NewDad’s Julie Dawson takes us track-by-track through the Irish rock band’s hard-hitting debut album ‘MADRA,’ a heavy alternative record built on fragility, vulnerability, and the dark depths of human experience.
Stream: “Nightmares” – NewDad
I don’t know how to write a happy song. Don’t think I’ll ever even attempt it, to be honest!
“You’re sweet, but I’m sick; I hurt myself for kicks,” NewDad’s Julie Dawson sings at the start of her band’s debut LP, her tender voice resonating over pulsing drums and a weighted bass line. “I’m lost but you’re found, both feet firmly on the ground.” Her words are a provocation – unapologetically intense, and knowingly so – and as such, they’re the perfect introduction to NewDad’s album: Heavy, achingly raw, and emotionally charged, MADRA is an unrelenting alternative album built on fragility, vulnerability, and the dark depths of human experience.
You can swim around
But I don’t
Want you to drown inside me
It’s not fair to be your responsibility
You’re kind, but I’m not
It seems that I forgot how to care
About anything but my own despair
And you have a good heart
But I’m sure mine’s stopped
And it won’t restart
I think it’s broken
So you can’t own it
– “Angel,” NewDad
Released January 26, 2024 via Fair Youth/Atlantic Records, MADRA is a raw, visceral, and shiver-inducing fever dream. NewDad’s first full-length album sees the alternative rock band of Julie Dawson, bassist Cara Joshi, guitarist Sean O’Dowd, and drummer Fiachra Parslow dwelling in the deep end of the sonic and emotional spectrum, picking their worlds apart as they comprehend the sheer weight of living through a haze of grunge, shoegaze, and dreamy indie rock.
Formed in Galway, Ireland and now living it up in London, NewDad have been a favorite for the past few years thanks to their feverish, refreshingly heavy sound. Formed in 2018, they released two EPs through London-based indie label Fair Youth – 2021’s Waves and 2022’s Banshee, the latter of which was called a “bold, brash, and utterly exhilarating addition to the indie rock oeuvre” in Atwood‘s Best EPs of 2022 feature – before announcing their signing to major label Atlantic Records last year.
“It’s not as scary as I thought it would be, do you know what I mean?” Dawson says of the signing. “It feels like a bigger deal for sure, just ’cause the EPs, we were in our little bubble back in Galway and it was just kinda, ah, we’re a band, we release music. But now we’ve signed to a label and this is a whole thing, there’s gonna be posters around the place and shit, so it definitely feels bigger.”
Recorded at legendary Rockfield Studios (Black Sabbath, Queen), MADRA is a labor of love, produced by NewDad’s long-time collaborator Chris Ryan (Just Mustard) and mixed by Alan Moulder (The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Wet Leg).
“I feel like we took so much time on it, but we really needed that time ’cause when we were back in Galway, we thought that we had an album together and then when we actually looked at it as a whole, we were like, ‘this isn’t it.’ We want our debut to really be something special and to stand the test of time. We wanted to put our best foot forward, and it wasn’t really until we moved to London and started having a change of scenery and new experiences that we really finished. We were just stuck in our little world back in Galway before.”
“We were in Rockfield for 15 days and we recorded 15 songs,” she recalls, “And we did not know what was gonna be on the record at all. It was a lot of trial and error as well. We didn’t really know what the record was gonna be, and we were trying out different studios and things like that, but it really just all came together in Rockfield.”
Thematically, MADRA sees Dawson and her bandmates at their most vulnerable, with the frontwoman channeling her own innermost emotions and experiences into a candid reflection on navigating life and relationships. The album’s artwork, a photograph of a broken doll, taken by Irish artist Joshua Gordon, further speaks to her songwriting’s achingly human and raw themes.
“It’s a lot of self-reflection and viewing, maybe like a little bit under microscope,” she says. “Like your relationship with yourself and other people, family, friends, partners, whatever it is. Writing is definitely a form of therapy, so it’s a lot of it is just putting out what’s in your brain onto a page and us putting it on top of some music. It’s a lot about those patterns we repeat as human beings, things that we can’t really escape sometimes, feelings we can’t escape.”
“I think you can really hear our inspirations on the album,” she continues. “It was a bit wavy before, kind of dream pop, but on certain songs, you can really hear who we are. Like on ‘Sickly Sweet’ you can really hear that Breeders influence, that raw vocal with the snarly guitars. In ‘Dream of Me,’ there’s a Cure thing, kind of floaty and nice.”
Dawson describes the album as sad, noisy rock. The name MADRA means “dog” in Irish, and is just one of the many ways in which NewDad stuck to their roots on this record.
“It was just a placeholder name on a demo from when we recorded the Banshee EP, we wrote the song ‘Madra’ in the studio. Obviously it got sidetracked when we had other things to do, but it’s that old,” Dawson recalls. “We always give silly names for our demos, but ‘Madra’ just stuck. When it came to choosing a title for the album, it was the first song that was written that we knew would be on the album. So it very much led the way with the direction we took the album.”
“And there was just something about having an Irish word that felt like it belonged to us or something. We were debating calling the album ‘White Ribbons,’ but it kind of felt like that could have been anyone’s record or something – whereas ‘Madra’ feels like it belongs to us. It nicely ties in with those things of those feelings you can’t escape, kind of like a dog-type of thing that’s following you ‘round.”
The journey from “Angel” to “Madra” is intensely intimate, cathartic, and all consuming.
Highlights (outside the two stunning bookends) include the bold and bustling eruption “In My Head,” the spirited “Nightmares,” the polished and raw “Where I Go,” the gutsy and grungy “Let Go,” and the achingly bittersweet, shiver-inducing “Change My Mind” – a tender song that is as breathtaking as it is beautiful, in its own dark way.
If folks listen to just one song on MADRA to understand who NewDad is and what they’re all about, Dawson hopes that it’s the Nirvana-esque “Let Go.” “It’s probably our heaviest one, but I think it’s indicates the very bass-driven sound that we have,” she smiles. “It is a banger as well.”
“Let Go” is one of Dawson’s own favorite songs, together with the hopeful, heartfelt ballad “White Ribbons,” which she describes as a thank-you to the self –`body. “I like ‘Let Go’ for the instrumentation, and then ‘White Ribbons’ is more to me about what I’m saying and the sentiment.” As far as lyrics are concerned, she cites a line in the album’s second track, the cinematic “Sickly Sweet”: “I know I should have been cautious, but I’m reliant on the nonsense.”
“I really like that line. I think it like cleverly captures that trap that we all fall into as silly, silly humans, repeating patterns because of boredom or just to feel anything. I like that idea of being reliant on the nonsense, like you almost can’t have your life just be smooth, because then it’s too boring. That’s my favorite line.”
Ultimately, MADRA is a shiver-inducing, soul-stirring whirlwind of heavy music that lifts the spirit and soothes the soul.
However brooding their lyrics are; however aching their grunge and shoegaze sound may be, NewDad leave their listeners with a deep sense of release, hope, and connection to something greater than ourselves.
“I hope that it’s cathartic for people, ’cause it was to write,” Dawson shares, “and I guess just for people – even young girls as well – to understand we all have our moments and we all mess up, and you don’t have to be ashamed and hate yourself all the time. You can forgive yourself and move on and yeah just know that ‘bobody is nerfect.”
“I hope that it makes people feel less alone and like any shame or just guilt that you carry around, it’s tough out there and we all gotta be nice and not judge each other and just listen.”
As for her own takeaways? “It’s just more grown up from what we did before, and I hope it cements our sound,” she adds. “We know better, now that we’ve made the album, the kind of music and the quality of music that we want to make.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside NewDad’s MADRA with Atwood Magazine as Julie Dawson goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their debut album!
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Stream: ‘MADRA’ – NewDad
:: Inside MADRA ::
I think it was really, it was that bass line. It’s like, it’s so hypnotic and like for all of us, it just instantly grabs us and brings you in and it just feels like strong and almost, it’s quite familiar in a way as well. It feels like to me anyway, it feels like this first few songs we wrote, like how and stuff like that. So I feel like it’s kind of a NewDad that people know, but it’s a bit more polished and that kind of thing. But yeah, I think it’s mostly just that bass line, it’s so strong. It’s like such a good instant hook.
I kind of wanted to write something that was like a little bit snarky, you know what I mean? Like, feel like so much of the music or and like the lyrical content and stuff that I write is very like, oh, it’s very timid and like, oh no. But with “Sickly Sweet,” I kind of wanted to do something that was a little bit like hushing, I guess. I dunno why. I just must have been having a day. [chuckle] But a big inspiration for that one was actually the band Sorry. They have a song called “Star Struck” and there’s a line in that that’s like I’m the rotten apple of your eye or something. And it was, I loved that image of like a fruit that’s — it’s like the whole Adam and Eve thing, like forbidden fruit, whatever, like you want something and you keep going back for it even if it’s bad or, whatever. So yeah, it was more of a fun track, I think.
Where I Go
“Where I Go” was actually one of the songs that I wasn’t really sure that I wanted on the album even. There was something about it that made me kinda nervous and I just never thought it would be on there. But then I guess it was like speaking to the rest of the band and other people there. I really think we should give it a go in Rockfield. And we did. And I’m really glad. I’m glad that it’s on there now because I think, like I said before, so much of the album is kind of like, oh, I hate myself. And this one is kind of like, it’s just a bit of fuck you to actually the people that treat you badly. So it’s kind of like just a moment of release of anger in a way. And I think the album needed something like that.
Change My Mind
It’s funny, like the main inspiration for that song was “Blue”. I guess we saw people like loved “Blue” and we were like, we need to write another “Blue”. So we wanted something kinda like jangly like that. And funny enough, then it’s a similar theme. It’s that kind of feeling like you’re weighing on your partner and kind of repeating these patterns and stuff. And yeah, I like how wooshy it is. It definitely feels like you’re caught in that whirlwind. Do you know what I mean?
[For someone who is new to NewDad,] “Blue” is kind of hypnotic in a way. It’s quite like trancey. It’s kind of, I feel like it shuts — my brain kind of shuts off when I listen to “Blue.” All I hear is the guitar line kind of going back and forth.
In My Head
“In My Head,” that would have been one we wrote back ages ago back in Galway. And we recorded it in church studios and we released that first and it felt like a nice kind of little pop moment, do you know what I mean? And it still felt very NewDad, but kind of in a lighter, under a lighter kind of lens, I suppose. And yeah, then we had to redo some of it because we needed it to slot in better to the album and stuff with all the others that were done in Rockfield. But yeah, I think it’s a good moment on the album. It’s kind of like a breath of fresh air, I find, ’cause it’s quite intense. I find the album, it’s definitely an intense listen sometimes. So it’s nice to have something that’s a little bit more chilled.
“Nosebleed” was one that I wrote with Justin Parker. I did “Nightmares” with him as well. And it was the first session I ever did with him. And I didn’t really think that the song would be, again, I didn’t think it would be on the album at all. And when we initially had the demo, like it was way higher and way faster, like it was a pop song. And I just thought it would be more album two kind of thing, but when we went into pre-production before Rockfield with Chris, he was like, “Julie, I love this song. Guys, we need to do this song in Rockfield.” And I was like, we don’t know it. I don’t even know what to do. I don’t see how it’ll fit with all the other really heavy stuff. And then he was like, just hear me out, let’s make it lower, slow it down. And it changed the entire thing, ’cause I loved the song. But we hadn’t found the exact right place for it. And then we kind of hit that just like honey, like low, fuzzy, warm sound and just changed everything.
Funny enough, that song went through so many different changes. Initially, it was written in Galway, and it used to be about the Wizard of Oz, and it was very on the nose. It wasn’t very good. [laughs] But yeah, I guess we kept — we knew that bass line was amazing. And that guitar riff in the bridge, that kind of swirling thing that Sean does, we just kept that. And then we were look, let’s keep it pretty straight back, like that bass line and drums and then just really loud guitars in the chorus and the vocal. We were just like, I just wanted to keep that one simple. Like for me, that song is definitely about the guitar sounds and just how the music makes you feel rather than what I’m saying. So yeah, it’s one of my favorite song there for sure.
Dream of Me
That one was, we did that in a session with a guy called Rob Brinkman and the reference for it was actually “Waking Up in Vegas,” the Katy Perry song. That’s why the pre-chorus got put in there that wasn’t in there. And then Rob is like, okay, hear me out, played “Waking Up in Vegas” and then we were like, okay, I see what you’re doing. And yeah, I think it’s kind of just it’s — well, I guess this is, again, a lighter one. I don’t really think there’s not really — it kind of reminds me of like “Say It” or something. It’s just kind of lighthearted, a poppy moment talking about this thing that everyone experiences, which is just when you like someone and they don’t like you as much. It’s just a simple little song.
“Nightmares” was the second one I did with Justin. And I had initially gone in with like, they had these really nice open chords and I had the chorus, melody, and lyric idea. And then we just started like layering, just kind of having lots of fun with just the intro and stuff. And then once we got those little guitar harmonics, we were like, actually, these are so cool by themselves. Let’s just have that as the intro. And it reminded me of like a Massive Attack song, and I love that kind of music. And yeah, I just love all the electronic elements on that song. I think it’s like a really nice little introduction to what we hopefully expand on later. But yeah, I really do like “Nightmares.” It’s a fun one.
I wrote “White Ribbons” I think it must’ve been like a month into our move to London. And it was all, we moved here and we were like, just went nuts. So we were like, okay. And then I just paused and I was like, oh my God, I need to sit down. But it’s kind of, I guess to me it’s like a more hopeful song on the record. It’s kind of like we put our bodies through so much shit and we kind of just forget about it and we wake up and we do it again. And you never really think about the fact that your body is just like always trying to make you better and repairing itself and how that’s quite a beautiful thing that it does for us. And it’s basically just like a thank you and kind of a promise in a way to just be kinder to yourself and your body and all that stuff ’cause it’s amazing what it does. And yeah, it’s definitely — I never thought I would write a song like that. I don’t know why, but it was a really therapeutic song to write and I just like the sentiment.
‘Cause it is a ballad, but I never really thought that I would write a song like that at all. And I think it’s really hard to get that right as well. Like I feel like I’m not often taken in by a ballad, like there’s — it really has to hit something for me. So like a reference for that was “When The Party’s Over,” the Billie Eilish song, ’cause I think that is just so stunning and like so delicate. And it’s not too like weepy or anything, it’s just kind of sweet. And yeah, I don’t know. It’s a hard thing to get right, but I do think that “White Ribbons” is really cool and does something important on there.
The album title was kind of between “White Ribbons” and “Madra.” And we’ve had people ask, ’cause “White Ribbons” is more hopeful, so it’s like “Oh, why didn’t you kinda end the album on a more hopeful note” or whatever, which I was like, actually, I hadn’t even thought about that at all. I guess ‘Madra’ just because the title track it makes sense at the end, but also like I feel like it’s saying everything that I say in the album. It’s literally the highs and lows of what you go through day to day being a person. And I think also it’s just that ending is so good. It’s so rock. Like it just feels, it feels like an end scene. Like it feels like the like end fight scene of a movie, do you know what I mean? It’s just so intense and yeah, it just feels like it goes out with a bang, which is what definitely what we wanted.
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