Get to Know (and Be a Part of) Counterfeit Madison
I originally sought out Counterfeit Madison because they were from Ohio, and I liked the warmth I found in their interactions online...and also the first photo I saw of Sharon was of her face, covered with star stickers. What I didn't realize was the entire experience (seeing and hearing the live music and talking with Sharon in-between Nelsonville Music Festival sets) would shift me. Read on:
HTN: I noticed when you posted about Nelsonville, (and) being on the bill (lineup), you were really excited.
Sharon/CM: Oh yeah. I played here (with Swarming Branch)-I saw my friend Val a few yard ago, and I came here and I was like, 45 minutes and went back. I never forgot it. And I kept coming back, and kept coming back. Well if (my friend) Val’s been playing music in town for about 8 thousand years, so that’s not attainable for me…but then last year, I played with Andrew Graham (from Swarming Branch), and the owner, Tim Peacock (who runs the festival) ...came up after our set and he said “I really like your band”. And I was like “Shut up!”. So then this year, in January, I was like “Bro, listen…I’m trying to play your festival.”
And I’m here. And it’s been magical.
HTN: Oh yeah. I saw your set earlier...
CM: I don’t think I’ve truly come down from it, yet. It was really…I still can’t believe it happened.
HTN: I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody smile so big. You were just so happy.
CM: ‘Cause the thing is, I’m not like…I think as Midwesterners, there’s a sense of modesty that comes with being a Midwesterner…like, humility-and sometimes it’s fake-for the sake of not seeming like an asshole. But I’m going to come out and say I’m a brilliant musician. However, I am so new at the game…and the fact that these people have trusted me so much with their space and time... I’m very grateful. I can’t believe that they care so much. I mean, I deserve it. I’ve been playing the piano for a really long time and I’m a really talented person. But, these people took a long shot on me, man. Brian, who introduced me said he’s never seen me play before. People have never seen me play. So for people to give me a slot and a fukkin, national-ass festival?
HTN: And you really got two (sets), ‘cause you’re in here (next, in the No-Fi Cabin), too.
CM: Yeah! And then just based off of me smiling at some dude after my set last year...
HTN: Takeaway: Always smile at people.
CM: Yeah! It’s been a really great experience. Plus they have like, seven different kinds of salsa (in the performers/artist catering area)…I just don’t understand why they’re feeding me this well. Why do you have an entire pierogi bar. I mean, what the fuck?
It’s just a bounce of emotions. It’s not very often in life that I get exactly what I want. I usually get something that is good that becomes what I want. But I have wanted Nelsonville. Like, exactly Nelsonville.
HTN: And really, I mean…it was very reciprocal, I mean, even for people who I assume haven’t seen you (perform) before. It was tangible magic.
CM: Yeah, I looked out at the crowd...I don’t know a lot of those people. I knew maybe the first two rows of people. Cause, you know there’s a coffee shop in Columbus called Kafe Kerouac, and Andrew Graham used to work there (who played in my band and I played in his band), and his bass player used to work there. So all the Kerouac people were out representing. But most of those people-I have no idea who they were.
[HTN: And you’re from Ohio, yeah?
CM: Well my parents are from Nigeria. That’s where they live. And so I’m midwestern. But I’m not midwestern, because I was raised by foreigners. Yeah. But I’m also an alien from fucking outer space, so (we talk more about this, later)...
HTN: Fair enough.] I know people have been approaching you all day, now (after your set, especially).
CM: All day. I’m kinda hard to miss (laughs).
HTN: I love the blue hair.
CM: Thanks, I wasn’t sure. When Prince died, I dyed my hair purple it was lilac. It was last year. It faded immediately, and I was just like “weird”. So I thought maybe it was an accident. So I dyed it again, a week before Nelsonville, and by the time I got to Nelsonville, it was blonde. It was like my hair didn’t hold any purple. So I had it pink, and I had it green, and dark purple (which it didn’t hold, again). So I’m just wondering, what color I want my hair to be during my inaugural (Counterfeit Madison) Nelsonville. And I’d dyed it…I’m a high school administrator. I’d dyed it right after the last day of school (May 19th). And a bunch of my students had a show with Andrew Graham and the Swarming Branch. So I dyed it for that show. It’s been a labor of love. It was like this green. Recorder (my phone): it was like, darker than ocean blue. Then I put a green on it, and it got to be a dark mermaid green…then I added turquoise and got this color. I was going for the color of my wallet. I’m almost there (she was). This was my final Nelsonvillian hair color choice.
HTN: So good. I’m (also) thinking of one of the first photos I saw of you was with the little stickers...
CM: Yeah, I had stars on my face.
HTN: Yeah! Was there a specific reason behind that?
CM: So, I work with a photographer named Kate Sweeney. And she had star stickers at her house. And she was like “Do you wanna put stars on your face?” And I was like “Immediately”. Because, there is proof…genetically and from a document standpoint, that I am the descendant of human beings. But a lot of times-and a lot of times when you’re watching Counterfeit Madison, I feel like I’m on another planet. And I feel like that star face really represented my…
HTN: Galaxian birthmark or something?
CM: Yes, it represented how I feel. I started coloring my hair because I do not feel completely human. I feel like I’m part alien. But I feel like Counterfeit Madison is the most human thing I do, and also the most alien thing I do.
HTN: I could see that. To me, I love live music. I love watching performers. I love to photograph it…and I feel like nothing compares to the way a person can communicate with another person the way it happens in a live musical performance.
CM: It’s crazy. Think about it. I play things and then people I don’t know hear them. And feel things. It is literal magic. You know, I guess there’s physical and psychological reasons why those things happen. But I don’t care.
HTN: Fair enough...I was talking about this yesterday, about how different types of music hit different parts of our bodies…
CM: Yes, yes.
HTN: And I think sometimes people want music to reach them in certain ways, and others want other ways…
CM: I want Counterfeit Madison to feel like the following things:
Have you ever cut a jalapeno, and forgot to wash your hands, and rubbed your eyes? I want it feel like that burning pain. I also want it to feel like a time where you hug your friend too hard and you really knew that they loved you. I want it to feel like a punch in the ovary. I want it to feel like a very cold cup of water, splashed unsuspectingly in your face. I want it feel like overwhelming loss…Have you ever had one of those late September nights where you’re out with a friend and you’re wanting to go home, but you parked kinda far and you end up taking a walk and really just talking through some things? And how at home you feel with that person? I want it to feel like that. I also want it to feel like THE worst hangover. Those are the things I want Counterfeit Madison to feel like.
HTN: You want it to feel like the worst hangover at the end, or while it’s happening?
CM: All, the entire process. (we both laugh)
HTN: It’s interesting because, there’s a lot of vulnerability and power in your performances.
CM: I think vulnerability…I was watching a video the other day about a Syrian artist who is painting world leaders as refugees and he said “Vulnerability is the most powerful weapon”. And I almost set my house on fire, because…and I Googled it, because I was like “Has anyone ever said this before?” Cause I’m sure I’ve said this about 8000 times to people. I think vulnerability is one of the most powerful things a human can do-if not arguably THE most powerful thing a human can do. I feel like I’m not super technical. I’m not the fastest piano player, I’m not the flashiest, I’m not the hottest, the sexiest, but I’m one of the most vulnerable. And that’s where my power is. It’s really easy. I’m just really vulnerable. I want to show people what I actually look like, and help people see what they actually look like. That’s the whole point. That’s all I’m doing.
HTN: When we’re talking about vulnerability, there’s a difference between hitting lower register, and actually hitting it from a place where it feels like it’s taking a part of your gut out and handing it to someone. And I could really feel that. I took voice lessons earlier this year, because I wanted to sing from my gut. I had a tendency to try and make it “pretty”.
CM: Oh, well I’m not that cute. Part of it, from what I can tell, unless I’m mis-gendering you, you are a female. I had a female puberty, and then I had a second puberty when I was 17, and my voice dropped 2 octaves, and I started growing facial hair. So there’s a lot of male in me. So I haven’t had vocal lessons. I just have a very rich and deep voice. It’s just because my voice dropped. I used to be a soprano! I used to floss on them notes. (Sings) So I kinda cheated. My body decided I was going to sing like a very old grandma.
HTN: Well I love it (we both laughed-but I really do). For what it’s worth, it’s like “Fuck!”. Watching and listening is awesome. One of my favorite vocalists is Nina Simone...
CM: Nina Simone came into my life (not her face, her music)…I’m not influenced by Nina Simone, and I will tell you why. I was working in Pattycake Bakery in 2012 and each baker would take turns playing music. And I was rolling some dough, or flossing on some cupcakes or whatever, and I heard this woman come on (the speaker), and I was like, “Who is this??”. And I went to the computer to look up her name, but it was a YouTube video, and I looked at her like “Nina Simone?? Huh!” And back then I was more female identifying, and like, I was wearing a black slim dress with a big necklace to a bakery-I don’t know why. And she was wearing a big necklace and black dress. And the song was (sings):
And I was just like “Is this a woman?”. (Mind blown face) “Why does she look like that? That’s what I look like!” And so I had been a full grown adult and been singing and playing the piano for at least 6 years before I knew who she was. So it’s like we found each other. A lot of people ask “Are you influenced by her?” And I would say I’m influenced by her spirit. But it was an accident. I found her by accident.
HTN: So when you were performing as Counterfeit Madison, you mentioned you are Counterfeit Madison. The band is Counterfeit Madison, the crowd is Counterfeit Madison…
CM: Yeah. I want people to feel like they are with me on this journey. I want to…think of all the things you have to do. You have to pay bills, and if you're dating, you have to check and see how they’re fucking doing. And you have to take shits, and you have to attend birthday parties. There’s so much like…and you have to keep up on the news and check up on your parents, and you have to deal with all of your insecurities. And there’s so much to do in your life. And when I play Counterfeit Madison music, I want to take time to dig very deep into myself. And the people that are playing with me, I want them to have that experience with me. And then everyone who is present, I want them to have that experience with me. At the risk of sounding super Boujee, or elitist, I call Counterfeit Madison an experience. But it’s true. I want it to be a time where you experience the extreme of your emotional being. And that’s why everyone is Counterfeit Madison in that moment. Right now, I am. But then when I play, I want everyone to get in the experience, and everyone is Counterfeit Madison.
HTN: A lot of people ask me what my favorite type of music is, and I say I can’t. I tell them I’m an experientialist.
CM: Yeah. I just wanna have an experience.
HTN: It goes far outside of genre. If you help me experience something, I’m sold for life.
Speaking of which, is there any Counterfeit Madison news coming up that you wish people would know about?
CM: I am shopping my album around. We’ll see what happens with it. I have promised to shop it around for three months, and on June 27th it will be three months. If not, I’ll put it out myself, and it will come out later this year! I’m on Spotify now.
HTN: Any upcoming shows?
CM: I’m doing a few out of town dates this summer. Just waiting to see what happens with the album.
HTN: I’m glad you get to enjoy riding this (Nelsonville) wave. And now you’re getting ready to play in the No-Fi Cabin. It’s so small in there.
CM: I love the intimate shows the best. I think a lot of what you see on stage is just a lot of me coming to terms with how I’m just weird.
HTN: You’re a good weird.
CM: I think so too.