Madame Reaper

Madame Reaper’s story begins somewhere along a dusty stretch of I-90, where Chicago’s urban sprawl bleeds into the facsimiles of suburban wasteland. Beyond an exit as nondescript as the next, a dilapidated building crouches between a KwikTrip and a Subway, entirely unassuming by day. But at night, its rococo sign illuminates the vicinity with a foreboding haze. The words “Madame Reaper’s Gentlemen’s Club” appear in neon, coaxing wanton passers by into the Madame’s lair.

Local townspeople speculate as to what happens inside the club, but never above a whisper. They say she puts on a great show—that it’s at once haunting and hypnotizing. They say that the most obscene clientele only leave in body bags.

This fictional backstory—that of a rogue strip club owner who murders lewd customers—encompasses the absurdity, camp, and social considerations of the Madame Reaper project. The brainchild of singer/songwriter Kira Leadholm, Madame Reaper sets herself apart with angular synth-pop melodies, hyper-produced arrangements, and elaborate harmonies. Her unconventional lyrics and dominatrix persona offer a veiled critique of the way female performers are reduced to tropes, and of gender power imbalances in the industry and in society.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, Kira wrote, recorded, and produced the demos for her self-titled debut record. After receiving a generous grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency, she collaborated with her band and other local musicians to re-record the tracks at Chicago’s Treehouse Records Studio. Max Grazier is mixing and mastering the record, which will be released in early 2023.

Madame Reaper’s Gentlemen’s Club, Kira’s nine-track debut record, hovers at the nexus of ’80s synth-pop, ’70s glam rock, and classical music. Inspired by the early work of acts like New Order, Depeche Mode, and Kate Bush, the record explores the possibilities of synths without sequencing and of blending electronic and acoustic soundscapes. Her theatrical vocals invoke the halcyon days of rock operas a la Queen or Sparks, while many of her instrument parts forego modern trends in favor of 18th-century classical composition.

A classically trained singer, Kira began studying voice and piano at the age of nine. She grew up participating in local competitions and theater productions, and composed music on GarageBand for much of her childhood. After singing in several acts as an adult, Kira decided to form her own project in 2021. She has also been studying audio production and works as a freelance mix engineer.

The Gentlemen’s Club—Madame Reaper’s band—came to fruition in Summer 2022 and consists of Garen Hudson (Saltwater Tap) on keys, Kevvy Sheppard (Girl K) on guitar, and Austin Myers (Molly Compton) on bass. Armed with an arsenal of robo-drums (programmed by the Madame herself), the band’s live set is a raucous rendition of Madame Reaper’s recorded music.

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