Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Matt Henderson - Agnostic Front / Madball part V

Matt with Madball at Dynamo, 1995, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

A crowd favorite at this point, here is part 5 with Matt Henderson. -Gordo DCXX

Any comments on the tour with Dog eat Dog and Downset that went down back then?

The Dog Eat Dog/Downset tour was a good time. We shared a bus with the road crew and Dog Eat Dog and Downset shared another bus. The shows weren’t that amazing but we all had a great time and really got along. We stuck together too, dealing with fools like nazis in New London, CT. I remember Ares from Downset and Freddy dealing with them, and then John from Dog Eat Dog spitting on them from the stage and then we all took turns before the night was over. That was another situation where I think the DIY types thought we weren’t playing the right clubs or talked shit because we had a bus, but fuck them. I know I had toured enough in my life and if my label was willing to front the money for a bus so I could sleep at night, I was taking it.

How was it recording with Jamie Locke at Brown Sound?

That was a good time. Brown Sound was a home studio in a sort of run down mansion in Northern Massachusetts owned by Dave Brown, the ex-guitar player for Billy Joel. That was a studio that Jamie did business with and the gear was good so that’s where we went. I was still in school so we would do it on the weekends and it was a mission to get there, especially for Freddy and Hoya coming from NYC.

Demonstrating My Style: the first all new LP (no re-recorded songs), again one of the most important record of the 90s. A really coherent record from start to finish. You guys were putting out records steadily, even though you were touring: how easily would you say it is for you to write songs?

It’s hard to write a full-length release that hits the nail on the head from start to finish, and Madball records were notoriously short, not because we couldn’t do it, but because we always felt that we had said everything already in the first 20 minutes. That record steered further away from the simpler style and pushed more into the groove style, but I always felt that was a big part of what New York brought to hardcore, and is an element that I felt was important to Madball. “Live Or Die” is one of my favorite Madball songs. We tried playing it live a few times but never felt like the crowd got it so we stopped.

Tell us more about the writing process in Madball: who did what? Did you write most of the songs or did Hoya write a lot of it too?

Hoya and I had that writing competition thing that helped push each of us to try and top the other guy to get the best song for the band. If I had to compare strengths vs. weaknesses I would say that he was better at writing the big, fat killer riffs and I was better at arranging the overall song, but we each did both of those things. I’m not trying to say that we were Lennon/McCartney or anything, but there is an art to writing good hardcore and I felt like we did a damn good job.

You can’t overlook the lyrics or vocal delivery from Freddy as a crucial part of those songs. I always thought that his lyrics hit the nail on the head and were as honest as you could get. I would be around to work with him on the songs to suggest things here or there, maybe help with some direction if he was stuck, but the true brilliance came straight from him. Early on he had “Fuck you – Fuck you – Fuck you and your system too” which ruled, and came straight from his heart (that kid meant it when he said Fuck You). I think later though he really evolved and wrote some amazing lyrics and developed more style. Two songs that stick out in my mind are “Still Searching” from Hold It Down, and “Tight Rope” from the NYHC EP. All him, and I had nothing to do with any of it. He really brought that near hip-hop feel that to me was crucial to Madball, but I’m not sure a lot of people feel it the way we do. It was never trying to be hip-hop, but you can absolutely hear the influence.

Finally, I gotta give props to Willy. When you listen to Demonstrating My Style, I think the songs are great, but the drums are the best thing on the record overall. He had groove, hit hard as hell and had this finesse all at the same time which is a hard mix to find in a drummer. Finding a drummer to match him was always difficult, but Riggs, and now Ben definitely hold their own and have the right feel for the band.

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

How did you guys end up working with Victory and how was that relationship?

Tony is an old friend of mine from the Blind Approach days, and I called him up to suggest doing a 7” with him. He was into it, but we both knew that Madball was going to stay on RoadRunner for the next full length (Look My Way) so there was not much point in working too hard on either side for that one. I kind of forget why we even did that to begin with, but my point is I didn’t work with him enough to develop an opinion on the label. I think the 7” is great, but we didn’t tour off it or care how much it was or was not promoted on his side. 

Look My Way: The album felt a lot more metal and technical, and maybe the tempos were slower in general: any words on that?

It’s funny that people say it was a lot more metal, when I always considered songs like "Set It Off" and "New York City" to be metal as hell, but everybody says it still. I think the record has an overall “dark” quality to it that adds to the vibe people pick up on, and I think that had more to do with where the band was at personally during that time than a deliberate decision in style change.

Also, this is the first album you started being involved on the production as much, how did that come about, and why did you decide to hit up Salad Days and record with Dean instead of Locke/Brown Sound?

Dean was a good friend of mine and I liked what he was doing at Salad Days. The band also got a pretty big push from Monte Conner, head A&R at Roadrunner, to move away from the Locke/Brown Sound formula. That’s not to say we were forced, but he expressed his opinion of the production from Locke/Brown Sound as being a sound that was not always fitting for a band that had the rawness of Madball and that it was a little dated (Best Wishes was recorded in 1988 and it was now 1997). I agreed with him in a lot of ways and respected Monte for coming to us directly about it. Plus, that guy is no dummy. He discovered and developed some of the best bands in heavy music like Sepultura and Obituary, and he was acting more as a fan of the music with his opinion than anything else.

I took it as an opportunity to give Dean a shot as well as give myself a little more control and hands-on experience. That recording had its issues though as Salad Days had some issues with equipment and it was Dean’s first project of that scale, but I like the sounds we got for the most part and I think Dean did an amazing job. Every once in awhile I put it on and there are some sounds on it that I really like. Unfortunately, it hurt my relationship as friends with Jamie Locke, but it was not something I thought he should have taken personally. Monte actually offered to let Jamie know that we would not be working with him but I said no, so I was the one that called him up to explain it to him. It was just time for Madball to move on.

Hold It Down: This was released on Epitaph. What did you think of that match between label and the band?

A label is a label is a label. I was not “officially” in the band when that decision was made and didn’t deal with the label the way those guys did so I really can’t comment, but from what I understood, Madball was approached by them and if I was in the band at the time I probably would have went with it as well. That label has history in punk/hardcore, just not NYHC, and so what? They seemed to do pretty good for Roger and AF at that time, and when I met the A&R guy he seemed genuinely interested in what he was hearing while we were in the studio. In the end it’s all the same though, the label wants to make money and spend as little as they can to do so. I don’t really blame them, it’s a business. A business that I am glad I’m not a part of anymore.

Please tell us what you feel are Madball’s best albums overall and why.

I’m pretty sure that most people consider Set It Off our best album, but I don’t. I think that those songs were great and it was an exciting time for the band, but as a recording it's not my favorite. Out of all the records we did, I love all the songs, but for best recorded performance my vote goes to Hold It Down. That was the one record where we had everything in place, vocals and music, and played the songs like we were live on stage. I feel like that energy came across real well on that record. It was the same with the NYHC EP. We switched our method up a little bit and actually recorded every song with Freddy singing along to get the full vibe for each take. I would recommend that technique for any band.

Tell us about shows that stick out in your mind, stand out memories or stories that are a sign of the times.

Again, so many shows, both good and bad….I remember playing a show in CT that Jamie Jasta booked at this indoor skate park. Set it Off had only been out for a minute and we were getting one of our first good crowd reactions from the songs off of the record. About 2 ½ songs into the set the PA went out. We did the rest of the set with Freddy using no mic and the crowd all sang along and it was great.

I remember playing a festival in Holland in 1996 and it was an all day event with a huge mix of bands. The band that went on right before us was Los Lobos. We all hung out on the side of the stage to watch them and it was cool. Those guys are the real deal, and when they walked off we shook hands and told them we enjoyed the show. We got setup and started our set, Freddy gives them a shot out and I notice their bass player on the side of the stage watching us. He’s nodding his head to the music and he runs back to get the rest of the band and pretty soon the whole band is hanging out watching our set. The bass player was especially feeling it and when we finished he walked up to me to shake my hand and said “I LOVE the way you Vatos play.” Respect.

Last one. We were on tour in the US, headlining during the Demonstrating My Style days with no support traveling with us, late 1996, and we were hitting some real remote places and not the typical clubs that hardcore bands would play. We were in the Southeastern part of the states and it was hurricane season. I think it was somewhere in South Carolina and the club was this little place that had like a surf/beach theme going on and NOBODY was there. The promoter figured that no one was going to show up because of the hurricane and he was right. So we set up and played anyway to ourselves and our two roadies (R.I.P 2 Hip). I remember Freddy in bare feet. We were all drinking and talking shit and just hanging out. Plus, we actually got paid that night.

Madball in Europe 1994, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Who were your favorite/least favorite bands to tour with?

We did a European tour with Turmoil in 1995 and those guys were great. The Madball/Crown of Thornz European tour in 1995 of course was a lot of fun. A year later we toured with Ignite and that was crazy. We had a lot of fun and I still keep in touch with those guys. Zoli was in my wedding, and I just went to Casey Jones’ (original drummer) house here in Long Beach for his twins’ 1st birthday party. We did a few tours with Earth Crisis and those were always good times.

I think everybody else in the world expected us to not get along but we hit it off right away and are great friends still today.

We were always pretty lucky about getting along with the bands we toured with (the fights were always with the bands we weren’t touring with), and most of the time we wound up being friends long after the tours ended. It’s funny because a lot of people expected us to be these dick/New York tough guys and that we would be hard to get along with, but we never behaved that way. We always shook hands and introduced ourselves right away to everyone we traveled with expecting to find some common ground somewhere regardless of how different our sound, style, or whatever.

The only time I remember having a hard time relating to a band was when we were with the Refused in Europe around 1996-97. There were obvious differences between us and them not only as a band, but also as people. I felt like we got along ok until the last day of the tour. On the last day of any tour, bands that tour together will usually swap merch with each other, which is what we did too. I remember the singer and one of the other guys heading over to our merch table then coming back towards me wearing the “girlie” t-shirts, and they fit them real tight, well not too tight because those dudes were pretty thin. The singer walked right up to me and said “You see Matt. We are not into that macho thing that you guys are into.” I was a little surprised by the fact that he felt the need to wear a shirt that we printed up to sell to girls just to make a point. I just let it go, but what it said to me was that he focused much more on our differences than we did.

Madball 1995, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Old beef stories you’d like to talk about that fans like me would love to hear?

I’m not going to try and come off like a tough guy here. I mean I can take care of myself, but I wasn’t really one of the heavy hitters, and I am an old man with a day job and 2 little boys now, so beef isn’t really on my mind these days, but I can get a little worked up if I think back. There are some well known beefs that I sometimes want to set the record straight on because the other side talked SO MUCH shit (and probably still does), but I won’t out of principle. All I will say is Madball as a band and as individuals always gave people the benefit of the doubt and were respectful to others. It wasn’t until the other side started up with their nonsense out of being insecure about their own fake tough guy image being exposed, or they wanted to impress somebody else around them by taking a jab at us, or they were just too fucking stupid not to know any better. That’s what created beef and I feel like we were always justified when it got handled.

When and why did you decide you were not touring anymore?

I decided I was not touring anymore because it all got to be too much. Being in a band as a touring musician is not an easy way to live and I just got tired of it. Madball is my heart and soul and it was extremely difficult to make the break, but I had to do it to focus on other things in life besides touring. To this day Freddy, Hoya, Willy, Roger, Vinny, Craig – we all consider ourselves family and are still in close contact, so even though I’m not in the band the bond is still there.

Matt and Freddy goofin' off, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

What became your role in Madball towards the end? How much were you involved in the writing process?

As far as writing and recording Hold It Down, I was in the band. It was just the same dynamic as all of the other records. I was really happy to get that opportunity because I think the songs on that record are slamming. The NYHC EP was done in the same way. After that I was brought in a little for Legacy but real informally. Like I have been saying, writing a full length is not an easy task, and I was still living in NYC at the time so we would talk every once in a while just to catch up on whatever and it was like “why don’t you come by the rehearsal studio to check out what we got going on and hang out.” It wasn’t like “come write songs for us." So, “Behind These Walls” came from a night of hanging out.

Infiltrate The System is all them and they nailed it, so it’s all good.


Onno said...

Los Lobos digging Madball, cool!

Anonymous said...

this thing is still awesome

Tony said...


Anonymous said...

Great read and Matt seem like a solid dude. I remember meeting Freddy for the first time after a show, I introduced myself, and he was super cool and continued talking to me even after I wanted to leave...great guy. lol

Madball - one of my faves for sure.

Russ said...

Jeez I mean I always liked Madball and all but after this interview I think I like them even more! Seriously Matt Henderson appears to be one of the classiest dudes in hardcore!

Sergeant D said...

Awesome interview! Every time I talked to anybody from Madball they've always been super chill, nice, friendly and respectful to everybody. It was always the uptight "No Fun Club" fuckheads like Refused and all those other screamo bands that were the biggest dicks.

Anonymous said...

fuckaduck not a bit overboard with the AF worship alreay? They released 1 1/2 decent record already.. legendary my ass and dont get me started on mad-fuckin-ball, this site is turning into the Jersey Shore of xHxCx

Anonymous said...

hahaha refused hahaha


"this site is turning into the Jersey Shore of xHxCx"... that is seriously a hilarious comment although I'm not sure I even know what that means.

I'll see if I can round up the boys from OPEN EYES, IN TOUCH, ON TOP, STAND BACK and SOMETHIN' ELSE and really make DCXX the Jersey Shore of HC.


eric said...

once again DC delivers

intigs said...

Matt's interviews always makes my day, but if you want to hear from the greatest storyteller, you guys have to get in touch with Craig Ahead - when I was on tour with S.O.I.A. he was in his late twenties and already had the legendary tales of a old man that lived thru it all...

C'mon! Craig Ahead on DCXX!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for digging the interview guys. And I definitely agree - GET CRAIG to do an interview! I got to spend a few hours w/ him last week in Anaheim, CA w/ The Cro-Mags and we got to catch up on a lot and we were laughing most of the night. That guy has some shit to say.

Matt Henderson
J.S.H.C (Jersey Shore Hard Core)

djabthrash said...

Killer ITW ! A lot of interesting info for us NYHC fanboys here.