Funkin’ Sh*t Up; An interview With Sophie Chernin Of Madam West

NYC-based experimental pop quintet Madam West fuses alt-rock, folk and neo-soul influences into a layered and danceable sound wholly their own. The group has been favorably reviewed by tastemakers far and wide, and has opened for Anna Wise (Grammy winner for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly) and shared festival bills with artists the likes of Milo, Guerrilla Toss and Zola Jesus.

Warm Bodies, which was released via Floordoor Records on March 23, is a misanthropic look at modern love, making a living and carving a path as an artist in 2018. Balancing complex rhythms and arrangements with a pop sensibility, Madam West takes an open-eyed look at issues many are grappling with in this politically charged era—nuclear war, tyranny, gender roles, the corporate world.

Frontwoman Sophie Chernin’s earnest vocals are burdened by social norms—“I suppose this is normally the time that I would move my introspection outside/have a child to worry about and not my own millennial mediocrity,” she muses on alt-soul ballad “Erstwhile Manatee”—while still serving up plenty of hope, humor and whimsy to the listener.

Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Chernin to discuss the record. This is what she told us.

When did you first begin writing the material for Warm Bodies?

About a year and a half ago. We write really collaboratively so many of our songs end up being slowly stitched together.

How does this release differ from your debut, Loves You?

It’s a lot less straight ahead synth-pop. Instead of trying to write perfect pop songs, we really leaned into our music nerd-ism and shared love of neosoul and futurist artists like Esperanza Spalding, Hiatus Kaiyote and Anderson.Paak. We also recorded in a different space (Holy Fang) that kept the mix “live” but played up the synths and vocal effects,  while layering in warmer ’70s vibes on guitar…what I like to think of as the “warm and fuzzies” behind Warm Bodies.

Do you embrace your funkiness? Do you think it’s been a hurdle with some of the ‘indier-than-thou’ types?

That is the best question. When we first started playing live shows in NYC, we were definitely a square peg in a round hole. We ended up on a lot of DIY/garage-y house bills, but we never really fit. It was a lot of fun, though!

When we stopped courting a group of people that weren’t interested in our music—not that we were very interested in what they were doing, either, to be completely honest with myself—we somehow managed to find our people, and they found us. C’mon Everybody, Holy Fang, good how are you records and Floordoor Records… We are constantly surrounded by passionate people and high musicianship and are billed with genre-bending hip-hop, jazz and soul-inspired artists that challenge us and make us strive to be better.

So yes, while we may not be your regular cool disaffected Brooklyn band, we indeed like to funk shit up.

Our favorite track is “Erstwhile, Manatee.” We have to ask…Where did that name come from?

Oh, that’s Jory. Our bassist. He’s irreverent. We’re not sure why but he’ll just pop into rehearsal one day and go, “I think we should name this song X.” And we’ll be like, “Why, Jory?” And he says something like, “It just would work well.” And no one really bothers to counter that.

That said, the song is really about other-ness and feeling out of place, so after it got its name the same way you name a stray cat, I came to visualize a manatee trying to fit in with a school of fish. It’s sad struggle makes me laugh a little bit.

Do you have any plans to make any videos from Warm Bodies?

Yes, actually! We’re working with our dear friend Ian Wexler to create a dreamy concoction for “Warm Bodies.”

What artists are you listening to these days? Any Brooklyn faves we should know about?

We love Phat A$tronaut out of Hartford, Connecticut. Vinegar Mother, Wsabi Fox, Secret Nudist Friends, Zenizen, L’Rain, Kalbells, A Bunch of Dead People, Operator Music Band, OK I must stop now.

What’s next for Madam West? Touring?

Well, first the video, but yes, I think we’re gonna hit some more northeast spots this fall. Maine, Massachusetts, we’re comin’ for your chowdah. Funk chowdah.

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