What were you doing as a teenager? The answer to that question probably depends on your background. If you grew up in Britain, chances are you were busy drinking WKD at the park, trying to make sure your fringe had no gaps in it and memorising a poetry anthology for your GCSEs (I’m sorry but can we all agree that, however meaningful, “Search for My Tongue” is a horrible, horrible poem.) Other parts of the world will have contained different rituals, different outlets, different ways of navigating the weirdness of that bridge from youth to adulthood – an experience which is also universal.
For electro pop artist Madge – real name Cat Leavy (although she won’t tell me her age!) – those teenage years were spent questioning her entire belief system. She was born and raised in a strict Mormon household in Utah, America, but as she got older, she started wondering whether that lifestyle even made sense to her. “When you live with just other Mormons – which I did for most of my life – you think everybody’s like that,” she says now, speaking over the phone from her apartment/makeshift music studio. “I was really disturbed by the sexism and homophobia of the church. And to start questioning that as a teenager, and then having a full on faith crisis in my early 20s… that was really traumatic. I still deal with those intense feelings of shame, guilt and self loathing that have been programmed into my brain.”
She now lives in LA, having left the Mormon life behind to become a one-woman DIY music wizard, but it wasn’t a straightforward journey. Before all of that, she did what any logical young person does when they’re going through an existential crisis, and moved to New York, where she studied performance art at NYU and got a lot of repressed partying out her system. When I ask her at what point music found its way to the forefront, she hesitates. She’d always played classical piano and written songs, she tells me, but it wasn’t until she relocated to Freiburg in Germany, after college, that she found her tribe. It was there that she founded the synth duo New Shack with her best mate Eric – a band that has a hefty back catalogue of very catchy, colourful, 80s-sounding pop tracks, and still continues today. Her own stuff, she says, came later.
“In the duo, I don’t do any of the production, just the songwriting. And when I would have interviews or talk to fans, it was funny how quickly everyone assumed I didn’t do the production side of things,” she explains. “I wanted to be like, ‘wait, no, no, I can do that too, I’m not just a face here.’ So I was full of angst in my studio one day and was like ‘I’m going to do it all, I’m going to write, record, mix, everything.’ And then I did. Which is how Madge happened.”
Madge has only been a prime focus for around a year – the same amount of time she’s lived in LA – and so far she’s released two tracks under that name: the dark, celestial “Fight of Flight Club” from back in March, and “How To Play”, which we’re premiering above. The latter is a weird, hooky track, with a chorus that sounds like a nursery rhyme stuck together with dirty synth lines and electroclash beats. It’s the kind of thing that might have made sense on a compilation alongside Uffie and New Young Pony Club back in the 2000s, but it also fits neatly beside alt-pop wunderkinds like Charli XCX and MØ. “This song takes me back to what I’d make before I waxed academic,” Madge says. “I just wanted to make something so obvious, so catchy, without the lyricism and poetry of my other tracks. It’s just a big childlike middle finger track. If you had to summarize my mission statement, it’s probably this.”
For now, “How to Play” is the next step in Madge's introduction to the world before her debut EP arrives in a couple of weeks. Before then, though, she tells me she's going to have a sugary, carb-filled breakfast and get back to work in the studio. “I’ll probably also start thinking about this interview immediately, stewing on it for the next two hours,” she adds, laughing. “I always replay everything I’ve ever done. I live in a cycle of trying to relive the past. It's something I'm working on.”
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.