Monday, March 29, 2010

Matt Henderson - Part VI, the final entry

Matt with Madball in 1995, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Here is the sixth and final installment in the massive Matt Henderson interview spanning his time in Blind Approach, AF, and Madball. This has been a really cool piece, be sure to check out the previous installments if you missed them.

MAJOR thanks to Nick Gregoire-Racicot who did this whole interview and was awesome enough to send it all to us. MAJOR thanks to Matt for all the photos, writing great tunes, and just being cool. Enjoy! -Gordo DCXX

Was there any label you wish you would’ve worked with but didn’t happen?

No. I am happy with what we did.

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

It's hard to sum that up to be honest. All I can say is that we were and still are really like family, and being in that band is something that I am definitely proud of.

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

The best thing was when we played shows where everything really came together. There were a lot of shows where I felt like we were bringing something that really stood out and people appreciated it as much as we did. It was always the smaller clubs too, like the Wetlands in NYC or the Rat in Boston. The place would be packed wall to wall, all of our friends were there with us, it was hot as hell, and everybody was on the same page for those 45 minutes or so (we always played short sets).

The worst thing was when the stress of touring or other life issues would affect us as people and bring the band down. It happened from time to time.

Madball in Europe, 1994, Photo by: Daniel Holsten

I know it’s a weird question but, how important would you say Madball’s legacy is?

I don’t know if it’s a weird question, but it’s a difficult one for me to answer. I can say that I am damn proud of Madball, and I know that we mean something to a lot of people who make up the hardcore scene. I, along with the other members of the band, recognize and genuinely appreciate that but I don’t want to turn it into an ego thing. The people that appreciate Madball probably do so because they relate to us as people, like the sound of the music, and have the same list of favorite bands that we do. But the hardcore scene has a wide range of styles and the band doesn’t appeal to everyone for one reason or another, and that’s cool. I think Madball definitely has their place in “the scene” and that’s that. 

"NYHC"...all the bands you have played with claimed it. Tell us who you remember being THE key NYHC folks at different times (late 80s, early 90s, throughout the 90s and today)-

Well, remember I grew up in St. Paul, MN and that is where I was during the late 80’s when NYHC began to really define itself. Being from the Midwest, the bands that had the biggest impact were AF as the ones that put NYC on the map early on, and then Cro-Mags, WarZone, Murphy’s Law and Sick Of It All. Underdog was another band that made it out to MN that had an impact. There was Youth Of Today, I personally was not a huge fan musically, but they definitely helped put NYHC on the map. Killing Time never made it out to us but ‘Brightside’ was the shit and a huge influence on me later. If you ask the guys who are NYC natives they would include bands like Leeway, Rest In Pieces, and Breakdown, but they didn’t make it out to the Midwest and were not as much of an impact on me.

Once you get into the 90s you have to give props to Biohazard. Everybody knows that they didn’t come from the original CBGB’s matinee scene of the 80s or from the L.E.S., but they paid respect to all of that, took influence from it and did their own thing. In 1990 when their first record was out and I was in AF we would play a lot of shows together. I watched their first headlining show at the Ritz in ’92 and when the chorus to ‘Retribution’ kicked in I thought the floor was going to cave in.

In the mid-90s it was Madball, Crown Of Thornz, 25 Ta Life, Merauder, H20 and Bulldoze. Vision Of Disorder from Long Island and Life Of Agony from Brooklyn definitely did their thing too.

Can’t forget Sheer Terror…Paul is a NYHC institution and they were a great band. He and the band stretch a wide period in NYHC from the 80s thru the 90s.


In 1992, One Voice, Just Look Around and Urban Discipline all came out. It seems like you guys were all boys and the sound was often similar. Was that the case? Give us your opinion on the following:

Biohazard: early days to later on, how did NYHC people see them? Any good stories about them? Favorite record?

We were all friends on one level or another. I mentioned that Craig was real good friends with the SOIA guys, especially Armand, and SOIA and AF toured together a lot when I first joined AF so I got to know them pretty well, and we all hung out at the same places in the city. AF and Biohazard did a lot of shows together in those days and we would hang out at each other’s rehearsal studios, play demos for each other, etc.

The point about Biohazard to keep in mind is that I don’t believe they ever classified themselves as “hardcore." They obviously were influenced by hardcore bands, and their style had hardcore elements to it, either lyrically or musically, but they were always their own thing. Early on when they were opening up for us I watched them play some great shows. If you listen to that first album I don’t think it does those songs justice. On record it didn’t make total sense to me but when I saw them do those songs live it was on. Eventually, more and more people caught on and when they headlined the Ritz, even the haters had to give them some respect after that because they killed it. Later on as they became more popular they were still friends of ours and made sure we all got in to their shows/backstage to chill, etc., and eventually we were opening for them. In my mind they were a band just trying to do their thing.

SOIA: favorite record?

My favorite SOIA record is Scratch The Surface by far. Right when I first heard that record I was really impressed by the production, the songs, everything. I know their first record is “a classic”, but honestly to me it sounds a little rough, as most band’s first records do. Just Look Around was a great record, but when Scratch The Surface came out it sounded like a band that had their shit down.

How do you see NYHC nowadays?

Because I am not in the city anymore it’s a hard call for me to make. AF and Madball still do it right in my opinion. The new Skarhead is slammin’, and a shot out to Setback NYC - they are the real deal for sure, and I know Bulldoze is playing out which is cool. Joey and Freddy have Black-N-Blue, doing shows and the radio thing so it seems like there is plenty going on but for a scene as a whole I can’t really comment because I am not there to experience it.

Matt and Freddy, 1993, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Who are the most important NYHC bands and why? What are some of the most underrated/overrated NYHC bands and why?

This response is going to be the most important NYHC bands “to me." There is a long list of bands with different styles that came out of NYC but these are the ones that had the most impact on me. First is Agnostic Front. My friends and I were into ‘Victim in Pain’ long before “NYHC” was a ‘thing.' It was just a great hardcore record in the collection, but it always stood out. I remember thinking the songs were amazing with the catchy chorus to the title song, ‘Facist Attitudes’ with the hard breakdown stomp and the slow, evil sounding ‘With Time’ was the shit. Then there was the inside of the record cover with Roger having the tattoo on his neck and the chain around his waist, Stigma with his chest-piece and Kabula wearing the "Skinhead” t-shirt.

And then the Cro-Mags came out and re-inforced the fact that New York had a style that was kicking the shit out of every other scene in the country. I think it wasn’t until WarZone with “Don’t Forget the Struggle, Don’t Forget the Streets” and Youth Of Today’s “Break Down the Walls” when “NYHC” was understood as a real sub-movement in American Hardcore, and by the summer of 1987 EVERYBODY was a skinhead and NYHC was the soundtrack for us.

Killing Time with “Brightside” was the band that added this metallic-groove to the music for me later. That record to me sounds like the city itself.

Finally, I have to throw Madball in there. We lived and breathed New York Hardcore and did our best to represent the good, the bad, and the ugly of it both on record and on stage.

Do you follow any modern HC bands? Anything that catches your ear out there? Things have changed a lot in the last two decades in our little HC world: what are the good/bad things about that?

I’m really not in the loop enough to comment much these days, but the contemporary bands that I dig are Terror and Death Before Dishonor. To me they sound like they have the same hardcore roots that I do but they still sound fresh and current. Trapped Under Ice is doing some cool shit too. I am going to turn 40 in a few months and I have seen a lot of cycles in hardcore and it is hard for me to tell if I’m the one that has changed or if hardcore has changed.

Then, there’s a lot of things that seem the same as they did 23 years ago and maybe some shit needs to change…but what I can tell you is that when I was a 17 year old kid the last thing I wanted to hear was some 40 year old motherfucker telling me what’s right or wrong about hardcore, so I don’t like to throw my opinion around too much. All I can say is if people are in it because they feel this is where they belong as a person and not because they like the way people dress than I’m all for it.

Madball and friends in Argentina, 1994, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Recording studio/guitar talk...When/how/why did you start doing Atomic Studio and why aren’t you doing it anymore?

When I left Madball I wanted to give recording/producing a try because I really enjoy doing it and saw it as my next move. I was friends with Dean Baltulonis who was in 454 Big Block and was also engineering at Salad Days in Boston and he was looking to get his own thing started so we teamed up. I asked Mike Dijan from Crown Of Thornz/Breakdown to join as well and we opened Atomic in 2000 in Brooklyn, NY. The problem for me was that I was having a really hard time with money and the studio could really only afford to pay one person. Dean was the best engineer by far so he was the guy with the full time position.

Owning a studio is hard because you need to keep business coming in to not only pay for the equipment and the space, but then also pay the people who run it, BUT nobody in hardcore has any fucking money so bands have a hard time paying for shit, and labels give you bullshit excuses and on, and on, and on. In the end I had to work a day job and let it go. Dean is still kicking ass though at Wild Artic in Long Island City, NY. He just did the new Skarhead and Trapped Under Ice and I think they sound amazing.

For the longest time, it looked like you used Jackson guitars…am I wrong? What has been your gear of choice through the many years you have played (amps, guitar, cab)?

Gear of choice, how about “gear I could afford." To be honest my sound was a constant challenge. I will say that the Jackson was a good choice in guitars – I only owned one, and used it from 1992 to 1998 and it’s the only guitar I own today. To me it is the perfect cross between a Strat and a Les Paul. It’s got some weight to it and feels real solid so you can dig into it but its not too clunky, and it's easier to play than a Gibson.

Amps and cabinets were always a hassle for me. I got stuck with the Marshall JCM 900 when I first joined AF because they stopped making the 800s. I had sold all my shit when I went to Boston for school and Roger was picking gear up for me in NY when I joined for the tour. He called me from Sam Ash and said “yo, they don’t make the 800s anymore and they have these 900s. Is that what you want?” I was like “yeah, I guess, it’s Marshall, what the fuck else am I going to get, a Fender combo?" Those amps sounded so shitty and I paid all this money that I didn’t even have yet, had to make it up on the tours, and I was miserable with them. I remember a few years later when I met Beto playing in DMIZE he had the 900 too and we shared our pain. I moved to a Mesa Boogie Mark IV for a minute after that which was cool, but it had inconsistent sound. Some nights it would sound amazing and other nights it sounded dry and weak. In the end the best sound I got was from a first generation Peavy 5150. If I could have afforded Mesa cabinets that would have been my choice because they handle low end much better than Marshalls which always break up and have too much mid, but Mesa cabs cost too much.

Scott and Matt with Blind Approach, 1988, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Who were your influences as a band and as a guitar player?

I have always been pretty all over the map as far as musical influences, but back then as a guitar player it was Eddie Van Halen, hands-down. I think that people take for granted today what he was doing back then, but I was actually listening to heavy music before “Eruption” came out, and when it did I was a drummer and it made me switch to playing guitar. I took lessons from this guy who used to be able to teach me any song off any record and when I played Eruption for him he was like “that’s gotta be done with a computer or synthesizer or something." I dug other guitarists too, but EVH had the most impact. Later, as far as bands go: Cro-Mags, AF and Metallica were the biggest influences.


Agnostic Front ceiling art in Europe, 1992, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Also, after writing such quality solos on One Voice, I was always surprised that there wasn’t even one solo on any Madball record. Someone obviously made a conscious decision somewhere about not ever including them. Was the idea to clearly get away from the more metal sound? Did you ever miss it?

It was a conscious decision. I worked very hard to nail those solos on One Voice and I am proud of them, but I think that solos take away from the overall point of the song in hardcore. Solos in music can have soul for sure, listen to John Coltrane or Stevie Ray Vaughn, but they are still a lot about musicianship, and hardcore is more about attitude than musicianship. Madball was trying to deliver impact through Freddy’s lyrics and the rhythm of the music and I think a solo thrown in the middle of that would be a distraction and sound out of place. I do miss playing solos sometimes though and that is why I am going to start a blues band and do Freddie King and Stevie Ray Vaughn cover songs. The band will probably only actually be me playing guitar by myself in the garage but it will kick ass. My boys will dig it too I think.

How do you want people to remember what you wrote?

I guess I’d like it to be remembered as being genuine. I never wrote anything that I myself didn’t want to hear, and I never tried to imitate something that I was not. 

Bandmates/people: say something good/bad/funny/what you remember about the following people:

Roger - Like an older brother to me. I have a lot of respect for him and he always looked out for me.

Will – like a same-age brother. Willy and I have a good time when we are together. Damn good drummer too.

Craig – another same-age brother. I actually lived with him, his mother and brother for a short period of time during the AF days so we are real tight. Gotta give a shot out to the bass playing too. Aside from Sick Of It All he does the Cro-Mags gig with John, AJ and Mackie, and he kills it.

Stigma – You mean the guy that wrote the riffs on Victim In Pain and Ball Of Destruction? Yeah, Stigma deserves a lot of credit for not only helping to establish New York Hardcore music, but for the fact that he was, and still is a big part of the spirit. I lived with him in his apartment in NYC as well for a period of time and he has always been a good friend to me.

Freddie – a heart of gold. I’ll always think of him as my little brother because I first knew him as a younger kid and watched him grow up. The loyalty that he has for his friends and family is amazing. And hands down one of the best front men in hardcore of all time.

Hoya – a great guy all around and another brother. Writes some crazy riffs, and truly one of the funniest people you will ever meet. He can get a whole room going.

Beto – We speak to each other almost everyday to keep each other sane. We are in the same boat as being kids who grew up playing in hardcore bands and that was about all we knew. Now we both work day jobs to take care of our families. You want to talk about “Hardcore Reality?" Support a family of four and cover a mortgage.

Mitts – great musician and great guy. We talk shop a lot about music, gear, bands, etc. I have a lot of respect for him because I know that he genuinely cares about the integrity of Madball and the music they continue to make.

BJ Papas – always has a smile on her face and so nice, even around all of us creeps. Takes great pictures too.

Mike Gitter – Mike’s a good guy. I had a problem with him early on because he did this review of One Voice when it came out and not only did he tear apart the record, he singled me out and blamed me specifically as the “Berklee College of Music Graduate” responsible for the death of hardcore, or some over-dramatic statement like that (note: I was only there for a year and a half when we did that record – didn’t graduate until years later). I can deal with criticism or even people hating my music but he made it seem a little personal and I didn’t understand that. He wound up being our A&R guy for RoadRunner later on and he actually apologized to me which I respected.

Dean – solid as hell as a human being and an amazing engineer/producer. We spent many long days/nights together working on records or managing the studio. He’s done some great sounding records and is on his way to doing more. Plus he is great to work with and probably one of the funniest people I have ever known, next to Hoya Roc.

Ian Larabee - rock solid, no bullshit, and has been a great friend over the years.

Mike Dijan – another rock-solid guy. A true ‘New Yorker’ and a great, great musician.

Rick Ta Life –We go way back and we were boys back in the day. I have not been in touch with him for some time but I wish him well.

A young skinhead Matt with Blind Approach, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson


Anonymous said...

Good shit! Im a sucka for nerdy ass guitar talk!

CC said...

this has been my favorite DxC feature - seriously. great answers.

Anonymous said...

This has been an unbelievable series of entries. I was fortunate enuf to see Madball at least 40 times from the DMS 7" era up until 2001 in NYC/NJ and they killed it every time. Best shows I saw were the night they filmed the NYHC doc at CIH. I grabbed the mic from Joe Bruno during "Last warning" who was happy to share it with me and got suckerpunched by some crab who also wanted to sing along. Joe bruno then proceeded to knock the shit outta homeboy, finish the song and dedicate it to chuck Valle who's birthday it was that night. BTSJ 97 at the Rat was amazing too. Minus used the whole front rows heads as speedbags numerous times, Boston Mike wasted everyone the whole set. "Get Out" got the craziest reaction I'd ever seen. Thanks Matt for all the fun I had with MB. Hardcore Lives!

chris said...

i felt i should share this:

i went through the 90s having no interest in that era of nyhc. i tried to avoid madball and that whole scene. no interest. i liked that first ep but that was it.

few years ago a friend kept telling me about madball, and that i'd like some of their stuff. it grew on me a little, but i figured these guys were just big idiots.

i started reading the first part of this interview expecting my thoughts to be quickly solidifed. they weren't. matt henderson turns out to be one of the coolest guys i've ever read an interview with. he seemed honest, real, and like a normal good guy.

i had never real heard blind approach, didn't go wild for later AF, but this interview had me listening to madball while i read and appreciating this guy, his contribution, and this little world of people that seem to look out for each other.

very well done and i'm sad to see it end. thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

henderson = underrated guitarist

the mosher said...

great piece...respect to all parties involved.

thefleX said...

Great great interview, a lot of interesting stuff I didn't know. Had to catch up on almost 2 months of Double Cross. Interviews like these makes me wish I'd have more time to read this blog every day