Madina Lake is a well known underground band that has recently released its sophmore album, “Attics to Eden.” To promote this, the band joined the Vans Warped Tour for a second time. I had the privilege of speaking with Matthew Leone, the bassist and creative mind of the band, about the inside aspects of being part of the tour and taking his band to the next level.
Jade: This is your second time at Warped Tour. What has been your best experience while on this tour, either this year or last?
Matthew: There are many wonderful experiences to choose from. The barbeques every night are great. Everybody shows up to the barbeque, everybody from the smaller local bands to Bad Religion and NOFX. So theres no pretention and everybodys there to have fun. I think the highlight for me, so far this year, was when El Hefe from NOFX came to watch our entire set yesterday, and then after the show he tracked me down to say how much he loved it. It was cool because he was telling me that the guys from Anti Flag told him to come and see us, and a few of the other bands that we looked up to growing up have been coming by our stage, which is the Ernie Ball Stage, which is off in a remote spot and its not an easy, convenient thing to do. So the fact that those bands we idolized growing up made an effort to see us play is a highlight for me.
Jade: And youre crazy on stage; I bet NOFX was really into that, right?
Matthew: I think so. I grew up in a time where I idolized The Flaming Lips and At the Drive-In. Id say thats what were a cross between. And its really like what you want to create when youre playing live is this imaginary world and this escapism where youre captivating everybody. So youre all sharing the same experience and youre all in the same head-space doing it together. And youre demonstrating how passionate you are about what you do on stage. There are so many bands I see that whatever their moves are contrived of, or whatever action theyre doing on stage, doesnt come across genuine. And were genuinely passionate people and passionate about what we do, so we try to honestly convey that with integrity every day.
Jade: You seem really involved in your music, which brings me to our next question. Your albums have a concept to them, and youve hidden messages in your music and your videos. What more can you tell me about that?
Matthew: When we originally formed the band, we philosophized about what our ideal musical situation was, and we talked about the things that drew us to music as kids, and it was that imaginary world when the house-lights go down and youre at a show and the rest of the world doesnt exist. We wanted to take that one step further and literally create an imaginary world and tell the story about it. So Madina Lake is the name of this town thats sort of lost and isolated in 50s America, lost in the mountains. So its kind of this micro-chasm in the middle of everything, and all these strange occurrences happen. And it actually intertwined surrealism and reality, so there are real things about history that are in there and this real sort of observation that I, or we, have made. Its like drawing our own conclusions about consciousness and the reason that everybodys here in this life, basically. Like, Leila the Divine Game is the last song on the record we just put out, and I wrote quotes and we all tracked those, we recorded them, and then I took some monumental historical events and took some audio from there and flipped those backwards. So those are hidden on the track, and if you can solve it, which is kind of difficult to do, you have to buy software and reverse it, but if you can figure it out then you can plug those things into these parts of the story that will give you answers and more clues to help solve what were really trying to say.
Jade: Thats cool. Back to Warped Tour, have you listened to any new bands since youve started touring?
Matthew: Yeah, The After Midnight Project. Theyre one of those bands that you see a million posters of everyday, and I had no idea of who they were until this tour, and they are a phenomenal band, so Ive enjoyed them. I just sort of become re-passionate about Anti Flag and Alexisonfire. Those are my favorite bands on the tour.
Jade: Do you prefer festival tours like this, or your individual gigs?
Matthew: Were the kind of band that has two different approaches. When were doing something like this, we have a limited amount of time, so its about six songs to play. So our strategy is to just get in and captivate people and hit them as hard as we can and then get out and hopefully leave a lasting impression. But the real ambition of that is to then ultimately bring them to our own shows where we can do all of our stage props or concepts. Like Im working on this thing now where I want our show to take our audience through the course of a day, so the sun will rise at the first part, and then the sun will set, and then a storm cloud comes in and it storms, and a starry night happens at the end. So we have all different stage props that were making right now, with the LED lights built into these backdrops, so that’s going to be the real payoff. I mean, this is great for what it is, but the other thing is really alluring to me too. If we can pull enough people into a venue to make it worth it, that would be great!
Jade: You’ve toured with Aiden before Warped. How is it this time around? Have you been spending time backstage?
Matthew: Yeah, well we toured with Aiden about a year ago. So were really close with those guys. And we met a band called In This Moment. They’re a phenomenal band, I should have used them as the answer to that last question! But yeah, they’re a great band and amazing dudes and super fun. So we’ve been doing a lot of hanging out. You hang out with the bands that are on your stage, and then in the bus world theres like a hundred busses parked together and everyones always grilling or hanging out outside. So we do a lot of hanging out there and then the barbeque every night, so its a very social, interactive tour.
Jade: Are any of you vegetarian? Are there any catering problems that occur with that?
Matthew: Yeah! I am, and our drummer Dan is a vegetarian. And no, this is a very vegetarian and even a vegan friendly tour. Every day there is a vegetarian and a vegan option. The catering is called Tada Catering and they dont cut corners, they really go out of their way to make sure they accommodate everybody. And its really good food.
Jade: So how is band life different having a brother in your band? Is there any squabbling?
Matthew: Ironically, its easier, because were familiar with dealing with each other and living with each other and working together. Being in a band is a challenge a lot of people dont imagine. Its like youre married to three, or four, or however many guys are in your band. Youre married to them without the benefits of marriage. So youre living on top of these people. Every annoying habit that everybody has comes screaming to the surface. So its hard to deal with, so I feel like since we already know how to work with each other, that removes one of the things from the equation.
Jade: As a band, you make sure to meet up with your fans. How important is that fan connection to you?
Matthew: Its incredibly important. Its a funny thing; I think the world is changing a little bit, in that everybody wants instant access to a band and instant gratification, in this culture especially. And I know a lot of bands have taken the approach of distancing themselves or building up this wall, because they kind of want to play this archetypal role. They want to be the rock star, they want to be larger than life. Some bands are trying that approach, but thats ineffective for us. Were on a level-playing ground with our audience. We dont think that were anything special; we just think that at the time of the experience, were the ones on stage, creating the initial energy that theyre swirling around. We consider our audience friends, and we do two signings a day, one before we play and then one after and were usually hanging out with everyone, trying to get to know them.
Jade: Youve recently been on tour in Great Britain with the British band, Fightstar. Did you get along with them?
Matthew: Fightstar have become one of our greatest band friends. Theyre amazing, all of the guys of the band are super sweet. We shared a bus, it was the Kerrang tour, so it was our bus and Fightstars bus, and then the other busses were Coheed and Cambria, which I wont get into, and Circus Survive, who are amazingly sweet guys. But our bus had the reputation straight away as the party bus. Like, if you were on our bus, you where going to be up until six in the morning and getting hurt in some way, shape or form.
Jade: How is England different than the U.S.?
Matthew: I think its less celebrity obsessed. Its less about instant gratification, and its less inhibited. So if you go to a show; the Kerrang Tour is a perfect example, you couldnt be more polarized with the genres of music. You had this prog-metal thing with Coheed, you had Fightstar, you had us, and then you had Circus Survive. Fans there want to like everything. They come to the show and they just go nuts the whole time because they bought a ticket and they love live music and they want to have fun. Here, its more of a scene. Its more of a cool-guy contest. Here, everybody likes to label things and put them in boxes and then decide if they want to like it or not. Because if you subscribe to this box of this genre of music, then you sort of inherit all these personality traits or characteristics that go along with being a member of that genre. So I think people want to relieve themselves of the burden of free thought and free thinking and having to define yourself as a human and its much easier for them to just subscribe to something else. So its almost a micro version of religion. But out there it doesnt seem to be like that, it just seems like people are more themselves, more in touch with themselves.
Jade: Your new album Attic to Eden came out this past May. Which track is your favorite and favorite to perform?
Matthew: I think that it changes a lot. Right now I like the song Criminals because its pretty interesting rebellious social commentary. Its kind of racey subject matter and its really important to the concept of Madina Lake. Its one of those songs where the music is really appropriate to the lyrical sentiment, so they are both expanding each other, instead of fighting each other, so Im liking that one right now. As far as playing live, Lets Get Out Of Here has been fun. Its like a party song, everyone dances. Any time people are all in the same ground-swell of energy, Im happy.
Jade: Were there any differences between recording your first album and the new one?
Matthew: Yeah, big differences. The first one was done by Mark Trombino on the west coast. Hes a phenomenal guy at what he does, but it was so laid back in there. We hardly did any reproduction at all, if none. We just tracked it, in a weird kind of place, and in weird pieces. Only one of us could be in the studio at one time because it was so small. We did Attics to Eden on the east coast with David Bendeth. Hes a total drill sergeant. He would scream and yell at us and tell us how much we sucked the whole first week. But thats just his thing, he breaks you down and then he really gets to the core of who you are as a band. I feel like he really extracted the most positive qualities about us, and he taught us a lot. It was the most arguous and taxing process to go through, but at the end, we got the best result we could have expected.
Jade: What inspires you most when it comes to your music?
Matthew: I think just the human experience, like life. Life is a pain in the ass, it can be such a drag. But there are moments of brilliance and clarity in it, and those are the moments you try to sustain. And theres this theme throughout the record of escapism, finding your personal utopia. Its kind of like the individuals quest to figure out what, in their mind or lives, make them happy, like the individuals journey to personal freedom. So Im really into things like that, just trying to figure out life, and the world, and purpose, and meaning, and why were here, and art and vibrations.
Jade:Your new track, Never Take Us Alive, is really catchy. What is the story behind it?
Matthew:Never Take Us Alive was one of the last songs written for Attics. Its sort of a fight song. Its kind of a reaction to what we saw, being on the road for two and a half years, supporting the first record. Its kind of like everything sounding the same and looking the same, and kids on stage moving the same way, same haircuts, same outfits, same everything, and drove us crazy. And people not understanding us as those sort of bands were becoming successful and our band was struggling. And people in the industry and people in other bands talking shit about us and it was kind of saying were not going anywhere; were going to be here a long time, so you can eat shit.
Jade: How do you keep positive when something doesnt turn out the way you want it to?
Matthew: Thats a good question. Thats really, really, hard to do. When the record first came out, it suffered badly in the states, like it did not do well. It was looking like things werent going to go so well for us. We thought that maybe we were going to get dropped and not be able to do this. That was a really difficult time in the band’s career. It was about a month ago that ended. We were miserable. We were depressed. We wouldnt talk to each other. It was really hard. But we believed in the record, and we believed in ourselves. And we just fought harder and did everything that we could times a thousand. And we got ourselves out of it. Record sales picked up, and kids at our shows started growing and growing. Now were in a really good, healthy place. We dont need rock stardom. Obviously, anyone who knows us knows we dont give a shit about money and all that shit. But now we have solidified ourselves as a career band, so now we know we can do this for a career and it gives us a little breathing room. So, were all happy again.
Jade: Your band seems very tight-knit. How did you get so close?
Matthew: There are very few people, I think, that you encounter in your life that you can make a really deep connection with right off the bat and you kind of know intuitively, on a subatomic particle level, something just fits. Both of the other guys, we met them and instantly connected. We were both in other bands in Chicago that were competing and vying for record deals. Like, both bands had a lot of momentum in Chicago and things were looking good for both of our bands, but none of us were happy. So when we met, we just became best friends instantly and sort of shocked the Chicago scene because one day we were just like Sorry, were breaking up this band and this band and were making one. And we kind of caught a lot of shit for it, but we just knew we had to because of how well we got along with those guys. So yeah, were really like a family.
Jade: Thanks for talking to us here at backstageaxxess.com.
Matthew: No problem and thank you!
For more information on Madina Lake, you can go to: www.madinalake.com.