Name: Madeline Juno
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: Madeline Juno's new album Besser kann ich es nicht erklären is out via Embassy of Music. She also has a new non-album single "Solange wir Fahren".
For many young German artists, singing in their mother tongue is not even an option. Why restrict yourself to a local audience if you can reach the entire world? Madeline Juno, too, recorded her first two albums in English. 2016's Salvation even yielded a small hit with "Stupid Girl", a song which managed the remarkable feat of setting topics like doubt, denial, and self-disgust to the tune of an anthemic pop song.
The road towards a global career seemed paved. Instead, only a year after what seemed to be a breakthrough, Madeline returned with DNA, which marked an unexpected break in her work. Although the record continued her personal brand of electronic pop music, it was recorded entirely in German. Not just that – the move felt entirely natural and un-calculated. What started out as curiosity eventually stuck – and she would never look back.
On her most recent full-length Besser kann ich es nicht erklären (roughly: I can't make it any clearer), Juno comes closer to the live-sound of her band, with acoustic elements taking on a more prominent place in the arrangements. Thematically, the music delineates a world of bittersweetness, and the dual sensation of pain and bliss that the Japanese term Natsukashii so poetically encapsulates. A world, where it's always "November", where "Summer and sun" match with "depression", where there are not "99 red balloons" but "99 problems" and what was once meaningful has now become "obsolete".
The strength of these songs is Madeline's ability to write lyrics which are the most direct expression of a feeling, a fear, a situation. You're not so much listening to a poet figuring out clever literary devices – you're really in this together with her. Perhaps she could eventually have achieved the same sense of urgency and immediacy in English, too, just like she once did on the magical three and a half minutes of "Stupid Girl". And yet, there's a sense that the music has proven her right.
She may no longer be able to reach the entire planet. But to those who understand, at least, these songs certainly mean the world.
If you enjoyed this interview with Madeline Juno, visit her on Instagram, Facebook, and tiktok.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
At this point it's just a part of who I am as a person, I guess. Writing songs about what I feel, think and experience in life is somewhat of a habit and just a thing I define myself by.
It helps me reflect and grow through and out of struggles. Therefore I tend to write very autobiographically and personal experiences, relationships and interests play a huge role in my work.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I find it pretty hard planning a song in advance. It's just a spark that comes out the very moment I try to sit down and write. And if it doesn't I don't even try coming up with anything anymore these days. (laughs)
On the other hand I do often grab an instrument or go into the studio with an idea, a title, a single word and if I then start writing and it feels like I've captured the initial thought, I know I'm on the right track and usually keep going.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
My whole life I've always preferred night time over day time for writing or working in general. I always feel like my creative juices start flowing as soon as it gets dark.
While in the process of writing an album I often feel the need to stop working with other artists or on too many other projects as doing so seems to help me focus on my work. I also find journaling very helpful!
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
The first line of the first verse of a song has to hit hard, for me.
Obviously a strong chorus and a clear message is super important as well, but I find the first verse has to intrigue the listener enough for them to even want to get to the chorus. so I mostly start with the verse and take it from there!
I also always come up with melodies first and the words kind of come to me or they don't!
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Over the last years I've kind of become addicted to the feeling of being hurt by the lyrics I write (if that makes sense at all). Or the expectation I set for myself is that I only feel assured the song is potentially going to turn out well when I feel put right back into the situation/feeling I had when whatever I'm writing about happened to me.
When it hurts, I feel the most satisfied with myself and my lyrics.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Most of the time it starts with words and phrases I save to my notes app on my phone. Then, as soon as there is a musical direction we're moving towards, I start recording voice memos of melodies and toplines I hear happening. And then I slowly start stacking words and sentences over one another. And somehow that weirdly leads to a whole song that just wasn't there before. ?!
Always crazy thinking about how learning by doing and how makeshift the whole process of that is for me!
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
Writing music is something very collaborative for me personally. The last years I've had the huge privilege of working with some of my closest friends who I can talk to about everything and fully open up to while writing for my project.
To be honest, I'm pretty stubborn and usually know exactly what I don't want until I fully know what I do want and it's nothing but a blessing and privilege working with people who understand and support you in your vision. So I really don't ever feel like having to compromise writing lyrics!
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
I often try to write it all down as best as I can, for future reference or in case whatever comes to my mind doesn't actually fit in with the song I'm working on that moment. But it's always helpful saving a little thought for later!
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
To be honest, as much as I love what I get to call my job and literally feel like that's the only thing that fulfills me as much as making music just does I find it incredibly hard writing a record!
The actual state of being enlightened by an idea and feeling like you're writing the best song you've ever written is obviously the most amazing and uplifting thing ever. But I do have to say, I actually hate the process of writing an album as it seems the older I get the harder it is for myself to actually make myself happy with what I come up with. If that makes any sense at all?!
I often feel like the magic that lies in the air of the room you're writing in is absolutely mindblowing and crazy. People coming together, feeling the exact same way about something and creating together. It's super touching and unexplainable. But sometimes tough to get to! (laughs)
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I love coming together as a team and literally celebrating having finished a record together. I don't mean through a big release party with all kinds of music industry people coming for free drinks and a bit of music and networking (that can also be nice, don't get me wrong). But I mean actually coming together, talking about the time you've spent together as people, everyone having put in so much time and effort and love and that's when I feel like it's done done.
Once it's actually out and I get to see what these songs then become or turn into for whoever listens to them.- that's the final step to letting it go. Once it becomes "theirs" and is not only mine anymore. I feel so lucky everytime I get to read or hear what certain songs mean to other people and that's when I start really happily letting go of the creative process.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
Sometimes it's really nice not letting pass too much time between writing and putting out a song. I've only recently, in August of 2021, written a song about not being able to come out of an episode of bad depression in the summer. and I actually got to put it out 4 weeks after having written in! And that felt amazing and real.
But often times I like to let songs lie and not actually listen to them in months and months. And then once it actually gets exciting and you have to finish them you still like and enjoy them because you haven't listened to them a thousand times! And then it's also much easier finding out what you would change now that some time's passed since writing it.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I'm always amazed by how much an entire production can change for the better once a third party takes the song into their hands, listens to it with fresh ears and does whatever they feel is right. I value mixing and mastering very very much!
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I have a lot of creative hobbies besides music and I do have severe anxiety and often feel lost after finishing a record or a tour etc. So I tend to busy myself as much as I can before diving headfirst into feeling useless. (which still absolutely happens but yeah ...)
Although I also totally think breaks and a bit of peace and quiet help after having pushed through a creative phase.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
For me personally writing has a lot to do with reflecting. And I sometimes feel like if I never had had the chance of actually getting into music and feeling like that works well for me or is fun ... I sometimes wonder if parallel-universe Maddie would reflect herself and her life as much as I do on this side of the universe.
I feel like writing is something so very healing, as hard as it can be at times, nothing comes as close in helping me figure shit out as writing does. Although cooking and baking is probably the winner in terms of calming me down! Nothing compares to the amount of peace I feel when cooking and baking.