by Alexander Laurence

As part of the show Pioneers of Synthpop show 009, I talked to Dee Madden who has been doing music for years and is currently doing a fully synth project. Dee Madden is a musician and producer now based in Portland, Oregon. He was born in Los Angeles and played with bands like Ex-Voto and Penal Colony. He was associated with many bands and projects over 40 years. Since 2016, he has embraced the synthesizer again, and that evolved into a solo project Dee Madden “Nihilism Is Real.”

AL: How did you get involved with Penal Colony?

DM: I was playing with Ex-Voto, who our mutual friend Gregory Bevington was in. Larry Rainwater and Linda were married. They decided to go to New Orleans because Larry got a job there. They took the band over there. I couldn’t go. I had just had my son. I wanted to stay close to my family. I just floated around in the ether for a while. There were these guys from the Inland Empire called the Texas Vamps. I was told by a mutual friend that they were looking for a lead singer. They had opened for us Ex-Voto a few times and they were super cool and we had got on great. I auditioned a few times and played them stuff I had been working on. We changed the name to Penal Colony and the rest is history.

AL: When did Cleopatra Records get involved?

DM: That happened pretty quick. We played our first show on Halloween 1992, and we were signed by 1993. All this had happened in less than a year. We played our first show at the Whiskey and there was an A&R guy there from Cleopatra. He was there to see another band. He saw us and was blown away. We spoke to a few labels and Cleopatra seemed like the best fit.

AL: What did you think of Cleopatra? Now they are know for all these rock and goth re-issues.

DM: Yes. They had just started. It was Brian Perera and his wife. They didn’t have a big catalog. Brian re-released Kraftwork “The Model” and Motorhead. We were the first new band he signed. He then signed Spahn Ranch and others. The crazy back catalog stuff they are known for now happened a lot later.

AL: Penal Colony happened at a time in Los Angeles where there was a goth scene and industrial music was happening. Genesis P-Orridge did a remix of a Penal Colony song. How did you come from that era to what you are doing now?

DM: People knew Penal Colony from our former bands Ex-Voto and Texas Vamps, which were more extended into the 1980s. That was our calling card as Penal Colony. Goth clubs at the time were playing Front 242 and Skinny Puppy. In the late 1980s and early 1990s industrial music was mixed up with goth music and other stuff at clubs. The remixes reinforced that, but the four of us saw ourselves as a post punk band. If you listen to the first album, we tracked it live, and we were into post punk stuff like Killing Joke and Joy Division. Korn used to open for us at English Acid. We saw ourselves as a post punk band, even though we were associated with the scene.

AL: Your new album is called “Nihilism is Real.” Can you talk about how you came to do this record?

DM: I had been doing organic music for seven or eight years. I was ready to do electronic music again. I had been listening to a lot of Kraftwerk and Can. And then there was some of the early British stuff like Ultravox, Yaz, and Heaven 17. And the freestyle stuff coming from New York.

AL: You played everything yourself?

DM: I played everything myself. The female voice is my friend Jessica. She is in the live band. We played together in a previous band. I asked her if she wanted to contributed and she ended up being on seven or eight tracks. I love how we harmonize. She is great musician too.

AL: You did a performance at an artspace in Portland?

DM: It’s a gallery that I own with my wife called Natural Diszaztr. We have a done a few shows there. I recorded one show there which was released as a live album. We hope to more things at the gallery.