A New Beginning: An Interview with Matthew Leone of Madina Lake: “Be yourself in any situation every time without exception.”

“Madina Lake never ended on our terms”, so says Madina Lake bassist Matthew Leone. But now they’re back and ready to write a better ending with new EP The Beginning of New Endings. Rock Sins’ Claire Frays caught up with Matthew to talk all about the EP, their upcoming live stream shows, that time Matthew’s bass spins went horribly wrong on the Warped Tour and, the ten rules of being in Madina Lake. 

Hi Matthew, how are you and how is lockdown treating you?
I vacillate between being honest, which I have my whole life, like that’s been my jam being honest you know, but my knee jerk reaction every time someone asks how I’m doing is above average. But I’ll go ahead and admit… about average. I’m really excited to get past this election because I think a lot of this stuff has to do with the election and once that’s over hopefully things will chill out.

So Madina Lake is making an epic comeback. In our review we called it the “rebirth of Madina Lake”, but what was it that inspired you to make a comeback. Did you just feel like you had some unfinished business, or unfulfilled goals or did you just really miss it?

You know what? You nailed that on all three of those. The impetus for it was that we felt like Madina Lake never ended on our terms and we are one of those really stubborn bands – some people could say pretentious, I mean we weren’t pretentious – but we had pretentious goals anyways. One of those goals was to get the band to a level where we could always have it in our lives which is why we always tell our fans or friends that it’ll never be the last time you see us because we wanted to get it to a point where we could always, every year, invest at least one or two months into writing, recording and doing shows. The way it ended, we felt like it wasn’t on our terms. 

I got hurt – you may have heard. Honestly, no BS, I attribute that, that gesture replicated by innumerable people is what really saved my life because my odds of surviving that… the doctors gave some arbitrary like 11-13% that I would wake up from the coma and then more good news… if I did wake up, it was like an 85% chance I would be a vegetative state for the rest of my life. I can’t imagine my poor brother, Nathan [Leone – front man of Madina Lake]. Just being like “I don’t like either one of these scenarios.” Then I just opened my eyes and everything was crystal… well I shouldn’t say that, it wasn’t really crystal clear. We’re both codependent. I was smiling at him like “It doesn’t even hurt let’s go home!”, meanwhile my skull was open and he could see my brain (laughs). He’s like “Oh no yeah you’re fine but we’re just going to have to stay for a minute.” 

As a touring band (and as everyone is learning now with COVID), if you’re not on the road for over a year, I mean you’re done. So, we couldn’t have the other things in our lives that we wanted like families and kids and things like that so we decided alright, lets end it the right way. Let’s start this over and do it right. I honestly think I posted a message saying something like “We’re releasing a new song” (once I figured out the login to our Facebook or whatever) I thought we’d maybe get seven likes from like my Uncle and a few other people and it was just so unspeakably wonderful to have everybody right there waiting.

Everyone seems so excited. I think it’s that nostalgia and also with it being lockdown you just want something new and exciting and I think the EP captures that perfectly. So, you expected there to be a few likes (if any) and you got a massive response [on the singles] but what have fans been saying about the full EP? 

I think so. We’re always like very humble, awkward people so we’re hard at accepting praise or acknowledging it but I think the most rewarding feedback that we’ve that received multiple times is that this defines our sound. This EP has now defined our sound. People can hear the first few notes and you know it’s a Madina song. That’s a good summit to reach. 

With the EP, had you always planned to come back with the EP in 2020 or did the pandemic sort of expedite it? Were you like it’s now or never, we’ve got to get it out there before doom, gloom and chaos takes over?
You know how we’re always like the concept-y deal and we did the whole trilogy? The take away from the trilogy was that if the world enacted the laissez-faire complacent value system that they were enacting, then the future would be this weird sort of dystopian thing that we’re actually living now. So, we’re kind of like “Woah, we called it”. So that was definitely a catalyst to do it.

Okay, we had been working on these on these songs for two or three years, on and off, anytime to bank it all and reconvene in one place because we all live in three different counties, four different cities. So, we would occasionally reconvene in Los Angeles for a few weeks and we’d write and when lockdown happened it was like “This is a great…” I mean it’s not great sorry. It was like we’ve got these seeds of songs that pass our old age test. One of the rules of being in Madina Lake is that you be in your favourite band so everyone has to love the song as if it was their favourite band. We had like four or five of those seeds and we were like now that we’ve prophesised the future and its come true and we all have time, let’s just finish these songs. 

Mateo [Camargo – Madina Lake Guitarist] started sending the tracks over. He is my favourite song writer, engineer, producer, mixer. I mean he’s annoying as hell don’t get me wrong… (laughs) personality wise I’m just kidding, love you Mateo. But it was a great time because I’m sure you’ve noticed about life. If you stop it steamrolls over you, you can’t take a break or your bills are just going to go… your phone is going to be shut off you know, but this gave us an opportunity to really, really focus on it and we got those songs done and we have five more that have all passed the holy test and we’re going to release another one soon as well. 

Can you tell us anymore about that second one that’s due to come out? I know with The Beginnings of New Endings the theme is the seven deadly sins, will this theme be carried on through this next EP?

Yeah so, the way the we’re looking at this repertoire of music is as a little more linear so you know how we released a song, well our plan WAS to release a song every month and of course being in Madina Lake… that schedule, I don’t know when the hell the songs came out. (Laughs) but we’re going to do the same thing with the next EP [release a new song every month]. Mateo just sent over some hum dinger seeds and Nathan, you know we’ve been going through a lot of challenges in life – I mean who hasn’t right – a lot of personal stuff. It’s like what COVID did was it brought this life-size mirror; it just descended this mirror in front of everyone. It was like “take a good hard look at yourself… Nahhhh!” (Laughs) But that’s inspired the vocals that Nathan writes, the tracks come to me and after this interview actually I’m going to track bass on three songs. 

With it being ten years since World War III came out do you find that as band, you’re now approaching the song writing and music differently to how you did ten years ago? I guess you’re probably in a different place in your life from when you did the first album. Do you think anything has changed there?

Good question. Yes and no. So, how Madina Lake has always operated… with the first record we were going through the honeymoon phase, you know like where a couple gets together and they can’t get enough of each other? So, it was the four of us. At the time Mateo was married – that’s what caused the divorce. We ALL lost our girlfriends. We would go to the rehearsal spot at midnight until 6am in the morning and that was a pretty collaborative deal. Mateo, has always brought the seed and then Nathan would go into his corner and start working out his vocal melody and lyrics and then I would start arranging it and taking out the gay parts, you know gay in the right way – the “uncool” parts –  or suggesting half time beats here and there and then it would just come to us naturally. The ones that come together quickest are always the best. So that was how I would say we approach it.

When we did Attics to Eden (2009), we went with a big-time producer and he was great however, we didn’t realise that when you go with a big-time producer for one, they ask for writing credit and for two it’s because they want to write the damn record. We were butting heads daily and they would cancel our sessions and so the label worked it out with the Manager. We were in New Jersey in some hotel and we’d get a call like “Okay session is back on; they opened the studio for you.” So that record was a little over-polished. It’s disappointing because we love the songs but everything we’ve done since then has been the same format and process which is all “in-house”, so there are not external influencers that touch the record. Mateo does all the tech stuff. He starts out with a riff and then he’ll send it to Nathan like I was just describing. Now we’ve got it down and we’re loving it. It’s just the right amount of time for the four of us to spend together. (Laughs)

Were there any tracks on the EP in particular that challenged you as a bass player to play or for the band to write. We’re guessing the 8-minute track was not an easy one.
That’s the one. Tiny Weapons. As a bassist, a lot of bassists are like “What do I do to get attention!?” I hate attention so I’m perfectly fine with it but in the music, the music is what I’m most passionate about so my thing is what do I do to create the most attention in the song and contribute to the biggest release or crescendo or the old-age chorus. With that long one, I always try to counter whatever the progression of the riff is. If the riff is doing this, I’m trying to do this on the bass you know what I mean. [At this point Matthew demonstrates his air bass abilities to show us this one] but it was hard on that one.

Every release you have ever done so far has had a concept. What is it about that concept style of writing that you guys really enjoy? 

It’s dumb (laughs). I don’t know why we do this to ourselves. I suppose writing a record is memorialising a chunk of your life, right? Not to get technical with the brain, but the auditory receptors when you hear something, you know how it instantly brings you back to a moment when you first sort of heard that thing? Every record is sort of like a yearbook. What was going on that point in time? This one, especially because I can’t believe we managed to finish the trilogy, this one is like because we feel like we sort of prophecised this dystopia, now it’s introspection time. We’re all on lockdown and I mean let’s face it, there are marriages that have become difficult, sibling relationships that become difficult, your children are there at the house all the time and they’re going crazy, so it really pulls out everything honest. It makes you take a good hard look in the mirror and I think this will reflect that. Or at least what Nathan sees in his mirror (laughs).

In a few weeks you’ll be doing some live shows from LA. Can you tell us more about those? We’ve heard it’s going to have a really amazing production so are quite excited to learn more. 

So, I found this venue, you know we also run a Charity – CharityBomb – and we produce shows and we fundraise for other organisations and then we do work in the mental health space. COVID just destroyed us. Everyone is looking for the alternative now. The music industry is dead. What do we do? Kevin Lyman from Warped Tour called me and told me to call Benji [Madden] from Good Charlotte and talk to him about his ticketing platform. He then told me to call me his promoter Cathy. Kevin Lyman is my mentor. I mean he has totally guided me through this industry. He’s the best. 

So anyways, we found the coolest venue and its got two big stages and in-house production. So, the stage is going to have three big LED screens. We just shot Frank Zummo [Sum 41] there. He had his drums on hydraulics and it’s UNBELIEVABLE looking. It’s everything I’ve always wanted because you know how I’m production guy and I’m always like… if I just had a budget then these ghetto balloons would have more confetti in them you know what I mean? We’re going to programme some animation to support the set. And we’ll have nobody. I’ve tried to get so many bands to do benefit shows this way and all of them are so scared. They don’t want to play. They feel weird playing in front of nobody. When Frank Zummo, the drummer of Sum 41 – he’s a really good friend of mine and just an insulted the earth type of cat, again he’s like a Kevin Lyman. He did a show for us and we’re going to be announcing that early this week and it’s so cool. It’s so worth it. When you see clips of that, that’s what the Madina shows are going to be like on Veeps. We’re putting so much production into it, so much time and energy to make sure everything is just perfect. We’re actually rehearsing for the first time (laughs). So, we’re going to try and play well and in tune and everything. I might even harmonise properly, who knows!?

Are you going to be doing your trademark bass spins though – that’s the big question! (Laughs)
That is the big question. I don’t know. (Laughs) All of a sudden now if I get hurt it’s banter. There are some videos out there. I encourage you not to look for them. When I started a Warped Tour show once, the headstock on my bass got stuck under a cable and it flung my mic back over my head and knocked the drums down. I fell down. I was on my back and the drums were like “Do do…do”. We had to stop the show. Can you imagine? Like you just had… [Makes drum noises], everyone is ready to go nuts and I’m like a tangled mess on the floor and we had to stop it. Oh, one of my finer moments for sure. I won’t tell you any more details about that. 

With the three shows, you’re doing three different setlists. Do you find it hard to piece together the setlists when you’ve got a concept in mind because obviously you want to maintain the flow of the story but in reality, you can’t put all of the songs in because you can’t do a six-hour show? 

Nathan is the filibuster here. Maybe I do the most but my favourite shows are when they suck you into a sort of trance. The whole room is then harmonizing with their frequency and vibrations you know how we all emit energy waves? It’s like you’re all sharing an experience and then you take them on a ride and you just take them through the whole spectrum of emotions and then you crescendo, ultimately reaching euphoria. And so that’s how I try to design the setlist and then I give it to Nathan where it goes to die. (Laughs)

It’s the 40th Anniversary of Roadrunner Records which is your first ever label of course. What was it like being on a label like Roadrunner especially with it being so important in the Rock and Metal scene? At one point anyone that was anyone was on Roadrunner whether it was Nickelback, Slipknot, Kids In Glass Houses or yourselves. How does it feel to be part of the label history?

I absolutely could not express my adoration for that label and everyone who works there. They were the coolest label. As people they were just so wonderful and we’re friends to this day with everyone at the label and that’s not usually the case when a band gets dropped. They just want to assassinate the label. We are just such good friends with all of them. It’s great. 

Nathan has said he felt like a dinosaur because the music industry has changed so much from when you first started to now. Do you feel the same? Has your mentor Kevin helped you navigate what the music scene of 2020 looks like?

Here’s how our roles are different. I deal with booking the shows, production, social media and EVERYTHING outside of the music and lyrics. That’s what I get up to. I’ve felt like a dinosaur now and ever since I was one when I started, when we got signed. It’s really difficult. I’m still on Twitter. That’s how I push out my messages and so seldomly which is such a stupid thing to do.

Before Madina Lake, you and Nathan were in The Blank Theory. What do you think it is about Madina Lake that resonated more with people than The Blank Theory? If you knew then what you know now, would you have changed anything you did with that band? Or do you think it was just right place, right time with Madina Lake?

I can answer this one with perfect clarity. People have a sixth sense. Fans can sense if something is contrived or, not right? The Blank Theory came out in the Nu Metal days and Nu Metal represented, in America anyways, it was like this really blue-collar thing, heavy, agro, southside and we were wussies. We came from the North West suburbs which are a little nicer and people saw right through the agro, you know what I mean? Even though we’ve had unbelievingly punishing lives with respect to the tragedies. It’s a joke but the everyday grind sort of thing, that wasn’t us and we were trying to fit into that world that was not us. 

With Madina Lake, I mean I talk about this meeting when we formed and before we’d even played a note together all the time, where we came up with exactly what we wanted. We came up with what we call the ten Madina correct commandments, the ten rules of being in Madina Lake. One of them is honesty and altruism at all times no exception. Be yourself in any situation every time without exception. That was so liberating because then it was like you’re not having to look over your shoulder, you never had to defend anything. You are who you are. The Nu Metal thing was like “Yeah I drove a beer delivery truck once… covering a shift for a friend!” (Laughs). 

Our ‘zine is called Rock Sins so we like to ask bands what is their biggest sin that goes against the whole perceived Rockstar stereotype? Can you share yours?

The degree to which I love my son. You can’t even put it into words. I’m just as affectionate as I could be. I will take him 24hrs a day if I could. I roll around with him at the playground whilst the other parents are sitting on the benches on their phones. I am the only adult flying down the slide with him. At some point he’s going to be like “Dad, scram!” and I’m going to cry. 

Finally, is there anything you like to say to your fans here in the UK and our RockSins readers?

RockSins readers and viewers thank you for your interest. We would love to see you at the Veeps shows. We are really investing a lot into those and we are really going to create that live Madina experience so if you’re missing that we promise we will deliver that to you on those Veeps shows. Tickets are on sale for those now. We’ve also opened up a new UK store and the US Merch store so check those out too. You guys are our family, our community, you’re our everything. It’s almost like you’re parents and our goal is to make you proud. We’ll be doing a lot more and we want to include you guys in our current process of putting these shows together so just engage more and we love everybody.

Madina Lake will be performing three shows via the platform Veeps on November 12, 13 and 14. Tickets are now available to purchase individually and you can get a bundle pass to attend all three performances. Find out more and get tickets to the Madina Lake Veep shows.

Madina Lake – The Beginning of New Endings is out now through Strange Entertainment Records on a variety of formats over on the official Madina Lake online store. Don’t forget to check out our review of the album.

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