In looking for collaborators, these days Madonna seeks out the mavericks, which explains Kanye West’s presence on Illuminati and Wash All Over Me on Rebel Heart. “I like that he likes to push the envelope,” she says. “He hears music in a different and unique way. I think Diplo’s the same. I like people who think outside the box, ‘cos they take a song I’ve written that’s quite straightforward and pop and deconstruct it. Rip it apart and turn it into something else.”
At the tail end of 2014, musically schizophrenic funster Ariel Pink prompted something of a social media fuss when he claimed he’d been asked to work with Madonna to bring something “edgy” to her sessions, saying he thought her career was on a “downward slide”.
“He’s a crazy person,” she retorts. “I never met him. I never considered working with him. I don’t know where he got that idea. It’s possible that somebody brought his name along with a million other names to me as people to write with. But I never stopped at his name, considered him and then said no.”
You’re not even aware of his music then? “No. Sorry (laughs).”
Two of the more unusual co-conspirators on Rebel heart are Dahi and Blood Diamonds, two LA-based producers who paired up for tracks on the album. Madonna discovered the former through his work with rapper Kendrick Lamur; the latter is a 23-year-old-purveyor of dreamlike electronica. “I find them to be complex and interesting and unusual,” says Madonna. “They’re really good, really clever.”
For their part, both were impressed by how involved Madonna is as a producer. “She said, like, ‘I want this to sound like it was made in New York in 1988,'” notes Dahi. “Everything we did represented a different time or experience.”
“She’s definitely the captain of her own ship,” says Blood Diamonds, “She would sit on a drum stool, a foot or two from me, and we’d go through claps or bass sounds. She has such a clear vision and that’s the reason she is who she is.”
Madonna in 2015 is striving to be a cutting-edge and, yes, provocative as ever. It’s now 10pm on this Thursday night and there’s every chance this evening’s recording session will stretch until 4am. At 56, and with arguably little left to prove to herself or anyone else, she remains a workaholic, grafting through to the wee small hours, even if in some ways she’d rather stick to a more sociable schedule.
“I don’t prefer working at night,” she admits, as she prepares to return to the control room. “I have kids, so I have to get up in the morning whether I work late or not. But then I go back to sleep and that’s the problem. ‘Cos I wake up late and then it’s a horrible cycle.”
More than a lingering desire for high-level fame – which she could maintain with less swear – or an urge to compete, it seems to be an enduring passion for music that drives Madonna on. She’s a fan of Adele, Sam Smith and especially Beyonce (“I think she’s an artist”), and sometimes hears a song that she dearly wishes she’s written herself. The last one was James Blake’s sparse and emotive rendition of Feist’s Limit To Your Love. “So amazing,” she swoons.
As a music enthusiast, she has no wish to discuss the shrinking fortunes of the record industry. “It’ll just turn into a funeral dirge,” she groans, before getting punchy again. “However marginalized and pushed down we might be, we will rise up! And music is something that we need as human beings, so how can we stop making it?”
Madonna now shares a manager, Guy Oseary, with U2. Would she ever follow her stablemates’ lead and give an album away?
“Um, it’s not that I wouldn’t give an album away. But I would give people the choice to ask me if they could have it (laughs). I respect their decision, but that’s not what I’d choose to do.”
So if Guy had come to you with that idea, you would’ve said no?
“(Nods) I said, Guy, what should I do? Stand in front of Walmart’s and strum my guitar with a hat on? Please! Buy my record!”
That’s your story’s next chapter? Madonna: The Busking Years?
“Yeah,” she grins, “Look for me in a subway.”