It would take a certain level of delusion to not realize the magnitude of talent surging in with Australia’s new wave of emerging artists. It’s a group of highly collaborative, genre-experimenting, and diverse line-ups perhaps ever to grace the continent’s stage. One artist leading the pack on the Sydney side of things is the untouchable Australian-born South African MADAM3EMPRESS (aka Shanae Masters), whose present discography fully embodies the upcoming landscape, though only four singles deep into her journey.
“I think with ‘Come on Over’ and ‘Locking Eyes’ I definitely threw a ball to the left of the court, and one to the right of the court”, she says when we chat over zoom. Her statement is an accurate depiction of not only her latest releases but her artistic vision. One that explores the emotional tenors of a young woman growing up, but also the want to be malleable with her own sound. Her latest single ‘Some Type of Way’ follows the same vein, and in true Madam3Empress style depicts a character of growth, formation and continuous self-work.
Having recently lived in the UK, exposed to a creative hustle perhaps unmatched anywhere in the world, MADAM3EMPRESS has returned to her own backyard to collaborate with other prodigal Australian talents such as Kory Buchek, IAMMXO, Magenta, CVIRO and GXNXVS, in an industry she still describes as ‘baby’ in comparison, though with a definite potential to grow.
Sitting down over zoom on a Tuesday after a long weekend (‘I feel like I’m only recovering now’, she laughs’), MADAM3EMPRESS, who’s cozied on a couch, shares with us her ideas on the UK hustle, the state of the Australian music industry, and becoming MADAM3EMPRESS.
So why MADAM3EMPRESS, what’s the meaning behind the name?
I’ve actually never been asked this question before. So about 5 years ago, my best friend Jordan — all my friends my whole life have always been on my case saying, “You’ve got to do music, you’ve got to do music, what are you doing?” — he came up to me and was like I thought of this sick name, it’s Empress. I was like “Oh, that’s so weird, I’m not royalty”. But then I was like what about MADAM3EMPRESS. So for the past five or six years my close circle of friends has called me MADAM3EMPRESS even before I launched the project. So I think the name kind of came about randomly, but obviously over the past five years, having that project and forming it and having such a strong vision of what we’re doing, it’s definitely picked up meaning along the way.
I knew that when I did music I didn’t want to be Shanae because that’s just me as a person, but I loved MADAM3EMPRESS. I still to this day, when I say to people my artist name, they’re like “Whoa it’s a very strong, very forward”. But you know the MADAM3EMPRESS project for me, and the name is something that I’m constantly working towards as an individual. So even though I guess MADAM3EMPRESS is me and I am the project, it’s a combination of who I’m trying to be. So everything I’m trying to better myself towards, being strong, confident, independent, kind, soft-hearted, vulnerable. I mean you’ve only seen a little bit of it because we’ve only released a small amount, but as you continue you will see, as an individual, that that is what I’m striving to be personally. So I would say that MADAM3EMPRESS, it was random but it’s definitely become something way bigger than I think we ever thought at the time when we made the name up.
Do you think you’ll ever reach a point where you’re like ‘I am MADAM3EMPRESS now’ and you can’t reach towards it anymore?
See this is the thing right. So MADAM3EMPRESS is about constantly reevaluating and bettering yourself. So I don’t think there will ever be a point where I’m like “I am the MADAM3EMPRESS” because that’s not MADAM3EMPRESS. It’s about continually moving forward. You’re never gonna reach your capacity, there’s always gonna be room to be better in every aspect, and so that’s what I love the most about it, because even though the project is so strong and confident, it’s also like “Yeah, I’m human, and I fuck up, and I got all this shit, but I’m trying to be better, and I’m moving forward”. And when people come to the show or they have an interaction with the music, they feel comfortable, they feel safe but they also leave wanting to better themselves individually. So I don’t think it’s about ever reaching a point of being at a destination if that makes sense.
So ‘Some Type of Way’ is your latest track, but I read that you wrote it four years ago. Does that song still resonate the same way it did for you four years ago?
Yeah, so I wrote it four years ago and it’s actually been a massive journey with that song. We’ve had quite a few versions of it and it’s gone through quite a few producers. The meaning is definitely the same. I actually rewrote the second verse with CVIRO and GXNXVS when we started working on the song. So I think the song actually grew with me because I started it four years ago and then started rewriting some of the parts and a lot of the melody as well quite recently. It definitely still resonates with me so it’s been a journey, but I feel like the song has really moved with me as I’ve grown as well.
True to the MADAM3EMPRESS name, I guess.
Yeah 100%, and that’s the crazy thing about it. You know, I wrote it four years ago and now it’s just continued to develop, we’re moving and we’re getting better, just like the music.
Do you have lots of other songs still in the bank that you might pull out in the future?
Yeah, 100%. So with ‘Come on Over’ and ‘Locking Eyes’ they weren’t random because obviously we did it on purpose, but those songs were both recent. I had written them last year, whereas everything that I’m starting to release now are older things. I have so much in the bank. I grew up in a very musical family and I‘ve been writing songs since I was young. I had a singing teacher that was like “You gotta write, you gotta write”. So I’ve got heaps of songs. Whether I’ll ever use some of them I don’t know, but yeah there are some in the bank. I think a lot of those older ones I’m reworking and moving forward. I’m working on a mixtape as well, so a body of work that will hopefully come out at the end of the year and a lot of the songs on there are old, old things. Because this mixtape concept I’ve been working on for about two years. So a lot of those ones are from old times as well.
So you were in the UK before Covid. Were you making music over there, or what was your creative experience like while you were over there?
Yeah for sure. So the UK’s crazy. I actually came back but was going to move over there, but then COVID hit, so I wasn’t actually supposed to be here, which is just so wild to me. But when I went over to the UK, I wasn’t planning on releasing my project. I mean I had this whole MADAM3EMPRESS thing, I even had my mixtape idea, I had everything, I even had some small demos, but it wasn’t anything that I was going to do. I had just finished my degree so I was just like chilling, but the thing with the UK is – it’s just so contagious. You go over there and every single corner and crevice you look under of that city you have a creative pursuing their passion. You know you’ve got a painter, a beatboxer, you’ve got a dancer, and if you’re purpose as well, or your passion even, is to be creative, you can’t help but not feel guilty. It makes you feel like I gotta do this like what the fuck am I doing. So when I went over to the UK, it was just a massive slap in the face cause I was like I gotta do this, these people are so unapologetic and fearless.
I love to talk to people so I would end up having conversations with random buskers or whomever along the street and they’d be like ‘you just gotta do it, what are you doing?’ I remember one particular moment I was at an art gallery and I was walking down and there was this massive quote, I think it was from Andy Warhol, I don’t remember, but it was essentially like “Creativity takes courage” and that was a massive slap in the face. I had always held myself as a person who was brave and courageous, or strong and then I was like you’re actually being scared and you don’t have courage and that’s why you haven’t done this creative thing. So when I got back from the UK it really shook me and I was like you really got to do this. I was supposed to go back over there, because obviously if I was inspired there of course I would want to start it there, but then COVID happened and then it kind of forced me to start it here, and I’m not mad about it (laughs). It’s really good, everything’s worked out really beautifully.
Do you find Sydney fulfils that passion just as much as the UK did? Or there’s as much hustle in the creative world?
Honestly, Sydney’s a baby, like our music scene, it’s a baby. But if we just hone in a bit smaller on R&B, soul music, I can see the potential. If I were to go back to the UK, yes I’d be competing against way more people, but at least an artist that looks like me and sounds like me would already be able to be digested over there. And I think there isn’t that much conversation about this type of thing in Sydney. I’m not shitting on Sydney at all, I’m not shitting on Australia at all, cause we’re gonna be incredible. The shit that is coming up is amazing, but I think, for now, I don’t get that same feeling that I got in the UK. I feel like I’m actually gonna be a part of what will give that feeling to someone else when they come to our city. So in due time.
When I was growing up you never saw people like me coming up as writers, artists, photographers, and now there’s so much great POC talent coming up. How do you feel about the current trajectory of Australian music in regards to all of these amazing POC artists finding success?
I’m loving it because the more that breakthrough that space and enter the mainstream the better it is for all of us. So I’m so for it, there are artists that are coming up that haven’t even released stuff yet where I’m like ‘Oh my goodness’. So I think, as I said, we’re a baby music industry, but it makes it so exciting. Like if you think about it you’ve got OneFour and Hooligan Hefs, and all that drill scene that’s only recently just popped off and that’s taking an international storm. It’s only a matter of time before R&B and soul, and all of these vocalists are gonna do the same thing, so the more the better. I feel really good about it cause I know that if we’re working towards having a buzz and energy like the UK, like where somebody comes to our city and they’re inspired and they want to get moving, then that’s all we can ask for.
So you’ve got four songs out at the moment ‘Come On Over’ pt 1 and pt 2, ‘Locking Eyes’ and ‘Some Type of Way’. I feel like each song is so different. You’ve said about your upcoming project, expect the unexpected, can we expect something as diverse as those first few releases, or how do you plan on exploring genre?
I think with ‘Come on Over’ and ‘Locking Eyes’ I definitely threw a ball to the left of the court and one to the right of the court — it’s funny cause I get this question a lot—’Some Type of Way’ is kind of in the middle and I feel like the more that I release the more people will understand the sound that is me. I can’t even liken it to another artist. For the mixtape definitely still expect the unexpected and I feel like even more so, because ‘Locking Eyes’ was so different, however, I’m not gonna be here like ‘Yeah, I know my sound’ because I’m a baby as well, I’m 23. Even though I’ve been writing and making music for my whole life I am a changing and evolving person. So as I’m working on a mixtape, it’s slowly coming together, but I’m still defining and working on my sound for it. So I think by the time that mixtape comes it will give people a clearer idea, as well as everything leading up to that from now. So it’ll just be like ‘oh, it’s not gonna be so unexpected’.
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