Interview: Madball

While recently touring the UK, Faye sat down with Madball frontman, Freddy Madball, in Leeds, where they discussed: the band’s longevity, whether “Growing up in New York doesn’t mean shit anymore.”, Madball’s next record, Freddy’s hip-hop career, religion, and a whole lot more. Here’s what went down…

Faye: You’re in the middle of a UK, how’s it been going?
Freddy: So far, so good. We haven’t done a proper UK tour in a little while, and I think it’s going well. We’ve had a few sold out shows, for the UK and for hardcore, I think that’s a good thing, so, so far, it’s going as planned.

Faye: You’ve had some drummer issues, I understand Ben Dussault (ex-Throwdown) has been your drummer for a while now?
Freddy: Yeah, Ben from Throwdown is our drummer, at the moment, and we’re just trying to feel things out, you know? He came to help us out, before him, we had Mackie from Cro-Mags, he’s a dear friend, but he got a little bit busy with Cro-Mags, so we had to go our separate ways just because it was getting a bit too much with the schedules, but he’s my boy. Ben came into the mix, and he’s been very helpful, so we’ll see where we’ll go from there.

Faye: So, he’s not a permanent member?
Freddy: It’s hard to say, I mean, Mackie has gotten super busy with the Cro-Mags, so I don’t really see that happening again, but Ben has been helping us, I don’t know if it’s going to be permanent . He’s a fan of the band and he was drumming for Throwdown for years, so he knows what he’s doing, it’s been good for us.

Faye: Madball has been together as a band for 20-years and still going strong, touring pretty much non-stop, why is it that most modern hardcore bands don’t seem to last more than a few years?
Freddy: It must be something. [laughs] Something that keeps us around. I don’t know, I guess, it’s been 20-years, but when the band first came about and was born, so to speak, I was, personally, very, very young and so we weren’t actively touring until probably the early nineties, but ever since then we’ve been actively touring. We had a little hiatus in 2000-ish, for a year-and-half to two-years, but I guess you can say we’ve been pretty much active for that amount of time. I don’t know, our music is sincere, that’s the only thing I can attribute to it and our style is unique, that’s only really the thing I can think of. We didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but we definitely did our own brand of hardcore and maybe the fact that it’s unique in that way and that we’ve stuck with it, and we’re honest with our music and, I guess, we put on a decent live show, I guess all those factors have given us that longevity. We’re still fairly young, all things considered [laughs], we’re like the young veterans, I guess you can say, we’re like the younger batch of the veteran bands that are still around doing it.

Faye: I find that it’s the old school New York hardcore bands who are lasting, why do you think that is?
Freddy: New York hardcore, because we’re the best! [laughs] Nah, I mean, I don’t know, I think, like I said, for example, you have Agnostic Front, Sick of It All and then I think Madball would fit in right after that, everyone has their own unique style, but we all still represent one genre and I think we all do it well. We’re the representatives of that movement and it’s not even just a New York thing, we’ve all travelled the world, so we’ve got that global following and that keeps us moving forward.

Faye: You said Madball would fit in after Sick of It All and Agnostic Front, who would fit in after Madball, if anyone?
Freddy: I mean, there hasn’t really been a New York band, as of recently, that’s really jumped out and done anything really, really mind-blowing, but New York is a Mecca for a lot of things, so I wouldn’t be surprised if any day now a band will come out of there that will make some noise and represent hardcore, but, at the end of the day, I’m not going to get fixed on the New York thing. I mean, I love New York, that’s where my heart is, but there’s a lot of great bands from all over our country and all over other places in the world. There’s great bands from Boston, L.A. and all over the world, it’s not just about New York.

Faye: What do you think about these hardcore bands today, adopting the NYHC sound, but also faking the NYHC lifestyle that’s attatched to it, of being from the streets and such?
Freddy: That’s a good question, I mean, I think anybody who’s false advertising, for lack of a better word, I think they really need to consider what they’re doing, they have to be careful, so they don’t get themselves in a position where they might get called on it. With me, it’s always like, and I’m speaking for Madball, we’re going to put out there what we know we can back up and, outside of that, I can’t vouch for anything else. You’ve got to walk it like you talk it, as clichéd as that may be. I think that applies to different genres as well like hip-hop, especially, and hardcore, especially, because it’s all street born, but just music, in general, if you’re not honest about what you’re doing, then eventually it’s going to come out in the wash.

Faye: When I interviewed H2O in August (check it), they said, there’s “one Madball and a billion badballs.” Do you agree?
Freddy: [laughs] I don’t know if I necessarily agree, but, I mean, Toby’s my boy, I love him to death and we’ve been friends for many, many years, so he knows first-hand, he’s watched us grow as a band, but also knows us on a friendship level and even on the street level, amongst our people, so he understands it way more intimately than maybe others would and that’s why they said it. I don’t know [laughs], maybe there’s a little truth to that, but I don’t know if it’s to that extreme.

Faye: I would like to know your thoughts on this, I recently read an interview with Rob Sullivan from Ruiner and he said, “Agnostic Front or Cro-Mags, those days are fucking over. No one is growing up in hard fucking cities. Growing up in New York doesn’t mean shit anymore.” Would you agree?
Freddy: No, I would strongly disagree. For me, I don’t think that just because you grew up in New York, or wherever, automatically makes you a good person or a good band, for that matter, I’ll that much myself, I don’t care if you’re from New York. If you’re not a representing hardcore properly or you’re not a good band, then you’re not, I don’t care where you’re from, but on the flip side of that, the way that was presented, was like, you’re basically dismissing some very important figures. They’re people who actually helped build this scene, Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags, especially, and actually lived in the streets on the Lower East Side and were around when hardcore was just a very, very small community, people coming from punk rock and whatnot, they were there in the beginning stages when that whole genre was actually being created, so to put them in same sentence and say it doesn’t matter if you’re from New York, then I actually take that as a dis. You could have used another city to reference that or just made it more general, but when you say it like that, in a sentence like that, it’s sort of offensive – not sort of offensive, it is offensive. I bet all the money that I have, which isn’t as much as I’d like to have [laughs], that, that person who said that would not say that to my face. I bet any amount of money. I bet other people’s bank accounts, because I have that much confidence that they wouldn’t say that in front of me or my brother or John Joseph, because they know we’re real. That’s a dis to the old school trying to get a shine. You see, I’m the guy that bridges the old school to the new school, so I’m taking offence for both sides, I’m taking offence from the old school’s perspective and from the new school perspective. I’m offended by that.

Faye: I think he was saying it in regards to Trapped Under Ice and the whole thing about them not really being from the rough streets of Baltimore.
Freddy: They’re good kids and they’ve got a good style, I know those guys, they toured with us recently, in the States, they’re good guys and they’ve got good energy, they’re a good, buzzing band. Do they have the same background we have, personally? No, but not necessarily everyone needs to have that background, in that respect, I agree with it. You don’t have to be from New York City and you don’t have to have a certain upbringing to put out good, genuine music, that’s not what I’m saying at all, but at the same time, don’t disrespect the foundation, don’t disrespect where it comes from, because then you’re going to be off on a bad foot. Trapped Under Ice, they’re a good band, I think they have a lot of potential and I think they’ll do well. Have they gone through some of the stuff me and my people have gone through? Probably not, but it doesn’t make them bad people or a bad band at all. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about that. I never got hung up on the tough-guy thing, other people got hung up on that, I, personally, never did. I was always just speaking the truth.

Faye: So, you released released Infiltrate The System in 2007, and I understand you’ve been working on a new record, is it done yet?
Freddy: Not done, that’s the reason why we didn’t put it out this year, we originally wanted to put it out in 2009 and some label things went on and some personal stuff went on, nothing really super negative, but just things that happen, so it sort of put things on a back burner, but I think for the right reasons, to be honest. We shouldn’t rush to put out something, we should take our time with it and put out the right product. It’s a pivotal time in our lives and in our careers doing Madball, we’ve been around for 20-years, we got respect from the old school, we got respect from the new school, and respect from other genres, but we really have to prove ourselves with this next album, so there’s no point in rushing.

Faye: You don’t believe you’ve got nothing to prove despite everything you’ve accomplished?
Freddy: No, not so much, we’re passionate about what we do, so, yeah, we want to prove ourselves, but I’m not going to put it out in 2009 and force it to come out prematurely when I know in 2010 it’ll come out much better, actually.

Faye: You’ve got a quite a few albums under your belt now, what album would you recommend to someone listening to Madball for the first time? Is there a particular album that you feel defines the complete sound and ethos of Madball?
Freddy: That’s a tough one, of course, I want to say the last two, because when you’re doing it a long time, we’re personally more excited about doing the recent stuff, because it’s newer to us and the generation that’s coming up now, it’s their stuff. It’s hard to really find a definitive one, I would say maybe Legacy or Infiltrate The System or the new one that’s coming. [laughs]

Faye: I’ve seen some harsh reviews of your records, saying it’s just stuff tough-guy, chugga-chug stuff with little substance, how does that make you feel?
Freddy: I gotta say this, for the most part, we’ve probably got more positive feedback, percentage-wise, if you really broke it all down over all the years, so it’s like that old saying goes, ‘you take the good with the bad’, it is what it is, you’re not going to be able to please everyone and not every single person is going to understand what we’re putting out or even hardcore, for that matter. You’ve got people that sometimes review our albums that are sort of clueless about our genre, or even our history or background, so they’re coming into it blind. What they may view as ‘little substance’ may mean a lot more to someone else, because I think Madball has always had a lot of substance, actually. I think that’s why we’re still around. I keep it straightforward and I keep it simple, in a sense, but the stories are maybe more complex than what people are given them credit for, because, actually, everyone assumes that everything that I’m talking about in my lyrics pertains to the hardcore scene or whatever, and that’s not necessarily always the case. I may be talking about a childhood thing, a lot of the time I’m talking about things that have nothing to do with hardcore, but things people, in general, can relate to, but there are people that are going to pre-judge because of our image or whatever you want to call it or because of our background or because of this and that, because we are a hardcore band, representatives of the hardcore scene. People are going to pass judgement because really reading the lyrics or really breaking things down. People sometimes just skim through it and think, “This is just this.”, but there’s a lot more to it than that, actually. If they actually sat there and listened, paying attention, you might get what a lot of other people are getting out of it, and that’s all I’ve got to say, but, at the end of the day, it’s like with everything, we’re not going to be able to please everyone 100%, that’s just life, that’s just music. Some of the best artists in the world have gotten horrible reviews, it is what it is.

Faye: You’re known to have this tough-guy persona and sound, but you seem like a pretty chill dude, where does the aggression come from?
Freddy: You don’t want to know. [laughs] The aggression, it’s just from experiences and experiencing certain things in life, in general. Everybody has a different story and everybody has a different upbringing, and some are similar and others are completely different, but our aggression, for better or for worse, is genuine, but that doesn’t necessarily make us bad people. Hardcore has always been an aggressive form of music, it’s always been an outlet, it’s always been that place where you go and leave that aggression, sort of therapeutic, really – if you think about it. So, if you go by that, we’ve done the right thing, because we’ve come and relieved a lot of our tension and aggression and things we’ve gone through in our lives through our music, and I think that’s another reason why people respect us. We’ve also relieved it outside of our music, which is not always good [laughs], but it’s part of who we are. As much as we can be aggressive in certain situations, we’re also very courteous and very respectful and very loving. It all depends what the situation is and how people are approaching it.

Faye: Would you say Madball has much of a female fanbase?
Freddy: I don’t know, just because in hardcore, in general, it’s male dominated, but I think there’s definitely female fans out there, without a doubt. I think now more than ever, in hardcore, in general, over the years, there’s more of an influx of women and that’s great, just because I appreciate diversity. I want to see men, women, black, white, Hispanics, to me, that’s what hardcore is about. It’s not about just a bunch of bald dudes hitting each other in the teeth, even though that’s what the perception is, to me, it’s more than that. I enjoy the diversity factor and the fact that over the years it’s become more open to people. Women have good taste in music, my wife has superb taste, she has an ear for music and for things that are good. She’s not a hardcore girl, but now she likes Madball. [laughs] I’m just saying women have good taste, so if there’s more women involved, that’s cool.

Faye: Are you religious at all?
Freddy: Somewhat, yeah, but that’s a tricky one these days, because I am religious to a point, but I also question religion, so I’m sort of a torn individual when it comes to that, but I grew up Catholic and I respect the culture. I do respect the traditions, to a point, if I go by a Church, I do the sign of a cross, I like crosses, I like Catholic images, it gives me a comforting feeling. However, I also dislike the political stuff and the corruption and the bullshit, so I’m very torn.

Faye: How do you feel about all these hardcore bands today with upside down crucifix’s in their logos and anti-God lyrics, does that offend you at all?
Freddy: I think they’re going for shock value, I think it’s corny, in a way, but, then again, I’m all for freedom of expression, so I try not to pass judgement. If I was going to pass judgement, I would have punched about 50,000 people in the face already that I’ve met in my life through music, all these metal heads with upside down cross shirts. I’ve met great people who have upside down crosses on their shirts representing death metal or hardcore or whatever it is. I try not to judge people by a symbol, I try to judge them by their character and the way they carry themselves and most of the time, when you see stuff like that, it’s just people trying to be shocking, “Oh look at me, I’m crazy, I’m the devil worshipper”, it’s like, “Nah, you’re probably not, you’re probably afraid a lot of the time about things” in general.

Faye: You’ve got a hip-hop side project and just released Catholic Guilt, what does that mean exactly?
Freddy: It’s just when you feel guilty about everything you’ve done. I call it Catholic Guilt, but I think it can apply to various religions and it can apply to how people were brought up, in general. It’s like they’re made to feel bad about a lot of things, like if you don’t go to Church every Sunday, you’re a bad person and going to hell, that’s bullshit. That can’t be true because if what if you’re a good person and you don’t go to Church ever? But you’re just a good person, that can’t be right. It’s also like when you do bad things and you grow up in a Catholic household, you’re damned, you’re already like, “Oh, well, I’m fucked, I’m going to Hell.” Excuse my language. But I’m Catholic, I’ve done this and that, so it’s a done deal, but, really, should it be that? And if you do a certain amount of band things in your lifetime, doe that necessarily make you an evil person? These are all the things I talk about in my new album, I question all these things. Am I evil, though? Because I’ve done all these good things, but I’ve done bad things. I’m Catholic because that’s how I was brought up, but I haven’t been a great example for Catholics, there’s been moments where I have been, but there’s been a lot of moments where I haven’t been. It’s the whole guilt thing, society and religion, especially, puts a guilt trip on you and you just have to take it how you take it or you can be guilt ridden for the rest of your life. It’s just one of those tough, tough things.

Faye: Would you say the songs in Catholic Guilt are lyrically different from what you write in Madball?
Freddy: It is. I mean, it’s similar because it’s me and I write 90% of the lyrics for Madball since our first LP, so you’re going to find some similarities subject-wise, because I’m talking about real stuff, about life, about my experiences, about people close to me and their experiences about real stuff, so you can definitely pull and find some similarities, but it’s sort of a different approach, but the whole Catholic Guilt angle, it’s slightly a different angle. With hip-hop, you play with words more, so I’m definitely talking about different things. There are similarities because it’s still me, I call myself Freddy Madball. I had the option to call myself anything, it could have been whatever, the Ninja [laughs] I could have Christened myself with any other name, given myself a hip-hop moniker, but I decided to go with Freddy Madball, because, in the music world, that’s how I’m known. Whether it be metal, hardcore, whatever it is, people know me as that, hip-hop is as much a part of me as hardcore, I want people to know who I am, just in a different format.

Faye: Have you had a positive response from the hip-hop world?
Freddy: Very much so, very much so. I’d like to think that when I do something, no matter what I do, I try to represent it well. So, when I do hip-hop, I want to represent that properly and I want to do it well, and I hope I’ve done it justice, because I’m a big fan of hip-hop. The same thing with hardcore, when I do hardcore, I want to do it properly, I want to represent the genre as it should be represented. I’ve gotten very good feedback from hip-hop, people are actually pleasantly surprised and shocked, saying it doesn’t even sound like me, and that’s sort of what I was trying to accomplish, so I hope that continues and I hope people can appreciate that for what it is.

Faye: Speaking of side-projects, can we expect anything else from Hazen Street?
Freddy: I’ve been getting asked that question a lot recently, Hazen Street is still alive, it’s just one of those things that’s been put on the back-burner, because of everything else. Everyone is busy with their own bands and various side-projects and whatever, so it’s tough to get together to do a Hazen Street album, because we’ve got so many people that are busy, doing so many different things. Eventually, we will do another Hazen Street record.

Faye: So, what’s next for Madball?
Freddy: Nothing until 2010, this is the last tour of this year, the end of the year is upon us, so we’re just going to get back, try to finish this album, put it out and see what next year brings. We’ve got a European tour coming up, called the Rebellion Tour, that’s end of February into March, and that’s us, Terror, Death Before Dishonor and Cruel Hand. That tour was sort of the brainchild of myself and Scott Vogel (Terror), while we were on tour together in America, we got talking about doing something in Europe and that’s where that was all spawned, I sort of just took it and made it happen.

Faye: Change the record, who should we be listening to?
Freddy: Cruel Hand, they’re good guys, they’re youngsters, but they’re a good batch, good eggs. All the bands on that tour, Death Before Dishonor, Terror, Wisdom In Chains, Knuckledust – old school English band. Don’t forget the O.Gs, the Sick of It Alls and the Agnostic Fronts, because you can’t have one without the other, even if Agnostic Front isn’t your favourite band, you’ve got to at least appreciate what they built and what they’re doing, so listen to the old and listen to the new, cover all your bases.

Faye: I think that’s about it, do you have any final words?
Freddy: Thank you very much.

Faye Turnbull.

Many thanks to Freddy, for more information on Madball, visit: www.myspace.com/madball

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