SoundCloud Music Reviews

Meet Madame Babylon: Gothic Songwriter; Avant-Garde Multi-Instrumentalist (Kalamazoo, Michigan)

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                                                                                                                                                              Welcome to the wonderful world of Madame Babylon, but you can call her Kairi Lansley. Lansley is from Kalamazoo, Michigan and is a talented, gothic multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter. From a young age, this artist took an avid interest in the performing arts, as well as making unusual, high energy sounds with a variety of classical, orchestral and electronic instrumentation.
                                                                                                                                                                    Kairi plays the bass, the cello, the violin, the guitar, and the piano, aside from regularly using her vocals to carry out the overall project’s recording process. Some of her influences include the Sex Pistols, Rasputina, Patti Smith and Jack Off Jill (which happens to be one of my favorite bands growing up.) Kairi began bringing her tracks into existence back in 2008. Her first EP is called ‘Forsaken Filth,‘ which was released in June of 2010.
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                                                                                                                                           “Every bit of the lyrics were free flowed and unplanned.” Kairi explained on Bandcamp. By allowing myself to free flow every song, I was able to form words for a lot of pain and anger I’d been stuffing down inside myself for years. Most often it felt as though I were going into a trance and it felt like I was just a passenger in my own body.
                                                                                                                                                                  What Madame Babylon is referring to is the feeling likely common among many musicians during periods of extensive creativity. I may have mentioned this topic twice already. However, it can be described as the phenomena where you have this particular feeling, as if you are not the one controlling and conducting the piece. Thus, your actions and decisions seem almost manipulated, as if  taken over by something or someone, or by some higher intelligence (metaphorical or otherwise.)
                                                                                                                                                                     Think about the muses of Greek mythology. Right? In other words, it feels as if someone is creating through you and using your body, mind and soul as an outlet to deliver some otherworldly, artistic message. It’s much like being on the telephone except not realizing that you actually are the telephone.
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There were several Madame Babylon tracks that convey a general impression of either intense anger or sexual suppression. The overall intensity translated into certain sexually explicit lyrics could remind one of the artist Peaches, although Madame Babylon sounds absolutely nothing like Peaches.
                                                                                                                                                            Instead, Lansley’s music contains mostly elements of goth electronica, dance music, dark wave & gothic rock. She also seems to have a style similar to that of Emilie Autumn, which has been confirmed as well to have been an influence for this project, especially regarding Autumn’s book “The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls.
                                                                                                                                                                  Kairi’s voice can be described as a having a healthy Soprano range, with a lighter, higher pitch that exhibits a youthful, sensitive quality to it. Highly recognizable, her vocal development has become one of her main assets throughout her recorded tracks. Her song writing abilities are thoughtful, complex and highly relatable and during our discussions, Lansley seemed to emit a lively, charming energy combined with an overall well-rounded sense of humor. I highly appreciated that as life is too short to allow a harsh, unfeeling world to dictate your self worth.
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                                                                 THE INTERVIEW                                                                         

                                                                                                                                                                          I wanted to ask Madame Babylon more about her work, her life, her tracks and her albums because I have been very drawn to her sounds for a while. She is another artist that I discovered during my first year on SoundCloud. I had found her Jack Off Jill cover track “Star No Star,” and then began exploring her other songs, which as it turned out, I also loved.
                                                                                                                                                                      I’ve decided that for this article, Lansley should do most of the talking. Her explanations reflect upon society’s influence on her music and describe how such human interactions have impacted her style for the better. This isn’t the typical interview I would normally conduct and it isn’t as simple as a Q & A/review. It has much more of a personal touch to it, and considers serious topics that in an article like this, I would typically veer away from (to respect the artist’s privacy.)
                                                                                                                                                                      Liz: So, Kairi,  how do you create the cover art on your EPs, tracks and albums?

                                                                                                                                                                Kairi: “Sadly, it’s not really a complicated process. I enjoy taking pictures of things as well as myself. Sometimes I’ll get one and think ‘hey, this would work well for an album cover!’ I wish it was more than that, but I really don’t put too much thought into it otherwise. The only album cover that I gave real thought to was my debut album, ‘Forsaken Filth,’ (which is appropriately named because over the years, it’s become my least favorite work.) With Forsaken Filth, I wanted to embody the dirt and grit I felt inside myself at the time, as well as my rebellious attitude towards religion (as I was raised Fundamental Baptist,) and so I went all out with finding the dirtiest, grimiest, most sacrilegious place inside myself that I could…”

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“…The back brace I was wearing in the picture as a corset was sort of a representation of how I felt like I was someone who had their back broken because they’d held the weight of the world on them for too long.”

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Liz: So, why then is “Forsaken Filth” your least favorite work?

Kairi: “Well, Forsaken Filth’ was kind of an accident? A friend of mine had given me an iMac at the time. I don’t really like Apple products in all honesty and it had this program on it called GarageBand. I ended up compiling a bunch of different loops into different songs. I thought it sounded cool and planned on writing lyrics to it. However, I was completely mentally unstable during that time and went into a deep long psychosis that I don’t remember much of. According to my old roommates, I spent the whole week in my room except to use the bathroom or to nibble on something small. The entire album was lyrically, as well as vocally, improvised. Each of them depicted some aspect of pain or humiliation that I’d endured at some point in my life. I feel like the two songs on the album called “Vessel” and “The Scarlet Harlot” may have been at the peak of my psychosis because I ran around that week claiming to be ‘The Whore of Babylon.’ Calling myself that in retrospect, was both a direct assault on my religious upbringing, as well as a coping mechanism for me to feel invincible against a lot of the life trauma that had taken place. I guess you could say that it’s my least favorite because it showed this inherent place of absolute darkness within me, that I don’t like to acknowledge. On a side note, I’m not Baptist, nor any other branch of Christian. I am now an SGI Nichiren Buddhist and it has helped me immensely.”

The album “Forbidden Filth” is posted here. (Below)


                                                                            COVET                                                                                

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Liz: Tell me more about the concepts and meanings exhibited in the EP “Covet.”

Kairi: “‘Covet’ also came about by accident. Since my last full length album, ‘Unleashed,’ I’ve been releasing little EPs here and there because I’ve been at a stand still with where exactly, I want this project to go. One of my absolute all time favorite bands is the cello-rock band Rasputina, so needless to say, I was pretty heavily influenced by them during the making of this EP. The first song, (the title song) ‘Covet,’ is about my absolute disdain toward watching romantic love just die out in our society. With things like Tindr and Grindr still on the rise, it’s become sadly apparent to me that we now live in a society where romantic feelings are frowned upon, but where sleeping with a random stranger (with no intention of letting it become anything more,) is the new norm. It just infuriates me, especially in this day and age where there is so much hatred in the world, as well as such a lack of humanistic connection…”

The album covet is posted. (Above)

“…What we need is love, yet we’ve ‘traded in connection for an hour or two.’ The second track titled “Corporate Plantation” is about my disgust for the demand of blind patriotism in the United States. I personally never cared for this country, and I know me saying that is going to make A LOT of people angry, but it is what it is. Save the ‘if you don’t like it, then move’ comments because if it were within my means, I’d have done it yesterday, gladly. I don’t see much in the way to be proud, and I explain why in those lyrics. We came here illegally, almost completely wiped out a race of people whom rightfully own this land, and then kidnapped countless others from their home in order to make our own lives easier. It’s just absolutely inexcusable to me. Yet we are told as Americans, to pledge our blind fealty to this government and not ask questions. Obey, consume, and conform, or else you’ll be punished. Another aspect of this song is plain and simple with its message. Our government doesn’t actually care about us, but we must pledge allegiance to them while they pledge allegiance to only themselves. We are mere cannon fodder, cattle, and nothing more. The third song on the EP titled ‘Battle Cry’ is kind of bled from the same vein as ‘Corporate Plantation,’ but much angrier. I wrote it during the time when we were witnessing the public execution of countless African Americans in this country. Watching these injustices occur, shook me to the core. I myself am a survivor of police brutality, not because of my skin color, but because I am in the process of transitioning from male to female. The song served as a catalyst for me to not only constructively deal with my anger (for what had happened to me,) but also for what I was witnessing in the news. It made me so damn angry and I’m still angry about it. I’ll probably always be angry until justice is served and all of this violence stops. I will never NOT speak out about injustice unless it ends. On another note, a fun fact about this EP is that every song from it is being reworked for my prog-punk band ‘These Unfortunate Sons.’ We will be recording that album actually, within the next couple weeks.”

Covet was released on September 12, 2017, and when I heard it for the first time, I loved it, because how could I not? It made me want to dance and I don’t ever dance, (or rather try not to because I’m a terrible dancer.) This artist made sure that her songs and albums stood out among the vast sea that is music, and that its opinions were carried through with a powerful, blunt insistence upon historical accuracy, political truth, honest self expression, and strong sexual liberation.
Madame Babylon’s art speaks for itself. It tells the story for us by making sure we understand its themes, and actually listen to each message it contains, very loud and fucking clear. I continued to ask her questions about her childhood and how she first started singing and playing instruments.

                                                                      ORIGINS                                                                                   

 

Liz: Did you take singing lessons as a child or were you in choir perhaps?

Kairi: “I never took any actual singing lessons. Throughout middle school I was in choir and my teachers realized I just had this natural born talent for it. I typically always ended up with at least one solo. I also did a lot of musical theatre growing up. However, throughout all of that time, I never once learned how to properly read or write music. I’ve tried, but I just can’t make sense of musical notation. For me, it’s all just colors, layers and feelings.”

Liz: When did you start learning to play the various instruments that you now play for this project?

Kairi: “Well my first instrument was the cello, which I picked up sometime in the winter of 2009 or 2010. I had always wanted to learn how to play ever since I was 16 and first heard the band Rasputina. All throughout my life, I had played around with both the keyboard and the guitar here and there. The violin and viola I picked up around 2012, after falling in love with the music of Emilie Autumn. The bass guitar I picked up shortly after joining ‘These Unfortunate Sons.'”

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Liz: What establishments have you played at and do you plan on performing at others and/or touring any time soon?

Kairi: “I don’t have any plans to tour for the Madame Babylon project. However, I have every intention of touring in the future with ‘These Unfortunate Sons.’ I did play one show many years ago for the MB project at a local venue called Papa Pete’s. It didn’t go so well. I’m a performer and never got the hang of playing an instrument while singing. No matter how much I practice or no matter what I do, I can only seem to focus on either singing or playing, but never both at the same time. The other part of it is in order for me to perform my MB music the way I want to, I would basically be doing karaoke to my own stuff and no one wants to go to a show just see one person standing on stage, with a microphone in hand while hitting play on a laptop. I blame this mostly on my background in theatre. It doesn’t feel right to sit still in one place. I want to be able to move around the stage, use my body as part of the art in order to further convey the emotion of what I’m singing about, and even jump out into the crowd at times. I don’t see myself as separate from anyone that I am performing for. They are there too and I want them to experience the music with me. When I’ve played shows with other bands I made it a point to make sure the audience felt like they were a part of something. I want to feel connected to as many people as I can, especially since we live in a society where human connection is so difficult to find.”

Liz: Would you be open to collaborations?

Kairi: “I am absolutely ALWAYS open to collaborations. I will never say no, as long as it’s something that I can believe in.”

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Liz: Do you plan to make a professionally made YouTube music video in the near future?

Kairi: “I would like to. The problem is that I don’t have the resources to do so.”

Liz: What is the music scene in Michigan like?

Kairi: “I can’t really speak for Michigan as a whole, but the music scene here in Kalamazoo is pretty incredible. In the last year I’ve been meeting some just absolutely amazing musicians in the area like ‘Amaranth,’ ‘The Mushmen,’ and ‘Sexy Toxins’ (to name a few.) All of them are incredible people and equally incredibly talented. We have everything here: (Folk, Punk, Goth, Country, DJs.) You name it and we have it. As far as I can tell we’re all pretty interconnected in one way or another, so you can’t really do anything or go anywhere without running into a fellow musician or someone who knows another fellow musician. It’s pretty awesome.”

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Liz: Could you tell me a bit more about “These Unfortunate Sons?” 

Kairi: “These Unfortunate Sons is a band that I have been working with on and off for the last four years. Originally we were going by the name ‘Set Us Free,’ but after having some member changes, we decided to change the name to something that didn’t sound so hokey. The band is kinda hard to fit into one category. We opted for the genre Prog-Punk because it gives us more room to move around musically. We all come from different backgrounds of Rock, so it just seemed to be a good fit. We do have some music up on SoundCloud and Reverbnation, but not much.Currently we are in the process of recording our first album, which will be out before the end of the year. There will actually be quite a few songs from the Madame Babylon project on it. The band really liked them and thought they would just sound incredible with an actual band. I’m not revealing which songs will be on there, so you’ll just have to keep an eye out when we release the album online. However, I can promise you that you won’t be disappointed.”                                                                             

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Liz: Tell me more about your 2017 band, “The Naked Fingers.”

Kairi: “‘The Naked Fingers’ wasn’t exactly my band. Pete Jones was the founding member of ‘The Naked Fingers’ and I joined as their new singer for a short period. It was a really good band. My only problem was that all of the songs (except for the one which I wrote with them named ‘Escape’) didn’t have much meaning to me. This is because I just couldn’t really connect with them. I played three shows with TNF. The first show was in some place I don’t really remember well, but it was a venue in Kansas on a lake. It was a really fun show. The second show was at this wonderful hole-in-the-wall bar in Wichita, named Kirby’s. It was one of my most memorable nights with that band. What made it so memorable was just how intimate the venue was. The place was so small I had doubts that we could cram even 25 people into it. Somehow, we were able to bring in a pretty big crowd, and even had people standing outside the doors. At one point during our show, before performing ‘Escape’ (which was about dealing with feelings of suicide,) I asked the crowd to give me a show of hands to see how many people had struggled with feelings of suicide. It was a hell of a moment, as we watched at least ninety percent of everyone present, lift the hands up. I did this for a couple reasons. I myself have battled with suicidal ideation, since I was 12 years old. I know I’m not alone. I wanted this show of hands to happen because it’s something that we are encouraged to talk about, while also being shamed for talking about it. I wanted everyone in that crowd to be able to look around and know they are not alone. I wanted them to see that even though we all go about our lives, each and everyone of us on some level, fights our own battles. I wanted them to see that in a world of disconnection, where one is looked down on for showing any sign of real human emotion, that we are all inherently human in the end, and that we all feel. The third show I played with them was a train wreck. If you are ever given the offer to play at a place called ‘The Steel Bar’ in Wichita, I would advise that you just say ‘no.’ For weeks we had to do our own advertising and the venue had told us that there wouldn’t be a cover charge to get in. When we arrived at the venue, it was that time of year where it was getting to be 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Their heater was broken, so it was just as cold inside, as it was outside. There was no crowd at all and the only people there were the bar staff and the bands who showed up. Then half way through the show, we found out they were trying to charge a cover outside, after explicitly telling us that there wouldn’t be one. Later, after all of that, they refused to pay the bands. We literally had to argue with the bar staff over forty dollars (which didn’t even cover our gas.) Essentially that place was just garbage and I would never play there again. Eventually, I ended up leaving the band because of artistic differences and started working on a new album for Madame Babylon, called ‘Princess Breakdown.’”

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Liz: I was noticing that ‘Princess Breakdown’ is the only EP listed on your SoundCloud currently. Tell me more about this latest album. 

Kairi: “Before I get into this, I want to be respectful to your readers and let them know that this is where I would place a content/trigger warning. I know I spoke about suicide already. What I’m going to talk about next may be incredibly difficult or triggering for someone reading it. ‘Princess Breakdown’ is different from anything else I’ve ever worked on. It is also the most difficult to write. In fact, I’m only half way finished. Only two of the songs have been semi-professionally recorded and uploaded to my SoundCloud and Reverbnation pages. There are others which can be viewed on my YouTube, but they are all extremely raw, unrehearsed, and were recorded and uploaded minutes after being written. That being said, I’m constantly messing up mid-song by losing track of the lyrics or banging on the wrong keys. While I was still living in Kansas, (right after I left ‘The Naked Fingers,’) I suffered from a severe nervous breakdown. Nothing in my life had worked out the way I wanted it to. I wasn’t who I wanted to be. My PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was in absolute full swing. I have spent years either running from or pushing away the trauma, I had suffered my entire life. I never really dealt with any of it. It was at this time that it all resurfaced. I suddenly had to cope again with the molestation I had been through, and all of the physical abuse I suffered as a child, came back as full-out tangible memories. The constant bullying I endured during my school years (because I was seen as gay,) brought about these massive insecurities that I still have about myself. The time my best friend’s dad raped me, the time I was raped my roommate’s boyfriend and the time I was raped by someone who was supposed to be my best friend, really got to me. Also, when I had the ever living crap beaten out of me by a police officer for being transgender, and the time that I was date raped at a bar, reported it to police, and was told I was making it up (not only by them, but by my boyfriend at the time,) subsequently made me stop my transition from male to female. I did this in order to make sure that nothing like that ever happened to me again. It was all too much for me, suddenly having to take on all of that at once. I broke down. I found myself faced with three options. I could admit myself into a psychiatric ward and face the fact that I may never be released, I could kill myself and end it all right there, or I could fight. My cousin had purchased a keyboard for me on my thirtieth birthday, and I determined that I would lock myself away in my bedroom and get it all out through music. Because this project is unlike anything I’d previously written, I know it’s going to be the most honest. I’m not going to beat around the bush, sugar coat, or laugh off any of these things anymore. I’m going to put it all out there in black and white, and talk about all of the horrible things I’ve lived with my entire life (even if it’s frowned upon.)  The first song I wrote for the album was a song called “Shipwrecked,” which indirectly was a metaphor for my life. I felt much like a sinking ship and while I was going down, I was telling everyone ‘it’s time to abandon ship, so I don’t drag you down with me.’ I didn’t want to be captain of the ship, but it was my ship and I had no other option, but to go down with it. Essentially, I was saying ‘save yourselves because I can’t be saved.’ The second song is the album title track ‘Princess Breakdown.’ It came about while I was standing in the mirror staring at myself after spending the day crying because I didn’t want to live anymore. In Kansas my friends called me Princess because I was the only “flamboyantly gay” person around. It wasn’t the nickname I minded or was bothered by. While in the mirror, I had this epiphany. I was a princess. I was the princess of having nervous breakdowns because, well, it wasn’t my first one and I’ve spent a life battling my mental illness. Thus, I dubbed myself ‘Princess Breakdown.’ It took me twenty minutes to write that song and everything in it is true. There are still weird correlations that I’m discovering about those lyrics and my life that make me stop and think. As I went on to write more songs, I discovered that I wasn’t just doing it for myself. Any time I would post something I would be flooded with messages from people saying thank you for talking about something they too had experienced in their lives, but never had the courage to discuss with anyone. I was healing and I know I’m not the only one, because there are so many countless others that need healing too. This album is all about that. The world needs to heal. Look at our current political climate. Look at the news. Look at what’s going on around you. We are all hurting and aching in one way or another and there is no one in power that is trying to help us. I want to do that. I want to talk about the things we are afraid to talk about. I want to give this message of hope to others. Even though all of these unbearably awful things have happened to me, I can still stand on my own two feet and continue living. I truly believe that if I can do it, anyone can. Getting that message across to others has now become my biggest goal in life.”

It was a pleasure to have interviewed Kairi Lansley of Madame Babylon. Lansley’s other EPs and tracks can be heard at the Bandcamp link listed below, and Lansley’s newest EP “Princess Breakdown” is of course, posted on her SoundCloud.

If you liked this article please feel free to follow Waking Dream on WordPress, and subscribe to our YouTube and SoundCloud pages. Click on the links posted and take a look for yourself. Talk to you soon. Until next time…

-Liz Lund

Madame Babylon:

BandCamp: BandCamp Link

SoundCloud: SoundCloud Link

Waking Dream:

YouTube: YouTube Link

SoundCloud: SoundCloud Link

 

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