Turning Sadness into Glamour, "Lullaby" from Uma Bloo
Written by Colin Smith
Like many performers, Molly Madden found comfort and confidence by being on stage. She crafted her alter ego Uma Bloo out of an affinity for Marilyn Monroe, a love for country singers, and her own background as a burlesque performer. She has been writing songs for years but only until recently has she started sharing them.
Earlier this month she hosted a screening party of her new music video “Lullaby” at her friend’s apartment. Up in the attic of the house that she decorated with sheets of aluminum foil, her music video played on loop — and it felt like reading an intimate diary entry.
Watch the premiere of “Lullaby” below and get to know Molly in our interview.
POND: Given your experiences as an actor, does your theater background help you manage the split personality disorder that comes with being an onstage and online persona as well as just being a human?
Molly: I think the best acting I ever did was when I wasn't thinking about it and I was making choices but wasn't thinking it. In that way, I feel like Uma Bloo was an accident. Uma Bloo was really more of a coping mechanism and she was something I consciously decided to make.
Everybody has something they take on in certain social settings and I just found one that worked really well for me. And so sometimes I feel weird even being made aware of the fact that she is something that I turn into. Because sometimes people will be like, “Oh, is she going to come out? Are we going to meet her?” And that’s not how you summon her. She usually comes out when I’m really stressed out. Or the more I find out about the way I deal with things, I’m like “Oh, that’s her.”
POND: What does it look or feel like when she comes out?
Molly: I feel more at ease. In many ways, she is both my best and worst self. She comes out when I'm not thinking about being myself or when I'm in such an anxious position. The thing I’m having trouble with is maybe she is fully who I am and I'm not comfortable being that all the time. I see her coming out when she is either flirting with everybody or somebody asked her how she is and she's immediately like, “I think I'm dying right now.”
POND: It sounds like the expression dial is turned up and that it’s important to her to be almost radically honest, open, and vulnerable — which is hard to do in everyday settings.
Molly: Right? I’m either very comfortable or very uncomfortable, and either way it’s a very helpless reaction to either. It’s almost like I would love it if I could get her to go away.
But at the same time… have you ever had something scary happen to you or you had to rise to the occasion? You didn't think that you could do it and then you're in the situation and you're like, “Oh man, I really like snapped into that.”
And especially when you're an artist, a huge part of your work is talking to people and knowing people. I also just liked talking to people! People can really help you out if you let them. And so I have to let myself get there. That's why when I go on stage, she's like, “you just have to focus.” And lately in the past few years, at least it seems like, talking to people is a lot like being on stage. Even if it's just one person.
POND: Totally, it’s an audience. To echo back to you what you're saying about social settings, you adopt a mode.
Molly: Yeah! And this year has been like a big one for my mental health. I feel like I either feel like she's completely lost or the only thing I am. Violet Royal, the woman who directed and edited the music video, would ask, “so where do you end and where does Uma begin?” That has always been my biggest question that I've never really been able to answer, because she is all me and all not me. All I know is that when I need to be her I am.
POND: Have you felt her come out before you put songs online, like in high school or college?
Molly: That’s a good question! Parts of her, definitely. I've seen her come out when she's agreeable. Uma was something I had built up inside for years that had to come out. And I'm able to show that onstage. She's very excitable and giggles a lot and it's almost like, you know, “I am so uncomfortable right now that I am going to turn this entire situation into something that is just really nice for both of us.” She's like some ‘60s housewife, you know, where there's a lot more happening than you would think. Like she has almost like an inability to say that anything's wrong. And I pull a lot of aesthetic choices from Marilyn Monroe and I look at her career. People treated her like livestock, and she let people put everything onto her. She found out early on that she could exploit her sexuality to do what she wanted to do but nobody really knows what she was really like, you know? But at what cost? Because she went out and did what people expected her to do, she never really got to find out who she was.
POND: Have you found any release by using Uma Bloo as a coping mechanism?
Molly: I think burlesque was really the catalyst of it all. I found such power in it. When I started, I found this confidence and I felt for the first time that I had justification for having a body. Dance and music just go together so well, but it was almost like I got to be a musician because okay, the only thing cooler than a rockstar is a burlesque dancer.
POND: And how did you find your literal singing voice? It's sounds so resonant.
Molly: When I was younger, I would just follow the feeling when singing and I was lucky that nobody else was around. I had a really big backyard when I was 10. I had this thought that if I couldn't see anybody, nobody can see me. And one time my neighbor caught me singing in my backyard and I was so mortified. But I really enjoy seeing how much you can evoke with just the leaps and bounds of your own voice.
POND: What were some other icons or influences pulled from as you built your aesthetic?
Molly: I pulled a lot from old country music because they were just so okay being with the parts of love that everybody is so ashamed. There’s a pain in it that they really let out. Like making guttural sounds and experimenting with their voices. And they showed up like so glamorous — they turned sadness into glamour.
Molly too turns sadness into glamour with Uma Bloo. Like the country singers she admired when she was young, she learned to croon. While Uma Bloo has several songs in the works, Molly is first focusing on honing and releasing another single "All For You". Her next performance is at The Hideout on the 28th for Anchr Magazine's music showcase. Keep up with her on Instagram and Facebook.