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Madonna Interview : Sounds

Madonna - Sounds / March 12 1983

It’s not often that you find this rag covering an artist who wants to be the new Evelyn King and who numbers Michael Jackson as her idol. But then again, it’s not often you find that an artist like that who is white, on Sire and with a debut 45 remixed for UK release by Rusty ‘Motormouth’ Egan, is it?

Madonna (it’s her real name, result of a staunchly Catholic upbringing) has shifted 65,000 copies in the USA of ‘Everybody’, a mixture of pounding discofunk and peculiarly sleazoid vocal tendencies. A current fave rave of the pulsing Pouncey, the diminutive and punkily shorn blonde was in London recently and found time between shows to talk to yours …

Ensconced in a flat not a stone’s throw from my own North London gaff, Madonna took tea with honey and spoke of her Detroit origins.

“It’s real desolate, a factory town. Since Motown there hasn’t been any real cultural scene there. There’s a good jazz scene but that’s it. I studied dance at the University Of Michigan.”

An eventual move to New York led her to a position with one of the leading artsy-fartsy dance companies in town. But touring, lack of new opportunities and the rarified atmosphere eventually became a grind.

“There’s so many dancers and not enough work. Plus there’s not much money for doing this hard, physical work every day, and it’s a very inaccessible art form. I wanted to use more of my assets, you might say, so I decided I wanted to audition for the musical theatre kind of stuff.”

After a month of try, try, trying came what turned out to be both a boon and a burden. Patrick Hernandez, he of the international disco hit of monumental awfulness ‘Born To Be Alive’, was looking for dancers for a big tour.
Madonna auditioned despite her opinion of Mr Hernandez’s smash as “really horrible, right?” She was asked to return another day.

“Finally they took me in this room and said, ‘We don’t want you to do it! We want to make you a star!’ They were based in Paris, so they wanted me to go there and study with a vocal coach while they found material for me. It was to be a learning situation. So I went!”

“I overdubbed vocals on already-recorded disco tracks, but basically it was pretty boring. As far as actual productive musical stuff I had nothing to show for the six months I spent there.
Eventually I just got fed up.”

“They were taking me around on a leash, they wanted me to be like Edith Piaf or something. They were going around telling everybody that I was this little thing they’d found in the gutters of New York. And I didn’t speak French so I didn’t know half the shit they were saying to people, y’know? But I knew they were all trying to live out some fantasy of making me into somebody, y’know?”

“I just was too smart for that, I was used to working hard, so I said ‘See ya later!’ I hadn’t signed any contracts.”

Landing back penniless in NYC (I confess / wouldn’t have) Madonna searched out musos.

“They taught me chord progressions, so I could start writing songs straight away. I was full of energy and raring to go! I was also in some 16 millimeter art movies, no story, just images chopped up to make you think about things. I was doing all sorts of wacky things, screaming and running around changing costumes; having monologues with myself talking to the camera. There was another more narrative one, a love story. I was the lead girl, it was real stupid, I was this S and M girl, a dominatrix, and I had these slaves. It was really hilarious!”

After a year and a half of futzing around with no-hope bands composed of teen players who wouldn’t show for rehearsal, Madonna wised-up and made a demo with a funk drummer Pal from Detroit who’d just arrived in New York. A DJ at the Danceteria Club tried out the tape on patrons, and reception was sufficiently impressive for him to tout the thing to record companies.

“All the places we went offered a deal, so I took the best, which was with Sire.”

An album is in progress, as is a band, but in the meantime Madonna and her dancers perform to taped music.

“WEA have insisted that Rusty Egan remix the single before they put it out. I don’t see that it needed it but I think he did a good job.”

The album will be sold R&B/funk, produced by Reggie Lucas of Roberta Flack and Stephanie Mills fame and featuring the kind of quality session cadets to be found on discs by Luther Vandross and Aretha Franklin.

“When people see me they’re real surprised that I’m white! They think someone like me should be punk or something! We have a real interesting style.”

The Madonna album will emerge from its burrow for scrutiny this spring. I didn’t have the nerve to ask if it’ll be called ‘Catholic Girl’.

© Sounds