Monday, May 7, 2012

Dave Madden Interview

This interview is week 15 of Sean Claes' 52 Weeks of Austin Music Interviews.

 Spiritual. Ecclectic. Original.
Austin's Dave Madden

By Sean Claes
Dave Madden is an amazing musician, singer, songwriter and a pretty fantastic individual as well. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know his music and getting to sit down with him a few times to chat over the last few years.

He seems part bard, part sage, part wordsmith, and from the years I've known him he seems to be incredibly genuine.

Madden was raised in a suburb of Phillidelphia, PA, a small town by the name of Downingtown. He grew up in a musical household where he began playing piano at 8. He was accepted and attended the Berklee College of Music before he brought his talents to Austin, Texas about 8 years ago.

I was introduced to a fresh-faced Madden in 2006 at an METV event in Austin. Then I got hold of his Anything Goes. That album was really well done. There was one stand-out track to me, and that showed me there was many more layers to come. The track, entitled “Photographs,” is the video I posted below.

It wasn’t until his epic undertaking of 2010’s 24 track epic double-album Open Eyed / Broken Wide that I felt I heard the “real” Dave Madden. This album still stands as one of my all-time favorite pieces of music, and it was INsite’s pick for the best Austin album in 2010.

He’s since released a Live From Austin CD that is also a great listen and it was recorded at the now closed Momo’s.

You owe it to yourself and your ears to get to know the music of Dave Madden. He’s got a gig coming up on May 11 at Threadgill’s World Headquarters (301 W. Riverside Dr.) that he’s billing as “The 2nd Annual Really, Really, Really Big Show” Wendy Colonna is also on the bill for the evening… which makes it even bigger.

After enjoying his music and knowing him for about seven years, I finally had a chance to interview him. It was worth the wait.

Claes: How did you get involved in music? 
Madden: There was an upright piano in the living room, and my mom played songs and hymns. Early on, she taught me a few easy duets that we could play together. When I was 8, I started taking piano lessons and never looked back.

Claes: I’ve been watching you for a few years now, you seem to be very prolific and organic with your music. How did you form your beliefs and views you hold musically? 
Madden: I've gotten that comment before, that I'm a prolific songwriter. I always find that surprising, but I guess it is true. Fairly late in life I was stunned to learn that the norm for songwriters is to be incredibly un-prolific. 

Many artists go into the studio to record an album before they have the 9 or 10 songs they need. That's so curious to me. I approach a record with maybe 80 or 100 songs, and have to whittle that down to one album. I have songs I wrote 5 years ago that I really like, but haven't gotten around to performing yet, because there are just too many.

My musical views are apparently both very rare, and very boring. I'm a music theory guy. So music to me is first and foremost the actual nuts and bolts language of letters and numbers and math. And I love that language, it's this perfect, beautiful theoretical construct. I care more about the notes then the way they're played. Genre, vibe and tone count for very little. There's very little musical difference between folk, rock, pop, funk and reggae. Classical and jazz are different though, way more complex.

Claes: You attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music from 2001-2004. What were some of the biggest things you learned? 
Madden: I took a wide array of classes ranging from music to business, arranging to finance. I took Afro-Cuban percussion, taxation in the music business, atonal solfeg, conducting, latin piano styles, funk/fusion piano styles, traditional theory, jazz theory, and many more.

But of course, I also learned valuable life-lesson stuff. One teacher told a class of about 100 of us point blank, "The statistics are clear: 95% of you will not be able to make a living in music." And I learned the value of persistence and dedication.

I got some pretty sweet gigs at Berklee, the biggest, best ones, not because I was the best pianist (I'm not) but because I showed up super prepared and enthusiastic.

Claes: Any classmates there that have gone on to be famous? (I mean besides you). 
Madden: Oh yeah, of course. Paula Cole, John Mayer, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, Gavin DeGraw, Melissa Etheridge, Bill Frisell, many more. And tons of behind-the-scenes guys, producers, recording engineers.

Claes: When did you choose to make Austin your home? Why? 
Madden: I've been here for almost 8 years. I had just finished up an off-broadway gig in New York City, and was looking for a "goldilocks" city - not too small, not too big. I moved down here and started at the very, very bottom. Working at a coffee shop and playing open mics.

Claes: While looking up information about you, I saw that you used to be in charge of music at Phoenix Church in Austin around 2008. Are you still involved in a church? 
Madden: Phoenix no longer exists, but I have been attending Journey Imperfect Faith Community for almost the whole time I've been in Austin. It's a beautiful, scrappy, eclectic group of people. I often play music at other churches.

Claes: To me, much of your music is spiritual without beating someone over the head with religion. Have you ever sat down and written conventional hymns or straight-up Christian music? Why or why not? 
Madden: Not very much, but yes, I have written some straight-forward Christian music, and some Christmas music too. Those are my roots, what I was raised with, and it's good to honor that.

Claes: March 2010 saw the release of Open Eyes, Broken Wide a double release that you did electronically with an intricate CD book to accompany the release. Why did you go that route? 
Madden: The CD was invented as a joint effort between Sony and Phillips in 1982. 30 full years ago. That's insane. It's crazy that in 30 years, we haven't improved the quality of digital music. We actually already have the technology to make higher quality, and I got tired of waiting, so I just did it.

Claes: That release was picked by INsite as the top Austin release in 2010. Needless to say I REALLY enjoyed it. How did you find others perceptions? 
Madden: Well, most people liked it, but I don't think most took the time to really chew through the whole thing. It was an epic artistic undertaking. I'm glad I did it, but I doubt I'll do something that big again.

Claes: In October 2011 you released your Live From Austin. What can you tell me about this release? 
Madden: After Open-Eyed, I shifted my focus from studio recording to the live show. It's a completely different animal: a 9-piece band of horns and strings, these funky, fully-fleshed out arrangements. I wasn't even trying to make a record. We just recorded one of the shows, and it came out with this amazing live energy. 

So I eventually realized that, holy shit, this is a record.

Claes: It was recorded at Momo’s which has since closed. I know Momo’s meant a lot to a good number of great bands and, to me, seemed to be one of the biggest supporters of the independent songwriter/musician in Austin. What are your thoughts on the closing? 
Madden: It's a real shame. It might reopen in a new location in the future, but nothing is for sure yet. We'll see!

Claes: You’ve got a show coming up this Friday at Threadgills. What can you tell me about the gig? 
Madden: It's gonna be great. I'm billing it as the Second Annual Really Really Really BIG Show.

The first was in January of 2011 at Momo's. I had the 2nd one all scheduled for January 2012 at Momo's, but of course, it closed. So we moved it to another great venue, Threadgill's World Headquarters. We're gonna have 3 great bands, hula-hoopers, jugglers and dancers. We're all very excited about it!

Claes: What’s coming up next for Dave Madden? 
Madden: I'll be playing at Barton Springs Poolside Live! event this Summer. That'll really be a dream come true for me.

Go to Threadgills this Friday and catch Dave Madden play live. You’ll thank me later. Oh, and all of his music is available for whatever price you are interested in paying at

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here -

Madden in 2006 (about the time I met him for the first time)

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