madge is an ageless wizard making weird chaotic pop music
i-D talks to the DIY artist about her Mormon upbringing, poltergeists, and her recent fashion collab with non binary clothing label Official Rebrand.
Photo by Sven Gutjahr for Official Rebrand.
The inspiration for Cat Leavy (a.k.a. Madge)’s debut EP, Fight or Flight Club, came from a particularly infuriating — though not totally uncommon — experience in her personal studio. She was producing a project with a male musician, helping him mix a song, when he came over, grabbed the computer mouse, and started doing it all himself. While Cat felt disempowered and wanted to call him out, she just laughed it off as if nothing was wrong. Her resentment grew over time and she penned it into her first song, an “angular, spiritual assault single,” called “Red James.” “I just decided, you know what, fuck this,” Cat says. “I'm going to try to do a project where I do everything myself. I'm going to write it. I'm going to record it. I'm going to mix it.” Just like that, Madge was born.
The LA-based musician grew up in the small town of Provo, Utah, where she was raised Mormon and trained as a classical musician. “I’ve written songs my whole life. You can find my journals from when I was like five and I have songs about mice and pirates and vegetables,” she says. While Madge gravitated towards piano at a young age, playing the instrument became so traumatizing that she swore off it for years. “I have a really perfectionist nature and piano, specifically classical music, has this way of — you can be almost perfect, but never quite,” she says. “On top of that, I had a lot going on in my life [with] figuring out if I really believed in this religion that I was raised in.”
Madge returned to songwriting while earning her degree in performance studies at NYU and reckoning with her religious beliefs. She started to turn away from Mormonism, though it will always be a huge part of her being, in favor of a feminine energy that speaks to individual power. “I found this darker flip side of believing in dark femininity that had always been kept at bay — something maybe a lot of women in similar situations had experienced — this feeling of this repressed spirituality,” Madge explains. “You can call it witchcraft and for me that's not literal, but it is something that really resonates with me and inspires my paradigm and my lyrical approach.”
In the last couple of years she’s moved into production, working on a number of personal and commercial projects. Madge wrote and scored her own film, all the while performing in her synth pop band New Shack with Eric Robertson. “It’s really empowering and it’s a way for me to use my musical skills in a different space,” she says. This hasn’t come unchallenged, given music production is still quite the boys club, but that’s what inspired Madge’s one woman show. “There is this rising generation of not-dude producers and I love that. I think that's great,” Madge says. “I love the whole DIY thing that's happening, but in most major studios it still is really so un-representative and that's frustrating.” Since releasing Fight or Fight Club on November 4, Madge continues to develop songs, often inspired by very specific emotions or mystical experiences, creating “pop anthems for aliens and outsiders.”
Madge’s lo-fi DIY pop, in all it’s raw, ADHD-infused glory, revolves around Madge as the main character at the center of a self-created universe. “I really identify with Madge now,” she says. “I feel like I am Madge, but originally I adopted it from a story about a witch in Celtic folklore and she's this modern, mischiefing version of an old goddess named Madge, who is the Celtic Dionysus — the goddess of madness, addiction, and creativity.” Madge packs a punch. She’s empowering. She can be abrasive, but also sweet like on title track “Fight or Flight Club,” or “Movie World,” which emerges off the EP as an “ever-expanding supersonic love song.” There are other characters in Madge’s universe, like “Alice,” the main star of the spooky track of the same name. “When I was going through some turmoil in my life, I had a personal poltergeist — like something that was a parasite latched onto me and would appear in my dreams and would be in the room with me,” Madge explains. “I would see her in the corner. That's Alice. She's this dark, maybe darker alter ego to Madge in many ways.”
More recently, however, Madge has been able to fulfill another one of her childhood dreams — that of being a fashion collaborator. She connected with MI Leggett, a multimedia artist and founder of Official Rebrand, the gender-free up-cycled fashion brand, and the two collaborated on a capsule collection. MI’s initial inspiration to start their own label came from the queer art/party scene in Berlin and as they began painting on pieces, they felt empowered. “By altering them, I challenged their stagnancy. As I was starting to discover that my own identity was fluid, I realized an article of clothing could be fluid as well, infinitely changeable,” they say. MI transforms and rebrands items, so that they might be consumed again. “There’s a pair of pants that I picked out, then they painted on, and that was really the heart of the true collaboration,” Madge explains. “Then as we were shooting we got to style together… I was trying to bring some of my Madge assets to it.” It was only fitting that MI and Madge returned to Berlin to shoot.
The character that is Madge can inhabit many different roles and dress accordingly, though she’s particularly drawn to red. As for new music, “There’s probably more weirdness and bigger weirdness to come, as soon as I let myself go there” Madge says.