PostMadonna is a very understanding group of musicians. Why might I choose to point that out in the introduction of this interview, you ask? Because after about a half-hour of conversation, the very moment they finished answering the last question I lost everything I had recorded.
Needless to say, I whipped up a fresh batch of inquiries, hit them up a second time, and got to know these dudes pretty well. I am stoked to have caught them on the cusp of some recent successes, with their album coming out on vinyl June 30th and an even-more-recent-than-this-interview signing to Tetra Records. Here we find out about their musical backgrounds, thoughts on songwriting, and Cathy, who’s just trying to make sense of it all.
POS: So I figured I’d start with an open discussion question — would you guys rather write creative music strictly for yourself, not allowed to share it with anyone else, or only be able to play out as a cover band.
PM: (Rowdy) I feel like they both feel the same ultimately, they don’t inspire creativity or allow me to expand. Writing for yourself is just doodling and practice, but when you try to make music that other people care about, you try and do things differently or make it interesting. Then with covers, that’s as opposite as it can be, so I think I’d like to say I’d rather kill myself. (laughs)
(Patrick) I’d have to agree, I might rather just kill myself. Of course, this is really only supposed to be a hypothetical question.
POS: Oh of course, totally hypothetical. I guess the backbone of the question is would you rather play shows or only write music, you know?
Patrick: Yeah, I think I’d rather just write music. I’ve always most enjoyed creating my own sounds. People will come up to me and ask, "Hey, what songs can you play?" I know how to play two songs. Maybe three. I just don’t get that inspired by learning other stuff. As much of an avid music listener as I am, I just don’t get a lot out of playing covers.
Rowdy: Now that you rephrased the question I’m thinking more like... I really like playing shows and just giving that energy out. I know for me I pretty much never break stream, except for when I’m playing shows. For me it’s such a great release that I don’t get any other way.
POS: Alright, this next question might be a little easier. I was hoping you guys could provide some insight into the significance of the name PostMadonna?
Patrick: You know, it was several years ago. I was with my friend Riley McCorkle who plays in this awesome band called Nez Lightning. We were visiting my parents and my dad said something about us being a bunch of prima donnas and Riley made a remark like “no, we make progressive music so we’re Post-Madonnas.” Then we laughed and thought that would be funny band name.
Rowdy: And then years later it’s just kind of… “This is what we’re doing now.” (laughs)
POS: Yeah, I think some of the better band names just happen without thinking about it too much. Once you start thinking about it, nothing will sound just the way you want it to.
Rowdy: For sure. It’s really good now, because whenever I tell people it doesn’t feel like something I have to be self-conscious about, it’s something that just is. If people think it’s goofy or weird or dumb, I couldn’t care less. It’s just what it is now.
Patrick: Especially with our kind of music, if you know the music, you don’t think about the band name. The name seems cool because the music’s cool or not cool…
POS: Yeah, your name becomes a brand almost. Just something people know.
Rowdy: At first I had a hard time with it because it might be a little kitschy and trite, but the more I get used to the idea of it as a brand, it’s a good thing. And that is what it comes down to — easy to search for, easy to Google. When you tell people, they get it.
Patrick: For us, we’ve always put an inversely proportional amount of time into our song titles, band names, and those sorts of things than we put into the music.
POS: It is very difficult to name your art, especially after putting so much effort into it. Like when you meet people, they already have names. I feel like it would be really hard to name an adult person because they’ve already become so complex.
Patrick: Like when Rowdy was born, his parents said, “Yeah I think we’re just gonna name this little thing Rowdy.” (laughs)
Rowdy: Ha, yeah actually when my parents had me they thought I was going to be a girl, and my name was going to be Grace Kelly. But when I popped out and they said, “It’s a boy,” my parents were totally unprepared like, “oh shit! I don’t know! Call him Rowdy!” So that’s how I got my name, which I thought was pretty interesting.
"No one's talking about cyberspace anymore - it's the fucking internet."
POS: So there’s a pretty big departure from Valis to Introducing Postmadonna. You guys used to have eight members? Can you pinpoint the move from electro-trippy to more experimental in the traditional sense, as much of an oxymoron that is…
Patrick: Well, Valis was mostly made in my bedroom. I experimented with more electronic sounds and was able to dabble in the indulgent and masturbatory (for better or worse) with no one there to rein it in. The sound was mostly a product of the tools I had available to me at the time. Our latest release is the most collaborative effort as far as our band goes. We’re still pretty much in our infancy as a full, collaborative live band.
POS: When we talked before, we talked about how your drummer plays violin, and how you guys are big classical music fans. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your guys’ musical training like? Any Slash-esque self-taught guys in the band?
Patrick: Most of us are majorly self-taught. Rich is the most trained person in the group, though not on the drums. He was a child violin prodigy and has played since he came out of the womb.
Rowdy: I have a few years of really strict classical music composition training. So I never trained in a specific instrument, I just kind of took classes in actual composition and classical theory. I’m completely self-taught otherwise. It made me quit playing guitar for a little bit, like two years, because I hated it. When I was studying all the classical music I was just frustrated that I couldn’t do any of it on guitar, it was too awkward. I was working with the piano and drums, but eventually I got over myself and realized guitar was the only instrument I could play worth a shit.
Patrick: Yeah, I’d say Rowdy and Rich are probably the most trained people in the band, and Sean and myself are the least. My first instrument was piano because my brother was taking piano lessons, but I was too undisciplined at the time to really get into it. But I remember asking him if he would show me how to play Ave Maria because he was learning it at the time. That was the first song I ever learned on any instrument. He showed me how to play the song by placing my fingers in the right place, and after that I just came home every day and chaotically explored. I tried taking a few music classes in college and really hated to compartmentalize it in that way. I know some stuff now just from having been involved in music for so long – just notes and chords and terminology and stuff. Mostly just so I know how to communicate with other musicians.
POS: You guys are a fairly experimental group. There’s lots of usage of dynamics and sporadic parts in all kinds of music styles, so I could have seen that answer going either way.
Rowdy: I can’t even remember the first song I learned. I feel like it was a Led Zeppelin song. I think I got to the point in my guitar playing where I knew every Led Zeppelin riff; I could play every riff on every recording. Its funny how much it shows through now, I can look at every stage of my guitar playing and hear the Zeppelin influence, and then when I moved on to bands like the Mars Volta. Then post-hardcore came with like At the Drive-in and Blood Brothers. I went through all these different phases, and with this new record I can really pinpoint where this inspiration came from years later. When I originally wrote the stuff it just felt right, but listening back I can be like, ‘I totally stole that riff.’ In a way its kind of shameful like.. fuck, 14 year old me is still hanging around.
POS: Speaking of the old days, can we talk about your guys’ preference these days on releasing vinyl or cassette?
Altogether: Yeah, I mean we’re all appreciative of the experience of listening to vinyl. The label we’ve been talking to - which we’re not really at liberty to talk about – talked about doing cassettes and we weren’t really into it. I mean we’ve got our big stereo with the big speakers in the living room and it’s just more of a listening experience.
POS: Yeah, I feel like cassettes are more of a novelty, or just something to take home accompanied by the digital download. It’s a weird time to make music because you have all these choices on how to put it out…
Rowdy: I mean just as far as sound quality and something to take away, its better. We were all just at the Tera Melos show and picked up their vinyl which we have been wearing out.
POS: Since we have Rowdy here, I want to ask about the story behind Cathy and the other characters on Introducing Postmadonna.
Rowdy: So, I guess Pat and I are both big sci-fi fans. William Gibson, the guy who wrote Neuromancer is really influenced by Phillip K. Dick. And a lot of what was happening around Postmadonna the album, was when I had just finished reading Neuromancer. I started to get really into cyberpunk in all of its forms, and that whole genre is so antiquated and histrionic, in its tiny little spot in the 80s. Like... it’s never gonna come back. Even the word “cyber.” No one is talking about cyberspace anymore — it’s the fucking internet. So that whole era has such a good aesthetic and a lot of really cool philosophical points wrapped up in neat little packages.
Patrick: Sci-fi isn’t about science fiction; at its core it’s really about philosophy with a gilded exterior.
Rowdy: And I think for the album it really came from my sheer fascination with that stuff. I had also just read Cloud Atlas, which got turned into a movie. And that fuckin’ Neal Stephenson one... Snow Crash. I was really fascinated with the idea of trans-humanism. And Cathy is really just the idea of these three characters, Cathy, Howler and Shredder, who really simply represent these dichotomies I was having over these issues presented in these cyberpunk novels, of trans-humanism versus hyper-naturalism versus just your average human being who just wants to like... live and do what they do. We’re so integrated to the internet and our devices, I can’t imagine what would happen if I didn’t have the internet anymore. And it’s not something I WANT to rely on, and that’s kind of what Cathy represents. And in the extreme end of it, Shredder represents this idea of people who are hyper-reliant on it and the negative aspects of that — people becoming more cyborg than human. I think that’s the next evolutionary step for mankind, we just transcend our organic bodies.
POS: I think there’s going to be a split between the brain chip people and non-brain chip people.
Rowdy: Yeah! And it’s totally going that way. Like you can save 50% on your insurance rate by installing what’s called a black box, similar to when an airplane crashes and you need to call for help. So it just makes sense that if they make these things for machines that we will further these things until we’ve made these devices that measure us as people. Then on the other end of it, Howler is the person trying to cling on to the edges of a dying society, lurking on the edge of town. That was where the idea came from, but certainly not to say that that’s what it is. (laughs) There's (sic) lyrics and things in there about this stuff, but this was the feeling I was going for.
POS: So that’s the back story that led into this new thing.
Rowdy: Yeah, I think ultimately what it’s all about is just like, everything is being so modified that we don’t really know who we are anymore. And when we’re writing these lyrics, I think this stuff that means nothing to me because it’s so crazy and weird and nothing makes sense, but that’s how I feel as a normal person. That’s how I feel as Cathy; she’s just the center point for all. She’s just trying to get by. Everything else is nuts. The songs are weird, the lyrics are weird, but she’s the one trying to make sense of it all.