Madina Lake: Inside the house of cards

Alternative rockers Madina Lake can be seen as the single greatest success story of 2007. Shortly after signing to Roadrunner Records, the band began with a headlining tour promoting the band’s debut offering From Them, Through Us, To You. This was followed by a full summer run on Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution Tour, then a whirlwind trek to Europe and back to America for an outing with Mayday Parade.

There’s no rest for the wicked, either. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, The Fox and Lion Hotel in Sydney seems to be the most appropriate place for Madina Lake to finally replenish and relax over local beers. They’ve just come from an AFL lesson with Sydney Swans acclaimed player Peter –  “Spida’ Everitt. After much kicking, punching and scoring, Madina Lake demonstrated a more athletic release of energy, outplaying fellow RoadRunner Records artists Still Remains.

“Being in Australia and having an afternoon off to learn how to play AFL with Spida – it’s incredible, we are having the time of our lives right now,” admits bassist Matthew Leone. He and his bandmates – twin brother/frontman Nathan Leone, guitarist Mateo Camargo, and drummer Dan Torelli – recently returned home for the first time since their national debut hit stores in March.

“We love touring – we are so accustomed to touring already,” Matthew enthuses. “For the first couple of days when we went home, no one knows what to do or how to handle what life used to be like. All of us get a little nervous about it. But it’s been great to have time with loved ones over the holidays, relax a bit, and not wonder where you are for the first 10 minutes after you wake up in the morning.”

The Chicago-based band won’t be sleeping in their own beds for much of 2008, however. Their full schedule includes two months in Europe, a continent where the band’s popularity is growing wildly thanks to a Kerrang! –  “Best International Newcomer’ Award. The honor comes on the heels of several introductory shows throughout the U.K. in late 2007, alongside the likes of Paramore and Gym Class Heroes. The success of these slots led Madina Lake to several more sold-out returns as headliners the following year.

“The audiences and Kerrang! really embraced us off the bat, so I’d say that combination really catapulted us to a quick level of success,” suggests Matthew. “When a fan buys a ticket to check out a show [in Europe], they go to see the entire show and you don’t find anyone rolling in late. They go in wanting to enjoy every band, rather than just passing the time until the headliner comes on.”

Even though Australian audiences are notorious for having more fickle tastes (and even shorter attention spans), Madina Lake had no trouble reeling in throngs of newcomers during the Soundwave tour. Besides making the most of the coveted alt-rock roster that also boasted Incubus, The Offspring, Mindless Self Indulgence and Thursday, the band’s debut encounter with Australia serves as their second appearance to top-level touring.

“It was really fantastic because we’re always inspired to be in the company of Incubus and the Offspring, who are bands we’ve respected our entire career,” explains stick-man Dan. “Much like the Project Revolution tour in the US with My Chemical Romance and Linkin Park – these festivals are just so amazing to be a part of. Between keeping that type of company and having them embrace us, it was seriously surreal. We were like kids in a candy store. It was like a childhood fantasy to wake up, play a huge show on the best sounding equipment, then go have a beautiful catered meal afterwards!”

Even with the band’s adulation of the other artists, they still have several artistic ideas of their own. On record, the gang combine influences as diverse as the aforementioned with Nine Inch Nails and ever-so-slight flourishes of Muse. Their strong suit is fist-pumping anthems of aggression, like the disc’s quadrant of singles House Of Cards, Here I Stand, One Last Kiss and Pandora. The songs translate to the stage with overflowing insistency, often extended by the band’s electric onstage chemistry with fans.

While spectacle is certainly a major component of Madina Lake’s appeal, it doesn’t come at the expense of substance. The disc is loaded with an underlying storyline that could almost be interpreted as a concept album – though social commentary overrides self-indulgence. “The CD tells the story of the [fictional American] town Madina Lake in the 1950s,” explains Dan. “We set it up to be a microcosm of American pop culture, where the town socialite goes missing at the annual gala ball and the town reacts to her disappearance. The moral of the story is the value shift in America from love and family to vanity, wealth, and materialism.”

The band further darkens the seemingly cerebral tale with several examples of their own struggle, including the loss of the Leones’ mother to a fatal car accident during their early teens. Instead of dwelling on the angst and sorrow of the situation, the pair turns toward positive reflections and correlate the tale of Madina Lake to their real-life family bonds.

“The CD covers the gamut of the human spirit and human emotions and it’s very real,” Matthew continues. “There’s nothing contrived that one of us hasn’t experienced, which a lot of people have told us makes this record really easy to relate to. When it comes to what Nathan and I experienced [growing up], you realise moving forward with a positive frame of mind isn’t an option íƒÂ¢í¢â€šÂ¬” it’s a necessity. You lean on the unconditional love of your family for survival and that came from having an amazing dad and three really supportive older sisters. And now that we’re in the band, everybody’s been really supportive, which gives you all the more confidence to explore any passion you have.”

Just because the Leone brothers have an actual fraternal bond doesn’t make the other members feel any less involved. In fact, their live chemistry is just as apparent backstage. “Dan is seriously one of my favorite drummers and a person who we connect with musically and personally,” says Matthew. “Mateo has this uncanny ability to make magical melodies, but also make us all feel good. All four of us speak the same musical language and share the same ideas about life, so we’re really lucky to have found each other.”

Such a rosy sentiment was probably put to the test with so much time spent in close quarters. Madina Lake, however, has the opposite of cabin fever, and are looking to crank out another album to get them back on the pavement.

“We’re moving forward with [Roadrunner] in our corner and plan to have a new record written and recorded within the next six months, which could release in the first quarter of ‘09,” Matthew hints. “We’re not going to rush it or put out anything less than our previous effort. There’s no telling if it can take place in that time frame. If it does, fantastic, and if not, then we’ll wait.”

If you rocked out to Madina Lake at Soundwave, take note: the band’s debut album From Them, Through Us, To You is out now through RoadRunner Records.