Chicago-based artist Molly Madden has created a persona called “Uma Bloo” as a way to confidently introduce her art into the world. Madden, 23, established this character while studying and performing burlesque dance over the last four years. Uma Bloo gives Madden an opportunity to continually deliver her heart and soul through her music to those who are willing to listen.
During our interview last Friday, April 20, Madden says that she has basically always been a “diva” ever since she was a kid-actor. She jokes with a bit of sass about the time she got a lead role in her school play, but then the next year was cast in the chorus, “Who do you think I am?” As for school itself, it was never really that important to her in order to pursue what she wanted for her life.
Regardless, Madden moved to Chicago to study acting at Columbia College at age 18, and the city and its opportunities have kept her here ever since. At 19-years-old, she started burlesque and stuck with it for a few years; music has always been a part of her life, but not always something she was interested in sharing with the world. “I was too scared to share my music with anybody,” Madden shares during our interview at Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea in Wicker Park. “I was really shy about it — but then [when I started] burlesque, that’s when I created the whole persona of Uma Bloo. She’s been like my avenue of not being afraid to share it and everything.”
“I was always singing. I was always singing little melodies,” Madden says. Her family was never super into music or record collections -- other than soundtracks from movies like “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” or a Shania Twain compilation album -- so she hesitates to pinpoint exactly where her passion for music comes from. Because of her family's somewhat lack of a musical background, Madden explains, “I would just kind of sing what was on my mind.”
“I had this weird notion that if I couldn’t see anybody, nobody could hear me,” she thinks back to her childhood. “I would sing in the backyard a lot; it was nice, because when the wind blows, it kind of sounds like the trees are clapping. But one time my neighbor saw me, and I was like *gasps* ‘Oh my god.’ And I literally scampered away like a little deer or something.” Music has always been something Madden found solace and comfort in -- “it was always like my weird secret.”
Madden describes her music as her personal diary. She adds, “It’s all my secrets, which, I mean, any secret I have is virtually the same as any secret anybody else would have, you know. It’s kinda cool how that ends up working out.”
“It’s like my unraveling, basically,” she continues. “It’s really nice to have songwriting, because whenever something happens, I just know what I need to do to take care of it. Like how do I figure this out? It’s just my way of navigating through things.”
Above all, Uma Bloo’s music is solely about loneliness and existentialism. It highlights the difficulties of being vulnerable, especially living in such a complicated society with so many rules. She says, “The loneliness you can’t fix,” then throws in a quite literal “ha ha.” We both laugh at her laugh and the reality in what she has just explained. “Isn’t it fun? Go listen!”
The music itself is very soft and gives off dream-like, atmospheric vibes. In some ways, it reflects the music of artists like Florence and the Machine -- almost eerie in its sadness. The loneliness in the lyrics project through the sound, not offering any sort of mask for Madden's personal afflictions and emotions; frankly, it's powerful. More sad girl tunes, please!
Madden strives to just do what she is doing, because it’s what she wants -- not in order to gain popularity or be “different” from everyone else. “I feel like as soon as you’re trying to do anything, it’s not going to work,” she says. I agree, then she adds, “I just try to, you know, keep my eyes on my own paper, basically.”
“It’s hard sometimes, especially in a capitalist society, being an artist,” Madden explains. “If you want that to be the only thing that you do, yes, there is competition, when you approach it from that level. But I mostly just try to think about why I’m doing it, and why it matters to me, and why is this what I want to do.”
“Maybe that is what would end up ironically setting me apart is that I’m just trying to be genuine about it.”
Uma Bloo has been inspired by many women and men artists for her look, as well as her sound. Madden begins by claiming that Patsy Cline is one of her greatest inspirations, then suggests that perhaps the reason Cline was such a great artist and “country queen” is due to the fact that she died so young. “That seems to be a thing. If you really want to make an impact, die young,” she jokes. Cline, among other female country singers, was always so “guttural” and honest with her lyrics, giving Madden a chance to relate her own struggles and misfortunes, as well as this idea of “what a slave we make ourselves into over music.”
Madden goes on to name several other artists, such as Talking Heads' David Byrne, Angel Olsen, Patti Smith. One thing that stands out to her as an artist looking up to other artists is this ability to see herself in them: “I never thought it mattered to me, whether or not I saw myself there; I was like, I’m just going to do it, but it is nice to see how it’s done, you know?” Women empowering other women to create and make a difference is something Madden doesn’t take for granted.
I ask if she ever listens to heavy-metal, a genre I have most recently found myself going back to often. She explains that it isn’t something she could see herself listening to out of pure enjoyment, simply because she has a more difficult time connecting with it. “It doesn’t speak to me in that way,” she says. But she still has a respect for the genre and those who create its music: “I think it’s cool, and people who know a lot about it and the theory of it and stuff is fascinating.” Overall, Madden finds herself learning more about and listening to various artists and genres that are completely different than that of her own music -- the diversity allows her to branch out in order to grow Uma Bloo's style as an artist.
As a performer -- which is what Madden says she would call herself above anything else -- she has been able to become more comfortable on stage with her music. She explains that in the future, it might be interesting to be able to incorporate some burlesque dance, while she performs her songs as Uma Bloo. “I don’t think I’ll ever strip and play at the same time," she says. "[But] I mean, I don’t know, never say never. That would be cool, but I don’t know how I would make that interesting for a 30-minute set -- all burlesque acts are like 5-minutes tops. But yeah, maybe some step touches, eventually.”
During our conversation, I comment on how cute Madden’s Instagram account is. “Oh my God. It’s absurd,” she responds. “It’s so funny, because it was my personal Instagram, and then slowly it just — I don’t really have a personal Instagram anymore. Because it’s hers.” The way Madden speaks about Uma Bloo proves just how real of a person she is to her -- and how important she is to Madden’s career in music, as well. “And it’s funny, too, I really do think of Uma Bloo as a separate person from me. Although, all characters are pieces of ourselves, so that’s in me somewhere, but I just had to make something so absurd that I didn’t feel like myself, so I could get on stage and literally yell my secrets, you know?”
Uma Bloo’s entire look is something like a dream -- bedazzled, sparkling, flowy, pastel pinks, blues and purples. She even plays on a silver, glittery electric guitar. At the show at Subterranean Monday, April 16, her ensemble reminded me of an ‘80s prom look -- I tell her that, and she seems thrilled by the idea. “My one friend Arie, he described the look as a pastel Johnny Cash — and like the whole experience. He was like, I love it; she’s very fancy but sleepy. I’m like, whoa, that’s very accurate.” Although Madden isn’t a fan of shopping, she gained some insight from her days doing burlesque in how to find cheap nightgowns and literally just dress them up with glitter and other small, homemade touches. She adds, “I let the dress do most of the work.”
Uma’s entire aura is inspiring. Her look is so simple, yet it draws attention for its inevitable shimmer and dreamy tone; though, the personality of Madden herself glows even further beyond any outfit she puts together.
As a whole, sort of combining each one of her mediums is something that stays important to Madden as an individual. There are so many different art forms, and many of them can come together to create something even more fascinating. Though Madden is excited about how far she has come from just a year ago as a solo-artist, she is not done growing and putting work into what she is passionate about.
“All art informs each other," she says. "[Initially], I was like damn, I’m spreading myself thin. I needed [my mediums] to all be one thing, and I’ve managed to do that. I really believe in it; I really believe in what I’m doing, and I think that I just wanna keep making work I’m proud of for as long as I can.”
You can listen to Uma Bloo's single "Lullaby" on Apple Music or Spotify or find more of her music, along with her latest release "Meow," here. In addition to her music, Madden is performing in a play called "Stranger on the River" with the Bittersweet Arts Company -- a theater company she is a part of with fellow students from Columbia College -- and the show will go up the last weekend of May through June 3 at the Den Theatre.
Also, follow her lovely Instagram, because you can!