Few bands have managed to maintain the same level of longevity as Madball, much less bands in the DIY scene. Originally launched as an Agnostic Front side project, the New York band have grown into one of most notable acts in hardcore over the course of their 25-plus year career. Although the journey hasn’t always been easy—in 2001, the band thought they were done for good—their hard work has helped them grow a rabid fanbase across the U.S. and abroad.
Produced by Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, Madball’s studio album, For the Cause, will undoubtably be beloved by the band’s loyal fanbase. The album’s 13 tracks are heavy, urgent, and pointed, and serve as proof that, nearly three decades after their formation, the band are still a force to be reckoned with in the ever-growing world of hardcore.
It’s almost unheard of for a band to last as long as Madball, especially in the DIY scene. What has helped keep you going for the past 25-plus years?
It’s not been an easy road, I’ll say that. But I think it’s a combination of things. I mean, we somehow managed to stay relevant with the different generations that are coming up, and I guess we’re pretty tenacious—like, we just go at it. We try to put out quality music and stay consistent touring-wise. And I think, obviously, if it all works out for you and the people still care, I guess that just makes for a situation where you’ll have a little bit of longevity, you know? I attribute it to that. I attribute it to hard work, really. Hard work, trying to put out good stuff, trying to be better every time out the gate, and it’s been working for us. And the scene’s gotten bigger and gotten more global, so that doesn’t hurt.
As someone who’s been involved in the hardcore scene for even longer than Madball’s been around, how have you seen the scene change over the past few decades?
Well, from my childhood to now, it’s crazy, because it was such like a niche kind of scene—like, so small, so underground—and I still consider it very much underground. I don’t know if everyone else considers it that, but you don’t hear hardcore on the radio and, like, see us on TV, [that] kind of thing. It’s still, to me, very much an underground music scene, but it’s not quite as underground as it once was when I was introduced to it going to [the] A7 [club] with my brother, [Agnostic Front’s Roger Miret], and stuff like that. There were, like, maybe 50 to 100 people tops who were involved in the hardcore scene, period.
So, yeah, it’s grown quite a bit, and that sort happened throughout the States, obviously. That was sort of happening simultaneously—you know, California, D.C., etc.—and it all kind of connected at some point. Then, it went across the pond, and it really expanded. Europe is a big, big contributor in the growth of hardcore. I have to give them credit. The European scene has helped the New York hardcore scene—and the hardcore scene in general—grow immensely, because we got an opportunity to play festivals and play different platforms, and that created a whole other avenue for us.
It’s been an interesting ride so far. To me, it’s still happening, so it’s hard to sum up our career—it’s hard to sum up something that’s still happening, still growing.
As Madball grew into one of the biggest acts in this genre of music, how did you maintain your DIY ethos in order to stay in control of your art?
Well, it’s just in us, man. It’s in our DNA; it’s part of our makeup, how we operate. We’re very DIY, very hands-on. Obviously, that’s what our scene was always about. Everyone’s different, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for us, and we’ve maintained [a DIY approach] just because we don’t want anyone messing with our stuff. Be it creatively, be it financially, we made that choice, especially after we had the hiatus where we had a breakup—which I think also helped the band’s longevity to be honest.
Was that in, like, 2000? 2001?
Yeah, exactly. We thought we were done, like Madball was gonna be done at this point and it was never gonna happen again. And sure enough, it did. I think that also helped our longevity, because we cleared our heads of a lot of things [and] kind of came out swinging a little bit harder on the second round. I think that might have helped us, actually. After that period, I decided to sort of take control of the band business-wise and so on. Before that, I didn’t really care about that part of it. I was just like, “Yeah, all right, let’s go play, let’s have fun, whatever.” This was an outlet for us; it was therapeutic for us. Like, “Let’s just go do whatever we do. We make a couple bucks? Cool. If we don’t? Well, we traveled around, we got to see some cool stuff.”
That was the mentality, but as we got a little older, it became a little more important to make sure we could sustain ourselves. We just didn’t want to leave things in the hands of anybody else, and, creatively, we’ve never let other people take the wheel. Doesn’t matter how big this band gets or where it goes, we’re never gonna let other people control us. We’re never gonna have, like, 10 managers and all this craziness. It’s never gonna happen.
The new album is titled For the Cause, and a lot of the songs on the record seem very pointed. Do you believe that music and art should always be message-driven?
I think it should just be honest, to tell you the truth. It could be message-driven. Whatever it is, whatever you want to speak about, whatever the topic is, whatever you wanna get off your chest, whatever you’re feeling, I think it should just come from an authentic place. I don’t like things that are too preachy, but then, who am I to say, you know? If everyone has a different approach and wants to go about their art in a different way—for us, there’s a message there, but sometimes, we’re talking to ourselves. Sometimes, we’re convincing ourselves to try to stay in the right place, to walk a straight line. Sometimes, our message—maybe it’s a little too vague for some, but there’s metaphors there that sometimes people don’t get. There’s a positive, but it’s not always positive. It’s all different. We’re speaking from the heart, we’re speaking from experience, we’re speaking about things that we feel go with the vibe of the music, and that’s all we can say on our part of it. But I think music should be whatever you want it to be.
You linked back up with your old guitarist Matt Henderson for this record. How did you reconnect with him after all these years?
We’ve never stopped being friends. He never stopped being like a family member to us. That’s important, because that’s how this band started: it started with friends. I mean, yeah, we started with the help of Agnostic Front, and my brother sort of helped put it all together and put me out there in front of people and whatever, but it still wasn’t something that was put together by the industry or a label or something. It was friends who came together to play. The guys from Agnostic Front morphed into Madball guys. [Former drummer] Will Shepler is still one of my best friends to this day. Matt Henderson is still one of my best friends.
So, yeah, we kept in touch over the years, and anytime we would play anywhere near Matt, he would jump onstage and play second guitar, and he joined us on a couple of tours. So, he’s sort of been in the mix. Even though he left the band in—whatever year it was, ’98, ’99, he’s sort of always been a member of Madball. He’s not gonna join us on tour, ’cause he can’t do that right now at this stage in his life, but he’ll always be a part of us, and I was happy to be able to get him involved, especially on this record. He really brought his tone to the whole thing, and it was a perfect combo.
What kind of dynamic did he bring to the recordings? He toured with you a bit, but he hasn’t been on a recording since 2000.
Yeah, he hadn’t recorded with us in a while, and it’s kind of weird, because last time we were together, he was sort of in a producer role and still writing a lot with us, so it was kind of different. In this scenario, he wasn’t writing with us and he wasn’t a producer, he was just being asked to come and play guitar—do what he does best. He’s a great songwriter and producer as well. He didn’t really write the songs with us, but he did come toward the end and put his little Matt Henderson touches to things. [Bassist Jorge] “Hoya [Roc” Guerra] was writing a lot of stuff on guitar, but he’s not a guitarist. Matt Henderson is a very accomplished guitarist, so he added a certain flavor and did certain things that we couldn’t have pulled off without him. The songs were written, and everything was sort of there, but he just did his Matt Henderson thing that he does and played them really well and listened really well to what we were trying to do, and he did an excellent job.
The album features cameos from a lot of your friends, including the hip hop artist Ice-T. Did having your friends on this record make it extra special for you?
I think having those people on the record made it really cool, and honestly, I think the way it all came about is even cooler, because none of it was forced. Tim [Armstrong] was on a song because we were recording with him, and he was co-producing, and it was a given. We knew that once everything fell into place, we were gonna get him on a track at some point. We’d been talking about working on music together for years, anyway. Even the way we got into the studio was very organic. It was like, we’re having lunch, and he was like, “Hey, I got a spot for you, man, if you guys need a place.” We were like, “Actually, we do need a place. I don’t know where we’re gonna record this record.” So, it all just sort of happened unplanned. That’s been the vibe of the record.
My friend Steve Whale from The Business just happened to be in L.A., popped in, we threw a guitar at him, and he did the lead and said some words. My friend Sick Jacken came just to say hi to us, and I happened to be recording the song “Rev Up,” and he loved it, and he freestyled the intro.
So, none of this was set up through the label or any weird stuff like that. It was all kind of naturally occurring stuff. That is my favorite part of this whole thing with the features. Ice-T was the only one that was kind of planned, but even that almost didn’t happen, and then, it fell into place and he made it happen. So, it was cool. Everyone did a good job and complemented what we were doing.
Beyond Ice-T being on this record, you also have a hip hop side project. Can you speak to the intersection of and similarities between hardcore and hip hop?
There are similarities. There are obvious differences, sonically speaking, but there are a lot of similarities, starting with the fact that—at least for New York hardcore, ’cause I can’t speak for other hardcore scenes—the New York hardcore scene was in the [Lower East Side] and the East Village and that area. When hip hop was trying to get put on, they were going to some of those same areas, and in the neighborhoods that surrounded A7 and all that, there was hip hop being played. So, there’s a lot of crossing paths there.
There were even guys in the hardcore scene who were kind of beat boy-ish. Guys like [Cro-Mags drummer] Mackie [Jayson] used to write graffiti, and he actually changed the game with drumming in hardcore, and that’s a lot to do with him growing up with hip hop and soul and funk. So, yeah, there’s relationships there; there’s some that people don’t even know about.
Then, there’s a lot of differences, but for me personally, I loved hip hop since I was little, and so did a lot of the guys from my generation. The older generation were more punk guys, and me and my friends were more hip hop and hardcore guys. Maybe that’s why you can tell the difference in some of the bands, stylistically. For me, I always saw the connection just because I was a fan of hip hop culture, but my brother’s perspective is different. Roger is more of a punk background into hardcore. I was directly into hardcore. I didn’t come from metal or punk. So, everyone has a different view on it, but I think there’s a relationship there for sure. Some of the same “fuck you” attitude kind of things are similar. There are definitely some similarities.
Probably that DIY ethic too.
Yeah, some of the DIY stuff, some of the rebellious aspects of it. I mean, hip hop’s pop now, though. I mean, hip hop’s massive. So, you can’t even compare when you talk about it like that. But originally, yeah, and they both kind of started around the same time. They were both kind of born around the same time, so, yeah, there are definitely some connections for sure.
Photo by Catherine Patchell