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One Goal, One Interest, One Ambition, One Philosophy...

(Interview with Matthew Leone and Dan Torelli Taken From Black Velvet 55 - Feb 2008)

By Shari Black Velvet

When talking to Madina Lake, whether it be Nathan Leone, Dan Torelli, Matthew Leone or Mateo Camargo, or all four together, one thing that stands out is the band’s unity. They came together when past projects didn’t work out and for the first time, it just felt like it was meant to be. Black Velvet caught up with Matthew Leone and Dan Torelli and discussed what they most have faith in, what they’re most afraid of, what they’re most grateful to have achieved so far – and how they’d both like to be the German social philosopher Erich Fromm.





Black Velvet: ‘It’s not your fault, it was never your fault’ you sing in ‘In Another Life’. What IS Madina Lake’s fault?
Dan Torelli: I think everyone finds fault in themselves and I think the constant behind the band, I would say, what we’re revolving the story around and what we’re aiming for, that’s like a goal for us as well. I think everyone’s always striving to be what they think is the best they can be. You know what I mean? The ideas that we based the story around and that we want the band to be about and what we want ourselves to be about. It’s almost like a battle. Nathan was saying earlier there are some lyrics in Pandora someone questioned, it’s all about temptation and restraint coming at you every day, especially with what we do. Of all different kinds, media, girls, drugs, it’s around all the time, and it’s also like the consequences seem less when you do this because you’re in a different place every day. You’re gone. You meet people real quickly and they’re in and out of your lives, so it’s like a constant thing to stay away from that stuff.
Matthew Leone: Another fault, that isn’t related to that, necessarily; we always say yes. We don’t know how to say no to anybody for anything and sometimes I think we wind up spending ourselves a little too much, maybe.
Dan: Doing things for other people too, that in a way can be selfish to yourself too, because if it pleases someone else and then they’re pleased with you there’s a certain sense of gratification. There’s a certain bit of selfishness in doing that. So I think that’s another thing that you have to break away from.

BV: ‘I wish I was someone else’ you sing in ‘Here I Stand’. If you could be anyone else (even if just 1 day), who would you most like to be?
Matthew: Richard Branson. He’s got the moral fabric that I aspire to have. He’s got the humanitarian, environmentally aware attitude and he’s successful and knows how to live his life and he has fun doing it, while respecting the earth and respecting the energy and respecting humanity, so I would like to be him.
Dan: This dude Erich Fromm, who’s like a German social-analyst philosopher, I guess… I don’t know what you’d classify him as. We’ve been digging some books on him lately. There are a lot of authors that I like but every word that this guy says hit home and it’s also something that I may have never thought of before. To get inside the mind and sees the world in such a different way than anyone else does, that would be cool.
Matthew: Great one. Me too. Erich Fromm for me, Richard Branson for him!

BV: ‘I’m afraid to be alone’ you sing in ‘House Of Cards’. What are you most afraid of in relation to the band?
Matthew: Relationships are very intricate and very tricky, almost like an old circuit board, everything always being plugged into something else. Humans as entities fear separation. From birth you’re attached to your mother, and once you’re finally free you just go looking for another sort of connection – and we’re lucky that we’ve found that in each other. That being said, now we have four unique personalities, four unique human make-ups and chemical make-ups and you all always have to be connected at all times. So I would fear becoming disconnected from them. But so far I think we connect really well and I think we will continue to.
Dan: Yeah. Everyone gets really stressed out with what we do too, we might get uptight for a certain reason and it may get a little hard to approach that person for a minute, if they’re in a certain mood. When you’re away from your family and your friends and your girlfriends and everyone and this is all you have and everyone’s stressed out and communications tend to break down sometimes when things are stressful, then you really feel… you’re a million miles away from anybody and if you can’t talk to the people that you’re crushed up in a bunk with then you’ve got nothing. So it can be scary. I think we do it really well, we’re there for each other and we have a great relationship within the band, it’s fantastic. But every once in a while you get a taste of something where everybody’s stressed and it sucks.
Matthew: Yeah. It’s a very lonely feeling.

BV: ‘Sometimes I try not to hate myself’ you sing in ‘Me Vs The World’. Would you say you know each other’s traits now, then, and what to avoid?
Dan: Absolutely.
Matthew: The answer is a resolute yes! After knowing people this well, the most important thing is to curb your ego. We’re all very good at doing that – and knowing how to read people and know what they need at what time and make sure you give them space if they need it. Give them support or love or attention. So we’re lucky in that regard.
BV: What traits do you have that you think most benefit the band?
Matthew: Work ethic and passion. And honesty and integrity.
Dan: I would say everyone’s very conscious and concerned with the band and the way everything goes. We’ve all dreamed of doing something like this and it feels so good doing it together, as far as what we’ve accomplished, and just to continue doing it so we can make another record, so we can continue to do it.
Matthew: There’s a certain unity that we have in our band that I haven’t really seen too much in a lot of the bands that we tour with, in that there is one goal, one interest, one ambition, one philosophy. And it’s cool because we’re all out there working that angle, instead of just four people who are ‘oh cool, I’m living this rockstar lifestyle’. It’s not about self-indulgent stuff, it’s about eclectic stuff.
Dan: All we talk about is ideas that we can do at the next show or when we have another tour, or ideas for the next record and the next part of the story and things like that, versus this guy may be in this band and wants to do a solo project, or this is going to get him here and after that he wants to start a clothing line or marry some celebrity. I think we’re pretty focused on the same goal.

BV: ‘Run away to everything you’ve wanted’ you sing in ‘Stars’. What did you want when you first started the band and what do you want now?
Dan: I think there was a change when we started this band because him and his brother were in another band for many years and had an indie deal and were touring and had a record out, and Mateo and I were in another band as well. Same thing, touring around Chicago. We both had fairly good success in Chicago and around the area in those bands but we both hit these ceilings and were frustrated with our bands’ situations and now it’s obvious to me that the reason we were is because all we wanted to do was write a hit song, get the major record deal. We were very concerned with those superficial goals. And the relationships in the band were bad, we weren’t happy with what we were doing musically, so we broke up those bands and got in this together. All we focused on were ideas and the music and playing what we wanted to play, and interestingly enough it happened so quickly for Madina Lake comparatively because I think we focused on the right things, vs the wrong things.
Matthew: Absolutely. The ambition from the day this band started… he went back a little bit before the band started… but when this band started we wanted to make music that moved us with honesty and integrity, travel the world and meet different cultures, and that’s exactly what we’ve been able to do.

BV: ‘I became just a memory’ you sing in ‘True Love’. What memories do you have of the early Madina Lake days?
Matthew: It’s interesting because I don’t know how aware people are of it. In the States it hasn’t grown as quickly as it has over here, so we come over here and it’s a big high, and then we go back to the States and we still sell out clubs but to 300 capacity and 500 capacity.
Dan: Not 3000 capacity.
Matthew: We’re extraordinarily lucky. We’re a band that started the right way, the roots, we toured our asses off. We’re still in a van in the States. We’ve been doing it for two years.
Dan: But it has been wild over here. We were joking about it earlier. It’s less than a year since the first time we came over here and we supported Paramore and we did it up in the small room upstairs over there and I remember walking from these dressing rooms here and walking past that stage and going to that one and punching each other saying ‘can you imagine if someday we can play that room?’ and nine months later we’re headlining that one. It kinda blows my mind.
Matthew: We were excited, like ‘can you imagine opening up a bill on that stage?’ and now we’re headlining!
Dan: It’s pretty wild.

BV: ‘Counting all the things we never did’ you sing in ‘Now Or Never’. What haven’t you done so far that you still want to do?
Matthew: I’m eager to get into the other elements a potential forum of success can offer you such as humanitarian work, animal protection and stuff like that.
Dan: I think a lot of it is self-expression too. I think in that song what he means, I mean, Nathan isn’t here, so I don’t know the real personal meaning as far as the lyrics go, but just the fear of going through your life and looking back at your life and realising what you haven’t done. I don’t necessarily think it means the money you haven’t made or that vacation you never took. I think it’s more about not becoming the person you feel like you should be, or having said the things you should have said.
Matthew: Yeah, it’s basically about out of fear not freeing yourself up to be yourself. There’s that saying that you regret the things that you don’t do in life so when you finally get to the end, you finally think you have it all figured out, ‘well I messed up here, here and here, I turned myself into this person, I wasn’t myself through my whole life’ and that’s frustration that I think a lot of older people experience.
BV: Matthew, you mentioned animal protection. We know Dan’s vegetarian. What about you?
Matthew: I’m slowly getting there. I’m working on it. I eat free range. I won’t eat veal, things like that. It’s got to be done in a decent manner. Not stuff like raising an animal in a cage so he’s miserable his whole life. I’m working on that but I’m not there yet.
BV: Have you gone to any good vegetarian restaurants where you’ve discovered new food that you actually do really like?
Matthew: I actually like quite a bit. He’s turned me on to a lot of things. The thing about Dan is that he cooks a lot too. He’s a connoisseur of flavours if you will. And when he went vegetarian he got very creative. He whips up some really good meals.
Dan: I did some  interviews for some other things before that have come around and people have asked me questions about and I don’t want to give off the wrong idea about things. There are two ways to go about doing something. The reason I do it is for all the obvious reasons. To me, a lot of it has to do with karmic reasons as well too. I don’t want to consume and build myself out of something that’s suffered, but also it just works for me because I feel better. If it catches on a little bit more and people try it and they feel better, then they experience food that tastes just as good or better… I think that is a better way to go because it makes you feel good rather than trying to inflict guilt or fear. I would rather not take that approach because it’s rather negative, I try to stay away from it.
BV: Sometimes the more images and things you see, the more frustrating it is, knowing that others don’t care.
Dan: The thing that hit me too. The last stepping stone, I had read the book, taken all that stuff in and it had really started to bother me, and I cut out just beef first. I was starting to make the changes and then I read a National Geographical article too and that, just the environmental side of it, that’s what finally pushed me over the edge. The amount of clear cutting they do of forests. It’s not just about that animal or that animal, it’s about all the living things on the entire earth are just going to hell because of it. Oceans, and just the way that they fish.
Matthew: It’s a huge, huge ship to turn around too because it’s an entire mentality. People need to get as aware as he is about that, in real life, how much is being affected. It’s not just this one animal or that you feel bad about this one animal so don’t eat it, it’s all the tertiary effects, the negative effects of the environment.
Dan: And this animal is starving as a result of that one. It goes full circle.
Matthew: And unnaturally they’re breeding and breeding and breeding. Be a naturalist. Let the world evolve as it should. You shouldn’t be artificialising it.

BV: ‘Questioning my faith in God’ you sing in ‘Morning Sadness’. Have you ever questioned anything in relation to the band and what do you most have faith in?
Matthew: I have faith in our honesty and our integrity and our music and I’ve never questioned it from day one. In all my previous musical experiences I’ve questioned it up and down and up and down. Once this outfit got together, that’s how we knew it was right, because I never questioned it.
Dan: It’s weird. For me, it’s like a dream come true. We’re around our best friends, playing music every night and doing all those things, and like he said, making the music that we want to make. Everything’s great and we don’t question it. The only time I do is for short amount of times when you get caught up in something superficial like something won’t go as predicted according to your agent or your manager or someone, so you get a call about this and we’ll get stressed out for a minute, and then you play a show two hours later that night and it’s the best time of your life, and you meet kids and everything’s great and awesome, and you’re like ‘you know what? I don’t give a shit about that anymore’. Any time I’ve got out of that and questioned it, I’m usually over it pretty quick because you realise that you don’t really care about that.
Matthew: That’s a good point. Statistics and numbers and crap like that, we just want to avoid those at all costs. If someone gives us our US sales figures, it just bums us out! But we play a show no matter where, the States, here, wherever, there are at least a handful of people wherever we go who are passionate enough to make this all worth it. So we just put all our eggs in that basket.
BV: ‘I remember our first fight’ you sing in ‘In Another Life’. Have you ever had to fight for anything in relation to the band?
Matthew: The only fights we really have… we have very high standards for ourselves and we’re very passionate people and we want everyone that’s welcomed into our family, of business, the managers, the agents, the labels, whatever, we want everyone to share the same passion that we do, so we get a little bit intense about that. If someone doesn’t do the job to the best of their ability, it kind of frustrates us because we’re killing ourselves almost literally every night on stage for this, we killed ourselves in the studio and rehearsal room. Everything we do, we do it with the absolute 120%. So we kind of expect and hope that everybody else around us will do that too. Some fights we have are maybe where that’s just not happening.

BV: ‘As I’m sifting through the ash, I found myself’ you sing in ‘Escape From Here’. Do you think your experiences as Madina Lake sometimes go by too fast and you miss things and don’t always take in fully everything that happens?
Matthew: Absolutely.
Dan: For sure. Even as much as we try to check in and realise where we’re at… I mean, we just went to Europe for the first time and it’s gone now. I had a lot of fun but already I’m like ‘damn’. It really does fly by.
Matthew: The other thing that frustrates us is we’re huge fans of travelling and couldn’t wait to go to Europe, we’ve been working so hard and for so long, that a little bit of stress and anxiety is starting to build because we haven’t had a break since Christmas. And I think when we got to Europe we had two days to find a new guitar player. We didn’t have one rehearsal before he had to fill in for the European dates because Mateo couldn’t get his visa. We got very stressed out and frustrated, and I feel like I was very stressed out for the entire European leg and I missed it, and I regret that. So we constantly remind ourselves when we have our pep talks before our shows, be in the moment, stay connected, remember this, feel this. We try to feel everything but sometimes it’s just too hard.
BV: What were the shows like without Mateo?
Dan: It’s really interesting. I don’t think I realised what they were like until we got him back. That feeling you were saying, the fun of playing shows. Seth was a friend of ours from a band called The Audition in the States. We’re friends with the whole band and were really lucky that he was able to do it, and we didn’t get one rehearsal or anything. He listened to his ipod and came over and jumped in. He’s a fabulous guitar player so he nailed it right away. First show, he nailed it. We were having technical problems and everything and I was so happy about it. I was so impressed and really happy that we were playing these shows and then as soon as Mateo came back, then I really realised what a unit we are. Seth was playing absolutely great but there was still a lot of cueing and making sure and him looking at me. As soon as our first show with Mateo, you could do the whole thing without even seeing each other and play off of each other and know what each other is thinking and things like that. That was huge. Seth did a great job but having the core back, there’s nothing like it.
Matthew: There is no disposable member of this band and there never will be. If it’s not the four of us, it’s certainly not the same.

BV: ‘It’s an evil world for an innocent girl’ you sing in ‘In Another Life’. If you could turn the world into a Madina Lake world, how would you like the world to be?
Matthew: It would be very communal, it would be very family and relationship based. It would be a society of givers rather than a society of takers. Ease up on the self-indulgence and greed and the materialism.
Dan: You talk about us travelling and is it over too quick, and yeah that happens, but I think it’s even worse for people caught up in this insanely, crazy popularity contest and capitalistic struggle. People go to work every day from 9-5 and then they’re 65 years old and they’re like ‘what just happened?’ And that’s worse. That’s like hell on earth. Just focus on the right things. The things that build personality and something soulful.
Matthew: The ingredients for love used to be so natural and used to come out of community and a desire for companionship, but now the ingredients for love seem to be, at least in America, do you have a good job, do you have a good car, are you good-looking, are you successful? Since when was that something you should look for in love? Love is a completely natural phenomena. All that stuff came way later in a civilised society. It wasn’t there in the beginning.

BV: ‘She cries cuz she’s lost and she doesn’t even know what she wants’ you sing in ‘Adalia’. Do you have many fans writing to you or coming up to you who are lost and have problems and tell you their problems and how do you feel about that?
Matthew: Yes, and it makes us feel good, because it always comes in the context of, they feel better after feeling like a part of our community or a lyric resonated with them. It’s a hopeful thing. We definitely wanted an element of hope on the record because life is hard for everybody and we sing about a lot of difficult tragedies we went through, but having the element of hope there makes them understand that we’ve been through something too and that we’re ok and we’re gonna be ok.
Dan: The absolute coolest thing that blows my mind that’s happened with this whole thing is that this I don’t think we even predicted, but what started out as street teams in different places, we started calling them the ‘River People’ in relation to the song, there are these communities and message boards sprouting up all over the place, and people are networking and becoming friends all over the world and doing things together and travelling to see each other and taking trips together to see us. And having this person say they met this group of people from that board and then came to see us, so now these people can rely on each other. It’s almost like a community of friendship and people being there for each other is a by-product of what happened and it’s really cool and really flattering.

BV: ‘Then I knew that this was about to end’ you sing in ‘One Last Kiss’. If Madina Lake ended tomorrow what would you be most grateful to have experienced or achieved?
Matthew: I think going back to the travelling and making and performing music with our best friends.
Dan: I would say that, and I think that we really luckily are really, really proud of the record that we’ve made even though we recorded it a long time ago and have played the songs every night for God knows how long. I’m happy with it and hopefully if in 30 years time I can still listen to it and still be proud of it that would be awesome.

Visit www.madinalake.com for more info.

NB. Since this interview Matthew Leone has become vegetarian. Yay! :-)



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