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Madonna Interview : SongTalk

Interviewer: How does your writing process work? I know that many of your songs were written with Pat Leonard. You’ve mentioned that sometimes you’ll come up with a melody and bring it to him and let him figure it out–

Madonna: Yes. In my very retarded fashion I will sing it to him. Or hum the melody line to him, and he will put it into a chord progression and we’ll come up with the song that way.

Interviewer: These are melodies that just pop into your head?

Madonna: Yeah. And I start singing them just from my head. Or if I think of a lyric, like a hook or a line, I’ll just put it to a melody and he’ll bang it out on the piano for me.

Interviewer: You must have a great working relationship to be able to connect with him at that stage of the process.

Madonna: We have a very good working relationship because we both come from the Midwest, and we both worked our butts off to get where we are. But, you know, he’s the one who studied music. He knows how to read music, how to write music. I don’t know any of that. I’m completely instinctual and he’s completely intellectual. So it’s a really good combination.

Interviewer: Does he every give you a finished melody to write words to?

Madonna: Yes, he does. But inevitably we fashion it to me. I don’t think he’s ever written a melody that I just took and said, “Okay, that’s finished, I’ll just slap some words on it.” It always needs to be worked.

Interviewer: One of my favorite songs on the album that you two wrote is “Oh Father.”

Madonna: Isn’t that great?

Interviewer: It’s beautiful. And it’s one of those songs that has a near perfect marriage of words and music.

Madonna: That’s the great thing about Pat. I mean, Pat puts together these really strange chord progressions and these really great time signatures, and I’ll listen to it and I won’t even think about it. I’ll just put it on, and I’ll just keep playing it over and over again; it’s like free association. I’ll start singing words to it and making them fit. I don’t thing of structure. I don’t think of first chorus, first bridge.

Interviewer: Did you come up with the melody for “Oh Father”?

Madonna: No, no, Pat thought of that melody.

Madonna - SongTalk / Summer 1989

Interviewer: It’s interesting that you were free-associating on that song and yet the words are so specific and thematic–

Madonna: Yeah, well, we definitely plugged into each other. I know, because I’ve tried to work with a lot of people. It’s really a relationship. It’s a relationship that works. There’s definitely a chemistry.

Interviewer: You mentioned how melodies will pop into your head. Do you have any idea where those ideas originate? Do you feel that they come from beyond you?

Madonna: (laughs) I’m such a sponge; and I love so many different kinds of music, and I’ve listened to so many different kinds of music all my life, it’s really… You know how you just keep memories in the back of your head all the time? I’m sure it’s everything that I’ve ever heard. And then it comes out in my own bastardized fashion. What I am is what I’ve digested throughout my life. What comes out of me. I don’t think it’s beyond, I just think it’s all stored up.

Interviewer: Have you every experienced writer’s block?

Madonna: Sometimes, yeah. Oh yeah, definitely. And when that happens, you just have to stop and go out or something. Go to a movie.

Interviewer: Some writers say that when nothing is flowing, they stay there anyway and try to force it–

Madonna: I do that, too. Sometimes me and Pat will sit through it. We’ll say, “Let’s write a crappy song today.” But then there are times when you just have to let it alone. And go get some inspiration. Ultimately, you can’t force it. But there is a certain amount of discipline required. When I have to write an album, I sit down and say, “This is it.” I sit down and write the album. I give myself a block of time. But every once in a while, it’s really tough.