We had the chance to spend some time with local musician Madeline Robinson this month. She told us all about her early years, some of her inspirations, and more!
Madeline currently writes and plays in Nice Try with Kahler Willits and Steve Schuster. She also plays bass and sings with Amy O.
Bethany: Where are you from?
Madeline: I am from Knoxville, Tennessee
B: And then what brought you to Bloomington and when?
M: Um.. I think I’ve been here for five years now. After college I just needed to move somewhere and I didn’t want to move back to my hometown, cause that felt kind of embarrassing. and I knew some people here from touring before and had visited and really loved it. But, it was kind of random. I had only been here once or twice just for shows and didn’t know that much about it. But I’m really glad I did it.
Jessie: Where did you go to college?
M: I went to Warren Wilson College outside of Ashville, do either of you know it?
M: It’s a really small liberal arts school that used to just be a farming school. It’s like, up on a mountain and super quaint. But, I only went for a year even though I really loved it. Because it didn’t feel like I was doing anything that was very applicable to my life. So I was just wasting someone else’s money. and I didn’t like the music scene in Ashville so it was really depressing me.
B: What were you studying when you were there?
M: I didn’t have a major so I was taking a lot of gender studies classes and English classes, but mostly just everything you have to take to get a liberal arts degree.
B: So when did you start playing music?
M: I think I was sixteen when I played my first show, but I’m not positive. So, my early days of high school. Before I played a show, for like a year I was just recording acapella music into my laptop and sharing it online and stuff.
B: Was your first show just solo then?
M: Yeah, I played at a bar in town by myself. I only played solo shows for a very long time.
J: What was the first song you wrote about?
M: The first song that I can remember recording was the words from a poem that I had to write for school. It was very cheesy, in my opinion, like all cliches. Maybe we were studying cliches, I don’t know. But just like very overdramatic, cheesy, kid stuff. The song wasn’t about anything that had actually happened in my life. I would do that a lot. They sound like personal songs but it never actually happened.
B: Do you still have the recording?
M: Yeah. When I recently went back home visiting I found in my old room a CD I had burnt - my first album, made out of paper lunch bags with stickers on it. So, I have it all now, but I didn’t used to.
J: What’s it like listening to that?
M: I don’t! I absolutely do not listen to it. All of that music, if I heard it from someone else now I absolutely would not like it. It’s hard for me to listen to because I’m not proud of it, but I’ve been trying to be more appreciative of it lately, like not so negative about it. It’s a really cool thing for a teenager to do and it made me who I am now, and people responded to it even if I don’t like it, so that’s cool. But I can’t listen to it.
J: So what was one of your first songs that you were really proud of that you still are today?
M: Still now? That’s a hard question. Maybe there’s some songs where in retrospect I think, “Oh, for someone of my experience level at the time, that’s a really good song to have written.” But, I wouldn’t be excited to share it now. Kind of as soon as I started playing guitar, which is relatively recent, I still feel pretty proud of most of it.
B: What were you playing when you played your first show? Were you just singing?
M: I played ukelele exclusively, which I think just felt really accessible at the time. I was like, “I couldn’t play the guitar! That’s not something I’m able to do.” But, I felt I was able to (play ukelele), so I did.
J: So when did you start playing with other people?
M: My first band was also in high school. I just sang and then other people did the rest, but it didn’t feel that much like being in a band. It’s not anywhere the same as my experience now of what being in a band is like. So in high school I played in a band, but we weren’t super serious. We played some out of town shows and stuff. I feel like Nice Try was my first serious effort. I wasn’t putting much thought into it before, I guess is what I mean. Just slapping some words over someone else’s instrumentation.
B: Do you write all the music for Nice Try now?
B: Do you prefer playing with another person to playing solo?
M: I think I prefer it, but I don’t know. I like both a lot. What I like about being in a band is that even now my songs end up sounding ways that I didn’t really think it was possible for them to. Like I’ll write a song that I think is just OK, then play it as a band and it sounds really exciting. Which makes sense - adding more layers makes it more interesting. I love playing solo too, I just don’t do it very much.
J: How did Nice Try start?
M: I really wanted to be in a band for like at least a year before that, but I didn’t really know how to or who I could play with. I bought an electric guitar and thought about it all the time and tried playing with a couple people. Tried different band names, tried different things. It didn’t work. Then I met the old drummer for Nice Try, Justin, who was kind of new to going to shows and stuff and I would talk to him a lot and found out he played drums. I was like, “Oh, you’ve never really played in a rock band and would like to. That’s me too!” So we just did it, and it worked! It wasn’t weird.
B: Yeah, lately I’ve tried playing with a lot of different people and it’s just like, been the same. It’s so hard to find someone that you click with musically.
M: It doesn’t seem like it should be difficult, but it can be. Which I think is part of why I was so weirdly resistant to getting a bassist for Nice Try for so long. I think a lot of the reason was just being afraid of adding another person and having it feel weird and then not knowing how to proceed.
B: Are you playing now as a three-piece?
M: Yeah, all the time, which is great. I don’t know why it took me so long. Partly for why I just said. But it’s just another thing that makes it more exciting when you actually hear the songs that you made.
B: So what’s next for you guys?
M: We have a lot of small tours planned, and a big tour. With my job now, because I work at a school, I just don’t have a job during the summer. So I’m trying to kind of embrace it and just tour a lot. So we have a spring break tour coming up, and we’re playing a couple fests and doing a small weekend around then, and then in the summer we’re going to the west coast to tour with another band.
J: Can you talk about some of your musical influences or inspirations?
M: Yeah! Maybe my favorite band in the world is The Sundays. It’s like 90’s… Soft rock? I don’t know. But the woman has the most beautiful voice. I would listen to it all the time at home and my aunt described it as, that her voice is the kind of voice that makes you feel like you could sing the same part perfectly. Because it’s so effortless even though she’s singing difficult stuff. Anyway, I love The Sundays, I really want to sing like her. I really like Juliana Hatfield. Anyone who plays like, rock music, but that’s still very pretty at times and really melodic. I guess that’s
kind of “singer-songwriter-y” lyrics. So many rock bands I feel like are just trying to shred or something. I love The Strokes which is funny, but I think about the way their songs are a lot and wish I could make songs like that.
B: I think The Strokes is like the first CD that I bought for myself. Like, I had my money and I went to Barnes and Noble or something and I was like, I want to buy this CD.
M: When I was in high school, this is so strange, but I found in our front yard a really nice burnt copy where they had like put the image over the disc and stuff, of “Is This I” by The Strokes and “First Band on The Moon” by The Cardigans, and then those were my two favorite albums for like a solid year. I was like, “Why did this happen?”
But it was great. If I was like a “true star” I would want to emulate Julian Casablancas on stage. I guess I still could, but…
B: Yeah, it feels weirder when it’s just like, your friends seeing you.
M: I’ve thought a lot lately about like, intentional showmanship on stage and stuff. I always think it’s really cool, actually. But I always felt like, “Oh, well I couldn’t pull that off,” because everyone knows me and they would think it’s really funny. But maybe you just have to embrace it.
B: I think people would like it! I think it’s always nice to see something new and different, especially in DIY scenes.
M: I still think about that kind of stuff, but just not in an obvious way. I’ve been talking to people about it, and I think most people do think about it. Even if it’s just like, I’m gonna sway a little while I sing, or something. Or, I’m gonna make sure my eyes are open.
B: From my experience being on stage, I always feel like the things that I’m doing feel like they’re really noticeable and then they aren’t, or they feel like they aren’t and then they are. Like, it’s hard to understand how extreme the things that you do are when you’re on stage.
M: I’m always just trying to just do damage control for the fact that I assume if I be my natural self it will look really dorky on stage and I wanna feel cool. So it’s like, OK, make sure you move just a little bit, and every once in awhile move your guitar a little. For as much as I think about it, absolutely nobody else is probably thinking about it.
B: So earlier you were talking about how your first song was a poem and you were writing made up stuff, do you still feel like you’re doing that or do you feel like you’re writing more from experiences?
M: I think I do both. I feel like it’s probably pretty obvious that most of my songs are first person narrative sort of things. Most of it starts from personal experience but I’ll like, blend different narratives together, which no one else would know but me. Like, singing about my experience with one person, then halfway through I’m singing about my experience with another person, but it just makes one song. I think it doesn’t matter, but yeah, I always write first because that’s the part I like.
B: Do you feel like people ever know if your songs are about them?
M: No! Well, maybe they do and I just don’t know they do because they’re embarrassed. I had this conversation with my friend recently who also makes music. I was having a personal conversation about what a specific song was about, and he was like, “How did that person react to that?”
I was like, “Oh, they don’t know!”
“What do you mean they don’t know?”
And I was like, I’ve never told ANYBODY, “Oh this is about you.” He thought that was so strange. So now I feel really funny about it. But I think most songs - unless they’re extremely specific - most people, even if they thought, “Oh that could be about me,” it would be too weird to assume that, right? I don’t know. I’m a very self-conscious person who doesn’t usually overshare, so writing really personal songs is in a lot of contrast to how I actually live my life, so maybe I just don’t want to acknowledge it.
B: Have you ever had someone write a song about you that you knew was about you?
M: Yeah… Yeah, a lot of times. It’s weird. It makes me think a lot about other people’s music. Like, when you hear a song that’s about someone else, there’s always a lot going on behind that song probably. That song is about someone, and that person possibly knows that, and that person has a different relationship to that song. I like to think about, what if this song was about me, how would I feel?
J: What do you wish were different about the music scene in Bloomington?
M: I think for being so small, Bloomington has so many things going on honestly, and I think people are pretty loyal to their personal brand of house show or band or whatever. Which is fine, like, there’s a lot to get out of anything, but I think it would be cool if everyone knew more about everything that was going on. There was a time I would go to college shows all the time and absolutely no one else I knew even knew about them. I didn’t like them that much, but I liked knowing about them.
B: What kind of shows are you playing when you tour now?
M: A lot of house shows still, but probably more actual venues than ever in my life. Or even bars and stuff, which I used to think as a younger person I would have a real problem with. I guess playing a wider variety of spots, which feels good honestly. I would never want to be a band who avoided house shows and just played places like The Bishop every night, that seems boring and sad. It’s at least affirming, like we can play at a slightly bigger place and it won’t feel like we shouldn’t be there.
B: Do you have any new projects coming up?
M: Nice Try has a song we just recorded that’s going to be on the Le Sigh compilation, which I’m excited about. We’ve worked with them in the past, but also their previous comps have just been exclusively bands I really, really like. Only ambiguous recording plans after that. I just recorded a solo song for another compilation. And the Amy O record is coming out.
kahler and madeline in bloomington, indiana
madeline playing with amy o at culture shock in bloomington, indiana
madeline playing with nice try at the blockhouse in bloomington, indiana