My first interview for BRUISER features the band Muscle from Baltimore, MD. I meet Muscle on a rainy Valentine’s evening and we are blurry eyed — post work, post illness. We take a moment to decompress over lighthearted conversation about Egon Schiele (read: screaming) and Madison’s Romanian roots before with seltzers and tea in hand we sit together around a beautiful wood table unpacking their journey together. This no wave-y three piece consists of Madison (vocals), Quentin (bass) and Adam (drums).
Kelly: So my first introduction to Muscle was at the Halloween Cover Show at Current Space and you did this phenomenal cover of PJ Harvey. I was in a Patti Smith cover band — two of my favorite artists. What are some of your inspirations as a band? How do you approach song writing?
Madison: We all have dramatically different tastes in music and experiences. Other than talking about covers, which are more often jokes until they aren’t. One thing that we locked on was sounding like a trash can that fucks. I listen to a wide range of things from metal to country — it really depends.
Kelly: Oh, yeah.
Adam: We don’t really talk concretely about influences. Just weird metaphors.
Madison: I like bam bam drums.
Quentin: I had a childhood friend who gave me the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction on tape and I think that was an extremely impactful moment for me in music. That and Enya.
Madison: Enya slaps.
Kelly: Yeah, I think hearing her on those infomercials at night really impacted me too.
Adam: [To Madison] You do like bam bam drums. I’d say if there’s one thing that informs my drumming it’s 60s bebop. Also Motown! I’ve been in other bands where we talked about our inspirations before but in Muscle it’s been different. We also talk about music differently too. Like I’m the most classically trained person in this band — I studied snare drum from age 3. But I feel like I always talk about music in abstracts like “shimmery” or “sparkly,” haha. I think what I love about Muscle is that we don’t have a guitarist so there’s only one other instrument I’m chasing after. I love that we have this voice, I’m working on the beat and Quentin’s got the melody. We aren’t chasing after a song, per se. The structure and goal is different which is why I’d say the influences are just more abstract.
Madison: I’m still figuring out breathing and lyric writing. The members with musical talent will send me songs and I’ll work on them on my phone. I take their beautiful, smart music into my little goblin hand and I just try to destroy it. I try to find the simplest and almost stupidest theme but it becomes the vehicle of how I’m feeling. I remember when I was working on my first song — it had too many words and I couldn’t do it. When I first wrote it it was on paper a song about bug but then I did it and I was like oh, it’s about sexuality —
Kelly: The things that go bump in the night, creepy crawlies —
Madison: Totally! Sometimes I get technical inspiration, also. One of our songs, “Chrome,” was written after I read about the process of chrome plating.
Kelly: That’s amazing.
When I think of PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, and some of my favorite performers it’s how they take up space. They get larger than life in voice or even physically. I’m curious about Madison’s stage presence because when I watch you perform you’re writhing and graceful — you contort your body like origami. It’s beautiful.
Madison: Well, I used to dance and did some theater. I used to dance until I was too punk to dance —
Kelly: Yesterday? (laughter)
Madison: Basically — but, you know, up until high school. I don’t think I’ve even thought about how it affected me on stage because it’s just something that is so natural but it’s integral to me. I remember when I was first in the band I bought these big, beautiful sexy boots and then I saw Big Ups and Joe Galarraga was just breaking it down in sneakers. I was incensed! I went home and said never again sexy boots!
Adam: A lot of the stuff Madison does on stage, she does in practice, too, which is amazing to watch unfold and it always encourages the energy and our movement too.
Quentin: Yeah, actually Madison and I were taking ballet together for a while. The class was right before band practice and it definitely set a tone for the band.
You guys are all from different places but went to college in Baltimore.
Madison: Yeah, we all went to MICA but we didn’t know each other at the time.
Quentin: As a band we formed in 2018, 2017.
Adam: Quentin and I have been friends for a long time and have tried over the years to be in something together and it never really worked out. We finally were like let’s do it and Quentin suggested Madison.
Quentin: Yeah, I’d seen a video of Madison filling in on vocals with [her partner] Mark’s old band and knew she was one of the most talented front-persons I’d ever seen!
Madison: We got together in 2018 and were gearing up for stuff in 2019 and then, like a lot of bands, we skipped 2020 because of Covid. So we did it and then we didn’t do it and then got back together.
Kelly: So you got the gang back together — end of 2020?
Madison: We had a couple of false starts.
Quentin: Yeah, we were practicing a cover of “Goodbye Earl” for that one show, remember? And then Covid.
Adam (laughs): God, yeah, Covid. We tried to practice and just couldn’t do it. I was wearing a full set up and a respirator. We had a quarantine practice in Quentin’s basement with a mattress between us but that was it. We just didn’t know what to do or how to navigate it.
Kelly: I get it. I was stripping my work clothes in the hallway of my building after I’d get home from work. Leaving my groceries in the car.
Adam: We were in so many different places and I have OCD and let’s just say it got bad.
Kelly: I think so many can relate.
Madison: We only did that practice one time, though.
Madison: So I had never been in a band before.
Madison: Muscle is my first band. Besides some theater and Madison yelling in the street — I had never been in music. I was friends with Quentin and went to a birthday party and Quentin just said, “you should be in a band with me.” He said he didn’t care if I hadn’t done it before. So I went — and I’ll say this because he is now one of my best friends in the world — but I didn’t think I’d like Adam because when I met him he was just talking about snow tires. He seemed persnickety, haha.
Adam: I am but just about my things! Don’t ask me about my tires.
Kelly: I am curious —
Adam: There’s no time.
Kelly: So how did this work?
Madison: We started trying to write songs but I literally didn’t know how to do anything and still don’t but I’m learning. I was very self conscious and wrote these things to bring to practice and the Madison that performs in public is not a self conscious thing but I would basically get to my car and hyperventilate.
Adam: We did a cover of Cibo Matto.
Madison: Yeah and that didn’t work! Our “Birthday Cake” didn’t sound right.
Kelly: That’s ambitious!
Madison: Yeah, it was pretty bad, haha. But then one day we did a cover of “Tiger” by ABBA and everything sorta clicked and that’s how we became the best band in the world.
So you’ve said there’s a part of your song writing that involves wrestling with your gender and with power. Let’s explore some of that.
Madison: I’ll never be a big and imposing person but on stage I take up space. My performative self is confident and larger than life and that’s a big reason why I take off my shirt during the show. I’m always aware of my body and for me it allows me to remove it.
Kelly: The body is a cage sometimes. A vessel. A bear trap. It’s a discomforting amount of things any given days but it’s ours, right? It’s our lease on life. I think it’s interesting how you get uncomfortable in your poses and hold them, contorting your body —
Madison: Oh, yeah, I love to hold a horse pose. It’s the dancer in me. I can take pain. On stage I get to be aggressive and get to be in control — yelling loudly and topless. I remove this garment that hides something I don’t want to care about. I get to have a power, a power that escapes me everyday.
Adam: What I love about it is that you are unapologetic and confrontational and you’re so fierce that no one can be weird or question it because you’ve got the mic and it’s always interesting seeing you do your thing.
Quentin: Each reaction is so different to it; it’s kinda amazing.
Kelly: I think being on stage allows us like making an username online this ability to extend and tap into a new potential of ourselves. You can interrogate power structures and do the opposite of how you feel on the everyday!
Quentin: I don’t really listen to music when I drive anymore but it really varies. Neil Young, Enya.
Madison: One of my favorite memories recently with you was driving home after a show — it was a beautiful night of adventure but we kept being thwarted in doing karaoke. I remember getting in the car and being like do you want to sing along to these? And we were belting out REM.
Adam: Mitski’s a big one for me. Idles. N1 — german synth pop band. Sisters Of Mercy. I’ve got a usb stick mp3 player in my car. Lots of Depeche Mode.
Madison: Well, I definitely am all over the place from Dixie Chicks to Andrew W.K.
Our time is coming to an end. If you die tomorrow, what animal do you want to be reincarnated as in the next life?
Madison: There’s so many internet animals that I always thinking — maybe that’s me but I think I’d be a corgi-sized angora rabbit — you know those?
Kelly: Yeah, I used to be into rabbit fancy. Like the snow tires, I don’t want to talk about it. Every six months I just choose new gods and I got really into rabbits and really believed that buying one would save me from depression.
Adam: I would definitely be some kinda fish. I’m done with this land and air garbage. Water is the future. It’s the future and the past. Maybe a squid. They’re up and coming. Not a fish but still very cool. I could do orca or I could do something that hides. Just some nice ocean floor hiding.
Quentin: I would be a bird. Maybe as a mockingbird. What a weird bird.
Adam: I’d love to see you come back as those pigeons in NYC — you know what I’m talking about! The ones with the scars and extra toes and they’ve seen something.
Quentin: Maybe like a heron. Everyone loves those guys. Whenever they’re flying by people are really impressed. Got a fish in your mouth? Applause.
Adam: That’s all you could really want.
Madison: Men only have two moods: beautiful mockingbird and extra toe pigeon.
If you could be in a movie, what movie would it be?
Madison: [My partner] Mark and I have a list of movies titled “Excellent Films To Be Deployed in Times of Sadness” and recently we watched two in a row, A Knight’s Tale and then Smokey and The Bandit. I would definitely be Chaucer or I’d be the Bandit. I can’t pick two but I just did.
Kelly: Anarchy! There’s no rules.
Adam: I’ve said this before but when I grow up I want to be Burt Lancaster in The Leopard. I said that when I was 30.
Quentin: I really like Playtime by Jacques Tati because nothing really happens. It’s just kinda all slapstick in an architectural environment in post war France. It doesn’t look like France and is very modern.
Madison: Y’all gave such smarty pants answers.
Kelly: Yeah, I think I’d be in American Pie — I’m joking, I’m joking — but I do love Jennifer Coolidge.
What would you want people to take from Muscle?
Madison: It’s so different — listening or being in the audience but…I want people to feel empowered to be more aggressive in a good way. Like — yeah — it’s easy to rollover on shit. I hope you could be nice but not that nice. I want people to think it’s good too.
Adam: Music can be fun.
Quentin: I want people to feel gratified.
Madison: Yeah, it’d be cool if they’d jack off to it.
Adam: Hell, go fuck a trash can.
Muscle’s next shows are in Baltimore on March 10 at Joe Squared and in New York City on April 13 at Chaos Computer.