New Zealand’s broody electro-pop songstress, Maddie North, gives us a cheeky guide to the mysterious world of Goth-Pop.
By Sharlene Chiu
You wouldn’t know it by listening to her moody ‘n ethereal brand of electro-pop, under the moniker of So Below, just how wickedly hilarious Maddie North is. Since releasing her first EP in 2016 and jokingly naming her genre of music as “goth-pop,” Maddie has been winning over listeners of good music with super addicting tracks and equally captivating music videos (a la “Hard” and “Ruin”). As any conversation with a goth-pop chanteuse goes, we delved into a very serious/not serious at all Guide to Goth-Pop, how living in Japan was not the style-inspo she had hoped, and her proud obsession with… what else but country music and Backstreet Boys!
So, what exactly is “goth-pop”?
It’s broody, dark, moody… unimpressed music. You’re just mad at the world and just unimpressed by everyone.
‘Unimpressed’ is such an underrated way to describe music.
It should be used more. I’m always unimpressed with everything!
It’s like the emoji with no face!
The one with the blank face, yeah! I mean, if you’re going to choose any emoji for goth, it’s that – the unimpressed face.
Now that people have caught on to goth-pop –
Haha has anyone caught onto it?
I searched it on SoundCloud, just out of interest, and there were a couple of other artists that—but I don’t think that I started it—maybe also thought it was just a funny thing to say and that no one had probably ever done it before. But now in hindsight, there was probably already a couple of other people who also thought the same thing haha because that’s why I did it! You have to come up with a genre, and my other friend wrote that their music was ‘sunkissed,’ which I thought was hilarious, and my other friend who made electronic music wrote that their music was ‘spacetech,’ and I was like, “That is so funny. I also want to write something weird that doesn’t make any sense, and isn’t just like ‘indie’ or ‘pop.’” I felt ‘goth-pop’ would be funnier.
What would the main tenants of goth-pop be?
Always wear black.
Always be in a bad mood. Even if you’re in a good mood, just pretend.
Try to walk in slow motion…
Haha, while wearing black!
Yes! And while wearing black in slow-mo, try to flick your coat a little bit into the wind.
Let’s run through your goth-pop influences.
The main one would be, of course, Trent Reznor from Niny – Nine Inch Nails. He’s my hero. He’s my future ex-husband. My love for Trent is sort of a long brooding love that I’ve had for a long time.
Since the age of?
You know what? This is the embarrassing story—I guess I’ve always lived a bit under the rock and I realized I didn’t know what Nine Inch Nails sounded like—I had thought that they would sound like ACDC, and I don’t like ACDC. So, I was like around 20, 21 and a friend of mine was like, “Oh, you must like Nine Inch Nails,” and I was like, “Why would I like them? I don’t like that kind of music, like ACDC.” And my friend was like, “Oh my god, WOW,” and he sent me a mixed tape of their songs and I was listening to them walking down the road, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is next level. What the hell have I been doing with my life?!” And then I showed one of my best friends and we got so obsessed to the point that we made a joke music video for “We’re In This Together.”
The other thing is that New Zealanders, in general, always wear black.
Even in the summer?
Totally. I wear black regardless of season… perhaps, it’s like how Londoners also wear a lot of black and New Yorkers wear a lot of black [because of the weather]. My friends and I, we’ll turn up to something and there’ll be like six New Zealanders there and they’ll all be wearing black, unplanned… and there’ll be an American there, wearing blue jeans and a white shirt and everyone will be like, “What are you doing??” So there’s that influence of the New Zealand culture of wearing those goth-y outfits.
Did you wear black all the time as a kid too?
No, in fact, I used to live in Japan, and I got a little crazy there and when I came home to New Zealand, my friends were like, “What are you doing??” I had every pair of tights imaginable in every single color. Everything I owned was like a purple or a teal. It was not a good phase in my life.
How old were you when you were living in Japan?
I was like 19, 20. The fashion is so good there but I was a little blown away by the options. I think it takes people time to find their style and it took me a long time… until I was around 20! So now, I don’t own any fun colored tights anymore.
Maddie from Japan was from a whole other lifetime.
She was a kooky gal. She thought she could have it all. She thought she could have all the colors and her friends were like, “Nope, you can’t hang out with us with all those colors.”
A lot music critics describe you as a “mysterious goth-pop chanteuse,” does that give you a good chuckle?
My friends would describe me probably as goofy and silly, always the jokester. But then, the music I want to make is serious and dark… and those two things don’t really make sense. So, the whole, “Ooh she’s so mysterious,” it’s like, “No, I’m just a dumb idiot who makes fart jokes all the time and isn’t that cool.” My family knows who I am – when I played my first show in New Zealand, and my brother and my dad were there, my brother was like, “Oh, you trying to be all cool up there?” And I was like, “I’m just trying to be normal!” It’s like you know they’re watching, and they know the real you, and you feel really awkward on stage because they know the real you.
I love that contrast of goofy on the inside and serious on the outside.
I even remember when I first stated doing music and my brother was like, “Why don’t you do something that’s more like Flight of the Concords? That’s more like your personality.” And I was like, “But that’s not the type of music I want to make, even though I like to be funny.”
It doesn’t mean your music has to be!
Yeah, it doesn’t mean I have to be a bloody joke [laughs], I can be serious!
So, random question – is it true that you’re a big country music fan?
I am! It all started—this is a true story—when my friend, David, played me a Luke Bryan song. Country music doesn’t quite exist much outside of the U.S., especially not in New Zealand.
It’s an American thing.
It’s super American but I did hear it’s kinda big in Australia… but I don’t know if that’s true. Anyway, David played me “Drunk on You,” and the lyrics were so funny. I’d never heard anything like it. There’s even a line, “If you ain’t a 10, you’re a 9.9,” and I’d never heard such forced… such country lyrics before. It’s almost like they have a list of all the words they have to say. They have to say ‘Dixie cup,’ they have to say ‘ripped blue jeans,’ they have to say they have a truck, and if they don’t say that, their song doesn’t get played on the radio. So, that song was really incredible for me. I would drive around and play “Drunk on You” all the time, and I sent that song back to my friends in New Zealand and was like, “You have to listen to this song, it’s so incredible!” And they were like, “Uhhhhhh,” and I was like, “Don’t you get it?? It’s amazing!” Now, I listen to country radio all the time.
I get tired of listening to Top 40 pop, so listening to something that is what it is, you know what I mean?
Yeah, like ‘I walked into a bar and I sat down.’
‘But then I was about to leave and you walked in, in your tight black dress, and I bought you a drink…’ and it’s just the same lyrics in every song and it’s comforting, in a way. I mean some of the songs are really well-written that I wished I’d written that song…like Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt.” It’s about buying a piece of [laughs] land but the chorus really tugs on your heartstrings. Also, the way they say “dirt” is really good too.
Mmm that Southern twang.
Biggest country crush?
Luke Bryan! I meeean, I heard “he’s married” but like he’s never met me is the thing. Once he meets me, it’ll be different, hahaa.
Best dream country/goth duet?
Florida Georgia Line and me!
What country song best describes your life?
Oh! “I’m Getting Drunk on a Plane.”
Haha, have you ever written a country song?
Yes! “Karma on the Radio.” It’s about a guy who thought he was better than me but then the country song that I’m currently singing got so big that it got on the radio and the chorus is like, ‘every time he gets into his truck and drives along, he’s going to hear my song and know that this song is about him,’ so it was a good song.
That’s so country.
So, it’s possible you might have a country album one day, then?
I would like to write country music for someone else, but then obviously take all the credit, haha
Any other secret obsessions?
Backstreet Boys are my favorite group of all time, and I never shy away from that. They’re great – they still are. I love them. There’s a point in everyone’s lives where they heard “Backstreet’s Back,” and was like, “Oh shit, this is a great song.”
Who was your fave?
AJ! All the way! He’s the bad boy, I have a thing for bad boys. He was always my favorite.
And I love that you never really intended to be a musician –
It was always something I thought would be fun to do from a really young age but I never thought it was something I would have a talent in, or something I would ever do. I was in choirs and stuff in high school but I didn’t think my voice was interesting. In my head, I had a really boring voice, and then I had so many of my friends who were musicians – I even remember one night, with my friend Sam McCarthy, we were at a bar, and he’s a really successful New Zealand musician/producer who’s produced a couple of my songs, and I was drunk and like, “God, I wish I was like you. I wish I could write music like how you write it,” and he was like, “Why don’t you!” I was like, “I don’t have that gene,” you know. And then randomly, I just had a really crappy day and I sat down with my laptop, and I had Garage Band up and just started writing a song and wrote this little two-minute song, and I remember sending it to my friend, Alisa from The Naked and Famous, and she was like, “Wow, I had no idea that you wanted to sing or that you wanted to do music, this is a really good song.” And I was like, “Oh I didn’t know that it was a thing, that it could ever happen for me,” and then I sent it to a couple more friends and they also said it was cool and it just really happened organically from there.
How do you get over your stage-fright?
The first few shows I played were so horrible in terms of my nervousness that the extent of what I would say on-stage would be, “Hi. Thanks. Bye.”
But you still performed?
That’s different though, I have two people in my band. I have a drummer and someone who does keys and all the Ableton Live stuff, and so I’m in that bubble of, I’m in rehearsal and there’s just a few people watching and I’m just pretending they’re not there. It’s the couple of seconds in between songs that I don’t know what to say or what to do.
Sometimes the best way is to just force yourself to go outside your comfort zone –
Which for me is playing live. It’s so uncomfortable and it’s not part of my personality. But now, when I finish a show, the euphoria you get for having done something like that, like in New Zealand, I played a show last year where I opened for the Naked and Famous and I played a show that was in front of 3000 people or something, and the show before that was in front of 60 people, but it was in front of all my friends and family, like my dad and all his friends, and my brother and his friends, and it was horrendous… and then I played a show in front of 3000 strangers and I was like, “This is fine. If I fall on my face, I’m never going to see you again. No worries!”
I feel the best comfort with a really good sad song and I read that you actually get inspired by sadness. Does that make us super weird??
Not at all! It’s like the artist and you are on the same page. They get you. I always try to write songs from something that’s upset me, or caused an emotion in me, and now I want to say something about it through my music. The other day, I got a message from someone on Facebook that said, “Thank you for evoking this feeling in me that I know all too well,” or something like that. So, I was like, “Thank you,” it’s always nice when you get messages like that.
Look out for So Below’s new music video for “Close” and her final fourth single from her EP, “Left Behind” Spring 2018!