Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Matt Henderson - Blind Approach / AF / Madball - PART IV

1995 Madball promo test, photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

If you've been following along, you know this has been a great interview. If not, go check the previous installments. Plenty of AF and Madball talk here. Enjoy. -Gordo DCXX

Relativity Records: It’s a known fact that you guys (AF) weren’t happy with them later on, but at the moment, how was the relationship with the label? What other labels were you guys looking at back then?

When we did that record I didn’t know anything about the business and just thought it was kind of cool to be on a label that could pay for our recording and actually print up CDs, get ads in magazines, etc. Roger really dealt with them as it was his deal long before I got in the band, so that question is better for him to answer. I do remember some good people working with us though that I still talk to today like Bill Wilson (Blackout), Howie Abrams (Madball’s first Road Runner rep) and Brian Freeman. Another thing I remember was that we were the first band that they decided not to release on vinyl, and only on CD. That was a big deal for the hardcore scene to bitch about and we were kinda pissed.

The back ups: Biohazard, Armand, Wrecking Crew: Tell us more about your relationship with those bands/guys.

Armand was really good friends with Craig and was actually working at the label at that time. He is a really good musician and would hang out with us a lot while we worked on the record and was always a good guy to bounce stuff off of. I knew Wrecking Crew pretty well because they did a summer tour in 1988 and when they hit Mpls they had van problems that forced them to stay at one of my friend’s house for a week or so and we hung out a lot then. When I moved to Boston we reconnected and I used to tag along with them when they played shows. So when we did the record in Rhode Island it was an easy trip for them to make and come help out. The rest of the AF guys knew them as well from doing shows together so that was cool.

Biohazard and AF had established a relationship from doing a lot of shows together around then and they were able to make the trip as well. That was one of the better memories I have being in the studio and everybody had a good time. Plus, I think the backups are one of the better sounding things on that record, so thanks to those guys for helping out.

Matt with Agnostic Front in 1992, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Last Warning: tell us more about that last show at CB’s. What were the other bands like that day? Especially Dmize? Tell us what you remember about that band in general?

That was a good day and a great show. Roger was really intent on getting the right bands to play with, not only to have a good show, but to give the bands he thought deserved the opportunity to play a show at a time when there really wasn’t a lot of shows going on, and to help out friends. It was sort of saying “this is our last show, but everybody needs to realize that these other great bands are out there playing still and need your support." I really liked Dmize. I was just starting to get to know Hoya and he played their latest demo with “Soul Search” for me and I dug it. They also did a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Zero the Hero” which was real cool. The other bands that stood out for me that day were Merauder and Cold As Life – R.I.P Big Rawn. 

During Infiltrate, you hear Roger calling out Minus for doing the crucial underwear mosh. Any good stories about Minus? Any other NYHC characters you’d like to reminisce about?

So, yeah, Minus was in his underwear. That was his thing, or at least at about every show I would see him at. My stories about Minus are that he was always a really respectful guy to me and anyone around me, whether he had his pants on or not. As far as other characters in NYC, there are just too many to mention, and most of the rumors you hear about them are all probably true, unless they include random acts of violence toward innocent people. There were acts of violence, but 99.9 percent of the time people were asking for it when it came their way so it wasn’t random and nobody was innocent.

AF played the official last show at CB’s but you guys did a Farewell tour in Europe shortly after, what do you remember of that tour? Europe always had a lot of respect for NYHC bands in general, any opinions on that?

That was a great tour for us, and so much different than that first tour that I mentioned earlier. It made me regret the end of the band a little because the shows were so good. I don’t really know why Europe as a whole is so much more receptive to American/NY Hardcore but clearly it hits a nerve with the people there and I definitely appreciate their support.

Matt, Roger and Vinny with Agnostic Front, 1992, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

What was your initial reaction when you learned that AF was going to be breaking up? What were your plans then? Madball had already put out something in 89 but when did you join Madball exactly and when were the Droppin’ Many Suckers songs written?

The initial reaction I had was “it's time." I felt like we really put our hearts into what we were doing but we were all a little burnt out and had gone through some rough times for real. One of the smartest things I think Roger did was to encourage us to do a Madball EP and release it for that tour. On our first tour in Europe in 1990 there were a lot of people asking “where’s Freddy Madball??!!” and showing up with the seven inch for signatures, etc., so it was obvious that it made a big impact out there.

And because Freddy was in NYC in 1992 and he would travel with us we thought we could bring him to Europe for that last tour as well. So we put some music together and Freddy wound up using a lot of lyrics out of a notebook of Roger’s with stuff that he had written while he was locked up. I loved writing those songs because it was more simple and straight forward stuff and was nowhere near as technical as the AF songs would get. We recorded at Don Fury’s spot in like 2 days and that was it. We actually played two sets every night on that European tour opening for ourselves as Madball, with Roger on bass and Freddy singing. We would always say shit like, “yo we just want to give a shout out to AF for hooking us up and letting us use their gear for the show”, or “shout out to AF – great guys except for that bass player – he’s a real dick” because Craig was always on the side of the stage and it was fun to break his balls. I don’t know if people got the joke or not but we had a good time with it.

Another Voice: how did you feel about the record? What was your involvement in it? Do you feel like it’s actually another One Voice?

Originally the goal was to get Craig and Willy involved but it just didn’t happen, and without them it is hard for me to consider that record a true continuation of One Voice, but I had a good time with it and I think the record came out good. It was a good opportunity to play guitar again and work with Roger.

What’s the most important thing you learned while playing in AF?

What a good rhythm section is all about. Bass, guitar and drums locking it down. No band should be without it.

What was the best/worst thing about playing with AF?

The best thing was becoming friends with those guys and joining the NYHC family.

The worst thing had nothing to do with the band itself, it just wasn’t a great period for hardcore. People who used to go to AF shows all grew up and started going to school (like me) or started to play in bands that sounded like Quicksand, or Stone Temple Pilots, or some Emo garbage and thought that hardcore wasn’t cool anymore. They changed their minds later on but it took a few years and a few Madball shows to kick them in their asses. 

Agnostic Front hang out 1992 on the Obituary tour, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Tell us about the transition from AF to Madball and about who came up with the idea that Madball should be full-time/serious band?

So after we came back from that European tour and AF was over Roger headed to Miami to become a Harley mechanic and I decided to head back to Boston to finish school because I didn’t have anything else going on in NYC full time. We did have the DMS 7” out though and we figured why not just have fun and play shows on weekends. Hoya was brought in at that time to fill the bass player slot. It was a good reason for me to go to NYC on the weekends and be with my friends and we had good time doing it.

The shows were really small because not much was going on in the city at that time. The goal was not to take it to a “professional level” at all until we got approached by Howie who was at RoadRunner and he wanted to sign us and have us do a full length. I had a hard time deciding if that was really what I wanted to do because of all the shit that AF just went through, but I really liked playing the Madball songs, and once I started playing with Hoya and got a feel for his style – he writes some amazing shit – I thought that it was a good opportunity. For me it was a little like getting a chance to start fresh. Madball already had a name obviously, but they were only known for two EPs, one of which I wrote the majority of the music for, and I wanted to keep going with it musically.

You basically were active during what people often consider the worst years of HC (early/mid 90s to end of 90s). Tell us your take on that era (the rise of vegan straight edge, shitty screamo/political bands): do you feel like it got away from the roots too much? Some great records were written in that era (you guys, Crown Of Thornz, Merauder, Blood for Blood, Breakdown), did anything stand out then that you remember?

I agree that the early 90s were a bad time. That was a backlash to the late 80s peak. 1990 was all about “post-hardcore” with ex-members of well known hardcore bands starting new bands like Quicksand, Fugazi, and Into Another. Some of that music was ok, but I always felt like there was an attitude along with it like “hardcore is over and we are playing real music now.” I didn’t go for that shit so I listened to metal more at that time. Slayer had Seasons In The Abyss which was a great record.

Then there was the beginning of the whole Social Distortion greaser/cowboy fantasy which I really hated. Social Distortion’s first record in 1982 was a great punk rock record, but all of a sudden that “Ball And Chain” shit started and everbody started cuffing their jeans and sticking a big comb in their back pocket and I wanted no part of it. That’s what made being in Madball in 1993/1994 a lot of fun. We were all about “Fuck you. We like playing hardcore.” And we were good at it.

We would play these real small shows back then that were made up mostly of our friends, a lot of whom were done with hardcore but came to our shows because they wanted to see old friends. Eventually, people started digging the music and by 1995 I felt like the scene was thriving again. It was in the city anyway, with a good mix of young blood and the old timers all at the shows. We had Madball, 25 Ta Life, Merauder, Bulldoze, Vision Of Disorder, and H20 all playing shows together. New Jersey had Fury of Five, Boston had 454 Big Block, Blood for Blood, Ten Yard Fight and others. There was Powerhouse and the Hoods on the West Coast, so it felt like a scene to me. The Midwest didn’t have much going on from my memory, but the Northeast and CA were real good.

Original artwork for 1994 Madball logo, courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Take us through the Madball discography (favorite song on each album, best/worst thing about each of those records, etc.). Ball Of Destruction: you weren’t on the record but what did you think of that record the first time you heard it?

Fucking great! It was like a continuation of Victim In Pain and hit the nail on the head.

Droppin' Many Suckers: how did you like recording with Don Fury? I still think this is one of the hardest seven inches ever written.

Don Fury, the man, the legend….. I hate the way that recording sounds but I love those songs. I don’t really think that recording does those songs justice. I have a cassette somewhere of us doing those songs live on the radio in Jersey, WSOU, right before we went on that last tour and it sounds amazing. We used to write in this crappy little rehearsal studio in SoHo called Giant and the equipment was shit but it added to the rawness.

We would work on getting our music together and Freddy, who would show up when he got out of high school for the day, would sit in the corner with his book bag and work with Roger’s notebook and add or erase stuff. Then when he said that he had something that might work we would start the song and he would grab the mic and scream and bounce off the walls and those songs totally came to life. Freddy had a lot of anger and energy back then and it all came out real clear.

When we did those songs in Europe people were actually a little afraid of us and especially Freddy. Freddy would just put it right in everybody’s face and people would have to take a few steps back. Good times.

Matt with Madball at the Marquee in 1994, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

How was the relationship with Wreckage Records?

I think it was a win-win for both sides. We did Droppin’ Many Suckers for dirt cheap and I am sure they got their money back and then some. We got a lot of seven inches up front to sell and had no expectations from them beyond that. 

Did you even think that some of the songs would stand the test of time they way they did?

I didn’t really think about it that way. I was just looking to have fun playing some straight up hardcore with my friends.

Set It Off: one of the 3 most important records of the 90s.

This is when I feel we really started to become a true band. I really enjoyed writing music with Hoya because his style had such a groove and he would write these riffs that would force me to step it up as well. I remember being in Boston and I called him up to check in and he was like “yo, I think I got a new song for the record,” and he played the opening riff to Set It Off over the phone with his cheap guitar and shitty little practice amp in his bedroom and I was blown away. That was the start of the transition from the Ball of Destruction/DMS real raw style to the more groove-oriented stuff that I really liked about Madball.

Madball in Belgium, 1996, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

What do you remember the response/reaction to it in the scene?

Once again, I didn’t feel like people were getting what we were doing right away. I remember doing the song Set It Off for the first time live before the record came out and people just stood there and looked at us. I don’t really know why. I remember heading to Argentina right after the record came out – we had connections there from the AF days, and we played it for some friends that were AF fans and they would say “its really interesting…..? Aside from Sick of It All, who were on the road a lot and didn’t play NYC much at that time, I felt like we were the only ones trying to do real, mean, tough, hardcore. I think it took people a minute to figure it out.

Tell us about being on Roadrunner.

Being on RoadRunner was cool and that label was really good to us. They had their office just a few blocks away from Vinny’s apartment and we would just show up there all the time and bullshit with everyone. I know all of the DIY people think we were on some big metal label and it probably turned some people off, but that label and the people who were a part of it were very down to earth, knew the scene, loved heavy music and believed in what we were trying to do.

Now, they are a business so of course they did what they could to make their money but what fucking label doesn’t? I can guarantee that the more trendy labels that are popular in hardcore are the same way, so don’t be fooled. If you really think that other labels are more interested in the artists and are more grass roots, you are confused. More bands get ripped off by “friends” or “indie” labels than labels with contracts and lawyers.

Madball in Europe drawing beards on their own promo posters, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson


Anonymous said...


Russ said...

Once again; fucking awesome. I've always loved the stuff Matt Henderson has been involved in and Madball Is one of the few things I can still stomach from the 90's. Loved One Voice since the day it came out! DCXX you've out done yourselves with this piece!

Burning Fight said...

Wow! great read, thanks.

Anonymous said...

awesome. double cross is out of control.

the mosher said...

road runner gets serious respect from me! always will. anybody that complained about that shit can go fly a kite. atleast they were NYC based, and embraced that hc crowd, and they knew what was up.

not looking forward to the final word on this piece.

Rezz said...

Let's not omit or forget the history of what really happened during this period of time with Minus and his band of goons. DMS and Mr. Minus played a HUGE role in the downfall of NYHC, contributed tremendously to the end of Sunday matinees, and most importantly created a feeling of fear among fans who just wanted to go see a show, dance and be left alone without having to worry about getting a tooth knocked out with a set of brass knuckles for bumping into the wrong guy on the floor. How many people dropped out during this period because of this?

Also, I can't get with the sentiment that 99% of the violent acts that were happening at shows during that time were justified and asked for. How can bringing knives and batons into the pit and flashing them around like little men not be construed as acts of violence towards innocent people?

Anyway, good interview. Great guitar player.

Anonymous said...

im not trying to stir anything up or cause any blame to be laid......but im curious because i wasnt there, and this seems like the place to discuss it. what was the early 90s new york scene really like? im reading what matt wrote and it seems like these notorious hard guys were just looking out for their friends and not starting anything.

but there there is the sentiment shared by rezz that makes it sound like these dudes were in fact looking for trouble, hurting people, ruining the nyhc scene, etc.

like i said, i wasnt there. but the one thing that comes to mind when hearing both sides is, how much of the hardness/fighting was illusion? for instance, if i see a couple prissy, pretty girls talking and laughing with each other driving in daddy's mercedes, i'm going to assume they are stuck up. maybe they are, maybe they arent. they may be sweethearts.

similarly, that early 90s ny scene sounds like you have scary looking dudes walking around looking sketchy as hell, even carrying weapons and bringing them to shows. on the surface, yeah, dangerous. but were they really out to fuck with people....? or were they just hanging out with their boys, being themselves, and in the process spawning bad wanna-bes who never realized maybe they werent all that bad?

i dont know if this makes sense, but matt seems like a level headed guy and his version of how his crew was is so much different from what you hear people say.

just curious, no need for this to get crazy.

Anonymous said...

Rezz is SO right... Minus and thugs like him were THE reason CBs stopped having shows. I remember seeing him at a Neurosis show (!) around '95 and he straight-up punched a girl in the face for absolutely no reason! Of course he was 'respectful' to Matt... he was in A.F. after all.

One can clearly see why bands like Quicksand, Fugazi, etc. started at that time period. Aside from being musicians who want to play something other than 3-chord mosh anthems, they were probably sick of seeing the hardcore scene turn into crap-metal music with a gansta-rap attitude...

adam said...

the early 90's in NYC made most people lose interest in HC as it became filled with thugs and wannabe thugs. I feel much the same was as Rezz. Of course they were cool to Matt, he was in AF with Roger and in bands with him.

i was there, i went to the shows, i stopped going to most nyc shows that didn't have friends bands playing or weren't at ABC-NoRIO because even though I had not problems personally with any of the mentioned people with interesting names, the fear of some stupid shit going down and people getting hurt for no real reason was quite a downer.

that and the fact that NYC became metalcore central probably contributed to its deadness.

there were some amazing bands coming out of NYC in the early 90's, but none of them imho had anything to do with DMS. ABC NoRIO saved hardcore in NYC in those days *for me*.

Tim said...

totally agree that one of the motivations towards the "post-hardcore" music was the violence at shows. In Boston, suburban shows became much more popular because they didn't have the violence of the shows at the Rat or Middle East. I have a clear memory of Converge's homecoming show at the end of the Forever Comes Crashing tour when Minus punched a girl in the face. Class act.

Jay Andrews said...

I was around and going to shows in NYC during the early 90's and I can tell you, that shit was dangerous. I never got screwed with, never got hurt too bad, but was always watching my back. DMS and Merauder, which was really the only NYC band that seemed to be claiming DMS at the time, were always at every show, diving feet first, stomping on heads, punching and smashing people randomly in the pit. It was a scary time to be going to shows in NYC, but I stuck it out and lived through it. Seeing Sick Of It All, Killing Time, Burn and Supertouch were worth risking your neck for if you were desperate for HC like I was. All the violence and dopey wiggers playing mindless mosh metal core I could have done without.

As for that ABC NoRio scene, it was cool that they had something consistent going on, but that place was a dump and unless you were in the clique, it wasn't a whole lot of fun standing around watching bands play on the floor. Some of those bands were good and some of those people that hung there were nice, but overall it was a dirty nerd fest.

The early 90's really were a tough time for NYHC!

Anonymous said...

How to keep it real in Hardcore?

Anonymous said...

Shitty political screamo/emo bands that's funny. You're a funny guy!

Anonymous said...

I remember when Minus first started hanging out and he was a pretty cool guy. He would listen to stories about the "old days" and really started to act like he had something to prove. the violence became more prevalent as he hung out more. Then came the DMS bullshit and you know how it ended.

I hate to be the purist but the scene changed before Minus. The music became more metalish and the old punk influences were pushed out for this tough-guy fantasy music that seemed to drive the scene. Then came the douchebags like Ebanks and the rest of the DMS and other gangs.

As for the violence not being directed towards innocent people. Yeah right, that's why Ebanks got his ass kicked for robbing an elderly woman on St. Marks. Did she have it coming? Gimme a break. I slowly stopped going to shows due to a combination of those idiots and a change in the music. It wasn't worth it anymore. I got along with those guys for the most part since I was an old timer and "worthy of their respect"(couple of small scuffles since I didn't intimidate too easily) but all in all they were douchebags with something to prove.

As for Madball...yeah they were ok but realistically where would they be without the AF connection. Just another metal band and H20...NKOTB of hardcore.

DT said...

What ever happened to Minus?