New album Non Compos Mentis is out now.
Without a doubt, New Zealand’s i.e. crazy (aka Maggie Magee) is one of the most fascinating and engrossing new artists I have come across this year. Wonderfully adept at combining abstract noise and direct melody, the industrial/post-punk work of i.e. crazy bridges that wonderful middle ground where intellectual stimulation and sonic immediacy meet.
Her newest album is titled Non Compos Mentis. It is a work full of theatre and persona, conception and emotion, and surprisingly huge choruses.
We spoke to Magee about her fascination with the banal, her Irish heritage, and her hatred for doing things half assed.
Grab Non Compos Mentis via Muzai Records.
Overblown: I have read that your music “explores the qualities of individuals on the brink”. What attracts you to these types of individuals?
Maggie Magee: I’m intrigued by and interested in the grey areas between wellness and sickness, sanity and insanity, perceived notions of good and bad. I believe that inherent in all people is the ability to do monstrous as well as glorious things; and that while we all have agency and choice to an extent, those choices are largely influenced by socio-political pressures, inheritances and expectations.
I’m curious about the personalities of people who make decisions that hurt other people and themselves; because they are all of us, to a greater or lesser degree. I suppose it’s my weird way of trying to understand death, crime and pain from various different angles, and exercise perhaps in trying to evoke empathy in a character that might not normally attract or invite it.
O: I’ve also read that your music explores the “horror of the banal”. Is your music an attempt to escape banality?
MM: I am obsessed with the banal; it’s about diving into it, or perhaps skating along the surface as you see cracks forming beneath your feet. i.e. crazy songs echo the psycho-geographic landscapes I’m most familiar with in New Zealand: long, grey suburbs partitioned by picket fences which mask our atrocious domestic violence and child abuse figures; sprawling grey-green farmland producing our dairy and livestock (much of which is sold off-shore only to be bought back into the country at higher prices), sacred land, river and rock belonging to our indigenous people sold off cheap to foreign investors and mined for natural resources.
I am attracted to mundane details; I think they say and betray a lot about individuals and groups. People like to keep their dirty secrets and habits under wraps; it’s fascinating to me to pick at the simple/surface behaviours and objects that we transmute our repressed energy into/onto.
O: The video for your track ‘Incident on the Edge of Town’ features footage from Housing in New Zealand, produced by Public Works Department Film Unit in 1945. Tell us a bit about how you came across this footage and why you chose to use it for the video?
MM: There’s a great archive called New Zealand on Screen which is a slow digitising of loads of old footage and programmes from NZ’s television and film history. The footage from Housing in New Zealand details the process of building thousands of state-funded homes after World War II. State-funded housing in NZ has long been an issue, different governments swinging between providing support for those in need (and subsequently getting into debt) and others selling them off and breaking life-term contracts with permanent tenants.
The video promotes a kind of “health” and “happiness” that is deemed not only beneficial but necessary for all New Zealanders. The stark difference between those ideals and the insane free-market housing climate (and rampant homelessness and widespread child poverty) in Auckland in particular, where I’m from, is shocking. The song itself details a kind of paranoid suburban nightmare and the eerie nostalgia and violent construction processes present in the video were a pretty galvanising combo for me.
O: Your debut album is called Non Compos Mentis. This is Latin for “not sane or in one’s right mind”. Why choose that phrase for the album title? And why in Latin?
MM: The phrase came about in medieval England, I believe it was originally used as way of describing the inability of a mentally unwell person to know they are committing a crime; specifically in the case of suicide. At a time in England when suicide meant no church burial and guaranteed damnation in the afterlife, to be dubbed non compos mentis was to be pardoned. A sort of “forgive them for they know not what they do”.
The phrase interestingly stuck around and has come to be used in courts of law when a person is not able to represent themselves / or their testimony cannot be deemed sound or trustworthy. The phrase and its history sums up for me that blurry boundary between madness/sanity savagery/civility and the ways in which we try to articulate our way out of madness/savagery and into sanity/civility. The flipside to the same coin is the ways in which we can talk other people into perceived states of madness and savagery when they don’t live according to the same strict rules. Who decides who is crazy?
O: Your surname is Magee. I’m Irish! What do you know about your Irish heritage?
MM: I am a third generation NZer; I have Irish, Scottish and English heritage. My Irish whanau are from Northern Ireland; I don’t know a lot about them – my great-grandfather came down to NZ when he was a young man and laboured at the docks. He was killed in 1951 when there was a worker’s strike at the waterfront; he scabbed and went to work and was squashed by a crate. My great-grandmother always suspected foul play; she whispered to my mother before she died that she had once wished him dead for philandering and still hadn’t forgiven herself. The women in my family have very powerful imaginations.
O: Another song I really enjoy on the album is “You’re a Stranger (to me now)”. I like how it explores the idea, for me, that we are all strangers no matter how close and intimate we get with other people. Was that the intended meaning of the song? Or am I way off?
MM: There’s an element of that. People can always surprise, either through turning toward us or turning away. It toys with the idea that a person you think you’re close to can starve you of intimacy and care; similarly though, that intimacy and care can be seen and gleaned from brief or inconsequential encounters with absolute strangers. The fat man on the bus, the kid with the undercut, the customers who stare at me – they’re all people who have passed me by unknowingly but mean something significant, if only for slapping me out of my own self-pity and telling me silently to see the beauty in it all.
If we’re all ultimately alone then we’re alone together; as cheesy as that sounds. Though it is a very sad song for about the death of love and decline of respect, it is those minor characters who are the heroes, who compel the singer to keep singing.
O: I think the cadence of your singing is very unusual. It’s as if, when you’re singing, you put the words in the wrong place for the song but somehow it works. Is this a natural thing or a more measured and practiced aspect?
MM: That’s an interesting thought; I have never considered that actively – I think of myself as a writer more so than a musician; in that sense it is possible that at times I prioritise words/concepts/ideas over some sonic properties. I’d be interested to know what points you are referring to!
O: It seems to me that for i.e. crazy you have created a character. You perform in this character while performing i.e. crazy songs. Is this a freeing experience?
MM: I’m a believer in the necessity of taking performance seriously while cherishing the absurdity and ridiculousness of “acting”. It’s a stupid show, but socially crucial, and has the possibility of being utterly transcendent; poised in a moment with a group of people, time suspended and unfolding with a new slow grace.
I hate mediocrity and lukewarm effort; nothing bores me more than a singer not singing with conviction. Creating characters is human; we are all performers in every role we inhabit throughout all our lives. I am Maggie Magee and Maggie Magee is me.
Find i.e. crazy on Facebook.