The Small Town series focuses on artists, producers, and members of DIY communities in areas lacking a large metro and widely accessible music hub. The series considers how life in a small town affects one’s style of music and communication within a DIY scene, hopefully providing insight to readers in similar circumstances. In this first installment, Rare Candy sat down with Madden Aleia to discuss her experiences growing up in Connecticut and establishing herself as a part of the Western Massachusetts DIY scene.
When creating this series, Madden was one of the first people I thought of. I first met Madden in high school and she was one of the first people I actually knew who talked about DIY music. Our boarding school seldom gave opportunities for music that weren’t school sponsored (band, orchestra, etc.), but Madden, performing at open mics and smaller mini concerts, found a way to produce and spread her own music while encouraging others to do the same. -Xana
By Xana Pierone
RARE CANDY: Can you talk about the projects you’re working on right now?
MADDEN ALEIA: My solo project is called Basketball James. I bounce back and forth between doing full albums that I actually put effort into and little demo-type-things. Right now, I’m super, super busy with work, but I’m working on a cover album, so that’ll probably be out later this summer. I’m probably going to start getting a band together to play full band as Basketball James once the school year starts back up. Then, the band that I play in during the school year is called Blood Mobile. We have an EP that we’re doing post-production and a music video for right now. We’re going to work on an album and tour once school gets back in session. There’s five of us and two don’t live in the area, so we haven’t been playing together. Of the three of us who do [live together], we’ve been planning to work on our own stuff, but there was a little bit of a hiccup.
RC: What happened?
MA: At the end of May, we had a whiffle ball game and BBQ to film our music video and throughout the course of events a chimney fell on our lead singer and guitarist and he got really hurt.
RC: Oh my gosh. Bricks fell on him?
MA: No, the whole chimney.
RC: That’s ridiculous. Is he okay?
MA: He’s okay now. He broke his hip and he got a bunch of staples. We were going to work on a smaller, quieter, more dream-pop Beach House-y thing together, but we’re just now getting back to a point where he can play music, so that’s been kind of on hold.
RC: Not to gloss over his injury, but did you get the music video?
MA: Yeah! We have a ton of tape. I’ve been asking for the footage so I can start editing it. The video will probably come out sooner because we’re [working on] the music video and the songs we have recorded at the same time.
RC: So, where are you originally from?
MA: I’m from Glastonbury Connecticut. I’ve lived there my whole life. I went to school at Loomis [Chaffee] in Windsor [CT]. During the summer, I live in Stonington, which is on the Southeastern coast of Connecticut, closer to Rhode Island, where I am right now for work.
RC: Have you lived there in the summer all your life or just recently?
MA: I’ve lived there for the past eight years. It’s like 45 minutes away from where I live during the school year, so I go on weekends, but I’m working twenty minutes south in New London, which actually has a really historic punk scene.
RC: Would you say there is a music scene in or around Glastonbury Connecticut?
MA: No. I’m sure there are people like me, sitting in their basement wishing they had people to play with and then just doing everything themselves, but there really isn’t [a music scene].
I’ve been to a couple shows in Connecticut and I have a lot of respect for the people who are trying to create a DIY scene in Hartford County and in general. As far as venues go, there’s no consistent house structure and there’s no consistent booking agency or an overall serious circuit the way there is in Western Massachusetts. Western Mass’s structure is a good example. I’m not saying it’s superior, or that it’s flawless because neither is true, but it has a lot to teach growing DIY communities.
RC: Is Stonington’s music scene similar to Glastonbury?
MA: Actually, Stonington had a little bit of a punk scene. Stonington is really small, it’s right by Mystic. There are definitely a fair amount of people who play music. New London is twenty minutes over and that had the El ‘N’ Gee which was a famous punk club. They had a pretty consistent scene. There are a lot of art galleries and there’s a record store, The Telegraph, which has shows frequently and is really facilitating a DIY scene there. The guy who runs that is really committed to finding people who are local and to supporting arts in the community. So that’s the closest thing I think Stonington has.
RC: What is it like navigating those scenes, and lack of scenes? Particularly in Glastonbury.
MA: It’s really hard. You don’t realize what you were missing out on until you [experience] it and come home from that. That was a huge part of my personal adjustment to the summer, because I went from Western Mass, where there’s [about] ten houses that have consistent shows, going to three shows a week, and playing shows one or twice a week during the school year to nothing. So, my solution has been working by myself and commuting up there as much as I can.
RC: So you just finished your first year at college?
MA: Yup. At Smith.
RC: How is the music scene there? Is there a music scene?
MA: At Smith I wouldn’t say there’s necessarily a huge music scene. We have a great radio station and we have a music collective that is pretty committed to playing with each other. A lot of people at Smith do music or there’s probably fifteen or twenty of us who are very active in the Western Mass DIY scene or WeMa as people call it, but Smith itself, not too much. Our radio station, SMC, the Smith Music Collective, hosts shows every once in a while and we’ve had some really good bands. They’ve also had local bands, but even that’s [about] two shows a year. The people in Smith who would look for and create a music scene, if it were in a vacuum, just go to the greater WeMa DIY scene.
RC: Have you seen a shift in your music style since your move to college?
MA: Definitely. There’s something to be said, one hundred percent, about surrounding yourself with people who are doing amazing things, and so many people around me in Western Mass are just so committed to music and are doing incredibly interesting things. I can think of so many bands that I’ve gotten the chance to know, go to the homes of, go to the shows of, and talk to who are doing things that I hadn’t heard of before. People encourage you to think outside the box. People encourage you to get up there and do what you want. I didn’t really play shows until college. I played a little bit when I was in high school. I had a couple friends I would loosely jam with, but there was no ‘playing a gig’. I maybe played three official shows in high school, so I just recorded a lot. Up in Northampton in the Pioneer Valley, there’s just so much. You have so many opportunities. I started playing with one band pretty much right away, like early October. I stayed with that band until March and then I joined my current band Blood Mobile. Just the shift from not playing shows at all, and not playing with people, to music as a collaborative experience was completely new for me.
RC: That’s really cool!
MA: Yeah! We have a booking agency in Western Mass called Eternal Slumber Party, and they are committed to booking predominantly POC, Queer people, and femme people. Two Smith students are incredibly active in that, so I think of that as partially a Smith thing even though it’s technically not, but it’s run by Smithies essentially.
RC: Can you explain the house structure in WeMa’s DIY scene?
MA: Totally! I think that’s a key part of understanding how Western Mass DIY works. One thing that I think it does very well is that it’s incredibly organized. There’s a website called the Western Mass DIY Calendar, which has all of the shows in the area starting at Northampton and going all the way up to stuff in Greenfield and Turners Falls, which is about a half hour drive difference. The five colleges—Smith, Hampshire, UMass, Amherst, and Mount Holyoke—have a bus line that goes from all of them, so if you follow the bus line from Smith to Hampshire to Amherst you hit all of these houses. They’re all within a twenty minute drive of each other. That whole area is all old farmhouses and most of them have multiple people living in them. Some of them are students, Hampshire students mostly, sometimes UMass students who own the houses. There’s one house in South Hadley that is absolutely beautiful called the Asbestos Farm. The people who live there are all in a band called Carinae. Most of the houses are what you think of when you think of punk houses; five or six people living there and a lot of times people who live together will be in the same band, but not necessarily, and then shows are held in the basement.
The shows are free if they’re house shows. Eternal Slumber Party has access to Flywheel Arts Collective, which is a zine library and Queer resource in Easthampton, and that space costs money to use for shows because it’s an old church and they have youth groups there, but when admission is charged it’s always sliding scale. Usually how it’s done, in my scene at least, is there’s a bucket that goes around, because every show will have around four bands, first and last acts are always local and there will usually be two touring bands. Most of the touring bands come from New York, but it really depends on who’s around. The notion of pay what you want is really important to the DIY ethic. If a touring band gets paid I think that’s very important, but at the end of the day I can’t imagine ever feeling comfortable playing somewhere that I knew people would be turned away, especially at someone’s house, it’s not like it’s Carnegie Hall. I don’t think anyone should ever be turned away from music if it’s local music because they don’t have the money. The pay what you want type thing is something I wanted to emphasize because it’s really important and is successful in our scene. If none of the touring bands got paid then no one would come, but the touring bands keep getting paid and they keep coming, so it works. The shows can be found through flyers, word of mouth, Facebook events, and Western Mass DIY Calendar. Some people are a little bit sus about the online calendar because they worry about harmful people knowing the house address.
RC: Is privacy a big issue for the community?
MA: Yeah. There are two houses in Northampton, and one doesn’t have shows anymore. There were threats coming in from white supremacists, and a lot of it has to do with Eternal Slumber Party’s mission [centering women, queer, trans, non-binary, and POC artists and musicians], and that is in no way a criticism, but that makes them a target for white supremacists. The whole point is we’re all friends and we all know each other. These people are inviting you into their home for a show and they want to have an idea of who is going. Having the houses named is a big deal [for protection], but white supremacists found the names and addresses of the houses in the area, so there were issues with threats and white supremacists calling the cops and giving fake noise complaints when they knew there were shows.
RC: I don’t know if you can answer this, but can you explain the names more? Is it just something to call them so you’re not putting out the address? What else do you do to protect these spaces?
MA: Some of the houses have names that correspond to certain factors about them. Some houses are Pencil Factory, Asbestos Farm, and Tubecats. The names are like little firewalls, it’s enough to protect the houses so there’s still a level of privacy, but they don’t completely block out everybody. If you are someone who hasn’t gone to shows before and you get invited to one, you can just ask someone for the address. It encourages person-to-person contact and it’s a way of keeping tabs on how many people are going to come, what sort of people are going to come, and trying to protect everyone there. The end goal of any DIY show, not secondary to music, is the safety of the people involved.
RC: Final question: is there anything you want to plug? Anything you’re into or should be paid more attention to?
MA: I love MINT FIELD, they came to Smith earlier this year. They’re really really really good. They’re a dream poppy band from Tijuana and they’re fantastic. They toured with this guy who’s a graphic designer and a DJ, he goes by Judas el desgraciado. Big Thief is awesome. I saw them this year, they played an amazing show. Angel Olsen is also a good one for the summer I think. I’ve heard she can really put on a show, which is super cool. That’s been a lot of what I’ve been listening to lately. I’ve been trying to balance between name dropping people that I know and want to support and not feeling like I’m name dropping for social capital, but I do think a lot of really amazing people are making really fantastic music; my friends personally. I would honestly plug most of the Western Mass bands. I absolutely plug people getting together and playing music and wanting there to be music in your community. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions, because I know when I was first starting out going to shows I always had moments where I felt like a little bit of a weenie being like, “where’s the house again?” but it doesn’t make you a weenie or little kid. If you have questions, ask. If you see someone playing music or playing a show and you want to get involved in that scene, ask them. They’re not big scary rock stars, they are people who hopefully care about their scene and community and are welcoming new people into it. My other big plug is I think everybody should always tell musicians that they like that they admire them. It doesn’t matter if they’re your friends, or someone who opened for you, or someone you’re opening for. When I was in a different band, we were all at a show for the singer of And The Kids, and I didn’t know the amount of capital they had in the scene and in music in general, so I went up afterwards and was like, “I really liked your project, I hope I see you again. I’d love to play together on the same bill or just talk to you about music sometime.” Afterwards someone was like, “what were you talking to them about?” and I said I was just telling them that I really liked their music, and the person who went up to me was like “I can’t believe you went up there and told them that when they’re famous!” but a musician’s a person. It doesn’t matter if you have ten Grammys, you still want to know how your music affects people. It feels cool. I am so happy when someone, whether I know them or not, tells me “I think your music is really cool.” We should all be complimenting each other and supporting each other wherever we fall on that dumb hierarchy of music that shouldn’t exist. I would tell people opening for Blood Mobile that they did a good job the same way I would tell Frankie Cosmos that they did a good job. There should be nothing stopping you from telling people that you like their music. We should all be teaching each other and sharing with each other. We shouldn’t be concerned with keeping a social hierarchy. Obviously there are bands who are more successful, who play more, who do whatever, but it shouldn’t stop us all from interacting and talking about our music together, which is how it should be.