Madame Reaper has premiered her new single titled ‘Gimme’, releasing tomorrow. Chicago’s Madame Reaper is the result of Kira Leadholm’s musical mind at work, consisting of Leadholm (vocals), Garen Hudson (keys), Kevvy Sheppard (guitar), and Austin Myers (bass). So far, the group has garnered attention from online sources like V13.net.
Madame Reaper’s music is often described as “angular”, “eighties”, and “synth-poppy”. The band cites being inspired by New Order, Kate Bush, Depeche Mode, Sparks, La Femme, and MARINA. This group gives an intriguingly dark, plot-heavy twist to the musical arts, which keeps us all coming back for more.
Upon first blush, “Gimme” is an upbeat and lush synth-laden tune. Showcasing Leadholm’s satisfying vocals and how it interacts with the vintage eighties soundscape the quartet has cultivated.
“Gimme a reason to impress ’em, ’cause fitting in don’t mean too much to me”
The second the word ‘wait’ is said, “Gimme” becomes obscure and cryptic-feeling. The bass comes in, insistent on playing unsettling offbeats, while the hi-hats iterates short, cricket-like punctuations. The modal quality of “Gimme” becomes head-tilt-worthy, as we go from chromaticism, to minor, and so on. The charm of “Gimme” is that it is always transitioning. The curt instrumental break with electric piano is a la old Panic! At the Disco for just a moment, before we dive back into vibing-yet-dark disco rock.
“I wait another day for what I cannot say
My skin is turning gray”
No matter what happens, there is still this thread of impatience coming back like a boomerang. But why?!
As a whole, Madame Reaper is a high-energy enigma that excels at crafting head-turning tunes that’ll keep you up at night. “Gimme” is a must-listen for those of us who crave compositionally stimulating pieces that take the path less traveled.
Be sure to also check out the band’s 2023 gigs in Chicago, as well as their self-titled debut album, ‘The ‘Madame Reaper’s Gentlemen’s Club’ (which tells the tale of an eerie and rogue strip club and its owner, who murders lewd customers….dun dun dun!)
“The chorus melody of “Gimme” came to me out of nowhere and I knew I wanted to write a song around it. At the time, I was feeling really frustrated with my music career—I didn’t have a band, I hadn’t found an engineer to record with, and I was sitting on all of these songs that I worried would never come to fruition. Gimme is about the frustration I experienced waiting for something to happen.
Kira, how has your formal classical training (on both voice and the piano) affected how you think about songwriting?
Before anything, I want to clarify that I am not classically trained on the piano, only voice (my piano skills are entirely self taught and extremely rusty). But as for voice, I grew up singing a lot of stuff from the baroque period as well as tunes from 17th and 18th century operas and operettas. I never consciously think of these influences when I’m writing, nor do I listen to a ton of classical music these days, but certain classical motifs crop up in my music. The chorus melody of “Gimme” is reminiscent of some opera music in the sense that it moves all over the place and incorporates large intervals that we don’t hear a lot in today’s pop music. There’s a song on the record called “Mama,” which will be released this fall, that definitely has a Bach flavor. I’m trained as a soprano, so I also try to incorporate some of those crazy high whistle tones into my music, usually as background texture.
What kind of musical background do Garen, Kevvy, and Austin come from?
In terms of actually gigging and being professional musicians, my bandmates have way more experience than me. Garen fronts his own project, Saltwater Tap, and also works as a live sound engineer. He could probably sing all of my songs better than me. Kevvy plays guitar in a pretty popular Chicago pop group called Girl K, and has also played in a bunch of bands in Chicago. Austin studied music in college and can play pretty much every instrument—sometimes we joke that we should just clone him and have a band of Austins. He also plays with his partner, Molly Compton.
What does a Madame Reaper rehearsal look like?
It really depends—if we have a gig coming up, we’ll usually run the set a couple of times and work out any issues. If we’re learning new material, rehearsals tend to last a little longer and we’ll drill the same tune over and over. There’s also a healthy amount of joking around during rehearsal and playing with Garen’s cat, Mootska.
Does the music you listen to primarily sound like the music you write, or is it completely different?
I feel like the music I listen to is always inspiring me in one way or another. Sometimes the link is more obvious—one of my favorite artists is MARINA (formerly Marina and the Diamonds), and I definitely think our music sounds like her’s. Then there are artists I listen to where the link is maybe less obvious. I borrow a lot of drum machine and synth sounds from Prince and New Order, synths and drum grooves from Talking Heads. I take vocal influence from La Femme, Kate Bush, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I also love rock music, and even though my music skews pop, Kevvy writes some of the guitar parts after The Strokes (one of my favorite bands).
How does this release compare to your guys’ debut album, Madame Reaper’s Gentlemen’s Club? Does the song come from the same universe?
“Gimme” (and the two singles we already released—”Bang Bang” and “Chloroform”) definitely live in the same realm as the rest of the album. That’s partially because these three singles are also on the record, and I wanted everything to sound cohesive. The synth sounds that you hear in “Gimme” are present throughout the rest of the record, as are the girl group backing vocals and electronic sounding drums (two songs on the album use a drum machine, but “Gimme” has an acoustic kit). I wanted the whole album to sound very retro and campy.
What was the first musical line or scale you began working with when you started writing “Gimme”?
I believe I came up with the chorus melody first: “gimme a reason to impress ’em, ’cause fitting in don’t mean too much to me.” The idea just zapped me out of nowhere, and from there the rest of the song flowed out.
Lastly, what exactly did you want to happen in your life musically when you were writing this?
I wrote “Gimme” almost exactly a year ago, so May/June 2022. At that time, I hadn’t started recording my album yet, I didn’t have a band, and the most “gigging” I was doing was going to open mics and jam sessions. I also barely knew anyone in the scene, so I had no idea how I was going to get anywhere with my music. I had an arsenal of demos that I’d send out to anyone—labels, music supervisors, you name it.
There’s a lyric in “Gimme” that goes “I wait another day, for what I cannot say.” That pretty much sums up how I felt—I was waiting for something to pan out—for a response from someone in the industry, to meet someone who’d want to join the band—but I wasn’t even sure what I was waiting for. I just knew I didn’t want to be at home with a bunch of demos for the rest of my life. Eventually I did meet that key person who introduced me to more people who introduced me to more people. And now here we are.
Featured image by Mark Muniz.