Born in an American War: Madalean Gauze Interviewed by Taylor DeBoer

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I was introduced to the music of songwriter Madalean Gauze by a friend this spring. Gauze is a Philly product, who just dropped her debut EP, American War, which was produced by Brian McTear with help from Dave Hartley and Pat Berkery of War on Drugs. The album blends styles of pop, folk, post-punk and 90s indie – with crunchy guitar sounds playing a pivotal role in the album’s four-song stretch.

The highlight, though, are Gauze’s lyrics which are at times grim and discouraging and also uniquely optimistic. The influences in both word and sound stretch from Mazzy Star and Sonic Youth to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. I had the pleasure of catching up with Gauze as she gears up for her EP release at Johnny Brenda’s in Philly on July 5th.

TD: I’ve always been obsessed with albums and songs that use the word “America” or some form of it in their title. It’s such a general term that can evoke whatever feeling or appropriation one has with their own little “America.” Throwing war on the end makes it a bit more loaded. Is this title about the fact that throughout your lifetime we’ve basically been at war, in one sense or another? If not, then what? 

MG: I’ve had that same obsession too. The reason I chose the title “American War” really comes down to the fact that I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what emotions I was feeling at the time. The words “American War” just sum it all up in a strange way, and its interesting to see how listeners easily relate to it and understand exactly where I am coming from. I had someone come up to me and tell me that we all can relate because we all have been through an “American War,” and although I know our experiences are different I feel like the emotions behind the idea are the same.

TD: There’s certainly a good guy/bad guy dichotomy happening in the song “American War” am I right? Kind of the “does it matter which side you’re on?” age old question? 

MG: I think the song developed from my moving from the suburbs and into the city of Philadelphia. I grew up in a quiet town where things were generally safe and when I entered the city three years ago I was young and surrounded by kids my own age chasing their dreams at different colleges.

I saw this juxtaposition of these eager minds against a city deep in poverty. If I could sum up a moment in my life that helped create “American War” it would be walking down Chestnut Street in Philadelphia and seeing a man curled up on the side of the road sleeping, while I watched a group of young kids pass by him as if he never existed, that was something that fueled the development of the song. The sort of injustice that exist while we pursue the “American Dream.”

TD: You recorded this EP with some of the guys from War on Drugs. What was it like working with them? How much of their style and music rubbed off on you? Can we find any “War on Drugs” in these songs? You certainly don’t have any eight minute songs, haha. 

MG: Working with Dave Hartley and Pat Berkery was a gift and I am so lucky and fortunate to have experienced that. Their professionalism and devotion to the development of a song was just inspiring. I think what rubbed off on me the most was just fully understanding that it is possible to be a professional musician, no matter how many people try to persuade you otherwise. Although the tracks off the EP don’t have the War on Drugs echoey sound and time length I really think there are moments in “American War” and “Dissonance & Cream” where you can hear their influence.

TD: The guitar sounds on this EP remind me of the 90s and I mean that in a VERY good way. Is “90s indie” something you’re influenced by? 

MG: That’s interesting you say that, I am inspired by every decade and genre no matter how big or how small… So it’s always interesting to see what people take away from my guitar playing. I will say for the track “American War” I was heavily listening to Sonic Youth’s self titled EP – its absolutely brilliant. I was also listening to a lot of Mazzy Star. Brian McTear, the producer of American War was my age in the 90’s so I definitely think his taste of music rubbed off on me with bands like Fugazi and Mazarin. For “Dissonance & Cream,” we channeled the song “Wheats” by Mazarin – great song.

TD: Do you write on acoustic guitar? I hear folk songs at the root of these songs.

MG: Yes I develop my songs and ideas on the acoustic first. Folk is definitely a huge influence on me. My original intention when I set out to be a musician was to be able to make the acoustic guitar this raw source of chaos and energy, kind of like if Neil Young started out playing at CBGB’s.

I enjoy the acoustic guitar I love finding dissonant sounds on it, it really adds to a live performance. But musicians like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell are huge inspirations to me. I think the folk influence really shows in my song lyrics and how I deliver my own personal stories through songs.

TD: I think the order of the songs is interesting. Starting with a darker more discouraging subject matter and ending with “And Let Go” which ends on the line: “Let the river flow into the valley and let go.” 

MG: I am a huge music nerd and track listing is something I take very seriously. I really believe track listing offers a musician a final chance to communicate their vision to an audience. I have pages and pages in my notebook laying out the order of the songs and how the concept of the EP should be portrayed to the listener.

I really thought about how I was a new artist and how this was the first taste the listener would have of my ideas and aesthetic. I wanted to take the listener on a journey, hoping that through each track it would trigger something inside of them and make them feel as if they could relate to my ideas in some way. Ending with a song like “And Let Go” offers a positive outlook to the grim reality I discuss in “American War,” and I hope the listener could see how my songwriting offers views from both ends of the spectrum.

TD: What’s next? 

MG: Right now we are just gearing up to play shows all summer. We have our release show, July 5th at Johnny Brenda’s. I am lucky to have Pat Berkery on drums and Ramon Sender on bass – playing with them has just given me more opportunities to grow as a musician. Besides playing shows it has just been nice seeing how the EP has been reaching people and the positive response makes me feel very fortunate and excited to put out another record fairly soon.

*Author Taylor DeBoer grew up in the Baltimore area and studied Writing and Sociology at Loyola University Maryland. He is a local writer, music lover, and edits a website that he co-founded,  He is the communications manager for the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at TayDeBoer23

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