SO BELOW: Goth-Pop and NIN
An interview by Sarah Kidd.
Madeline North is the self-appointed queen of ‘Goth-Pop’, the New Zealand singer’s artist name of So Below even conjures up images of the darker depths of the human soul. Her music has captured the hearts and minds of all who have had the pleasure of listening to it; tracks such as ‘Luna’, ‘Sleep’ and ‘Hard’ hypnotically beautiful in all of their electronic splendour.
Surrounded by musical friends, including members of such prestigious NZ acts such as The Naked and Famous, North decided to experiment herself with nothing more than a laptop and her own voice. Since then she has released her first EP, opened for The Naked and Famous at a large arena show and has clocked up hundreds of thousands of streams on Spotify.
You often refer to your music as ‘Goth-Pop’, if you had to relate this to the music of other bands, who would they be?
That’s a good question; I feel like I always try to sound like Nine Inch Nails but I don’t necessarily sound like them at all (laughs). People often say Grimes, and yeah I love her so it’s definitely a compliment to be comparable to Grimes.
I find one of your latest tracks ‘Hard’ particularly hypnotic, what’s the story behind it?
I feel like all of my songs are depressing, but it’s basically about how when you have someone you are really close to and you have a disagreement and it’s just like a really uncomfortable awkward feeling. You don’t like to not be close with the person, so yeah it’s just kinda that feeling when you have had a massive argument and there’s nothing that you can do.
I am assuming that you have written that from personal experience in some way?
Yeah, whenever I write a song I try to write it from a personal space or even like a dream. Because in that way you can kinda relate to it more; and then I feel like you also do it for other people too because it came from a residual stage.
I was lucky enough to see you perform at both your intimate first show at REC and then the arena show in support of The Naked and Famous and I noticed a real change – confidence wise – in you between those two shows. Do you feel that you have now found your groove when it comes to live performances?
I don’t feel super comfortable on stage, but it’s funny that you mention the REC show because that was the first physical show that I played and basically every single person that I had ever met was at that show! So it was just horrendous, like a high school family reunion thing where everyone knows me and like I was trying to be the cool one on stage (laughs) and I was waiting for people to say ‘Maddy, you’re not cool, what are you doing?’. I was unbelievably nervous for that show, I wanted to just run out of the door and never come back and that’s why the Naked & Famous show was the opposite because it was not a big deal at all. A big show you don’t know anyone and it’s like a bunch of strangers and I don’t really know any one person, so I can almost act differently. But in the UK it was great – so by the end of it I was talking more to the audience and I wasn’t shaking as much!
I believe you have plans for a second EP before going for the full album?
Yeah that’s the plan; we have two more songs lined up for the EP and then we have pretty much an album mostly done that we will probably put out beginning of next year. I would say that it is going to sound pretty different from the first EP just because of the vocals in the first EP, I was like whispering and I would put in more reverb and delay because I didn’t wanna hear my voice. But now I feel like I have a lot more confidence and you know there’s more range vocal wise. I have worked with a larger range of producers on this album; it’s going to be more different sounding.
My personal favourite track of yours is ‘Sleep’ – I absolutely adore that song!
I was writing about, I guess about change and it was at a time in my life where there was a lot of change and it wasn’t necessarily all great change, so I was writing about how to cope with it I guess. I was living with Sam McCarthy and wrote the pre-chorus and then the chorus on the couch by myself and then Sam came home and I played it to him and he was like ‘This is great!’ – And he instantly had the melody to the verse and then he was like ‘Let’s go downstairs and flesh it out!’ It’s definitely one of my favourites, I love that song. I always open with Sleep because I feel like with the drums through the chords and stuff, it’s an interesting production.
When you started on this musical journey what prompted you to make the sort of music that you do?
I really like electronic music and I’m like a really huge Nine Inch Nails fan. I feel like I always fit Nine Inch Nails in there but basically I want to make the music that I want to listen to. I want to make good music for me and I want to make music for people like me, who like that style. I also just happen to be in really lucky situations with fantastic producers that got my vision; perhaps if that hadn’t happened and I didn’t have these amazing friends to help me out then maybe I would have done singer songwriter stuff you know just because I guess that would have been the easiest thing to do by yourself.
A big part of music as well is of course personal visual style? How would you describe yours?
I’m like a ‘Witchy Goth’; I mean I feel like it’s a New Zealand thing right? We just love wearing black; I just stopped wearing colours like 5 years ago. I literally don’t own any colour in my wardrobe, it’s slightly depressing (laughs) I love Doc Martens as well.
One of the things you have been quite open about is your anxiety and how that has fed into your music…
I don’t really have extreme anxiety, it’s just in certain situations. In the creative industry you’re putting yourself out there and when you’re not necessarily getting the response you want it’s really hard to accept. So yeah it’s definitely something that I have struggled with before and just like playing on stage and stuff, it’s never easy but I guess it’s something that most people deal with. I try to stay positive and tell lots of jokes, heh; I’m very sarcastic that’s how I deal with my anxiety.
You obviously have been spending a lot of time in LA, has this shaped any of your future music?
Yeah I don’t know it’s hard to say, most of the stuff was all written in NZ so I feel like to me it all comes from a NZ space. Writing with New Zealanders; I just love it, I love the way we all have this sort of secret connection, and our brains are just wired to get each other. So I would definitely say that working with New Zealand producers and writing in New Zealand is my favourite and I feel like it produces the best work.
What’s next for you – when do we get a chance to see you back here?
We are looking at a lot of festival stuff in December/January so yeah that would probably be the next time. I’m looking forward to it!
So Below has recently released her new single ‘Ruin’ (which you can listen to here), and is in the process of completing her second EP, due for release very soon. For more information on So Below you can listen to her on Soundcloud or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.