Artist Shoutout + Interview: Madi Watkins on Candy Corpse and Artistic Inspiration (Year of the Knife)

Pictured: Madi Watkins

While many know Madi Watkins as the badass bassist of Delaware straight edge hardcore band Year of the Knife, she’s got another job that’s just as sick - independent business owner and artist for Candy Corpse.

Madi’s art has been featured in multiple places, such as the flyers for Philly’s This is Hardcore Fest and on the merch of several bands. Candy Corpse is a business Madi runs almost entirely by herself (with help from her husband and cats) in the cutest pastel pink wonderland of an office. They’re probably most well-known for their hand-drawn enamel pins, but they sell an assortment of accessories that include hats, socks, stickers, and more. I personally own several of the pins, and they are not only some of my favorite designs, but some of the highest quality pins I own. They’re weighty, don’t chip easily, and have super-adorable pink backings - just another example of CC’s extreme attention to detail. Recently, Madi has also expanded to a side-brand called Sweetwear, which focuses on similarly styled collaborative merch with bands. Their first release, launched just a month ago, is a pastel-accented shirt and enamel pin in collaboration with experimental hardcore band Vein.

I got to ask Madi some questions about Sweetwear and Candy Corpse. Read on to learn about her artistic origins and inspirations, mixing cuteness and hardcore, future plans, and more!

Pictured: Spring ‘19 collection ft. Reika

What got you into visual art and graphic design?
My Mom’s side of the family is very artistic, with several painters and sculptors, and my Mom put a lot of emphasis on the importance of art and expression at a young age. I went to an arts school in Delaware for middle school and high school where I focused mainly on musical theater. I’ve been drawing my whole life, but it wasn’t until after high school that I pursued graphic design seriously. Growing up surrounded by so many talented artists at home and in school, I was really self-conscious about the work I created and unwilling to show anyone what I worked on until I was in college. I double-majored in graphic design and web design, and became more confident in the work that I did through the critique process in school. From there I designed some album covers for hardcore bands, and flyers for Philly Hardcore shows, which led to me working for This Is Hardcore with the fest’s other designer, Joel.

How did you come up with the concept and name for Candy Corpse?
It’s pretty funny looking back on it, but I was listening to BABYMETAL and thought the whole concept of kawaii metal was really fun and interesting. It’s an extremely polarizing genre, people either love it or hate it and everything that it stands for. When I was talking to my husband about it, he asked what my kawaii metal band would be called if I started one, and after thinking about it a bit, I decided to pay homage to my favorite death metal band, Cannibal Corpse. That’s where the idea for the name ‘Candy Corpse’ was born. I wasn’t serious about starting a kawaii metal band (mainly because there’s no real platform for that type of music here), but I loved the sound of the name so much I wrote it down in a journal and forgot about it for a bit.

I was working as a Social Media Manager at the time, and was feeling a bit unfulfilled artistically, so I started illustrating again in my free time. Most of what I was drawing was inspired by my favorite anime, and after some friends suggested I make stickers, I sold a small batch of the designs online. After they sold out, I decided that I wanted to start a shop and expand to different products than just stickers, and I knew that Candy Corpse would be the perfect name for the ideas and direction I had for the brand.

Pictured: The Candy Corpse HBIC’s office

What kind of things inspire you artistically?
I’m really inspired by Japanese artists, particularly manga and anime artists, but fashion designers as well. I’m also very inspired by tattoo artists, and designs from old hardcore and metal flyers.

Moreso in previous years - there can be pressure on women in hardcore to appear “tough.” Have you ever had any issues or worries with the way Candy Corpse is perceived in hardcore spaces, like shows and fests?
A lot has changed for the better regarding how women in the scene are perceived and accepted since I first started going to shows, but that’s not to say that there isn’t room for growth. Hardcore is still a very male-dominated scene, but I think that the pressure to appear tough or cool is something that eases the longer you come around to shows. Some people want to give off the illusion that they are cooler or harder or smarter than the people standing next to them, but at the end of the day, we’re all a bunch of weirdos who found something that resonated with us in the music.

I was a bit nervous the first time I brought Candy Corpse out on tour, wondering if people would “get it”, or if people wouldn’t take me as seriously as a musician in hardcore when I owned a shop that’s pretty much the polar opposite of the music we write. What I realized over time is that the more that my shop grows and the more that the band grows, the more people want to give their opinions (positive and negative) on the things that I do. I create what I love, and I do it for me. Of course I keep in mind the things that Candy Corpse customers enjoy when I think of new products, but you can’t please everyone, and I certainly won’t change what I do or who I am because someone thinks I’m not “hard” or “tough” unless I look and act a specific way. That’s part of what hardcore is really about anyway, being true to yourself whether the general majority thinks it’s cool or not.

A while back, you collaborated with Isashah Pereira, a tattoo artist at Black Rabbit Tattoo (one of the best otaku tattoo shops), on a few pins. How did conceptualizing that collection go?
I loved working with Isa! She is such a phenomenal tattooer and inspires me daily with the work that she creates. I met her through my friend Kim (@bunnymachine on IG) that owns Black Rabbit, who I collabed with in the past as well. Working with Isa was awesome, I gave her some ideas that I’d been brainstorming and a rough sketch of the composition I had in mind, and she ran with it. She sent line drawings back and then I made a few small adjustments to make the designs work for pins and colored them and then put them into production. We actually started working on another collab series this week.

Do you plan to collab with any other visual artists in the future?
I do! I try to collab with new artists every couple of months. Keeps ideas fresh and also has helped make some great friendships and connections along the way.

Pictured: Sweetwear’s collab with Vein

Speaking of collaboration - you recently released a collection with Vein for your new line, Sweetwear. How was that experience? Did you work together, or did they give you more creative freedom on the designs?
Working with Vein was great. Year of the Knife played a weekend that ended up getting cut short with Vein maybe five years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since. When I came up with the idea for Sweetwear, they were one of the first bands that popped into my mind that I wanted to work with. My friend Dom designed a shirt for Vein awhile back with surgical tools as a back print, and I wanted to work that concept in my style. Vein gave me complete creative freedom, just offering their feedback on mockups I sent over, and selecting the colors for the enamel pin. I definitely appreciate them trusting my vision and supporting my shop in such a cool way.

Do you plan on sticking with shirts and pins for Sweetwear, or will you be expanding to other products?
I definitely wouldn’t rule out other products. I think pins will always be a core part of Candy Corpse, but I would love to expand to other apparel items as I continue to work with other bands.

Pictured: Reika

What are your top 5 favorite designs you’ve ever made for Candy Corpse?
I get so attached to everything that I design, so this is a really difficult question to answer. My shop mascot, Reika, would make the top five for sure. I love anything with the “please die” saying on it, and I’ve done several different versions at this point. The happy No Face pin and my new Jiji pin are two more of my favorites and… the Killer Kawaii series. Which is way more than five, but that’s about as little as I can narrow it down to at this point.

What’s next for Sweetwear and Candy Corpse? (of course, that you’re willing to share!)
I just released my early Spring collection, which has five new pins, and I’m currently working on the next Sweetwear collab. Can’t reveal the band yet, but for a hint it’s a different genre than the past two collabs! I’ll be set up at Galactic Con this upcoming weekend and will have a booth at Anime Ink in June, as well as have a small setup with me at all upcoming YOTK shows and tours.

You can support Madi and Candy Corpse by purchasing from her store link below, as well as following her on social media, where she often posts teasers for new products. Additionally, if you’re in the Midwest, she’ll be selling at The Rumble this weekend!


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