Madina Lake Interview – Vans Warped Tour, Toronto – July 2009

Here’s a classic interview for you all while I work on some new posts!


By Aaron Binder
Photos by Mike Bax

Embarking upon the journey of life is a decision that we as humans never consciously make.  Life is thrust upon us; bloody, screaming, confusing and delirious.  We have no decision to make, we’re just born, but once we arrive we might as well make something of ourselves or die trying.  We owe it to the universe if you think about it.  Out of all the chaos, the millions of other atoms that could have formed in our infantile minds, the millions and billions that inhabit one’s mind came together at exactly the right time and place to create a unique consciousness that one calls their own.

For millennia, artists have been tormented by these facts; some have fallen before their time, some never achieved what they should have, and others waited and built and then one day exploded into their very own supernova status.  The organized chaos in the universe decided that the atoms which had been assembled so many years before were in perfect alignment for that personality to be something special, something incredible.

Creative personalities have always been the ones that question existence, always searching, always asking why.  Musicians, artists and creative people come and go, but it takes a truly unique one to realize exactly why they were placed on this green and blue globe we all call home.

Madina Lake is an alternative rock band from Chicago; the relatively young band has experienced highs and lows in their short careers but they’re building up to something that will one day more than likely explode.  Their personalities are very focused on the ethereal, everything that you can feel but not necessarily see.  Their music is focused on Madina Lake, a fictional town from the 1950’s that has been isolated from the rest of the world.  This is where their first two albums traverse, chiming in on celebrity status, culture and politics, all while examining exactly what drives the band, continually taking that next step into the unknown and not worrying about the consequences.

During a grueling July day, we descended upon the same patch of pavement at Arrow Hall in Toronto for a chat.  The proverbial fire burns bright in their eyes; they have an almost unmatched passion for what they do.  Whether they’re playing for 5 or 500 people, they still love the rush of adrenaline coursing through their veins as they scream themselves hoarse and bleed their fingers over their drums and guitars.  This is the result of millions of atoms that happened to meet in the same place at the same time on that particular day in history.

Aaron: I just caught you guys on Ernie Ball, it was kinda sparsely populated, but you did play right before Alexisonfire, the hometown heroes.

Matthew: Exactly.

Dan: Yeah, we love Alexis anyway.

Matthew: Alexisonfire is one of those bands that we would aspire to have people keep us in the same company as bands like that.  We’d rather be compared to a band like that then what we’ve gotten in the past.

Aaron: Well with the new record you guys have gotten better reviews than you did for the first one.  How does that feel?

Matthew: It feels great.  We were discussing it earlier.  The only choice that we have as artists is to make a record that is honest and with integrity and do exactly and only what we want to do.  What that wound up doing was putting us in this weird kind of grey zone where we were totally happy with this record, this alternative rock record with all the inspiration that we wanted.  Everything we wanted to put in it, we did.  But where does it put us?  In this grey area where it’s not easy rock, it’s not scene, so people don’t know how to take it.  We’re okay with it, but we don’t know if they are.

Dan: It’s still kind of early, it’s a little bit scary, ya know, it’s only been a couple of months, which is not very long.  We stuck together and toured a couple of years after the first one.  But like you said, we’re super excited about it but we still don’t know what’s going to happen.

Aaron: It seems to me like you’re one of those bands that is going to build up momentum over a longer period of time, especially with the 3 album story arc that you’re working on.

Matthew: Yeah, that’s good to hear, we definitely prefer that over the flash of the moment, you’re here and then you’re gone. We would gladly take years and years and do what we love doing to build up a fan base that actually really enjoyed our music instead of having just one single that everyone just loves.

Dan: It’s been interesting for us because we have an international label, so our record has come out in all these different countries.  In England we experienced that rapid explosion, and that was a weird thing for us because instantly you have this backlash, and then you’re misunderstood, and then we get defensive like,, “Woah, we’re not that’.  So now we have a lot more in redefining ourselves with those kids.  And here, it’s how we idealize our career in that slow build.


Aaron: You guys have been touring a lot lately, as well.  How’s the response been lately compared to the earlier years?

Matthew: Wow, talk about a slow start.  For the first maybe 9 months that we toured, we were just driving around, no crew, nothing in our van, in the middle of the southwest, really playing for sometimes…no one.


Matthew: We saw our numbers go from 1 to 5 to 10 to 15 to 40 and then on.  It was really gratifying to see it because it is hard work.  You finally see it actually starting to pay off, and now we did miss a lot of time in the United Sates, and in a way it is like starting over.  Like Dan was saying, we did have a lot of success overseas, it’s amazing, we love it but at the beginning of the year our record came out and we did a bunch of weeks in Australia, then we went to Japan, then to England and Europe.  So now, months and months later we’re coming back to the United States and we do feel like we missed a little bit.  So, again, it’s like the first time, it’s going well but we feel like we have to promote the record again.  Which is good, it’s a different record, we feel like it’s more us and we’re redefining ourselves.

Dan: We’re very self-aware, much more than we were on the first record.  We’re taking the good and taking the bad and applying it.  And now we understand who and what we are and I think what gives me a great sense of accomplishment is that when we were playing to 5 people, we put on the same show no matter what.  So we’re killing ourselves even if it’s in front of 2 or 3 people.  It’s nice to see that pay off now, now people know what to expect out of us and that makes it a lot more gratifying to look at.

Aaron: That’s really cool, putting on the same show no matter how many people are there.  That’s exactly what builds up cult legends.  People are able to say that they saw you when it was just them and the bartender.

Matthew: Not to compare us to At The Drive-In, I don’t think we’re anywhere near as good as them, but him and his brother called us and told us that there was literally no one there but they were the greatest band they had ever seen live

Dan: And we’ve experienced a lot being on the road.  We’ve played with hundreds of bands and we’ve been really irritated by what we’ve seen.  Some bands give nothing on stage, or if it’s not a big crowd they get up there and they look almost like they’re annoyed to have to do what they’re doing.  And for us, that’s a power statement we like to make, we care about what we’re doing and we’re going to show you every single day.

Aaron: You guys do bring a lot to your stage show, it’s very energetic.  How much planning goes into that?  Do you get into your practice sessions does it just flow out that way like at your live shows.

Matthew: It’s definitely not a conscious effort, it’s definitely a visceral thing.  Because it’s all venting, there’s nothing contrived.  When we’re planning for tours, we do plan the peripheral stuff; the esthetics, the balloons, the cannons, the lights and all that.  But what we do on stage is really determined when we walk on stage, you see what you can break, what you can jump off of, how much room you have to land in a certain spot.

Dan: Hah, we do laugh, but at the same time, there’s intensity everywhere.  Sometimes we have no speaker cabinets to jump off in our rehearsal spot, nonetheless, when we are done rehearsing in the studio or whatever, we’re just as sweaty.

Aaron: I noticed that had a huge impact today, the people watching you at Ernie Ball were your die-hard fans and they were really into it.  Going off that basis, how are you trying to bring in new fans with your live show?

Matthew: I think our ambition is to remove inhibitions from people, and to gather them into one focused energy or unified force where they don’t feel like they’re being judged, they don’t wanna judge other people and they feel like their part of this collective that provides some sort of escape and makes them feel.

Aaron: I was just talking to BrokenCYDE and they were saying the exact same thing, it’s about the family and community you create.

Matthew: You mentioned the sort of cult thing earlier, and that’s a really appealing thing to us because what drew us to music was the imaginary world.  Everybody wants an escape in their lives, life is a hard thing to deal with, it’s a drag.  There are moments of brilliance and we want to create that.  Or at least create a forum where people can be absorbed into this good feeling.

Dan: As a band we always talk about the music we listen to and all the concerts we went to as kids.  There’s such a big difference between the shows we went to where you’d end up just watching the bands, and then the ones that you went to and you’d end up leaving like you didn’t know what just happened.  You’d be sweaty and things were flying and you don’t know what happened.  Our band experience is our favourite thing about music.

Matthew: Our goal was to create that for everyone that watches us; that is by far our favourite thing about it.

Dan: There’s this quote that I’m going to mess up, but I’m going to try and apply it to this scenario.  “A good show makes you think about art and other performances.  A great show makes you think about yourself.”  I think that’s what we like, if you can leave our show thinking about yourself; that would be an accomplishment.

Matthew: Yeah.

Aaron: That’s really cool you bring up the imaginary world.  When you have hundreds of people at your show, watching you on stage, what kind of world are your minds in at that time?

Matthew: That’s a really good question.  I’ve been thinking a lot about, lately, I know it sounds silly, about how some beings have the ability, like flies, to perceive time and space differently if something is swatting at them, it literally slows down.  So there’s this other dimension, this other thing that is in existence and I think that’s what it does for me.  If I were to sit down and listen to one of our songs, it would be a different length than when we play it.  Something is messing, or there’s some dimensional fiddling going on.  That interests me, when I’m on stage there’s something different, it’s just about completely losing yourself.

Dan: We’ve played so many thousands of times over the past few years that we don’t really have to think about playing the songs, it’s all muscle memory, it just happens.  So when you can not think about that at all and you’re giving it out to the audience and you see them moving and doing whatever back.  They’re not thinking about it, you’re not thinking about it, you just become one, big, sweaty, bright mass.  That’s just the best thing in the world.

Matthew: I think that brings me to who we are as a band.  It’s a pretty interesting thing I just thought of while you said it. We don’t perceive ourselves to be any different than a member of the audience.  A lot of bands think that they’re the rockstar and those are the fans and sort of act accordingly.  For us, we’re all one, so I think that affects us onstage.

Aaron: That’s a really good answer.  You guys seem to be really in touch with that sixth sense and the ethereal.  How does that figure into the music?  Does it play a large factor?

Matthew: Thank you, I think it does.  I think with good art, you are channeled a bit.  You’re not necessarily creating it from yourself, but it’s coming from somewhere else.  It’s like the name of our first record, From Them, Through Us, to You, it’s sort of relating to that.  When you have the ability to open up your channels to sort of connect and be one with the world, and be one with what’s going on around you, then you’re sort of allowing that stuff to flow through you.  It’s weird, we talk about it all the time, we read a lot of stuff like that and try to relay that.

There’s a poet that said it too, something about how he wrote a few poems but he has no recollection about writing them. That’s kind of how we feel about everything.  Whatever kind of weird subconscious area that there is, I don’t think personally I can take credit for anything we did that people like.  It’s just how we write, we take what’s already out there and make other people understand it or see it.  There’s nothing new that hasn’t been done, it’s just a rearrangement of these ideas that hopefully we can portray in a way that appeals to people.


Aaron: Yeah, we’re all these thousands and millions of atoms, and we’re completely chaotic.

Matthew: Absolutely.

Dan: Yes.

Matthew: It’s plucking them from the cosmos and arranging them and spitting it back out.

Aaron: Working on that momentum you guys have been building off the first and second album.  Have you put a lot of thought into that yet?

Matthew: I think that we started to conceptualize things that we know that we’re going to apply.  With the concept we’re doing, our 3rd record is the final installment, so we know thematically where that is going.  I think it’s one of those things that has to be organic and natural otherwise it’s contrived.  We’re no better prepared to answer that question than anybody.  We can always conceptualize and have the idea, but we can’t predict how long it’s going to take to accomplish any one thing.

Aaron: I find a lot of bands force themselves and it doesn’t often turn out how they want.

Matthew: Yeah, and a lot of people write with a motive, and I don’t think that’s good either.  You shouldn’t write with where you want to fit in the world, or what clothes you want to get and what cars.

Aaron: So that is kind of the slow-build, you take it as it comes.  Where does that success come from individually?  And when do you realize that you’ve actually done something successful for yourselves?

Matthew: Great question, all these questions have been phenomenal by the way.  Success is this cute little monkey; it’s tough to feel it.  We kinda find ourselves always wanting more.  I don’t mean success, I don’t mean money, I don’t mean anything like that.  I mean in terms of personal fulfillment.  We want to reach more people; we want to be in more places in the world. The last time I felt really fulfilled was listening to the finished record.  That was really gratifying for a long time.

Dan: I think you have to be really careful to separate your true goals from the darker aspects like the fame and the money and things like that.  I think we love what we’re doing, when we were kids and we used to listen to music, I was putting on records and all I wanted to do was play drums in a rock band and I wanted to make records and tour the world.  I was never thinking that I just want to be in a band and make a million dollars.  If you ask anybody that’s really into music, if they’re really into it; that’s way down on the list.  So we’re lucky enough to be doing that now, we’re touring different countries, we’re making records and I guess it depends on defining the success, but we’re doing what I always wanted to do.

Matthew: I’m glad you asked that question because we get so distracted from the vocation that we really need to enjoy it and keep that, because we’re doing exactly what we’ve always dreamed of doing.  There is not a single negative thing in our lives and we need to recognize that and appreciate that.  Like he was saying why he got into music, and for Nate and I it was the same way, we were into these bands called Hum and Silverchair in Chicago and we looked at each other and our jaws dropped to the floor.  We’re like “Can you imagine being a part of creating this energy?”  And that was it; it wasn’t even trying to make a million dollars or being cool or whatever.  It was just part of that feeling that we wanted to be in touch with.  I think I’m gonna have to call my Dad and tell him that.

Aaron: Awesome answer, thanks a lot guys, it’s been really cool.

Dan: Thank you.

Matthew: Thank you, it’s been great talking to you.


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