Why Madina Lake Are Back And Doing Things For Themselves

Nathan Leone on Madina Lake’s “disappointing” ending, their return, and new EP The Beginning Of New Endings

Why Madina Lake Are Back And Doing Things For Themselves

It’s been nine years since Madina Lake’s last studio album – 2011’s World War III – but the Chicago emo/alt.rock favourites have never stopped working together. For frontman Nathan Leone and guitarist Mateo Camargo, in particular, the musicians continued to make a living in Los Angeles beyond the rock world by writing songs for commercials, movie trailers and for other artists. It was going well, but…

“You kinda start to look at yourself in the mirror when you’re writing as a robot or something,” laughs the frontman, chatting to Kerrang! from his home. “It’s a craft and I respect that, but it’s not that creative – it’s a very calculated and contrived process.”

By means of exercising his more authentically creative side, Nathan would find himself dipping his toes back into Madina Lake every now and again. And, along with Mateo and the frontman’s twin brother Matthew, the trio began to accumulate several new songs. Happily, they soon realised that, well, their hiatus was over.

“As soon as COVID hit, we were like, ‘Let’s delve in,’” the vocalist explains. “We’ve been talking about doing it for a while, but we’re like, ‘Well, we can’t tour, can’t play shows… let’s get the band back together!’ (Laughs) It just kind of dawned on us that now would be a good time to put our minds on something, lest we lose them! And it’s been amazing; we feel really positive and inspired with all of it. It’s the perfect end to the worst time…”

With new EP The Beginnings Of New Endings out next week, and a further five songs in the works for the next project, Madina Lake are well and truly back. Here, Nathan opens up about where he’s been – and, more importantly, where he’s going…

After Madina Lake went on hiatus, when did you first start to write new music for the band, and with what sort of frequency? “Speaking personally, I was really disappointed about how the whole thing ended. It was basically on account of Matthew’s injuries [in 2010, the bassist was hospitalised after intervening in a domestic violence incident; his injuries included a fractured skull and swollen brain]. He went through something awful, and he was just losing energy really quickly when we were touring. So I just pulled the plug; I was like, ‘I can’t have him go through this.’ So it always felt like we were forced out rather than ending on our terms. I think it took a year or two for me to move to Los Angeles afterwards – which is a whole other thing – and then when Mateo got here, and we started writing again for various projects, that was kind of the start of it. But we all have our separate lives, and it’s very busy these days, so it was hard to commit to anything. But every year-and-a-half, two years, we would trade ideas and dip our toes back in. I feel like the stars aligned this year in a new way: I don’t know, it felt like we needed to do it for ourselves. These are challenging times, so without something that you’re passionate about to put your energy into, I feel like it can be risky and not totally healthy. I think they were all on the same page, too, so it kind of answered itself, if that makes sense.”

So was it like, ‘We need to be selfish now and do this for ourselves’?
“Totally – and that’s also represented on [EP closer] Tiny Weapons, because it’s an eight-plus-minute song (laughs), which is very self-indulgent, if I may! Of course, nowadays, things happen like this and then they’re gone, and people want immediate gratification, and attention spans seem to be loose. It’s very antithetical to today, but it’s just a perfect example of us doing it for ourselves. I hope that people aren’t offended by that – an eight-minute song (laughs).”

It would have been easy to come back after all these years and hop onto whatever’s popular, so was it very intentional to make this extra-long song and do things your way?
“Well, I would say yes and no. It’s weird, because I would say when a band hits their stride or they’re firing on all pistons, a song can come together really quickly – almost like it writes itself. And otherwise, you can spend weeks or months on a song, like trying to jam a square into a circle; it’s not gonna work. We never set out to do a certain thing with that one; it was just all these ideas, and going, ‘Yeah, I like that, let’s keep going.’ Ironically, for a song that length, it came together really quickly (laughs). It wasn’t until recently, when I had to write lyrics for the record, and it was three pages’ worth of lyrics for this one – I was like, ‘Jesus, I don’t even remember half of this!’ But it came out very naturally, so it wasn’t calculated.”

Speaking of natural, the vibe of The Beginnings Of New Endings is very Madina Lake…
“I feel like the five songs on it emulate our first record [2007’s From Them, Through Us, To You]. And there’s this science that I’m going to completely butcher right now (laughs), but when you have a relationship with people, when you’re with them you exchange particles and energy, right? Like, just in a social environment. It’s all subconscious and invisible. You can be apart for 10 years or whatever, but when you come back those same particles are kind of reignited – which is a very ridiculously long way of saying that the chemistry seemed to remain in tact!”

Were you worried that the chemistry might not be there, because it had been such a long time between records?
“Yes! Absolutely (laughs). In terms of writing, I was just concerned that we wouldn’t have that creative spark, and I said, ‘If we don’t have music that I’m very passionate about, we’re not doing it.’ I kept telling everyone, ‘Don’t tell anyone or post anything online [and let people know what we’re doing] until we get to a place where I feel proud of the songs.’”

Were you also keeping much of an eye on the scene and the bands that you initially came up with?
“I was completely unplugged, and in a way, regrettably, I was also unplugged from music entirely. We were writing these very calculated commercial spots or the movie trailer stuff, and I couldn’t get really excited about those kinds of things: ‘jingles’ as it were. And so I stopped listening... I just stopped. It’s been weird. Recently I’m of course getting back into it, and I know that bands like My Chemical Romance are back, and Taking Back Sunday have been active. And I love to see that; I think that’s incredible. And what I love even more are the kids that come and support them. It’s like they never went anywhere, you know? It’s a magical thing: you can stop for 10 years and then turn back on, and everybody’s like one big family again, almost immediately. And that’s awesome, especially in such a contentious world these days. It’s really nice to have that kind of family, and to be a part of that.”

Are you enjoying music again now?
“I am! I’m slowly getting back into it. I love YUNGBLUD. He’s amazing. It’s great, and I feel like – and this might sound weird – when we weren’t making music, or we had songs that weren’t great or were not moving me, it would almost be like a bitter thing: I don’t wanna hear a great song that’s someone else’s, you know what I mean?! Because I’m a sore loser (laughs).”

What does the EP title, The Beginning Of New Endings, mean to you?
“It came from, again, this personal disappointment in how things ended up the first time around. I take a lot of pride in Madina Lake and everything we were able to do. We could see the world and meet these extraordinary people and be a part of this amazing thing. Because it ended on such an unfortunate note in my opinion, it’s been like this ghost limb floating around. What I really wanted to re-address was the ending. And now I want to make a record again, you know? At least internally within the band, that’s what I’m going to push for – making the next one a record, not an EP. And then we’ll go from there. We don’t have the bandwidth to drop everything and hit the road and go for it again in that way, but I don’t feel like we ever want to stop being creative together – if that makes sense.”

Have your goals and dreams for the band changed, and what are they now?
“Absolutely. Considering the current state of the world and the inability to tour, from what I understand we’ve got a big festival in the UK next year that looks like we will hopefully be playing. And the dream would be exactly that: to play a couple of festivals throughout the year, and a handful of club shows or one-offs, rather than four-to-six week tours. And then just continue to release music as it comes out. We don’t have the pressures or the limitations that we had back when we were beholden to a label and a manager, and an industry that wanted things that way. We’re making it up as we go – and that’s okay with me!”

What do you feel as though Madina Lake have to say in 2020? What is the message to both new and old fans?
“When I go online or look around, it feels like there’s a lot of tension out there, you know? Be it social media or literally and federally with nations – it seems like on every level, there’s this tension, and I almost feel like people almost looking for fights or something, and I don’t mean this in a bad way. They’re looking to be pissed off, or offended, or whatever. And I fully get that, but I think it’s unfortunate; it’s not a healthy way for people to live, personally. But, of course, what do I know (laughs). But, in terms of an artistic expression of what I believe, it’s always been more on the love side, and the, ‘Yes, we can all hate ourselves at times, but you are amazing, so take it easy!’ We always carried that message, and I feel like nowadays it’s even more important, because there’s a whole bunch of politicians raising hell, and there’s a bunch of media raising hell, but that’s not you as a person. I think joy is seemingly a thing of the past, and you’ve got to have joy in your life. You’ve got to find it and nurture it, and find people who reflect that upon you – and vice-versa. So, in terms of a message, I think it’s just a general unity, and appreciation, and gratitude – which has been in line with Madina from day one.”

Do you feel it’s almost your duty to be spreading this positivity?
“No (laughs). I think ‘duty’ implies that – and I’m very shy about it – our voice means anything to anybody, right? But, in that case, I suppose if in a hypothetical situation people needed to hear something, I would feel much obliged to push that [positivity], as opposed to what I think is readily available almost everywhere else, which is tension and the combative nature of things.”

What does the EP specifically say about you as a person in 2020?
“It says, ‘Help!’ No, I’m just kidding (laughs). Honestly, I think it says that I’ve felt like a 16-year-old kid my whole life, and, despite being much older than that, and with 10 years having gone by since we were active musically, I’m still an idiot (laughs). I’m still that 16-year-old! Things change, and the world around you changes, but it’s a lot harder to change a person. I think, in a lot of ways, I haven’t changed much – for better or worse!”

Are you nervous about coming back? Or just excited to be an active band again?
“I’m mostly excited, yeah. I’ve spent my whole life nervous about every single thing – like, with stage fright, we would play hundreds of shows that I can’t even count them, and all the way to the last one, I would be about to puke before going onstage (laughs). So, at this point, knowing that I don’t have to stage because of the whole plague and stuff, I’m not nervous… yet!”

Madina Lake’s new EP The Beginnings Of New Endings is out September 25. The band will be playing three livestreams across November 12-14.

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