make sure the song tells the story.
RS: Was most of the album recorded in the US or Europe?
Madelin: Most of it was recorded in Germany, except for “I Saw Your Video” and “Anything Perfect.”
RS: Between New York and Germany, how did you hook up with Indecent Media?
Madelin: My manager introduced me to Jurgen (Korduletsch) when Radikal signed CIRC. Indecent Media is Radikal’s sister label.
RS: I popped in your CD when I got it and its incredible. It’s like the CD that I wish Madonna had released. What was your vision when you started on this album? I ask because the album feels very personal, like you put it together yourself.
Madelin: Well, Jurgen and I started this project almost 2 years ago. I said to Jurgen, I am very inspired by everything I’ve seen, the time I’ve spent traveling, and the people I’ve met. I want to write an album that will sound like all of this has felt. Jurgen is an incredibly talented guy and he understood my vision. Every week, I mailed him my new inspirations and we collectively found producers that we liked. I trust him so much because he will always tell me when I suck, so I believe him on occasion when he says I’m brilliant.
RS: Speaking of producers, when you work with someone like Bill Hamel – does he send you a track to write to?
Madelin: Yes. With “Anything Perfect,” Bill called and said he had a track that he thought I would be inspired by. I had some lyrics that I thought went really well with the music and then we fine-tuned the whole thing, melody and song-story, together. I like working with Bill Hamel very much.
RS: What was it like working with ATB?
Madelin: So amazing! He is incredibly humble. His studio is like a big family with all these characters (Woody Van Eyden and Space Kid). They have this cook that makes them all lunch everyday. Writing with ATB is great because he has this amazing positive energy which is almost spiritual. He’s one of the top producers ever. His ears are just incredible.
RS: You are breaking the mold – as most electro songs feature female vocals that are cold if not detached. Your songs contain a lot more emotion with your performance. Was it your goal to add warmth to the cold nature of electro?
Madelin: I didn’t think about it really. I wasn’t trying to stay within a genre. Electro sometimes has a way of making you feel like you are at a birthday party that you weren’t invited to. I hate that. It feels fake.
RS: Sorry to keep comparing you to Madonna – but like her you are so visual – with your use of videos to portray messages. Was Goldstar based on a single story?
Madelin: We tried to mirror the song concept except in the song Goldstar chooses fame while in the video she chooses love.
RS: Talking about videos, what inspired the dancing navy boys in the “Destroy She Said” video?
Madelin: Daniel Klenke came up with that. I thought it was kind of hot. European culture is so much more open than ours. I love the way the boys dress there but then I come home and I’m like, wow, cowboys are hot!
RS: Which song on the CD was the biggest challenge to write or record?
Madelin: Oh my God.. Dirty Purple. It was the first song I wrote and the last song we finished.
RS: What exactly is “dirty purple” – some abstract notion? My only reference is the southern coloquialism I heard once when post coitus my partner said that they saw purple.
Madelin: Haha, well the lyrics read like a letter. So it should say, Dear Dirty Purple, I am here lamenting you. But I got the name because purple is the color of intuition. Both Dirty Purple and Gold Star are inspired by real people in my life.
RS: Are you performing a lot to promote the album?
Madelin: Yes, I am performing in Cuba next week and I am having a Christmas party and show at Plaid in New York City on December 16th. I’ll probably tour in 2005.
RS: Whats your favorite song to sing live?
Madelin: “In the Morning” is so much fun live.
RS: What’s in your CD player right now?
Madelin: Jimi Hendrix. I went to a party recently and they were playing a lot of his music. I caught the bug.
RS: I read on your website that you collect fans. You’re the first person I’ve heard who does that. May I ask why?
Madelin: I like the cold steel art deco lines. I have heard stories of people finding fans in boxes that have never been opened. I would freak if I found one of those.
RS: Speaking of your website – I love how you respond to posts from your fans. How important do you think the internet will be for you?
Madelin: Well it’s been a great thing because it connects us all and if people hear my music in the most obscure places. They can find me from anywhere in there world and I love connecting with my fans.
Interview conducted October 2004. Images courtesy of Radikal Records.