Channeling the character Uma Bloo is how Molly Madden is breaking barriers in the music scene. Taking center stage in nightgowns and lingerie Molly transforms into Uma Bloo, a sultry existentialist, and powerhouse rocker. Read about Molly’s burlesque roots, how new band members are helping to elevate her songs and their upcoming EP.
Hi, my name is Molly Madden. I sing, play guitar, and write songs for Uma Bloo. My band is comprised of Mike Altergott on bass, Adam Karstens on lead guitar, and Alex Kociper on drums.
Uma Bloo has been called your alter ego. Is it hard to balance your everyday life with the alter ego or do you save Uma Bloo just for the stage?
Uma Bloo is more of an energy that arrives when I have to rise to an occasion. For character purposes, I wear costumes to help channel her and give her a body to exist in, so she isn’t a part of my every day unless I make that choice. While it is something that occurs naturally it’s not something I don’t have control over. So, no, it isn’t something to balance so much as it is something that happens when it needs to.
Though I will say that at the beginning of my career I had difficulty finding the separation between us, I was taking a method actor’s approach to it in a way. But it’s exhausting to be a character all the time, and it doesn’t serve any purpose in my day to day life. This past year I did a lot of work recognizing what aspects of myself are “Uma,” so that I can exaggerate that on stage and then let it be when I’m done with the set.
Your latest single, “All for You” was originally written when you were 19 years old. How has it evolved since then now that you have released it at the age of 24?
It is wild to reflect on my past writing, on my first songs I didn’t think anyone would ever hear. I see how much more I knew about myself than I thought. My process for songwriting always starts by playing guitar kind of mindlessly until I find a sequence that takes me to a place in my body, and from there I sing stream of consciousness until I’m done processing whatever it is that’s trying to come out. I think that’s the reason my songs tend to sound diaristic, as the process is very much a documented meditation. I don’t know how to write and hide at the same time; it could be said that I don’t know how to write a song for the fun of it. My work is reactive and arguably compulsive. It has made me insecure in the past that people won’t have any fun experiencing my music, and that not being a fun girl makes me difficult to be around. But, what I’ve come to observe is that in this that in this day and age there is an overwhelming amount of content to consume, so if I’m going to share my music or take up any space on any stage, I want to do so knowing I have something to say, and that whatever I am saying is urgent enough that it cannot stay hidden.
Specifically speaking to the structure of “All for You” it started as a two-chord situation and then over about two years I added what is now the bridge and then a chorus. Once I brought it to Mike and Alex we found that it swung pretty well and we just leaned into that. Having a band has totally changed what I thought my songs could be. When I write it’s a quiet process and I like to think the songs stand on their own. I’ve been surprised at what they turn into once I bring them to the band- they have such a way with adding dynamics to a song.
Even though “All for You” is five years old, as are a lot of the songs in our set, performing them now is still an intense experience because a lot of them deal with a long, overlooked need. What I write is often provoked by encounters I’ve had, but I am never singing to mourn the specific person or whatever happened- I’m mourning what was never there in the first place. I don’t mind going to that place on stage, because more than anything I care about authenticity. These secrets never feel entirely my own, I think they are truths of humanity.
You also recently played FEMIfest. A music festival known for featuring all female, non-binary, and LGBTQ+ artists. What does participating in a festival like this mean to you?
I am always thrilled to play on bills where you’re not gonna see the same set three times in a row. So, of course, I’m happy to be a part of these line ups and playing alongside others that I admire and learn from, but it’s also discouraging to see that these types of shows are still a special occasion.
SXSW just took place in Austin and you had several performances while there. This festival is known for its networking opportunities. After attending this year what would you say is the most noteworthy thing about SXSW?
I’ve honestly always viewed SXSW as an annual vacation. There’s a lot of work happening, but most of the shows are outside which I love…nothin’ quite liking singing into the breeze. We went down with our friends in Faux Furrs and Space Gators, so that felt really special. There were nine of us split between an RV and Mike’s car so it was pretty rowdy at times but I loved it. It’s great going down with a group but what’s also great about Austin during that week is that you can walk anywhere and see a show, so whenever I needed space I could just go off by myself.
In the past year and a half, you have released three singles, “Lullaby,” “I’m on Fire,” and “All for You.” As a whole, what do these three songs sum up about your early career?
Those first three songs are all milestones for me. Recording was intimidating at the start because I like to be able to change things whenever. When songs are recorded there’s an expectation to play them as they’ve been recorded. The “I’m on Fire” cover I didn’t do with my band, it was just something I wanted to try with my friend, Noah Krimstein, who plays around with synths and production a bit. “Lullaby” was a small introduction, but “All for You” is a good example of the direction we’re heading.
An Uma Bloo EP has been announced as coming soon. What can you tell us about the upcoming tracks?
I’m really excited to start recording. The songs we’re getting down are ones that Mike, Alex, and I have been developing over the last year. Since we’ve added Adam the songs have become so much more full, we’ve really been able to find new depths in the songs. They definitely have a narrative quality to them. There will be some fact and some fiction, you know how stories go.
Breaking down who Uma Bloo is a little more: You often perform in lingerie and slips. People praise you for your confidence and empowerment in femininity. How were you able to get to this point?
Honestly, I play a character. I found something to become that I’m not in everyday life. Once I realized the character would wear silks on stage it didn’t matter how I felt about it. The biggest takeaway I have from acting is that once you meet a character, you give yourself to them. My insecurities should not get in the way of expression.
Beyond your outfits, when you first started burlesque, you said that is when you found you had a justification for having a body. How does this influence from burlesque play a role in your performances?
Burlesque really was the catalyst to my telling anyone I made music at all. It was in those performances and rehearsals that Uma Bloo came to be a consistent being in my life. Burlesque informed how I move, the tactics I use to get a point across, and it was in studying burlesque that I found a process that I’ve since used to create any kind of performance.
In a previous interview, you mentioned that you gather information from Marilyn Monroe by pointing out how she was treated like livestock when exploiting her sexuality and that because of that no one ever knew what she really was like. How does Uma Bloo break through those barriers placed on women and their sexuality?
I mean, I’m not sure I have broken any barriers yet. People long before me broke the barriers down that allow me to do what I do.
I’ve used Monroe’s career to inform my performance and aesthetic. I appear like that type of ideal and then sing about my actual experience instead of something curated for men or whoever. It isn’t because I want to have a career like Monroe did if anything I see her as a cautionary tale. Watching her perform and thinking of her story really breaks my heart, I wonder what she would be like if she felt she had any kind of autonomy. Nothing was her choice, not her singing “Happy Birthday” to JFK, not a lot of the movies she had to do, even her death was likely at the hands of those taking care of her. Her whole personhood is surrounded by so much stigma that its difficult to find legitimate biographies about her because they are often inflated with sexism and rumors that cannot be proven given certain timelines.
She must have been so lonely… I mean, her mother wasn’t around, she never had a dad, and then was married off as a teenager until she eventually found herself in show business which obviously ate her alive.
I think she saw that if she behaved a certain way there would be somebody there to take care of her, which of course led to an incredible amount of disappointment. Her story is a specific case, as all of our’s are, but I think the reason she still resonates with a lot of people today is because her experience of disappointment is so similar to that of most women. I sing a lot about that disappointment.
There are definitely more barriers to be broken, and I do hope to be part of a larger movement that breaks them. I agree with the existentialist thought that the best way to live is by doing what one thinks everyone should be doing. For me, that means not lying about what I experience and see happening. So, that’s what I’m doing.
Written by: Colleen Kennedy
Photos by: Kevin Allen