“What is my inner truth? Where is my inner peace? What do I actually want?”
Multi-instrumentalist Madeline Johnston asked herself these questions when she was writing Midwife’s new record, Luminol, out via The Flenser on July 16.
“The album is a kind of diary from last year,” Johnston says. “But also, beyond that, like realizing the things I felt so intensely last year have actually been there all along. I was thinking about higher power, control, civil unrest, agency, and confinement. The album is ultimately about inner truth. Inner truth you can’t really see with all the bullshit in the way. Inner truth that is leftover when there’s nothing else. I was seeking that and trying to tap into the realm of profound truth.”
When 2020 began, Johnston had several tours planned, but the pandemic shifted her focus back to recording, and back to her internal landscape. Midwife’s third full length record was written and produced during quarantine.
“This was the first time I really had the ability to give a project my full attention and dedication,” Johnston says. “In quarantine, I didn’t have any other obligations or distractions. I left my service industry job last spring – the record became my job and hustle in 2020.”
“The process felt natural and unforced,” she continues. “I loved having the timelessness, fluidity, and pressure-free ‘end of the world’ work environment. The record was written throughout all the spaces I spent time in last year. Beginning in Colorado, I wrote and recorded the track ‘Colorado,’ then I moved back to New Mexico and spent a few months in my childhood home in Santa Fe. I wrote ‘God is A Cop’ there in my old room. I moved to Albuquerque, where I finished writing and recording the rest of the songs. I then moved again to Las Cruces-San Miguel, where I mixed the record and finished everything up.”
The result is Midwife’s most personal record to date.
“I have always worked alone and am accustomed to it, but at times it was tough to be solo, just feeling like you’re on an island, making something without a context of the world, and listening to things so many times you can’t hear them anymore,” Johnston says. “Having said that, those are also some of the cool reasons for working in isolation. It’s freeing in a lot of ways.”
“The world is what feeds my songwriting,” she continues. “Not having that outlet changed the process for me, and I had to reach into more internal places and spend more time there. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s cathartic. I don’t want to be cliche. I don’t think I made a quarantine record or an isolation record, but it does include some of those themes. That’s what was going on.”
Luminol also deals with the subjects of incarceration, clarity, self-harm, confinement, and truth-seeking, situations and feelings that many people have been facing, before and during the pandemic.
“The form and concept of Luminol are absolutely made for each other,” Johnston explains. “Luminol is a chemical that dredges up forensic evidence, like blood, at a crime scene, and the chemical reaction turns the evidence a bioluminescent blue. I think it definitely speaks to what’s going on— examining what has become of our lives, and turning our trials and tribulations into sources of light.”
Midwife have always been interested in profound truth, mixing personal elements with those from the outside world. In Luminol, this is not only evident through the music, but also visually represented on the cover of the record.
“It’s an old photo of my mom, but I think it looks a lot like me,” Johnston admits. “The figure is redacted, because it could be anyone. I wanted to bridge the personal and universal elements of the album art. I interpret the image as humanity as a whole being on the edge of something in 2020. At the precipice. Being surrounded by water and contained by the shore. It’s a picture of me there, but like I said, it could be anyone.”
“In the same way, Midwife is my therapy,” she continues. “I always hope that the music transcends and helps people that are in tough situations or are feeling alone. I want listeners to know that they’re not alone. No matter how small the effect it can have on somebody, I like to think my music is out there helping people. It’s the reason I do what I do.”
All photos by Alana Wool
Listen to Luminol below: