An Interview with Madigan Shive
photo by diana koenigsberg
How did you get started?
When I was about 15, I left the orchestra and started playing cello in the jazz band at my high school. I had been singing and playing cello in punk garage bands and started writing my own music. Iíd play cello with a friend who played acoustic guitar, and weíd play on the streets, play coffeehouses, play whatever.
Whatís the tattoo on your finger?
This is a lynx print. I got this when I was 18. I thought, if I have to go into adultdom, Iím gonna go wed to the wildcat.
"Madigan" is a pretty unusual name.
Iíve been called different names my whole life. My mother called me Running Pony until I was 6 years old. My parents were "intentional future community" people. We lived in the Okanogans [in Washington State] in a teepee for two years without running water or electricity. Then my family moved all the time, so a different part of a nameóI have four names, Madigan Rachel Ruth Shive--would evolve. By the time I was 14, Madigan was the one I chose to keep.
What do you think about the art scene on the West Coast compared to the East Coast?
Thereís definitely a sense of not having to be validated by anyone else. You have your own little pocket in which to create without caring what New York thinks.
What do you look for in other performers?
Iíve always appreciated people whoíve been able to find a sense of self and independence and to speak from that honestly. And those people are everywhere. Also I love the theater involved in music. Especially being a cellist, itís so visceral and so raw.
Do you find it hard to support yourself as a musician in San Francisco?
The financial thing is always a yo-yo. I have this joke that itís full-time artist, part-time con artist. Iím always doing something to make ends meet, and thatís fine, because Iím putting the majority of my energy and passions into being an artist.
Give me a little background on what it took to get yourself to where you are now.
I always had that punk backbone, and those communities [of independent music] love the do-it-yourself thing. Here was this seventeen-year-old girl who was like, "Hey, Iím gonna do punk music on my cello." And I met a lot of amazing people. Iím excited to have been a peer of someone like Kathleen Hannah or to have played in bedrooms with the women who do Sleater-Kinney, on the street with Elliot Smith, or with Mary Lou Lord, busking with her in Boston and Seattle and getting to talk about being singers. On the flip side, Iíve had some crazy stuff, being asked to play cello with Hole.
I went to some practices, and it wasnít the place I wanted to be at that time. Thatís a whole other way to do music. You have all these people running around working for you.
What is MoonPuss Records?
Itís a grass-roots, multi-media record label. It exists because I need to give back to the communities that allow me to exist as an artist. It can be Moon Puss Records, Moon Puss Productions, or Moon Puss Presents, so whatever needs to happen, MoonPuss can step in, whether thatís helping with publicity for a tour, or helping secure a venue for an exhibit, a show or a collaborative event.
Moon Puss has been an actual business since 1995, but thereís not a lot of capital, so it exists on the sheer will of the artists. Itís project to project right now. MoonPuss has no money. It just exists.
Yeah. And like any small business if you donít have the capital to grow, itís going to create itself as the need is there for it to. I definitely think the need is there. If the NEA is any example of funding for arts in this country, then MoonPuss has got a long row to how.
What do you think is the craziest thing youíve done on stage?
Iíve always been one of those people who, if a string breaks or anything happens, nothingís going to stop me. When I was playing in Tattle Tale [former band in Seattle] I used drum sticks. I wouldnít be behind the cello as much, so Iíd be moving around, and Iíd use my belt buckle as a percussion device, or hit my belly or my back to make sounds. That was always fun, because people were like, "What is this woman doing?"
What other instruments do you play?
I write music on the acoustic guitar a lot. Itís sort of the poor manís piano. And I jokingly play some drums. The cello is really my voice. But I mess around on whatever I can get my hands on, especially if it has strings on it.
How are you feeling about where you are right now? Are you a full-time musician?
Definitely. I guess where Iím at is prepared. Prepared to keep plugging away. But also prepared to consistently pay my bills and be on the road six months out of the year, touring Europe more regularly, or the rest of the world. But Iím also prepared to keep building at the rate that I am, because thatís where longevity is. I get so enamored with the idea of space travel. As an artist I feel an alignment with that. Iíve done the anti-gravity testing, and Iím ready. I want to step on the moon.
Would you like to do more collaberative work?
I would love to meet Nina Simone, or sing with Annie Lennox, play with John Kale, or meet Yoko Ono. Why not? Have her produce a record of mine and [Bonfire Madigan bassist] Sheriís. Or go on tour with Meíshell NdegeOcello.
I donít have any shame in saying that I want to tour the world with this music. Iím prepared to be a starving artist, because Iíve been living that my whole life. Itís not glamorous to me--living close to homelessness or in and out of cars. I spent a good part of my early years with no running water or electricity, and there may be a time when Iíll choose to go back to that. But I want to make that choice. I donít want that choice make me.
Thatís a huge difference.
In independent and punk communities, the poverty of being an artist gets glamorized. And nobody gets to anyplace they are without sweat and blood and tears and compromise. Nobody is made a celebrity, thereís some give and take there. And Iíve seen it destory people. Thatís not glamorous.
Iím proud of the fact that Iíve worked. Iíve worked for the props that I get. Some of it is timing or luck, and there is something to being in the right place at the right time. But Iím proud of whatever I do, because goddammit I did it, but Iím ready for that next level. That craftsmanship, having the time, the knowledge, the resources to sculpt. I shouldnít feel that because I want to sing and write lyrics and create music that Iím wasting anybodyís time. And Iíll bust my ass to make sure that other young people who come from the background I do know that they can feel important when theyíre contributing something creative. Thatís what Moonpuss is about.
I donít bang on the belt buckle like I used to, but I sure am glad I used to. It got me here.
Check out www.butterflydreams.com/bonfiremadigan
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