Interview: Madina Lake

As if Slam Dunk wasn’t already celebration enough, this year the annual event acts as a centrepiece to the return of teen rock icons, Madina Lake. The outfit have reunited to commemorate the tenth anniversary of their debut album ‘From Them, Through Us, To You’, stepping forwards and breathing life into a future that hasn’t felt this vibrant in years.

“I love new energy!” Matthew Leone proclaims excitedly. “It’s a festival culture [in the UK], and Slam Dunk has a very interesting format: they started out a small festival, they grew steady. That indicates to me that the promoters putting it on want to sustain something with longevity. I love that. It’s the perfect festival for us.”

Formed when he, his brother Nathan (both then performing as The Blank Theory), Mateo Camargo, and Dan Torelli (both then playing in Reforma) decided to forge a new vision together, the idea of fostering community has always been central to everything Madina Lake do. Their vision came to life in a trilogy of albums underpinned by a poignant world of fantasy, centred on the mysterious disappearance of a character named Adalia.

“We wanted to write a grandiose social diatribe about an artist’s position and where we felt it was heading,” Matthew portrays. “Then we started doing it.” Painting clues through their artwork, building plot points into their videos, and telling parts of the tale in their songs, before eventually releasing the whole concept as a book, Madina Lake offered a whole world, ripe for exploration.

“Nathan and Mateo would both work on getting the themes, and I’d sort of weave the narrative in and out of the songs,” the bassist details. “We had the whole conclusion in mind, so we were able to hide clues into the first, second, and third records to be solved.” Creating such an extended and enigmatic narrative for their fans to escape into, the course of their career has very much been “a journey.”

“The whole thing about the archetypal rock world, and being inside a venue,” Matthew starts, “the world outside closes. You’re in this fantasy realm. We wanted to create a whole dimension that you could sink into throughout the experience.” So that’s exactly what they did, and it’s exactly what they will continue to do as they return to stages this summer, indulging in – what Matthew terms with a laugh – “a little re-seducting.”

“We’re always late with everything, but we will always be around,” he asserts. “Our ambition, should we be successful in our performance, is to unify everybody’s energy, and channel it all into one vortex, one harmony,” he describes. “We want to re-illustrate why they engaged in the first place. We want to reignite that feeling that maybe they had the first time they saw us live. We want to re-seduce them.”

“I call them ‘holy shit moments’,” he laughs. “When you feel that feeling at a show… Whether you’re in the audience or on the stage, it doesn’t matter which direction you’re facing; you just feel like everything is okay. In life, as challenging as every day is, whatever you’re dealing with right now, everything is okay.” This energy that the group create on stage is one that’s inspired adoration in fans worldwide, and it all began ten years ago, with the release of ‘From Them, Through Us, To You’.

“I think one of the things that has always separated us from a lot of bands is that we devoted so much to our audience, our friends, our fans, whatever you want to call them,” the bassist starts. “I’ve never gotten used to saying the word ‘fans’,” he squirms. “We’re very community driven people. That’s what we tried to create – a community that would never die.” Ten years on, selling out shows thousands of miles from their home, that’s exactly the legacy the outfit have forged.

“Everyone says they don’t Google themselves, but I really don’t – I don’t think it’s good for me,” the musician laughs. “But when people send me messages, holy shit, there’s no greater feeling,” he exclaims. “When people say that they met their now husband or wife at one of our shows and that they have families now…” he trails off in a stunned silence. “That defines success. This is what I wanted to do. When I hear those things, I light up. I really appreciate it.”

Because that’s the kind of fan group Madina Lake have always inspired: people who would follow the clues, take up the winding trail from record to record, travel from show to show, and carry it with them, a part of the lives they lead. Writing songs that resonate with as much clarity and relevance now as they did a decade ago, it’s little surprise that adoration has endured.

“The issues around [‘From Them, Through Us, To You’] are issues that are not pigeonholed into a certain timeframe,” Matthew states. “The songs are about love and loss, the major components and challenges of life, both triumphs and tragedies, and these happen no matter when you were born throughout recorded history.” Describing the release as a record “about love and loss and hope and faith,” as well as being about “everything that we personally went through,” the group could not be prouder of the story they’ve created.

“We crammed a lot of life into our little bit of time here,” Matthew beams. “We’ve had a really wild ride.” But just because they’re commemorating their past, and their legacy doesn’t mean that story’s over quite yet. “We’re making this about celebrating the ten year anniversary,” the bassist affirms. “We’re really focusing on the reunion. However, we could not resist… We have written new music.”

“We ultimately got to a point where things were starting to crack, and we couldn’t sustain it,” he recalls of their decision to push pause on the project. “Now we’ve figured out how we want to deploy it into our lives in a way that’s not so taxing on real life.” Stating that “our plan is once a year to a new song or two,” and hinting towards annual shows – not unlike the Arlene Ball within their ‘Lila, the Divine Game’ trilogy tale – Madina Lake are back at their most invigorated.

“We want to celebrate what going to a rock show is like, and what being connected to a band and an audience is like, and make that an annual deal,” Matthew explains, excitedly. “One of the things we kept saying is that there will never be a last time you see us,” he continues. “This is us making good on our word. It’s so thrilling to see that our followers are there with us too.”

Taken from the June issue of Upset, out now. Slam Dunk takes place in Birmingham, Leeds and Hatfield from 27th-29th May.

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