Wednesday, June 23, 2021

An Interview With Mad Mad Mad

The latest form of Mad Mad Mad finds a project helmed by the uber-talented John Moran. 

Created in LA during the height of quarantine, a revolving door of some of the best session musicians from the city shape the basis of the group, whilst Moran provides his deft touch to production and vocals as well as contributing most of the instrumentation. 

Their latest release, the funky and ultimately euphoric ‘Dead End Friends’ finds Mad Mad Mad taking solace in the relationships that support them as they scrape to make a living as artists in Los Angeles. With their intriguing sound and ability to find inspiration from a diverse range of genres, Mad Mad Mad are ready to take the world by storm. 

Following on from their newest single, we caught up with John Moran to discuss lockdowns, jobs and what is next for one of the more exciting musical projects to come out of the pandemic.  


So, how did Mad Mad Mad come about?

I’ve been releasing music for the past few years with different groups, always under different names. I started Mad Mad Mad as a way to work with different musicians, to express different sounds, and keep it all under one umbrella. I wanted to work with everybody, to be able to try out any set of sounds and not feel like I’m abandoning the ethos of the band. This band can’t fall apart because it’s not a band, it’s a collection of musicians who rotate in, express themselves on a track, and rotate out. There’s a lot more freedom in that.   

Your latest single - ‘Dead End Friends’ has a really intriguing sound; how do you develop that aspect of the song?

We put a lot of time into figuring out what this song would be mainly by figuring out what it wasn’t. The final session on this song was close to 200 tracks, but we deleted way more than that during the process. This song was particularly challenging to produce because it’s only two chords from start to finish (A and B, for anybody who wants to learn it), so a big part of the production was looking for ways to keep the song interesting in spite of that. We took out the first electric bass track we recorded and replaced it with a Fender Rhodes Bass. That’s the sound that starts the song, a deep distorted electric keyboard, and it’s an unusual sound for the low end. I’m always looking for little things to set a production apart. 

The lyrics have a melancholic feel, with a positive attitude towards the friendship that holds you together, whilst acknowledging the struggle of getting by as an artist in LA, does that struggle influence your music?

Absolutely. I wrote this song as the title track for an EP of downbeat disco jams with depressing lyrics. I love when a track can put on a pretty face and go out and dance when deep down inside everything is falling apart. Those are some of my favourite songs, and I expect the rest of the set will be coming out soon, though we have yet to set a release date. There is a lot of rich material to draw from in LA, so many people waiting to get plucked from the line-up of a waitstaff and dropped into the leading role of a Hollywood movie. Most won’t catch that break, and I wrote this song with that in mind. In these lyrics, the band’s best shot of making it big is by spray painting their names on the marquis above the venue after hours. I loved that image, and couldn’t let it go, no matter how many drafts I wrote. 


Outside of this, what inspires you to write and produce? 


The people I work with inspire me to no end. Whenever my ideas start to feel stale, I can record with my friends and end up with more ideas than I ever imagined. Really, you’re tapping into somebody else’s imagination and seeing the world from their vantage point. Even a familiar idea can take on a new meaning when somebody else tries to express it on their own. There’s a similar idea in photography, where a group of photographers sent to the same location will each capture different photographs of the same place, because they are each trying to convey the unique way in which they see the world. Music can be similar, with each musician expressing their own voice over the same chords or grooves. It feels irresponsible not to hit the record button when you have somebody with you in the studio, because the ideas they convey are so unique to them. You may never hear them the same way again. 


As for lyrics and song ideas, lately I’ve been going through old journals and stealing from myself, or from the people I used to be. It’s strange and familiar all at once. Some ideas seem a lot better after some time has passed, and some are best forgotten. 

On ‘Dead End Friends’ you sing of working multiple jobs. What’s the worst jobs you’ve ever had to work?


I’ve never had to resort to giving or receiving foot massages on craigslist, so I would say I’m pretty lucky in that regard. I’ve also never received a foot massage from a total stranger, so maybe I’m not so lucky there. I did have a boss at a lowkey service job who threatened to fire me in just about every conversation we ever had. He told me to ask questions during job training, and when I asked questions, he threatened to fire me for not having figured it out. He was probably just mad because I ate all the croissants in the display case, and he couldn’t figure out where they all went. 

Has the situation of the past 18 months caused you to change your approach when it comes to writing and producing your music?

My approach hasn’t changed much, but I have spent the past 18 months working on music production every single day. I spruced up my little home studio and worked on my craft even when it wasn’t fun or easy. One big thing I learned was that you can do just about everything from home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Getting out and working in different spaces teaches you a lot about how to get that sound out of your head and into a recording. Every space sounds different. I spent some time working out of friends’ studios whenever it was safe to, and I learned from everybody I worked with. I feel more capable now than I have ever been. My abilities have finally caught up to my ambitions, and I am ready to record and release more music now than all the past ten years put together. 

Do you have any plans for live tours now the world seems to be opening up again?


None yet. We’re working hard on new tracks that we’re excited to release, so we’re in the recording stage more than we are in the touring stage. We’re also considering what a live set will look like for us. The tracks we’ve released so far have some wildly different instrumentation - “Don’t Take My Mind” has a full orchestral section with live strings, grand pianos, backup choirs, and indie guitars. “Dead End Friends” has a Queen-style a Capella break, a vintage Rhodes bass, and modern synthesizers. I’d love to figure out a bizarre performance set with electronic instruments and backing tracks, but we are still working on what that will look like. 

With that in mind, if you could tour with any other artist in the world, who would it be?

Mark Ronson. He has excellent taste. I also have no idea what his live set would look like at this point. 

Describe the future for Mad Mad Mad


After the Dead End Friends EP comes out, we’re going to the 1970s – expect more maximalist productions, a couple EPs of downtrodden disco, and some indie jams on the way. We want to deliver the highest quality in production we can. Expect great players on these songs. I’ve got so much respect for the musicians who play on these recordings. What they do may be fun, but it isn’t easy. For now we’re working on little landmarks. I take screenshots of our monthly listener count every day. I’ll probably take one after this article comes out to see how much it changes. 

James Ogden 

Image: Provided by MAD MAD MAD 

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