As a college student living in the dorms of Coastal Carolina University near Myrtle Beach, Madison Lucas used to wait until her roommates would leave the room, then lock herself in the dorm closet with her guitar and her MacBook to record songs. Most of those songs would become The Bedroom EP, which Lucas shopped around as a demo for a few years after graduating in 2009.
A lot has happened since then. Lucas met her husband, bassist Harry Kollm, while performing at open mics in Charlotte, confronting her debilitating stage fright. In 2012, she moved to the Queen City, where she continued performing with Kollm and tinkering with songs from The Bedroom EP, forming Modern Moxie and adding some new tracks to the mix.
When Phil Pucci, guitarist with Pullover and formerly with Serfs, heard a demo from one of Modern Moxie’s newer songs, “Light + Sounds,” he told Lucas he wanted to get on board. Pucci and original Serfs drummer Charlie Weeks jumped in, forming the four-piece as it exists today.
On June 8, the band will celebrate the release of Claw Your Way Out with a show at Snug Harbor with Faye, Future Friend and Sweat Transfer. The show will include an aerial performance, a “Ghost Station” with a Ouija board and a few other surprises that the band is keeping under wraps.
In the lead-up to Saturday’s show, we sat down with Lucas to chat about how she clawed her way out from the dorm room closet to the stage and what the 10-year process of making the new album has been like.
Queen City Nerve: Where did you grow up?
Madison Lucas: A super small town, Great Falls, South Carolina, in the dead center of Columbia and Charlotte. There was not a lot to do around there, I graduated with about 40-something people. I was in marching band at Great Falls High School, so music was my thing, playing trumpet. That was my first introduction to playing with a group.
I’ve heard that you began recording in the closet of your dorm room?
Yes. That time period, I was just scared to death of playing in front of anybody. I was just learning. I was teaching myself how to play guitar from a Beatles book that had the little chord diagrams in it and just terrified to play in front of people. So I was just hiding, waiting until my roommates were gone, locking myself up with my MacBook, which I still have that little guy with all those songs.
Some of these songs [on Claw Your Way Out] were written around that time period, and throughout the years they’ve changed a lot. This record definitely covers a large time period. I think that’s why it’s got such a wide variety of sounds.
A lot of lyrics deal with that fear theme, and this album is even named after clawing your way out of self doubt. Even though performing music is what brings that anxiety, does songwriting help you deal with it?
I feel like sometimes I don’t even know what my songs are about until way after I write them, and I’ll realize I was trying to help myself work through something. Or a lot of them, they almost seem like pep talks to myself a little bit. I wanted them to be empowering and inspirational, but I don’t think those things in my head. It’s like I’m trying to tell myself these things, especially with “Claw Your Way Out.”
So it’s like you’re addressing yourself as opposed to the potential listener?
Yes, because my actual internal voice is like, “You can’t do this. Everybody’s going to hate it.” But it’s just something that I love doing and I want to keep trying to do it, so I think they are definitely reflective of me trying to talk myself into doing this stuff.
What made you move to Charlotte?
Right before I moved to Charlotte in 2012 was a super scary, tumultuous time for me in a lot of different ways — relationships and being in these little cut-off towns. I lived in another small town called Winnsboro, [South Carolina,] after college. I graduated in 2009. I was having a really hard time finding a job. I went to school for marketing to get into music somehow, but it was just a really strange time period. I couldn’t find people that I felt like I fit in with. A lot of these songs were written around that time period.
I always loved Charlotte. I remember when I was younger, I used to come up here and look around NoDa. I thought NoDa was the coolest neighborhood with all the artsy stuff, and that was so new to me because I had never been around any of that. Myrtle Beach didn’t have a lot of art, either. So Charlotte was always kind of where I wanted to go. I thought it would be a good spot for me. And as soon as I got up here, all the people, I felt like this is where I should be. Everybody was very supportive. I tried Charleston for a little while, too, but I never really found my way into that scene. But it feels good here.
When did you meet Harry?
That was 2012. Right after I did my first record, I was kind of just carrying that thing around trying to let anybody listen to it that would. I didn’t even live here yet. I used to just drive up here. I used to play the open mic at The Evening Muse, just driving like an hour, meeting people, and before I even moved here I met him at Jackbeagles. He was super helpful in helping me get a band together. I’ve always wanted a band, but the pieces never worked out [before meeting Harry].
Did you two fall in love before doing these years of work together or after?
It was sort of an instant thing. We met, we found out we both played music, and we’ve been together ever since then. We’ve always written together, and he’s definitely the first person I would ever work on a song in front of. That was always so weird for me for some reason. I’m just getting to where I’ll do that with my band, thank God. It used to be such a scary process, like, “I don’t want anybody to hear me sounding like an idiot, trying to figure this stuff out.”
How have you spent these 10 years between The Bedroom EP and releasing Claw Your Way Out?
I still played a lot by myself, open mics, things like that. [Harry and I] started doing a lot of duo shows, just me and him used to play at The Roux in NoDa, and we played at The Saloon a lot in the Music Factory. I think that really helped me to be not as terrified. When we recorded this record, it was still just me and Harry. I was like, “Let’s just do it and the rest will come together,” and then it did. Phil approached us and that was the best.
Phil is a veteran of the local music scene. What did it mean to have him join the band?
That was huge. I always wanted to play with him. Me and [Phil’s wife] Shirley are basically best friends, so I’ve been going to his shows for a long time — big fan. It never even crossed my mind that he would want to work with us. He’s so busy all the damn time.
As you mentioned, this new record touches on a wide variety of sounds. How would you describe it to someone?
For me, I feel like every song is a little snapshot of what was going on in that time period and what I was listening to at that time period. The newer ones are the best examples of all of us working together as a group, like “‘Til I’m a Ghost” and “Flowers in your Hair,” that’s more what we’re moving towards in the future with Modern Moxie.
I just love rock music. I love ’90s alt rock. I feel like a lot of it is super influenced by that. And then I love weird creepy sounds. So “Bones” is super strange, out of nowhere with the Mellotron.
Any older songs that you look at now and remember a specific inspiration from what you were listening to when you wrote it?
“Bones” is clearly heavily Beatles-influenced. I’ve always been a huge Beatles fan. “45s” I was listening to a ton of blues and Janis Joplin at the time, back in college. “Claw Your Way Out,” I was getting into a lot of Metric, a lot of synth. I really wanted a big party sound.
That makes sense. Your voice can be very reminiscent of Emily Haines at certain times.
Emily Haines is a huge idol of mine. I love Metric. Her whole career, how she’s done everything, how it’s been this slow build. She just keeps putting out records and just keeps touring. She’s older now and I just hope to be like that one day — just keep going no matter what age I am.
Who are your other inspirations?
I really love St. Vincent, too. Fiona Apple is probably my long-time forever favorite. Her voice is way deeper than mine, but I’ve always tried to emulate her a little bit, her melodies, I love the way she writes stuff.
You said you used to hate working on songs in front of other people. Has it been more or less comfortable working as a foursome?
So much more comfortable. Everything has been like this cracking open for me. I’m super happy with it. I just feel comfortable. Phil is such an amazing guitarist, and I’m not a lead guitarist. I play rhythm, I’m more of a songwriter. I like writing songs, lyrics; singing is my favorite thing. So it kind of took the pressure off of me. He can do his lead guitar thing, Harry can do his bass, I can focus on the song structure and writing what I want to write and they help me finish it. We each have our own little thing that we do, instead of me trying to figure out all of those things myself. So it’s freeing in a lot of ways.
Has it helped with stage fright as well?
It’s so much better having them up there on stage. The most comfortable I’ve ever been are some of these shows that we’ve done recently. I tend to get really shaky hands, I used to take medication for stage fright, but I don’t do any of that anymore. It’s just slowly getting better. I always told myself if I just kept doing it I wouldn’t feel like I was going to throw up forever, and it’s like every show is a little easier. So I just want to keep doing them, keep going, because hopefully it will just keep getting more comfortable and I can get better.
Do you have any advice for other folks struggling with anxiety who want to perform music?
Yeah, I’ve always wanted to be helpful to other people. I think the things that I struggle with, most people do — anxiety, worrying about what others think, all that is sort of universal. Just keep doing it; keep doing it over and over and over again until it’s easier. I think that’s the only thing that makes it better. I don’t know anybody who just gets up there and immediately is comfortable. I’ve yet to meet that person, I’m sure there’s someone, but for me, it’s just exposure therapy, over and over and over again.