How Kimbra Created “Madhouse” (Video)

+ This video lesson is excerpted from Grammy-winning pop artist, Kimbra’s Vocal Creativity, Arranging, & Production course on Soundfly.

“‘Madhouse’ was a really fun song to work on. It started with Thundercat just warming up on the bass, and he just kind of went ‘blooblidobloop, blooblidobloop…” ~ Kimbra

Kimbra’s “Madhouse” is a song that evokes, well, madness, and the hypnotic sweaty atmosphere of a party dance floor that draws us all in.

The vocal character she occupies and plays here is our vehicle into and through this story, and it all starts with a creepy vocal tone bed, drenched in phase effects.

This is something she talks about in a variety of ways in her exclusive Soundfly course, Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, & Production. In this video borrowed from the course, Kimbra discusses how “Madhouse” came together based on jam sessions with friends, including Thundercat. Here’s the song:

“Madhouse” started with her and some friends jamming on a cool-sounding bass line. Kimbra started experimenting with and looping some vocal harmonies to create a background bed on which she could start to build. From there, she began singing little phrases without real words, with effects on her voice to help her get into it.

The first “feelings” she started to get from the song were creepiness and eeriness, so she kept pushing in that direction. She loved a specific “ooor” sound she was making, so turned it into the word “more,” and began to move the song toward a theme of greediness. 

The entire process of writing the song is a great example of how every part of Kimbra’s process informs the other parts. The melody helps push the lyrics, which then inform the production, which then reflect back on the melody again, and so on. This is a theme we see throughout Kimbra’s course, and she dives deeper into the multiple approaches an artist can take to create song and music.

Here are the lyrics to “Madhouse:”

Devils don’t lie, they just fuel the heart’s fire for

More, more

Devils don’t pry, they just wait until you want a bit

More, more

I don’t want lies, I want open skies, I want

Doors, doors

Pressure keeps prying, there’s an open fire at the

Core, core

Oh hear the sound of the madhouse that you’re making

Oh hear the sound of the madhouse that you’re making

Chaos and disorder

I’m a mess then I’m a messiah

Don’t you leave me alone

In the chaos and disorder

I’m a mess then I’m a messiah

I’m terrorizing everything

The way we get by is to lie, lie, lie a bit

More, more

That way we get high is get high on pride a bit

More, more (little bit more)

You go deep inside, no room for the light in these

Four walls

You’re hunting for your dream down the cocaine streets, give me

More, more

Oh hear the sound of the Madhouse that you’re making

Oh hear the sound of the Madhouse that you’re making

Chaos and disorder

I’m a mess then I’m a messiah

Don’t you leave me alone

In the chaos and disorder

I’m a mess then I’m a messiah

I’m terrorizing everything

Inside of my head

Madhouse that you’re making

Oh hear the sound of the Madhouse that you’re making

Break inside of me

(Of the madhouse) reversed)

We gotta find that light shining in the hard times

Gotta find that light shining in the dark times

Gotta find that light shining in the hard times

Gotta find that light shining in the dark times

Oh hear the sound of the madhouse (that you’re making)

Oh hear the sound of the madhouse (that you’re making)

Break inside of me

(Of the madhouse) (reversed)

(Of the mad-) (reversed)

What’s that clack clack?

Gotta get out of here

Rather be caught dead

Than die in here

One of the best ways to learn more about melody is through transcription. Figuring out what pitches and rhythms are in a melody can help you you analyze it, understand it, and make practical observations about it that you can use in your own writing. 

“Madhouse” contains a number of interesting melodic phrases, including: 

  • The main verse melody that starts at 0:18, 
  • Lots of background fills and countermelodies throughout played on synths or vocals, 
  • The pre-chorus at 0:52, 
  • The chorus melody, which starts at 1:00 or so, 
  • The bridge melodies that start around 2:18 or so, 
  • The post-chorus melody at 2:36 or so. 

Give “Madhouse” another listen here.

Do you have any favorite melodic moments in the song? If so, pick one or two and transcribe them. Figure out what the notes and rhythms are. If you’re comfortable with music theory, think about how the melody is interacts with the song’s harmony as well.

Don’t stop here!

Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, recording and production, composing, beat making, and more on Soundfly, with artist-led courses by Ryan Lott, Com TruiseJlinKiefer, and Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, & Production.

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