New York hardcore powerhouses Madball have just released their formidable new album For The Cause through Nuclear Blast and it shows the band are just as fired up as they always have been and blasting out their hardcore anthems with style. We caught up with vocalist Freddy Cricien to hear all about For The Cause and its recording, working with Tim Armstrong from Rancid and Ice T as well as other special guests on the album, takes from the bands countless tours, New York Hardcore past and present, his love of hip hop, growing up around Agnostic Front on the Lower East Side and highlights and memories from over twenty five years in the game with Madball.
Your new album For The Cause is out now. How did the recording of the album go?
It went well man, it went really smoothly. Besides the logistics of having to travel to the West Coast, it was one of the better recording experiences I’ve had over the years. It was really cool.
Do you always try and bring the energy and ferocity of your live show to the studio when you are recording a new album and do you always try and pick songs that would work in a live scenario?
You know, that’s actually a really good question. Yeah, we do more so now. There was a time we didn’t really think about that, we just kinda wrote what we wrote and did it. We kinda work the same way, we write what we feel but now we do think, yeah this one might work in that scenario. We give it a little more thought nowadays but I mean, as far as what I bring to it, the comparison I can draw it with between live and studio is that you have to feel the music. You have to feel it, that’s all and you can’t compare it to the energy of the live show because live, you’re moving around and you become possessed by what you’re doing but in the studio it’s not quite that energetic or hectic but you’ve still got to feel what you’re saying and it has to be believable, no matter what genre of music and no matter what you’re doing. It has to be believable and you have to feel it from your core, from your depths so in that regard, yes, you put your heart and soul into it, yes.
You’ve got your guitarist Matt Henderson back in the band for this record for the first time since 2000. How did he come to be in Madball again and how does it feel to have him back in the band?
Well, just to clarify, Matt will will forever be a member of Madball, he’s always an honorary member of Madball but he’s not rejoining us for touring because his life just doesn’t dictate that. He’s got a very good career going and he’s got a bunch of kids. He would love to in spirit and in his heart he would love to rejoin us for touring but the reality is he could only do select shows and something like this, where it’s recording with us, he had a blast doing that with us because we hadn’t done it together in so long and there was no better guy for the job especially for this record, but he’s not going to be our permanent guy. We actually have a couple of guys who are going to be helping us out, different guts in Europe and the States and we’re actually sill on the search for the right guy so that’s where we’re at.
How was it having him recording on the album?
It was great, Matt is an old friend. He’s one of the architects of our sound, one of the original guys and so it was great to have that vibe there but he’s a friend too so it’s very natural.
Rancids Tim Armstrong produced For The Cause, what made you choose him for the role of producer and what did he bring to the Madball sound?
Well, it just kind of fell into place. We didn’t know where we were going to record this record and we were writing it and him and I met, actually in London, we crossed paths and had lunch. That was where the revision was made actually. He invited us to the studio he had access to and we needed a place to go to so it just fell into place and naturally he jumped on board as a producer and really it was a very harmonious thing because he wasn’t meddlesome and he just let us do our thing. He knew we had a very strong vision for how this record was going to be, so he kinda let us fly. Every now and then he would comment here and there . We would ask him about tempos and certain other things. Obviously, he would give good feedback and good advice but it was a very easy and smooth working relationship. He didn’t necessarily write with us but it was good to have his ear there and his experience there as well as having him there and supporting us. The song For You, he did help me write the chorus so I’m thankful for that.
Tim also features on the song The Fog, what did he bring to that particular song?
His verse, I mean his verse is great. I wrote that song just in case I had written a whole two verses because I never presume that someone’s going to do a guest on there. I just write what I feel and then if something g comes along then great. When we decided that, that was the best fit for him, he definitely wanted to write his own verse, which I respect and I think it’s cool. If I could’ve imagined how it would’ve come out beforehand, that’s how it came out. It’s his voice, it’s his lyrics, it’s good man and it’s one of my favourite songs on the record actually.
Ice T guests on For the Cause on the song Evil Ways. How did you hook up with the Rap legend and how as it recording the song with him?
Ice T, I met him in New York at a show we did together and he was a real gentleman, he was really cool and he had a lot of nice things to say about us and about New York Hardcore. That made a real impression on me and we had this one song that I kinda pictured his voice on and I said let me give it a crack, let me reach out to him and my friend had his contacts so I said, hey Jamie, do you think Ice T would be into this and he said, give him a shout, I bet you he’d love to and sure enough, he was totally into it. I think it was because he understood and had respect for our band, that whole connection. It came together pretty quickly and smoothly. It was cool and he’s a real class act, man. He even paid for his own studio time as we couldn’t link up at Tims studio because of scheduling so he was the last one to record on the album. We almost didn’t have Ice T on the record actually but I was able to make it happen, I was able to delay it enough to get him to record and make it happen so I’m grateful that it happened because it’s really cool, it’s a really cool song.
Do you feel that hardcore and hip hop still have that same vibe and energy?
Well, it’s definitely street music in my opinion. It would be different, depending on what part of the country you’re in or what country you live in, you might have a different perspective but the kind of hardcore that I grew up with came from the streets of New York. Not to say that it all has to come from the streets, plenty of suburban kids would come in from wherever to be a part of that scene but it’s got that sort of attitude, that street thing for lack of a better way to say it.
You’ve also got Sick Jacken from Psycho Realm and Steve Whale from The Business on the album too. How did they end up guesting on the album?
It was all very serendipitous man. It was all unplanned. Steve happened to be in LA while were there, now Steve is my pal. Our relationship with The Business goes back decades and every time we play in England, Steve comes by and we have a beer. He’s an old friend of mine. Rest In Peace to Mickey Fitz. He was just in LA, just like that. He was actually in San Francisco but had to stop off in LA and it just happened to be when we were there and he came in and of course, I said Steve jump on the guitar, do something! He loved it, he was listening to the song and said it was sounding great. He just jumped in there on guitar, he was playing with a bottle and a WD40 can or something! We had a ball, it was a really unorganized vibe, in the best way. Not preplanned or the labels organized it. Same with Sick Jacken, he is a friend of ours and we’ve known him for some years now and he’s from the LA area and he came by the studio, just to say what’s up and just to see the studio. I was doing Rev Up, the song and he was like, that’s a killer song and I said, if you want to jump on and say something man, feel free, go ahead! He jumped on the mic and said exactly what he said. The words that are on the record, he did it once, freestyle, boom! He didn’t write anything down and then he hung out for a bit and then left so things just fell into place on the record.
Who else would you live to get to guest on a future Madball album?
Oh man, that’s a tough one because for for me it has to happen organically. We’ve only started this feature thing on Hardcore Lives and this record, before that, you don’t see many features on Madball records , they’re pretty much non existent. On the previous record, it was our friends. It was Scott from Terror, it was Toby from H20. Guys that we are close with and then on the second one, it’s our friends as well. Tim and Ice T. It’s hard to picture! I couldn’t answer that! We’ve had Candace from Walls Of Jericho on Hardcore Lives, she did a brilliant job. I wouldn’t mind another female vocalist. I’m open to whatever. It just has to make sense on a song.
What are your touring plans when For The Cause is released?
It just so happens that we’re playing With Full Force in Germany when the album drops so that couldn’t be a best first show, playing a great festival in Germany which is a big market for us. We’re going to be doing festival tours, the whole beginning part when the album comes out and eventually we’ll make our way to the UK, hopefully be the end of the year.
Will you be playing much new material when you tour?
Yes, that’s our plan. We’re going to try and do as many songs as we can. Whatever makes sense for the set, we have to obviously appease everyone and make everyone happy but we are going to tray and did as many as we can.
How did the Persistence Tour with Hatebreed and Terror go earlier in the year?
It was great although it wasn’t the best for me because I got injured early on the tour so for the whole middle part of the tour, I was working with bruised ribs. The tour itself though went really well. There were many sold out shows and really good turnouts and really good crowds. I really can’t say a bad things about it other than I s in agony, personally. I fell on a barricade and landed on my rib cage on the second or third show of the tour. I was never quite right actually until we needed the tour in London and that was the first show that I actually felt like myself unfortunately because it’s a very important tour. We made it work and it was a good tour
I first saw Madball back in 1995, it was the first hardcore show I ever saw! Do you still get the same buzz from the energy at your shows as you did when you first started?
Believe it or not, I sometimes still do. I’ve got a little more experience under my belt. In 95, we were playing high school football still! We had a lot of raw energy and all that but it was awkwardness too. I think we’re a better band these days because we know what we’re doing now but certain shows, I still get the same buzz. Certain festival shows and higher profile shows, I fell like that but even some club shows, like man, that felt we were back in 1995! It still can happen very much, yes.
What was the first hardcore show that you ever saw?
It was Agnostic Front probably or the Bad Brains, one or the other. I think it was Agnostic Front first and then I went and saw the Bad Brains. I can’t recall which was first! My brother took me to a Bad Brains show in the early 80s on the Lower East Side but I think it was AF first.
Who have Madball loved touring with the most and who would you love to play with in the future?
Wisdom In Chains by far! Wisdom In Chains are our buddies they’re great guys. Really classy guys, gentlemen and really easy to deal with and also a spectacular band so you get the best of both worlds because you get guys who are easy on the road, they don’t get out of control, they’re really chill and then you get to watch them play every night and that’s always a pleasure so Wisdom In Chains would go to the top of my list. Terror is always fun to tour with, we’ve done a lot of touring with them. Cruel Hand, who we just went on tour with in the States, those guys are great guys. Yeah man, and in the future, I’d love to see to see us do stuff with Rancid, we’ve done stuff with them before but I’d like to see an extended version of that.
When you were touring with Wisdom In Chains, is that how the split release came about?
Yeah and that idea was thrown around throughout the years but we’ve toured with them on many occasions. We have an old friendship there, I’ve brought them in a few of my Rebellion tours and we’ve done a bunch of shows in the States. It just seemed natural, it just seemed like we have a camaraderie and they have a lot of live and respect for our band and vice verse so it was like, yeah, let’s do a split! It makes sense.
What are some of your most memorable memories of when Madball first started?
Haha, my most memorable ones?! Ok, I’ll give you a good one because it was at the biggest show that I’ve ever played, still, to this day. Dynamo 95. I’ve had the good fortune to play some pretty big shows over the years, especially being a Hardcore band. I think that Dynamo that year, was probably to this day, still the biggest. It was 120,000 people at that festival and I went to the free t of the stage because that’s just what I knew. My mic chord was probably just barely long enough and the crowd was overwhelming. I just walk off the stage and onto a bale of hay! I really fell, maybe first or second song into the set and that will forever be a memory for sure. It was the biggest show we ever played and I just ran up there, barking at the crowd who are like a block away! I really wanted to project myself to them and I literally walked off the stage! It was a high stage, like a storey high! If the hay wasn’t there idve been in trouble!
How do you think the hardcore scene both in New York and worldwide has changed since those early days?
It’s changed immensely, it was a really small scene, at least from my viewpoint, from the New York portion of it because obviously Hardcores not just from New York but from what I knew of it, it was very small. It’s still underground in my opinion, but it was much smaller with a very selective amount of people.it has grown and its so global nowadays. Even the music styles have evolved. Some styles I like more than others but, yeah, it’s a growing thing, man, it’s a growing subculture. It’s got a lot bigger and a lot more diverse over the years I feel.
I was lucky enough to go to CBGBs when I first visited New York and managed to see Roger Miret & The Disasters and Lordz Of Brooklyn on successive nights which was amazing! Do you have fond memories of the club and other legendary New York venues like A7, Wetlands and Coney Island High?
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with CBGBs! I’m going to be one if the rare people that you hear that from because CBs is one of those places that can never do you wrong! It’s the Mecca of punk and hardcore and it is and it should get a lot of respect because it is legendary and it was a landmark. They should have never closed that place, they should have made it an actual historic landmark, but mine was always love/hate because I started going there when I was underage and I was never allowed in there really. They would always have to sneak me in or some sort of meeting would have to happen. It would have to be arranged for me to be in there to sing a song then leave. It was always a real pain in the butt for me to go there when I was super young! Then when I got old enough to be in there myself, when I got to the age where I could legally be in there, there really wasn’t a lot of shows or activity at that time because you had other clubs that were hosting hardcore more often but yeah, it’s a classic, legendary venue and fir e place was, the sound was unbeatable. Now in hindsight, when I look back, I see clips of old shows that we’ve done there and it’s cool. The vibe was pretty cool. I was happy to be a part of it in one way.
There’s a whole new group of clubs nowadays and they’re mostly centered in Brooklyn, not so much in the city anymore. My fondest memories of when we first started playing, I would have to say would be Wetlands. Wetlands and Coney Island High. This’d two clubs were where we really made our bones. We played at a lot of clubs, CBs and all other these other places, Irving Plaza we got to play, which is a classic, classic venue, Gramercy Theatre, we’ve gotten to play all these placed. They’re all cool in their own way. Irving had a great stage, stagewise, that’s probably one of my favourites but Coney Island High and Wetlands had the next generation that was coming into hardcore, the 90s crew. That was coming in and that was a whole different new young generation and I was young as well and they became our. CBGBs. Coney Island High and Wetlands, they became our CBGBs.
Going back to hip hop, Have you got any plans for anymore hip hop releases as Freddy Madball?
Yes I do. Now that the Madball album is done, I’m going to focus back on the hip hop stuff. I had songs that are on hold, songs that I was working on that I’m going to go back on now and I am going to release another hip hop record for sure. I’m not sure how much I’m going to play out but I’m definitely going to drop another one.
Are you feeling any modern hip hop or is it just the classic stuff for you?
I love hip hop, I’ve been a fan of it since I was a little boy but the newer style stuff I’m not hugely into. I hear songs here and there that I think are really cool but I’m like an 80s/90s guy. I literally grew up in those eras of hip hop. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around some of this new stuff but I try to stay open minded in general.
Was hip hop as prevalent as hardcore around you when you were growing up?
Oh yeah, I think both genres were in their early stages. Hip hop obviously became hugely mainstream and almost pop nowadays and hardcore did not, but yeah they shared space. A lot of the early Rap guys were going to the East Village to promote their stuff and the East Village and Lower East Side was where the hardcore scene was spawning so I mean, the Beastie Boys came from being hardcore kids to becoming a phenomenon. There’s definitely close ties from hip hop and hardcore but they kinda went there own way at one point and not every one in hardcore liked hip hop and vice verse but I think that, especially with me and my group of friends, we always loved hip hop and came up with it, more so than the older generation before us so we would go to CBGBs and then go to a hip hop club after but that was the next generation, after my brothers generation. Hip hop and hardcore have always been neighbours and there’s definitely some relationship there for sure.
What are some of your favourite hip hop albums?
There’s so many, where do I begin?! The first Biggie record, the first Wu Tang record, the first Slick Rick record. Illmatic by Nas. A lot of the early stuff was all singles, they weren’t full on records. The vinyl had two songs on one side and three on the early, early days like when Slick Rick and Doug E Fresh did La Di Da Di. I first heard that as a single. I can remember License To Ill, when that came out it instantly became one of my favourite hip hop records. LL Cool Js first record I loved. Man, you asked the wrong question because there are too many! I could even go into the 2000s, Dr Dres 2001, production wise has to be one of the best hip hop albums ever. NWA, oh my god, that was amazing. Ice Ts early stuff. I can pick so many!
How exciting was it growing up around Agnostic Front and other hardcore pioneers or did it just seem normal because it was your brother Roger who was in Agnostic Front?
Yeah, I guess it’s hard because like you say, Rogers my brother so I just know him as my big brother but the experience I know now looking back on it all is definitely unique obviously. At the time we just wanted to spend time together and he brought me around. It was an escape for me from various things and various reasons and I loved it and I embraced it. I could’ve hated it, I could’ve gone to the Lower East Side and started crying and said take me home because I was literally only seven years old but when I experienced that, I immediately liked it. These guys were living on the streets kind of, a bunch of people in one apartment, a real street sorta lifestyle! I did t shy away from it and it was a cool experience to have. A crazy one in some people’s eyes but a cool one nevertheless and this guys aught me a lot, not only music stuff but life as well. Going around Vinnie Stigma and Roger and those guys, I learned a lot from them. The experience was priceless and now giving me an outlet and me a career. It’s been an interesting ride!
Madball have been a band, recording and playing shows for over twenty five years. Did you ever think that the band would last as long as it has and what is the secret to your inspiring longevity?
Well, I didn’t think it would last as long as it has, I didn’t know what to think to be honest! When we first started the band, we said hey do you want to do another Madball thing and my brother said we should do another EP, you had that one you did in 89, it might be cool and do Matty jumped in and Willy me Vinnie and Roger and we did another EP, that was Droppin Many Suckers and then Roger was kinda done with the music and Hoya was breaking up his band so he came into the mix and then it was, maybe we’ll do another thing, oh there’s a label interested, it all happened that way. We never really took it that seriously at the beginning, it was just something for enjoyment, as an outlet and then it just grew and grew more into what we are now and now it’s obviously something more serious and it’s become something very serious for us. The ride continues, man, and I don’t know where the cap is but we feel now that we’re in our prime doing this. When we first started, we were just a bunch of young guys with a lot of raw energy just trying to figure things out and now there’s still a lot of angst but it’s more harnessed in a way that we’re still pissed off. We’ve still got a lot to do and say and maybe thats what keeps us going, the longevity, that we’re still pissed off!
Well, there’s still a lot to be pissued off about today!
What have been some of the absolute highlights in your career with Madball?
Oh man, a lot! That Dynamo show I mentioned was one of them. Other shows I can remember, when CBs was closing down, they didn’t have even ask us to play because of some sort of politics with something that happened, I don’t know but whatever the story is, my brother said it’s not right that Madball wouldn’t play one of the last CBs shows so we played as Ball Of Destruction and that was a memorable thing for me. The older guys felt that we were important enough to okay one of the last CBs shows. There’s been many highlights man, we’ve done memorable tours that are highlights, a lot of festivals that have been highlights for us, small shows that have been highlights for us. Even that tour we just did with Korn and Limp Bizkit, there’s different viewpoints on that but that was a real highlight for us. We got to play Wembley Arena as a hardcore band and that’s pretty much unheard of so it was cool to be able to fly our flag in that world no hopefully more highlights to come. We’ve got a lot if festivals that we’ve not played before that we’re being invited to play this year like Wacken. Maybe some highlights are on their way too.