Interview with Mama feat. Antonella

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Exceptionally, we are publishing this Mama feat. Antonella interview in English first, because it’s a cool as a really cool thing! Finnish version is coming soon to a Emotion Zine near you!

Tällä kertaa Emotion Zine sai kunnian haastatella nousevaa bändiä nimeltään Mama feat. Antonella. Gavin Monaghan on miljoonia levyjä myynyt tuottajaguru, joka on vaikuttanut vaikka missä ja Antonella Gambotto-Burke puolestaan on pidemmän linjan musiikkijournalisti, sekä erinomainen kirjailija. Nyt vieläpä mainio laulaja!

Mietin tämän tekstin kääntämistä heti, mutta näin nopealla tahdilla siitä olisi kadonnut hauskoja nyansseja, eli kaivakaapa sanakirjat esiin ja nauttikaa tästä lennokkaasta haastiksesta!

Suomennos on toki tulossa hieman myöhemmin.

What’s the story behind your band’s name?

Gavin: “A few years ago, Antonella wrote a magnificent book called Mama, and I thought it would be fantastic band name for an affirmatively female-fronted band. It’s so her.”

Antonella: “What he said.”

Can you describe your musical genre to our Emotion Zine readers?

Gavin: “Electronic techno-noir drama with a hint of sexy German precision.”

“I remember one sweaty underground Berlin rave in particular. The smell of Amyl was all-pervasive, and the dancing was incredibly tribal. So I wanted to recreate, using 8-bit samples and classic analogue equipment, the same pulsing industrial and early techno sound.”

“The idea was this: for listeners to feel like they’re cruising down the autobahn with no speed limits on their way to this gothic city – statues of angels against the darkening sky, people in heavy black coats in the subways, the clubs beginning to pump, that whole Berlin vibe.”

©Derek Ridgers; Agent; Sarah Appelhans

So how did you first meet?

Gavin: “Antonella met me in a candy store, turned around and smiled, and that’s when I fell for the leader of the pack.”

Antonella [laughing]: “In 2019, one of my oldest friends, Britpop titan Alan McGee, asked me out to dinner with a couple of his friends, one of whom is a Grammy Award-winning producer. Halfway through dinner, the producer turned and said words to the effect of, ‘You know, you should sing. I work with voices all the time and you would sing really well

– the way air moves over your larynx.’ And Alan cried out, ‘DO IT! DO IT!’”

“Alan had been trying to persuade me to sing forever. He wanted me to sing with the Jesus and Mary Chain at the height of their powers, but I refused as I was too shy. The idea of standing before an audience in that capacity was mortifying. I mean, I’d always sung solos in front of my school and so on, but this was different. I curled in on myself like a snail.”

“Over the years, various English guitarists tried to persuade me to sing, and again, I found it incredibly confronting. But when the producer suggested it, he seemed so sincere – stern, even – that I thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’ And Alan was incredibly supportive. So I decided to do it.”

“Covid interrupted. I was one of the lucky few; the book deal for Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine, a dark cultural analysis of the past two centuries, had just come through, so I was really, really busy working on that throughout all three English lockdowns.”

“It wasn’t until late 2021 that I finally started a band – rehearsals only, no live performances. By 2022, we’d completed our first song and were looking for a producer. A record company CEO friend said, ‘Send it to Gavin Monaghan – he’s expensive, but a genius. Seriously: beg, borrow, or steal to see him. You won’t regret it – the man is an alchemist!’”

“Gavin, of course, is a multi-platinum multi-award-winning producer – 20 million records, multiple number one British albums and singles, his songs have been used in productions ranging from Austin Powers to the Twilight films and Peaky Blinders. He’s worked all over the world with superstars such as Robert Plant, who pops into his studio when he’s in the mood.”

“So I was absolutely terrified. My record company CEO mate pushed and pushed and eventually, I relented and Whatsapped Gavin the song. He was a charm-free zone. ‘I’ll listen to it when I have a moment,’ he said, ‘I’m busy mixing. If I like it, I’ll take you on; if I don’t, I won’t.’ I waited 12 hours in a state of suspended animation – I think I spent the whole day in bed! Finally, Gavin pinged me back. ‘Your voice!’ he said. ‘Let’s do this.’”

“So that’s how we met. After working on the song for hours, Gavin said, ‘This isn’t the right vehicle for your voice. You have a huge voice; it needs a different setting. What you are is a diva! But you need to sack the band. I’ll call in professional musicians.’ Feeling like I had no idea what was happening to me, I burst into tears. As I hadn’t entered the industry as a fame-hungry teenager, it was all so frightening and overwhelming, you know? What was I doing?!”

“Gavin softened, but not that much. He’s all business in the studio. [Laughing] So we set about composing, and, weeks later, we realised that we’d fallen madly in love. And that’s when everything exploded and life became a festival of lights for both of us. I’ve never been happier in a relationship.”

Antonella, you’ve written many successful books and you know music industry quite well (Antonella has interviewed a lot of great bands), and Gavin, production is your raison d’etre, so how does it feel to make your own music?

Gavin: “I’ve been in the industry forever and yet nothing could have prepared me for this. After being in the engine room for so long, it’s nice to be flying the Lufthansa.”

Antonella: “While I worked for the NME, Rolling Stone, and other major music publications from the age of 18 onwards, I never for a moment imagined that I’d be on the other side of the microphone. Writing is so different to singing. Writers are hermits by definition – internalised, private, meditative – whereas musicians need an element of extraversion, which I didn’t really have. I mean, I love people madly but was crippled by shyness. My youth was very traumatic.”

“Doing press for books was always been easy because I’m comfortable with the role of public intellectual. I’ve addressed universities and writers’ festivals, and still write the weekly back page of The Weekend Australian’s literary section, but singing is visceral, emotional, and physical – three realms with which I’m not especially comfortable – so it has been the biggest learning curve I’ve ever experienced. I remember barely being able to vocalise when I began!”

“Making music has become a joy. I literally howl the studio down! We were recording the vocals for a new song last night at 3am, and I nearly deafened Gavin as I passed him in the (Magic Garden Studio) corridor. ‘Not so loud!’ he cried. The lyric-writing part of it has always been easier for me as it’s just an extension of my comfort zone.”

“The biggest surprise was how much is involved in singing, something I’d never before understood. The process is so emotionally layered and complex and subtle. I’d always assumed that singing was exclusively technical. While technique is essential, there’s so much more to it than that. Singing emerges from the very core of the self. It’s the most extraordinary thing.”

What you can tell about the process of making this first release?

Gavin: “I usually make a beat, and a grandiose version of the backing track with a load of melodies, sequences, risers, white noise and hook lines, using my collection of analogue synthesisers, modular systems, drum machines and samples until it sounds incredibly full and perfect to my ear. It’s monumental!!”

“Then I turn off 75 percent of it and send it to my true love so she can write a topline and lyric. She doesn’t like it to be too complex. Then when I have a vocal, I slowly turn everything on again until it sounds like a MAMA record.”

“If there’s anything cool left over, we sometimes base another song around it.”

Antonella: “Gavin always composes the music – it comes to him in a great wave – and pings it to me, whereupon I sit there, listening to it over and over again until the melody makes itself apparent, and then I write the lyrics. We record – and, sometimes because of my perfectionism, record again and again – and, BOOM! There it is: a MAMA song.”

I think that “I want what I want” has a really cool 80’s dark disco groove. Can you tell about your musical influences, which lead to the birth Mama feat. Antonella?

Gavin: “I’m a sucker for a great disco record, I love the wonderful Giorgio Moroder, and he and Conny Plank, Martin Hannett, Tony Visconti and Lee Scratch Perry were my role models coming up. I also adore Post Punk, electro pop, modern pop, K-pop Motorik, Dub, industrial, Euro, Trance and techno subdivisions. Plus, I dig a great guitar band.”

Antonella: “I love love love a moody female vocalist – Nina Simone, Lana del Rey, Anita Lane, Nico, Kiita. Weirdly, Taylor Swift’s ballads. I love stripped-back music. I love darkwave. The Cure have been a massive influence. The Sisters of Mercy. Dead or Alive. Unloved. Powfu. And I love the energy of Måneskin – Victoria in particular is sublime.”

I really like your vocals. They sound self-confident and have nice “I’m the disco, I’m the dancefloor” and “I’m the queen of f*n everything” vibes. How did you end up with that kind of style to sing?

Gavin: “I heard that voice and fell in love, I can’t give a much better Yelp review than that. Plus Antonella has the weirdest warmup routine. It sounds like a dolphin in the Adriatic.”

Antonella [laughing]: “Well, thank you! There was no plan to sound like that; I just let the music take me. The pumping bass, that whole Moroder vibe, demanded a big voice – any other would have been swallowed – so that’s what came out. Listening to the music, I visualised a Franz von Stuck woman and so fulfilled that vision.”

“I go into a kind of fugue state, if you will, when I sing – I try to side-line my very dominant intellect, as I find it far too easy to take refuge in my mind. I let the music dictate everything.”

“The energy I wanted for the song was pure sex – that powerful libidinal energy, the source of all life – so that was a fun brief for Gavin. I remember listening to the music for I Want What I Want in the studio with Gavin before the lyrics were written – we were dancing around the mixing desk like mad things, laughing. That’s when we knew we’d hit the right feel.”

“We have some really, really interesting stuff coming up – I can’t say more about it at this point. Our next single is enormous in terms of vocals and production, really intense.”

In these days many artists release only singles, which is a shame (at least I think so). Are you going to release a full album or EP in the near future? I hope so!

Antonella: “That’s really kind! We’ve almost finished recording our first EP, which will be out soon. Our first album, which is shaping up to be wild – I wish I could show you the cover; it’s just beautiful – will follow later in the year or early next, schedules depending. We’re even beginning to draft the songs on our second album.”

Gavin: “The EP is on its way! Sign up for our newsletter at for upcoming dramatic dance floor classics to soundtrack your love adventures!”

And do you have any plans to perform live gigs later, if your releases become popular?

Antonella: “We’ve had quite a few requests and do plan to go live, but not until later this year as our schedules are completely mad – Gavin has so much production work! He’s just completed work on House of the Dragon’s Paddy Considine album, and I have so much writing to do. Trying to align schedules is a job in itself. We currently live in different counties, meaning we’re constantly in transit – packing suitcases, in and out of hotels with our laptops.”

“I’m at once excited and terrified by the prospect of going live. What if I fall apart? What if I love it a little too much? I really have no idea what to expect. Maybe I’ll just sit on the stage and sob? Gavin is far more Zen. He’s toured with a lot of bands and played massive festivals the world over, so it’s business as usual for him. He’s in his happy place onstage.”

Gavin: “Yeah, I’ve performed live a lot. It can be really exhausting. This is the first thing that has made me want to pick up my flight cases again. I’m excited at the prospect of entertaining people again, and of watching Antonella win over the whole world, just like she did me.”

What do you want to say to people who doesn’t know your music yet and to our Finnish Emotion Zine readers?


Antonella: “The success of I Want What I Want has been really unexpected – we’ve had almost 6000 streams in the first week with no advertising, no history of playing live, and no record deal, so that has been completely amazing. Thank you to everyone who’s streamed and shared – you’ve been so wonderful. Please keep streaming and sharing!”

Gavin: “Every time someone streams our music, or watches our video, it makes us so happy. We can’t tell you how much it means to have our joint creations actively appreciated in this way, so thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Vive l’amour!”

Antonella [laughing]: “We’re really looking forward to touring Scandinavia – Gavin and I have already discussed it – but that won’t be for a year at least, until the first album has been released. Some years ago, my book about my brother’s death, The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide, was published in Finnish by Like, so I feel a special affinity with the country. On this basis alone, I can’t wait to visit and finally meet you all!”

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