Mayflower Madame: The Dark post Punk from Norway
Photo Tim Harris: from left to right: Ola, Trond, Henning, Haavard
Mayflower Madame released, some months ago, their second album, Prepared for A Nightmare. Immediate big crush for this album and the band! After contacting their main label, french label Only Lovers Records (Sunflowers…), I have successfully reached Trond Fagernes. Trond co-founded the group and he is the songwriter, guitarist and singer. Trond made things easier for me: he presented the band, their music and, of course, their new album!
The beginnings of Mayflower Madame and their …strange name!
In the beginning of the 2010’s, Trond Fagernes and his chilhood friend, Rune Overby, guitarist, have « a very strict sense of what kind of band they wanted to be » explains Trond. But it was harder for them to find the right people to complete the band! After a long search, they met their original bassist, Petter(Gudin Marberg) thanks to a mutual friend. He knew a drummer… Ola( Jorgen Kyrkjeeide). After their first rehearsal, they understood it was the good line-up and played their first show. They kept the same line-up until the release of their first L.P, in 2016. Then, Rune left the band and he was replaced by Haavard Haga. In 2018, Petter had to leave the band. On live shows, Henning Gulbransen began to play bass and, recently, became a permanent member.
I had a good intuition about the strange and surprising name of the band! It relates to the famous escort agency owner Sidney Biddle Barrows, known later as Madame Mayflower, in New-York, between 1979 and 1984. The band liked « the sound of the name and how mysterious it could be »… A good way to interpellate people. Sidney Biddle Barrows was full of dark secrets.
Mayflower Madame: post Punk musical influences
When I asked Trond about his main first musical influences, he told me he listened to post punk and liked bands like the Cure, Bauhaus, Joy Division. « I also recall being inspired by some «classic» experimental/noise-rock bands such as The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth. Syd Barrett was an early influence as well » he added. However, today, Trond prefers to talk about a « combination of post-punk, shoegaze and psychedelia« . The first E.P, Into The Haze was released on August 2013 in this post-Punk dynamic. I am not surprised it reminds me of Cure and Motorama at the same time. Motorama is a russian group I have followed over the years, and they claim the same influences as Trond. Mayflower Madame could have met Motorama and shared the scene in Hanover two years ago but they finally chose to play in Hamburg.
Articles and critics compared Mayflower Madame’s music and Trond’s voice to various musical bands. I was curious to know what Trond was thinking about it: « I was quite surprised the first time I saw Sisters of Mercy being mentioned since I’ve never listened to them and I’ve always imagined them to be a «classic goth rock» band – which is not really my cup of tea. So I can’t say for sure how I feel about that comparison, but I’ve been thinking for a while that I should check out their catalogue to find out. I like some of Echo & The Bunnymen’s stuff, especially the «Heaven Up Here» album. But it’s a long time since I last listened to them. Both The Jesus & Mary Chain and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club got a great sound on their first albums although I don’t think we sound very similar.
So I guess I prefer the Bauhaus comparison, they’re the one of those bands that I’m most inspired by. However, it’s kind of more interesting when you get surprising comparisons so maybe I should say Sisters of Mercy after all« .
We can argue about Trond’s voice influences…from Billy Idol (hum!!) to Jim Morrison...or Jim Kerr(!!). Trond did not know Thomas Cohen (and S.CU.M) and after listening to him, he seems to take the comparison « as a compliment« . I encourage you to listen to this nice album, Again to Eyes released 10 years ago!
Observed In A dream: first album and a big step in 2016
We both agree with Trond on my first feeling about their album. « The psych-influences are more present on «Observed In A Dream» . It felt like a big step forwards from our debut EP, but we were not consciously trying to make a new sound. It was more like a natural development. We used more synths and more effects etc., but we just did what felt right at that time. I’d called it a further exploration and refinement of our sound rather than a change of style« .
Then, I have asked Trond about the themes which inspire him. « Some of the subjects I’m sometimes inspired by or deal with in my lyrics are surrealism and studies of the subconscious, religion and the idea of the apocalypse, occultism, politics, climate change… But the songs are generally more about personal feelings than specific themes or stories. Mostly love songs actually. Or whatever creates powerful and intense emotions: Desire, longing, obsession, betrayal etc. I suppose you can define many of them as “apocalyptic love songs”. Nice summary!
A recent period marked by…the Premonition of A nightmare?! (2018-2020)
In 2018, a very nice 4 tracks E.P, Premonition, has been released. The title is good introduction to the new album title in 2020 (ndlr Prepared For A Nightmare) and seems to anticipate the global pandemic and its devastating impacts. The original plan was to release a L.P but the band was not completely satisfied with the new songs. « We felt they were too similar to «Observed In A Dream» and we wanted to do something different for the next LP. On the other hand, we had our biggest tour so far coming up and we also wanted to release something in support of that. So we decided on an EP instead of rushing out a new LP » says Trond. The band toured in North America and Europe. They could spend more time focusing both on touring and further exploring their sounds for their second full-length album.
The song Premonition opens the E.P with a sound of war siren. The echo with their new album and the news, made me wondered if Trond and the band had prophetic abilities or feared the future of the world.
Trond does’t want to overestimate his abilities(!) but he has to admit » that the new album’s title fitted even better than I had predicted« ! « Both titles – «Premonition» and «Prepared For A Nightmare» – are the result of a feeling that we are living in a very tense, insecure and alarming time. The idea of the apocalypse seems as relevant as ever. Not just because of climate change or if Covid-19 turns out to be only the beginning of a coming wave of pandemics, but also because of the increase of right-wing movements in Europe and America. But there’s still hope of course and we try to reflect that in our music too« .
Prepared For A Nightmare, a new start for Mayflower Madame?
The new album, Prepared for A Nightmare was released at the end of last Spring with the young french label Only Lovers Records. I felt it darker, more mature and homogenous. Trond explains: « I think it’s both darker and more mature, but also more dynamic. It’s like we’ve been dwelling even deeper into our characteristic mix of post-punk and psych-noir while also developing more variations by including «softer», quieter tracks and adding elements of dark-wave and dream-pop. I always feel I can do better, but I think both our LPs are pretty homogeneous and I’m equally proud of them« .
I wanted to know more details about their composition’s process before recording in Oslo. » The composition of a song normally starts with me having some guitar riffs that I introduce to the rest of the band. Then we add the other instruments and work further on the song’s structure. I write the lyrics, but I usually wait with completing them until the final stage – when we start recording – because I like to get the «mood» or «feeling» of the music under my skin before I decide on the words. A few songs are also the result of improvisation during rehearsal and «jamming» together as a band« . Since 2013, Kenneth Eknes is an additional member on synths for recordings and selected live shows.
Musical and artistic identity of Mayflower Madame
Today, Mayflower Madame has found their artistic identity: « I suppose our speciality is to create a soundscape that is both atmospheric and haunting, sometimes brooding and hypnotic, sometimes ecstatic and noisy, yet always doused with a soothing layer of hazy melodies. We hope (and believe) that this results in a particular mix of elements from post-punk, shoegaze and psychedelia that makes our music easily recognizable as distinctively Mayflower Madame«
I saw Mayflower Madame worked with Astrid Serck as designer, videographer. I understood why she works so closer with the band when Trond answered me: « First of all, Astrid is a very talented artist. She’s worked mostly with drawing and graphic art, but she’s got a very characteristic, expressionist-ish style …. She understands what we want to express with our music and we share many of the same aesthetic preferences, which is of course also a big advantage« .
In several videos, we can see Trond and the band using a very specific scenery. This aesthetic reminds me of old expressionist movies. « Well, I’m a big fan of silent era horror movies (especially German expressionism) and also surrealist art films. When it comes to old movies in general I’m just as picky as I’m for new movies, I don’t like it just because it’s old, but I do have a penchant for the black/white aesthetic« .
So, the song Ludwig Meidner is a tribute to this german expressionist painter and graphic designer. » In particular, it’s inspired by his landscapes and cityscapes around the First World War which portray the chaotic modern world as a ferment volcano about to erupt. On a more individual level, the lyrics also describe a relentless search and longing for sources of intensified emotions in the mechanized concrete jungle – a dangerous ride which might lead you to the point of no return »… »However, as in Meidner’s visions, the idea of letting it all burst can involve both a fear for doom and a hope for catharsis« .
Epilogue: Mayflower Madame…not so dark…after 2020.
After talking about music, I wanted to know if Trond was living this strange 2020 year…like a Nightmare? This year was difficult for a lot of people but not as dark as a nightmare. « It’s been a weird year for sure and I really miss playing live/going to shows, touring/traveling, seeing more than a couple of my closest friends etc., but I’ve tried to focus on reading, writing and making new music to at least keep things going for me personally while the outside world has been getting more and more distant. The positive thing is that this period has been a reminder of what I value most in my life« .
Trond tries to be optimistic (so do I ! Something we can relate to): « I’m both optimistic and pessimistic, the future seems more uncertain than ever, but I hope Joe Biden winning the U.S. presidential election and the Covid-19 vaccine can be the first steps towards a better world« .