The Blessed Madonna: “K-Hand and Paul Johnson did a great job of reaching out across generations"
Ralph Moore spoke to The Blessed Madonna about Chicago and Detroit legends, her debut album, and why Madonna was Marea’s gateway into dance music
The last time I spoke to The Blessed Madonna with Choose Love, Marea was sporting an iconic black OutKast t-shirt at Spiritland in Kings Cross. We were recording an episode of my A Little Moore Conversation podcast that morning and by some strange cosmic coincidence, she’s wearing the exact same tee again today ("It was just what was at the top of the clean t-shirt pile! It's a really good t-shirt, though"). Although her wardrobe choice remains the same, an awful lot has changed in the 24 months since we last sat down.
Having worked so successfully with Dua Lipa on ‘Club Future Nostalgia’ and that massive crossover remix of ‘Levitating’, she’s now signed to Warner Records as a solo artist and is working on a debut artist album that’s 85% complete. Also now part of the prestigious 6 Music family, she’s here to talk about her show All Day Rave, what it was like working in the studio with Raye and Georgia, and why it’s so darn important to tell stories. The last time we chatted, it was a conversation that lingered in my memory because she’s such an eloquent speaker: and I left this 40 minute disco Zoom with the exact same sensations.
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So is the OutKast tee a favourite?
I guess, I've had it forever. I don't know; I just think so little about clothing. Really, my favourite t-shirt is whichever one is clean and black. So it's not a statement. It's never a statement t-shirt! I love OutKast. I'm from The South and they're essentially the Presidents of the Southern United States. As much as First Lady Dolly Parton.
Do you have a uniform? Those glasses are always a sign.
I’ve got a bit of a uniform but day-to-day, I don't think very much about what I'm wearing. It's always jogging pants, a black t-shirt, and maybe a baseball cap.
When we last sat down, you were off to record with Georgia straight after. What’s the latest with your solo album?
The album is now 85% done. But as you know, lockdown came and everybody was trying to figure out what to do. So I really focused on two things :which was reconsidering everything that existed in the album, and using the time where I was alone to try to learn a lot more. So I read every book and manual and watched every tutorial I could. And I worked with a couple of friends, helping me just like source studio musicians working from home. So it was just a lot of us working in our houses and communicating over files. Hifi Sean was very, very helpful in connecting me with studio people because he's quite good at working remotely. And the time came where I stopped to do ‘Club Future Nostalgia’ which was a huge project, because I made three new things for it, but also then commissioned all the remixes. Mike Dean mixed down ‘Levitating’, because he was working with Madonna to record her vocals. Madonna asked that Mike mix the record, which was just fine with me. He was very, very helpful and very supportive which was huge for me, because he's obviously an engineering and synth god and has been for me for a long time.
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What was it like seeing The Blessed Madonna alongside Madonna and Dua on the digital artwork?
Wonderful. I mean, I'm a Madonna superfan. I think that a lot of the driving force of that and part of the reason I related to her so much, especially as a kid, was because I was trying to work out a lot of the same stuff as a Catholic person. I really related to where she was coming from. She was certainly my gateway into dance music as much as anyone was, it felt amazing. I am forever grateful to Dua Lipa for letting me be a part of that. And that relationship has continued: I've actually just remixed something of Dua's. It’s a collaboration with someone else that's getting ready to come out. It’s a legendary duo…
Are you loving the collaboration process?
I absolutely love it. I think that I'm as good at that as I am at anything, it has really been a real sweet spot for me. I’ve just worked with Sam Roman [artist name Romans] who is up for an Ivor Academy Award as of today [nominated for Most Performed Work with Lewis Capaldi's ‘Someone You Loved’ which he worked on as a writer]. Also Griff I've had in, and Raye and Jin Jin and many more are coming. I have been working quite a bit with Raye, who is astonishing. We have a lot going on right now and I love her very much. It's just been a life-changing experience.
We should also talk about K-Hand and Paul Johnson. I also really felt like it wasn't just house music veterans who were sad, the young kids coming through were also incredibly upset.
Kelli and Paul did a really great job of reaching out intergenerationally. I mean, even with me, when I was a 23-year-old working at Dust Traxx [in Chicago], Paul was great to me. So he was a part of my life. He was always so open to younger people coming into things, and the same with Kelli. I mean, you never heard anybody say a bad word about Kelli, because she was just so warm and welcoming. And she was always on my side, which is such a rarity in the world. I really appreciated just the level of genuine, tender support that she gave me personally, but I know, it wasn't just for me, it was for hundreds and hundreds of people. She was just like that. She was really, genuinely a pioneer in a way that I can't even really wrap my head around. That stuff is so important.
And Paul was an amazing producer, he often spread the message that his disability didn't stop him from being creative.
That’s certainly what Paul said on the record many times. And, I have to say, as a person who has seen him play probably over 100 times in my life, because he was very much a fixture of the Midwest rave circuit, some of the locations that Paul went to play... I mean, we're not even going to talk about disability compliance; that's just not even in the same universe. I have seen Paul physically carried down flights of stairs by grown men. He was very proud of his ability and willingness to face those obstacles. Really we've got to talk about disability access, as it cannot be just a talking point. It's a huge deal, in a very real way. Most of us at some point will become disabled, right?
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It's a necessary conversation; hopefully these things will start to change for the better as the conversation develops.
Finally, let’s talk about 6 Music.
The show has really, really caught on which has been wonderful. It has developed quite a fanbase and that's what I wanted, and it's been a way to express that part of my brain that is very much in kind of librarian mode! It's also been great to become a part of the 6 Music team; it's still thrilling to run into Mary Anne Hobbs in the hallway.
And this month it’s all themed shows isn’t it?
Yeah, we’re doing a walk through the decades of club culture, which has been an absolute blast. Yesterday, I talked to Dimitri [Hegemann], the founder of Tresor and after that it’s going to be about Pikes. I had a three hour long conversation with Tony Pike on my first trip there and I gotta tell you, it's something to hear stories directly from the man. He's like, ah, your room over there that you're staying in? That's Bill Clinton's room. And he has lots of stories about George Michael, and just a really, really phenomenal amount of information.
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So you’re optimistic for the future?
The adventures that the kids are having now, certainly this generation that comes out of lockdown and figures out how to make a life in this weird new world we're in, they're doing amazing things. I have a deep trust of young people, and it’s just our job now to back them up. To try to make sure that they've got all the support that they need, while they make their own adventures! They have my full faith and confidence that they will fuck shit up as much or more than we did. I mean, like fuck shit up in only the most positive way. It’s the old people that I don't trust!
TBM presents on BBC Radio 6 Music Saturday 9:PM-midnight. 6 Music’s final All Day Rave (celebrating the 00s) takes place on Saturday August 21 with programmes from August 7(80s day) and August 14 (90s day) available on BBC Sounds.
Ralph Moore is Mixmag's Music Director, follow him on Twitter