First published by God Is In The TV Zine 8 January 2015
When I sat down with Rhymney songstress Maddie Jones in December to chat about her debut LP,Vita Brevis, a confessional and reflective guitar ballad album spread over eleven tracks like a clock face, her person was immediately clear. Radiant and perfectly arranged as if she’d stepped off the cover of the copy she handed me, Jones’ moody pauses and cheeky, dagger-like grins punctuated conversation in the back patio of Cardiff cool spot Gwdihŵ. Shared over a full glass of mulled wine under the clear night and lit only barely by the radiating glow of the heater, Jones counted us around the clock through Vita Brevis.
VITA BREVIS TRACK BY TRACK WITH MADDIE JONES
1. NOT MADE FOR THIS
“This is if you’re a person like you or I, I imagine, and you find yourself in like a really mundane, everyday, shitty situation, and people are talking about mortgages and you’re like, “Oh god! no!” Or you overhear people being really racist or something, and you’re just like, “How are we the same species? I’m not sure…!” It’s a powerful “Yeah!” and at the same time kind of a sort of depressed song, the-world-is-not-made-for-me – it’s made for people like you, who wanna punch each other in the face over a flat screen TV. I don’t even watch TV.”
2. DON’T SIT STILL
“They’re all kind of self-help my songs, jeez! ‘Don’t Sit Still’ I wrote on the fire escape at the back of my flat. Perched on there, it was a sort of lilting summer day. With what I do you can’t ever let anything pass you by. But it’s easy to lapse into a kind of apathy when things don’t happen immediately. So this is a song to myself. Don’t sit still.”
3. SHE WAS YOUNG
“I wrote this around the same time as ‘Not Made For This’. So it’s in a similar sort of vein, how people are like, “I’ll just go along, get married, have kids… oh! I’ve never done anything that I actually wanted to do! That I dreamt about when I was younger! Oh no!” So I invented a character that did realise in middle age that you can still do shit. Me too, at 26 I’m like, “Oh god! I’m gonna die!””
“I started with the mood of this one, rather than the words. Have you ever seen But I’m A Cheerleader? There’s a really beautiful intimate bit at the end and there’s this absolutely lush song in the background, ‘Glass Vase Cello Case’ by Tattle Tale. And there’s just this delicate, fragile sort of first love kind of thing going on. So I think that was the kind of mood I had in my head so I tried to focus on it. It’s the lesbian sex song.”
5. DIRTY LITTLE SECRET
“Talking of which… This one’s a bit older. I wrote this one while I was in university. A lot I write in such a way as to not say explicitly what I’m talking about. So ‘Dirty Little Secret’ could be anybody’s… like it could be something you’ve done, it could be sexuality, it could be anything. It goes through each verse from me to you to her to we; everyone has secrets. If you meet anyone there’s gonna be a lot of shit you don’t know. I love the finding out, it’s my favourite thing.”
6. WHAT THE HELL
“I personified temptation in this. I’m not sure whether it’s a different person or whether it’s an alter-ego of me, I haven’t decided. But, this one’s temptation.”
7. KNOW IT ALL
“It’s really weird, I don’t actually have a clue what ‘Know It All’ is about. It was in my head and I wrote it down. I find it very comforting to sing for some reason, I don’t know why! I don’t know what it’s about really. In the same way as ‘Don’t Sit Still’ it’s sort of a self-reassuring one.”
8. FOR I HAVE SINNED
“This is much more recent but is in the same sort of vein as ‘Dirty little Secret’. You know… confessional. For me it was sort of a coming out song… I’m bisexual. My own coming out experience wasn’t especially traumatic or something, it was just a really awkward. Everyone initially was sort of, “So what are you? Greedy?” Like, fuck off! I was always in this place of, “I don’t want to talk about this with you! I don’t want to talk about it.” Then I’ve had friends who’ve been disowned and all sorts. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be about coming out, it can be if you’ve got anything that you find really hard to tell someone. I’m not big on sharing… apart from with you, apparently.”
9. MORE FOOL YOU
“This is probably the angry song of this album. You know, sometimes you feel like saying fuck you to everyone. And I find that’s a way of doing it without literally saying fuck you. I’ve got bits in this song where I’m talking about people forcefully hitting on you, for instance. And you’re like, “Just why do you think that that’s okay?” Just, no!”
“We’re almost there, almost round the little clock face! Basically I’m 26 now, and I got into my first proper ridiculously intense relationship when I was about 16. That was ten years ago – makes me feel really old – but now when I remember that relationship, we were together for quite a long time but I only remember very small snatches of it, you know, weird things. The things I mention in the song like the smell of a rolly, a roll-your-own cigarette, just weird little things. I’m sure I should remember more but as time goes on I just remember weird little specific things like that, it’s really bizarre.”
“This one breaks my heart a little bit. My mum just breaks down when the album finishes, “Oh no, put it on again!” But ‘Soon’ is the power of being able to do whatever you want to do in dreaming, quite specifically being able to see someone who is no longer there, so either dead or just no longer around, but when you dream using the power in your brain you can make them be there. So yeah, it sounds really morbid – the ending track is about dreaming about dead people! – but it’s the one way you can be with someone who’s no longer around. So like my Nan, for instance, I can have conversations with her so long as I’m asleep.”
You can catch Maddie Jones every other weekend in Bristol or Cardiff, and she’ll be playing next Sunday as part of Cardiff’s Free For All Festival at the Moon Club. Her album, Vita Brevis, is available physically at her gigs, on Bandcamp or at Spillers Records Cardiff, or digitally onBandcamp, iTunes and the usual. Her prior EPs, Mr Walrus and Let It Out, are available digitally from Bandcamp as pay-what-you-want downloads.
‘INTERVIEW: Maddie Jones on Vita Brevis’ by Richard Moore.