‘Recess’ writer Lesley Wolff chats to Madi Leeds about her new single ‘Spinelli’

If you haven’t already immersed yourself in Spinelli, the latest single from Madi Leeds, stop what you’re doing and go listen to it now. Inspired by the iconic Recess character Ashley Spinelli, the new track captures a youthful energy; it traverses through dreamlike soundscapes, recreating hazy nights out.

So, fresh off the track’s release, Madi caught up with one of Recces‘ writers, Lesley Wolff, to chat all about the show, the song, and a whole heap more.

Photo: Damon Langley

LA-based Recess writer and casting director Lesley Wolff talks with Melbourne indie-pop artist Madi Leeds about the story behind naming her new single Spinelli.

MADI: What was it like working on the show Recess? Where did you get your start in comedy?

LESLEY: I started as a TV writer and working on Recess was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The team was creative and inclusive. I appreciated that they wrote the jokes for adults knowing the kids would get what they could out of it but it would be watchable for the whole family.

LESLEY: Can you tell us about the story behind your new single being named after the Recess character Spinelli?

MADI: I wrote Spinelli about an ‘out of control’ Halloween party I was at where the host of the party began burning down parts of their shed in order to make a fire. I was dressed as Spinelli and my boyfriend Damon Langley (who did the cover artwork/press shots, directed the music video AND recorded vocals/synth for Spinelli) was dressed as TJ (another main character from Recess). Spinelli was only a temporary name with the alternative titles being Marshmellow Youth / Spinelli (Marshmellow Youth) – but Spinelli ended up sticking.

MADI: Which Recess character do you relate to the most? Did you always know you wanted to work in the entertainment industry/what did you want to be when you were younger? (I have so many questions!)

LESLEY: I really loved all the characters but it was Spinelli that I related to the most. I never really was able to choose ONE thing to be interested in. I always had multiple interests in different areas of life. For that reason, Career Day was probably my favourite episode cause the message behind it was really enjoy being a kid while you can there will be plenty of time to work later in life!

LESLEY: Do you have any other favourite childhood cartoons?

MADI: Definitely! Although Recess is Disney, I was also (still am!) a massive Nickelodeon fan. Shows like Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys – shows that definitely had adult humour similar to Recess! that I would still watch today. Other Disney cartoons I loved were Kim Possible, Phineas and Ferb and The Proud Family. I think ‘Disney Plus’ is bringing up a lot of nostalgia for people.

MADI: What is one of the most important lessons kids could take away from the show Recess?

LESLEY: It’s funny. I really loved the themes of the importance of play and community in Recess and ironically my kid ended up going to the school the show was based on in Los Angeles! And those themes still prevail throughout!

LESLEY: The feel to this track is quite different to your previous releases. What lead you to go in this synth-pop direction?

MADI: I think the overall ‘playfulness’ of having an upbeat synth/bass line. I’ve been heavily inspired by 80’s music and other synth-pop artists such as Aly & AJ (funnily enough from Disney Channel days!), Alex Cameron (from Sydney!) and Chairlift. My lyrics have always seemed to be subtle yet dark and stand from a sarcastic angle. This contrasts with the upbeat instrumentation and allows the music as a whole to be looked at from a different perspective.

MADI: What do you think makes the character Spinelli special?

LESLEY: I think Spinelli’s independent spirit and spunk make her special. The fact that she was voiced by Pamela Adlon was perfect casting. She was a low key ring leader but NEVER a bully, always sticking up for others on the playground. The ultimate tomboy with a heart of gold.

LESLEY: The music video for Spinelli involves a one-take of you cycling around a velodrome. In what way does this relate back to Recess?

MADI: We actually shot the music video at my favourite childhood park/playground. I hadn’t been there in ages and it was so cool to go back on the playground and just ride around as the sunset. We (director Damon Langley and I) really wanted to go for a more stripped-back angle of bike riding simplicity. Being a kid and not having anything to worry about other than seeing friends and getting home before dark. Also, the idea of ‘recess’ at school, how it seems so straightforward (go play dodgeball, climb the monkey-bars) yet so much going on between the interaction of the ‘playground’ community and also personally. There is really so much symbolism that relates between the single/video and Recess themes we could delve into!

MADI: What do you think separated Recess from other kids shows at the time? Cartoons from the 90’s/early 2000’s seem so different to shows made today!

LESLEY: I genuinely think it was Paul and Joe who made the show so special. I remember sitting in the room with them – one always strumming on the guitar (can’t remember which one) while we threw around ideas. It was so collaborative and joyful.

LESLEY: Lastly! In what ways do you personally relate to the character Spinelli, Madi?

MADI: As you mentioned before Lesley, I think it’s really Spinelli’s ‘independent spirit’ and strong-willed nature I can relate to. If I believe in something/someone, this driving force of passion can be quite powerful. Spinelli I feel is also I feel misunderstood by a lot of kids on the playground and there’s more to her character than the forefront she holds.

I also still feel like a kid at heart – still figuring a lot out too, you know? I think Spinelli (the single) has related to others in more ways than I thought and I’m really grateful for everyone’s support.