Madame Mayhem has beef with millennials, even though she is one. "We keep thinking we're God's gift to the world," she says.
She's certainly put in the work, both in the studio and on the road, earning many accolades and accomplices (including Billy Sheehan of Mr. Big) along the way. She seems to draw energy from her doubters, channeling their negative vibes into incendiary songs like "Monster" and "Ready For Me." The result is a more theatrical and introspective sound than what we're used to hearing in metal. The vocals cut through, the words are clear, there's no growling.
The latest from Mme. Mayhem is the album Ready For Me. Through June 1, she is on tour with Sevendust.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): You have a song called "Monster" that is wonderful, and I hear you singing in it about how you are breaking free of what people in the business wanted you to be. What did they want you to be?
Madame Mayhem: Oh, so many different things. You just had to ask someone and they wanted something totally different. Anything from completely not the right genre of music that I wanted to do and felt passionate about, to different styles, to different looks, to being and acting in different ways. It was a whole lot of "this will sell better," or "no, you're definitely gonna get more fans this way" or "why are you gonna do this genre, do this one'" or "if you're gonna do this genre you're gonna have to act this way or dress this way."
It was insane, and I was getting so frustrated. To be a musician and to do this and make it your life, you have to be so passionate about it, so to listen to other people telling you what to do is the silliest thing ever. I was so frustrated about it, so we wrote about it, and there it is.
Songfacts: Did you at any point conform to what people wanted you to be?
Mayhem: No, actually, which is great. Certain festivals, they don't want you to curse on stage, so I won't curse on stage - those kind of things, fine. But in terms of what I look like, what kind of music I do, how I sing, how I dress, how I act - that's all me, 100 percent.
Maybe it was the longer road - I've been doing this for a while and it's definitely not easy, but I'm so happy just being true to myself. And that's why I encourage anyone in any part of their life - whether they're trying to do music or not - just be you and be proud of who you are, and don't let people change you, because it doesn't work. You can only take that for so long.
Songfacts: You're certainly a unique voice in the world of metal, especially when it comes to songwriting. Because there really aren't any songwriters like you, I'm wondering how you developed your craft.
Mayhem: Well, I really just wrote music and songs that I wanted to hear, and from my own emotions. I love to collaborate as well, because it keeps you in check. You could think your song is amazing and maybe someone else can put something in there to contribute and just make it that much better.
But honestly, not thinking about what I want to sound like helps me write, because if I'm just writing a song and something comes up - a rhythm or a melody that I would want to hear myself, then I just go for it. And I'm not trying to compare to other musicians or other songs or other things like that, it makes it very unique.
Songfacts: What's an example of one of these collaborations that worked out really well for you?
Mayhem: Oh, all the collaborations. I've been very fortunate to work with so many different, amazing songwriters that I'm so super close to today and that I would love to work with again. On my last album, Now You Know, Billy Sheehan co-wrote most of the songs with me as well as Corey Lowery, and Corey Lowery actually co-wrote most of the songs on my new album, Ready for Me, and also produced it. I've been so fortunate to co-write with so many geniuses and just great musicians that are really nurturing and let me do the sound that I wanted to do, and kind of make it my own. Like Clint Lowery, who is Corey's brother, who is in Sevendust who we're on the road with right now, as well as Troy McLawhorn from Evanescence. So, there's just been so many great situations, I can't pick just one.
Songfacts: Well, you've said that many times a collaboration is advantageous because the collaborator will keep you in check if you're doing something that isn't going to fly. I'm wondering if there's one specific example you can think of where that happened - that one of your co-writers said, "No Madame Mayhem, we need to do it this way and I think that will work out better for you."
Mayhem: Well, it's more than just saying "no let's try this." Let's say I bring something to the table: a song idea, a melody idea or we're trying to come up with lyrics... that might be the best example - coming up with lyrics. I'm sitting there scribbling the pages of so many different lyrics we could put in just to tell the right story, and then all of a sudden, the other co-writer comes in and goes, "Wait, what if we do it this way and say something like this," and then it ends up hitting us, like why didn't I remember that word was in the dictionary? You know what I mean? Sometimes you get so lost in your own head, and you're trying to make it perfect, and because I'm such a perfectionist I sometimes can get that way. Sometimes when you're in the song, you're not thinking. It can be brought out with an outside opinion.
Songfacts: This new album, it's pretty clear that something went down. Can you talk about what led you to write a lot of these songs?
Mayhem: Oh yeah. If anyone wanted to know the dirt or the deep, dark secrets of Madame Mayhem, all you have to do is listen from song 1 through song 13, and you will know.
I write a lot about emotions, frustrations. Career-wise, I was going through a lot of things over the years, like what we were talking about with "Monster": getting pulled in a million different directions, being really overwhelmed with the industry and trying to fight through. Also personally I was going through a lot of tough things, whether it was heartbreak or being mentally messed with, family emergencies. While we were writing there was always something going on that I needed to get out, so it ended up being a very, very personal album.
There are a lot of fun songs on there, a lot of hard rock, also a lot of cool, forward-tempo rock songs, but besides just enjoying that, if you're having a rough day, maybe there's one of the songs in there you can relate to, even if that's not necessarily the same thing I was writing about that day. I listen to songs, and that song could have nothing to do with what I am going through but it helps me get through that. And, because this album was so therapeutic for me, I hope it can help some other people get through some tough times too.
Songfacts: Who is "War you Started" directed to?
Mayhem: Oh, there are two different situations put into one. I would rather not say only because I don't want them to get a big ego. You don't want those people to be like, "Oh yeah, she wrote that song about me." They don't deserve the credit.
Songfacts: Can you tell me in general terms those two situations without revealing the people?
Mayhem: One was an industry conflict and one was a relationship issue. Corey was like "OK, we need to write about this immediately because you're going through so much stuff." In the writing session I was freaking out. I was so stressed out, and I was like, "I don't know how I'm going to write, there's all this stuff in my head." And he's like, "This is what we're going to write about."
Songfacts: I think it's cool that you don't want to give the person you're writing about the satisfaction of knowing they were in your head.
Mayhem: Yeah. Because it really could be anyone. It's not easy in the world today, especially being a female, which I try to not dwell on. But there's definitely plenty of ammo to use for songwriting and I just try not to call anyone out specifically because I also want it to be one of those things where other people can relate and not make it about one situation or one person.
Songfacts: How have you been treated differently because of your gender?
Mayhem: In the music industry I try to think that it's not a thing. Whenever anyone asks, "How does it feel to be a woman in the rock world?" I try to say it shouldn't matter, and most of the time nowadays, it doesn't, which I am very happy about. But sometimes they clump you with all the female-fronted bands in one genre, like putting every single band with a dud singer in a genre, which is not a thing. Or people commenting on what I'm wearing on stage - that's my costume on stage and that's what I like to wear and it shouldn't affect someone else in a way that would be harmful or aggressive. I'm just trying to do me, and I want to be a good role model for other people as well.
So, it's definitely difficult but we make it work, and luckily I've now surrounded myself with people that I trust, that I love.
Songfacts: Do you feel that there's progress being made?
Mayhem: I do. There are a few things here and there where certain festivals won't book you because "there's too many girls on the bill already." That has happened before, which is crazy. But besides that kind of stuff it has been so much better, and I've been seeing more bands come out with females in it, and it just makes me really happy. The more no one cares if you're a girl or a guy on the stage, the better. It should be all about the music and the performance.
Songfacts: In your "Ready For Me" video you have a preacher and his followers. I'd like to hear your thoughts on that song and how the video relates to what you're expressing.
Mayhem: The director came up with that analogy because he thought that it would probably translate better. I personally have no problem with religion or groups or anything like that - it definitely is not a literal translation.
But "Ready For Me" is really a song similar to "Monster" where it started off as an industry song and kind of turned into people judging me for being who I am. Once I did stand up for myself and say, "I'm Madame Mayhem, and I look the way I do, and do the music that I do," there were a lot of mean people that were bullying me and being like, "Why does she look like that? Why is she so weird? That's where those girls that are whispering come in. Those clique-y kind of groups, that still happens after school, even though it does get better. For anyone who is freaking out now, it does get better and it doesn't matter.
But, that song is saying, "I don't think you're really ready for me. I don't think you're ready for something different." We got turned down so many times before we finally got picked out, which I am so happy we did now. But, they were like, "You're too different, so we don't want you."
Isn't the point to be different? You don't want to be the same thing as someone else. So, that's where that came from. And then the directors at Industrialism Films out in LA wanted to do a more visual suggestion of what the song was about. I think it turned out pretty cool, pretty fun.
Songfacts: What form did this bullying take?
Mayhem: Bullying takes many forms. Social media can be great, and I love to connect with fans via social media, but it can also be mean too. Luckily, I've been able to overcome it. If you don't let it bother you, people will stop. Because everyone has their own lives. Everyone should be able to be who they are and not worry about it, and that's really what I'm fighting for.
Songfacts: Do you consider Madame Mayhem a band?
Mayhem: I consider it as both, actually. My parents came up with the name Madame Mayhem for me when I was trying to get into this genre because whether I caused it or not, mayhem would ensue. It would just start, all the time, even if I didn't cause it. So when it came time to figure out what I wanted to be called it just made sense. They were already calling me that anyway.
Now that I'm on the road a lot I like to make it feel like more of a band vibe because we're all in this together: everyone who has participated in either writing the songs, recording the songs, or just being on stage. I like it being both. I am Madame Mayhem, but on stage I say we because it's a collective effort to convey these songs and play these songs out to the masses.
Songfacts: How does your stage persona differ from the real you?
Mayhem: My personality doesn't change by any means. I am definitely a very theatrical performer on stage - that's just who I am. I am also trained classically in opera and in musical theatre, so I've always been very big and loud on stage, and very theatrical. But besides the heightened-ness of it, it's pretty much the same. I try not to change as a person when I'm on stage or when I'm not on stage. It's the same personality just embodying something different.
Reliving the songs and putting on a show is really what makes it different, and then I love bikes and dark eye-liner and all those clothes anyway, but it's definitely heightened on stage. I'm wearing spike boots right now but they're a little less spiky and I just change into more spiky boots to get on the stage. So really it's the same, it's just thoroughly heightened.
Songfacts: So if you were in a Starbucks we'd probably recognize you?
Mayhem: Yes, for the most part. You'd see me in an oversized band shirt with spikes all over my shoes and stuff. It's not too different.
Songfacts: You have a song called "Number One" on this album, and it sounds like it's not one of the ones that is about industry deals and relationships. I'd like to hear what your thoughts on that song are.
Mayhem: "Number One" is really about the millennials. I'm a millennial: that generation where we have all those trophies. I got a blue ribbon for falling off a horse the most times once. That's not a thing. Now all of us are trying to do something with our lives and we're never satisfied. We keep thinking we're God's gift to the world and we're not being team players.
When my friends got into the workforce, no one was happy. Everyone wanted to do something else. You get told, "hey you're amazing," and then you get into the real world and you don't know how to handle yourself. I'm very thankful to my family for telling me I was amazing all the time, even when I wasn't, only because I think that gave me the confidence to do this as a career, but at the same time you need to be willing to put in the work.
Songfacts: Hey, you're supposed to trash the generation ahead of you, not the one you're in.
Mayhem: It's only because I was living it, and I was seeing it, and I'm guilty of it sometimes as well. So I decided to call us all out.
Songfacts: What's one of your songs that we haven't talked about that is very meaningful for you?
Mayhem: Ooh, that's good. The other music video that we have out right now is called "All Around the World." That is more of a social topic. I was noticing that everyone is all into their phones. If you're walking down the street and someone knocks into you, they're not even looking. They can't even cross the street. Everyone thinks they are the focus of the world and no one is really helping. It's not true all the time, but when I was writing this song I saw something on the news or something where no one was helping anyone else, and someone was always thinking that they were correct all the time without listening. I'm fortunate to collaborate with other musicians and artists that like to hear other people's thoughts and opinions, but that's not always the case. Some people always need to be right and not listen to other people. "All Around the World" was that kind of frustration. Everyone needs to listen to everyone else and be able to work together to make everything better.
May 16, 2018
More at madamemayhem.com
Also check out:
Our interview with Billy Sheehan
Our interview with Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust