Journeys | A conversation with | Holly Madge
Many of us commute to an office, work till 5pm and come home to enjoy some binge TV. Others appear alongside Idris Elba for his summer DJ residency in Ibiza, body double for Helena Christensen in a Duran Duran video, play at the Singapore Grand Prix, provide backing percussion to Chaka Khan on the Graham Norton Show, perform live drum and bass with The Correspondents at Glastonbury, feature on the soundtrack recording of The Lion King and launch their own dress label. Drummer Holly Madge falls into the latter category, so we sat down with her to discover her secrets for maintaining the beat.
How did you get your start as a musician?
I grew up just outside Exeter in a little town called Cullompton and picked up drums at age 10 for a school production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat. Endlessly cool! I was already playing clarinet and piano but it was something that really caught my imagination. What’s great about growing up in Devon is that there are a lot of generous, talented people who are willing to help you progress and give you support and opportunities. People really care. After that I went to university to study music, gigging and jamming most nights or otherwise locked in a stuffy practise room with seven other students making new music. And then I decided to make a career of it. It’s been a fun journey!
Speaking of journeys, you regularly tour as part of the live orchestra band of Hans Zimmer Live, led by the renowned composer of countless blockbuster film scores and winner of multiple Grammys, BRITs, Golden Globes and even an Oscar. What’s that like?
I was lucky enough to do two one-off shows with Hans in London about five years ago, then this progressed to a European tour, a five-month world tour and this year an Asia and Australia tour. He is just one of the most extraordinary people, a rare blend of exceptional intelligence and genuine compassion. To think he has the capacity to be one of the world’s best composers alongside this is mind blowing. When you go on tour with Hans, it’s like no other -- it’s the most comfortable tour you’ve ever been on. We are exceptionally well looked after. He really spoils us and treats us to proper adventures wherever we go, and gives us one extraordinary soundtrack that weaves through the whole trip!
It sounds fun and glamorous, but also a little exhausting. How do you keep your feet on the ground?
I think part of it is having a really great set of friends, an amazing other half and family who all keep it real. Mental routines are always good, for example it’s my ritual to go and watch the rugby with a pint of cider wherever I am in the world because that connects me with home. It’s about looking after yourself and finding the things that you love and that make you you. Like I put on a playlist when I get to a hotel room to make me feel at home and fish out the best vintage stores. I always take a spare suitcase on tour because that’s where I get my best bits for my wardrobe for the rest of the year.
For most people a career as an internationally touring musician would be enough of a challenge, but you’ve also got a clothing brand called Sailaway Dress Company. How did that come about?
While I was working as a drummer in the first few years, I was also working in experiential marketing for a company that created festival activations, so we’d be taking a brand to a festival and then creating a space where we would educate consumers about a new product or the brand’s ethos. I enjoyed doing it, but I got to the point where I really wanted to do it for a brand of my own that was smaller and that would allow me to work directly with local tailors who I felt a real connection with.
How did you shift from that all-at-sea feeling to launching your own project?
I was doing a gig with an amazing DJ friend in Goa when I was 25. We did a bit of shopping – naturally – and I found this dress in a market. I’d done a fair bit of festival shopping, but I’d never seen one like it. I took it home and showed it amongst my friends, and it seemed to work on loads of different body types and tastes. I got a £1,000 tax rebate that year, so I spent £500 on a flight and the rest on buying dresses and setting up the company. It was a moment where I had nothing to lose, so I thought I’ve just got to run with it, and through a bit of luck and a bit of courage it all kind of aligned.
It seems like you’re pretty much always on the go. Where is home for you?
My fiancé Louie and I bought a house in Newquay four years ago. My family all live in Devon, and Sailaway Dress Company is based out of premises in Bideford. All my work as a musician is in London, so I’ve got a studio flat there and that’s the base from which I travel for all my tours and one-off gigs. It’s a bit of a juggle, but I appreciate the variety!
Your fiancé’s works for Red Bull regularly takes him around the globe as well. Do you two ever travel for fun?
We’re both quite spoilt getting taken off on these trips for work, so when we get time to ourselves we usually book something low-key like surfing in Sri Lanka or we’ll try to splice something onto the end or in the middle of work. For example, Lou came out when I was on tour in Hong Kong. It was a real treat.
How do you navigate being in high-profile situations with high-profile people? Is it just part of your personality to not have stage fright or feel star-struck?
I’ve found myself in so many situations where I'm like, “I am so out of my depth!” Imposter syndrome is tricky to beat in the moment. There’s nothing you can do about it. Someone put you there for a reason, so you’ve got to do your best and do that person proud. Whatever doesn’t go to plan you just learn from. Frankly, all you can do is prepare and commit. Whatever comes out the other end, learn from it or celebrate it. That’s what I try to tell myself on the daily!
Follow Holly @hollymadgedrums https://www.sailawaydresscompany.com/