Catching Up With Matthew Leone of Madina Lake
November 2012 saw the release of a project more than 8 years in the making: Lila, The Divine Game by Matthew Leone was published. It’s the story, philosophies, and message the band Madina Lake–for which Matthew plays bass guitar–built their entire career around. Finally, sense was made of the clues hidden in the artwork, lyrics, videos, and stage performances of the band’s 3 full-length albums, From Them, Through Us, To You (2007, Roadrunner Records), Attics To Eden, (2009, Roadrunner Records), and WWIII (2011, Razor & Tie). Less than 6 months later, the band shocked and saddened their worldwide fanbase by announcing their final tour. Just a couple days after that, drummer Dan Torelli dropped a figurative atomic bomb–he would not be joining the band on that tour–and “WWIII” was over. Madina Lake, as we knew them for the last 8 years, was over…
In every tragedy there can be triumph; in every negative, a positive hides, waiting to be found. This is something Madina Lake has always stressed to their fans, not just through their music, but through their personal lives, as well. Medically speaking, remember, Matthew Leone shouldn’t even be alive right now.
But alive, he is, and doing very well! He joins TWRY today to help shine some light into the recent darkness that has fallen on his beloved band, town, and River People (fans).
Interviewed by: Debie “Jinx” Patton
When Madina Lake first got started, you always said you had a story to tell, and it would span 3 full-length CDs. You were met by all kinds of resistance along the way–genre labels, an attempt on your life, record labels cutting ties, and all of the financial problems that go along with all of those things. Yet here you are today with 3 albums and 2 (soon to be 3) EPs under your belt, a handful of singles, videos, awards, and a published book to show for it all! And to paraphrase one of your songs, you’ve still got your soul. All in all, would you consider it a pretty successful run? Did you accomplish everything you originally set out to do with/as Madina Lake?
Our mom instilled a humility in us that evoked a selfless understanding of achievement. Subsequently, my nature is to deflect exaltation and experience the success with gratitude and from the same perspective as someone who connected to it would, i.e. the River People (this is what we call our friends/family/supporters, for those who don’t know). With that said, I take great pride and fulfillment in what we created, which I feel as it’s funneled back from our community. Musically, I can honestly say that I play in my favorite band. For that I am lucky. Every true musician would love to say that, but it’s not easy to brew your precious elixir with three other chemists. Beyond the music, our vision was to link together as many like minded souls as we could and establish a home for us all in the ether. A safe place of our collective imagination, electrified with love, suspended of judgement, and devoid of the ego. This necessitates an entity outside of the band to spring to life. This is the where the most rewarding, miraculous triumph came from. Once our town was created and flourishing with so many incredible people something occurred that bestowed upon me the ultimate gift. After my attack, I was brought back to life by the groundswell of love that they generated and sent to me. No words can express what that feels like.
Do you feel like if you were to continue releasing music under the name Madina Lake that there would be pressure to somehow add on to the story of Adalia, or that your creativity would be stifled by fan and/or genre expectations?
I wouldn’t feel pressure to add on to the story because that whole idea was conceived in 2004 and everything since then was the journey to get there. My feeling is that I’m overjoyed with how it turned out and even intrigued at how the natural evolution of the world and our experience has interwoven throughout. Real life events manifested from the vision and conversely, some of the vision was guided by real life. I haven’t heard a lot of feedback from people who have read the story, which concerns me that maybe I got too vague and complicated with it, to where it just frustrated people. But the idea is done and out there. The genre thing is tricky. It’s hard to say this while knowing that it’s a cliché, but being in the band, you can never have a clear scope of yourself. We childishly fought the genre branding thing to death when FTTUTY came out. And to be honest, the labeling did affect our career. Attics was entirely different and I’ve been told that such a departure is what shook off a lot of fans from the first record. WWIII, to us, was yet another jump to an entirely different place. So then I can’t honestly say how that affects us. It did between From Them and Attics, but hasn’t since then.
Lila, The Divine Game draws inspiration from a number of religions and touches on a variety of beliefs and philosophies, one of which is reincarnation. You have described the breakup of Madina Lake as “not the end, but a reincarnation.” Who will we be seeing/hearing from “in another life,” and in what format?
Today’s world is exceedingly blazing through every moment of time. Subsequently, the insanely over saturated world of commerce is vying to capture the rapidly blinking eyes of the consumer. Thus, the artists have a small window to poke their heads in and display their art. If it reacts to some portion of the market, they have maybe a few years to stuff their career in before the consumer wants their new toy. When Legend of Zelda came out for Nintendo, it was incredible. We played it relentlessly. When the new gaming system Sega came out, Zelda was gone. Zelda is now the exception to the rule because it contorted itself to the current format and revived. But not many people are playing the original. Madina Lake was the Zelda in our own microcosmic world and we were blessed (no religion affiliated with the word) to have found our River People and sustain a wonderful 8 years together. But as is the cycle of life, time chugs along and nobody has time for even the “Gangnam Style” anymore, let alone Zelda. So in order for our craft to live we must reincarnate…
Can you elaborate on what the next project will be/entail and what your goals are for it?
Here comes a shocker… the seed was a concept. As it grows, it’s taking shape, but caterpillars become butterflies, and if I left it at that, this sentence would sound awesome. Irrelevant, point being, Nathan and I have developed an idea, and Mateo will be Coming to America like Eddie Murphy, to materialize it. We want Dan to make it to our sessions but at this point we are not sure about his personal circumstances. As transparent as we’ve always aimed to be as Madina, sharing personal things is optional, per member. The idea is rather radical, but Madina has a rare and wonderful ability to do that by the trust we’ve earned with our audience. So, open up those minds and give it a go. Our goals remain the same. Evolve, challenge ourselves, stimulate, connect and entertain all interested parties while creating and executing our passion.
Is there a name for this new musical project yet, and if so, can you share it with us?
There isn’t a name but there is a heavy debate about one…
Will it be the same genre/style as Madina Lake, or will you be branching out to explore new styles, ideas, and directions?
With everything we’ve done in Madina we thought we were exploring uncharted territory, but we’ve often heard people ascertain our sound to remain the same. This time though, since Madina is done, there will be different components in and out of the creating process. And even different medians and formats of what we are doing, which will either affect or determine what it is that we are actually doing.
Is the final Madina Lake EP, Buena Fortuna, going to transition fans into this next project, or is it more of a final well-wish from the band as we’ve always known you?
Both? What’s this? Cat’s got my tongue.
What memories/message do you hope your fans take away from the last 8 years?
Love, acceptance, connection and eternity. Together we created this world and it’s ours forever. When people say that everything comes to an end they are basing that on a time-based realm. Imagine time not existing. I don’t believe it does. Look at your lives under that principal, and recognize the futility of the pain we endure and impose on ourselves every day. Let’s stay connected and enjoy what happens next without the fear of a “not again.” (Artsy one there, eh?)
Let’s talk books some more! You’ve published one…your brother Nathan is now writing one, as well. Which was more difficult for you, writing music or writing a book? How did the two processes differ from each other? Were they the same in any ways?
Music is an impulse and an instinct that happens spontaneously. It is exhilarating to create vibrations that move and compel you from nothing, and with some of your closest friends. When the four of us connect on a musical level it’s like a portal opens and we are just conduits for an energy that we beckoned. There’s a giddiness to it because we’re all feeling it and looking at each other smiling from the bewilderment and thrill. The music we’re playing is loud and rendering words useless, which is fine because they’re not necessary.
Writing is very much different and very much more difficult. When the music bed was created, I could see the torment on Nathan’s face when he slaved over lyrics.
I never understood it until I had to get my big idea down on paper. It’s exciting to meditate on the seed of an idea and write notes down about what you’re trying to convey, but then having to bring together so many variables and arrange/align them to properly come together is a whole different animal. My goals were to begin the various storylines and send each one off on their journey, intersecting at times, and ultimately converging at the same pivotal time. But during each journey I had to develop the characters into the people I wanted them to be in both my life and everyone’s life.
The fun part was inserting all of the real life parts. About 80% of the characters and events in Lila are actually true or based on true experiences. But again, I was the only one who had to make sure everything was right and made the proper sense to honor the vision. I hope I did that.
Do you have any future plans to further market Lila, or did you always intend it to be more “just for the fans?” Is Nathan planning to market his to a wider audience?
Originally we wanted it just for the River People and the tourists, because it’s really a longwinded read to digest if you haven’t been tuned in. I did have an offer to distribute it on Amazon and I’m ready to do that now.
Nathan’s book, I believe, is intended for a very wide audience. I say that because I can’t think of anyone I’ve met who wouldn’t be fascinated by it. It’s insanely interesting, funny, powerful and cathartic. Not to mention, filled with way way way too much information. Which, let’s face it, who doesn’t want that? Besides me, in some of these cases.
The previews Nathan has posted have had us in stitches, and some of your family a little red-faced, I’m sure! Without giving too much away, what are you most embarrassed by or afraid of the world knowing, that he’s planned to print about you? (Click here for more on Nathan’s book)
Haha well, I found myself in some of the narrative that I’d have to be hypnotized before I owned up to it being true. So I’ll play the deny card on those….for example, I don’t remember any stuffed animals growing up!
Do you want to continue your venture into authorship someday with another book?
I would love to. I have hundreds of ideas, writings, stories, and diaries that I want to release somehow, someday.
Hollywood came knocking recently with requests for a script, which is an incredible opportunity for you, but there has been some confusion about it’s direction among the River People. Let’s clear that up. Is the movie going to parallel Lila, The Divine Game, or is it meant to tell the band’s story and that of your attack and recovery?
It’s a cross section of the Madina/Leone experience. It chronicles the Madina voyage through the spectrum of sea climates and how that paralleled the theme of Nathan and mine’s life. It consists of all true events, but it’s nothing like a documentary. And the mighty RP have a part in it, so get comfortable in front of a camera…More on that soon!
If you were to one day make a movie that paralleled Lila: your beautiful wife, Autumn, was the artistic inspiration for the Lila cover art…would she grace the screen as Adalia, as well? Would you play Jonathan?
Thank you for the so kind words…Truly..thank you. If we did that, my character would probably be cast by “Mini Me” from “Austin Powers.”
Have you ever written a script before in your life? What do you think of that whole process? Are you being assisted with it, or are you just learning as you go?
Like when we rented guitars in Florence at age 20, we tossed ourselves right into it. It’s been exciting learning the movie business. Surprisingly, it doesn’t resemble the music business. In music, it’s “Go Go Go!!” In movies it’s, “Yeah…great…how’s it coming along? So you think you’ll have something we can look at by 2016?” But Nathan and I got so passionate about it that we busted it out in four months. Scripts and movie pitches require a lot of materials. People spend their whole lives developing films. By the time you finish the one sentence pitch, tag line, one sheet, 5 page treatment, 20 page treatment, beat sheet, bio, AND script, you get about 30 seconds to sell the whole thing to a studio or agent or production house. We got lucky because we are so ridiculous as people that our script wrote itself.
Do you have a tentative timeline for the completion of the script, filming, and release of the movie yet? (And you’re going to invite TWRY to your big red-carpet premiere, right? Right?!)
Warner Bros had us out in LA to meet with some folks in the studio lot. It was really cool because, as I’m sure you could have guessed, we got lost and wandered the grounds for 45 minutes, passing through old western saloons, tumbleweed streets, snowy 1920s NYC blocks… Finally, we sat down with some folks, one of whom wrote “He’s Just Not That in to You.” She told us it’s been in production for 10 years and that’s not even a little uncommon. That being said, TWRY is certainly invited to any and all things us! We’ll keep you posted.
Will you/Nathan/Mateo be providing the score/soundtrack yourselves?
That is a big fat Yesiree bobaroo!
It’s rumored that Nathan, his wife, and Mateo are packing up and moving to Los Angeles this summer. Will you and Autumn be joining them, or are you firmly planted in Chicago? What kinds of antics await the west coast from the lot?
We’re all familiar with “Madina Lake Time” right? That same question is on my “to do TODAY!” list… This time we’ve really done it: Nathan sold his place and my lease is up at the end of April. Meaning we both have to be out very soon and neither one of us has so much as Googled “apartments” anywhere!
We also thought we would dip our toes into the TV water… As we leaned back, stretched our hooves over the pool, we had an idea. We then executed the idea and next thing ya know, we plunged face first right into the deep end of TV land. Coming 2014…
Wow! Well, I certainly hope you don’t have to crawl through any more crazy cow trenches (a la the near-fatal Fear Factor episode of the early 2000s)! Between all of these new and exciting experiences–and that apartment-Googling you had better start on!–you’ve still set aside time to visit your fans once more. The UK tour is already booked, and you’re working on Japan, Australia, and the US….am I missing any places in that list? Also, has anyone ever likened you to a shark (because you’re constantly active)?
Ha! I’ve been likened to many things, but most of them are under 3 ft 2 in. As of now, we are going to do a few www.stageit.com shows for those who we can’t get to, and of course everyone else. With that said, we will do a Chicago farewell, and Japan farewell in addition to the UK. We would like to do more, and perhaps will do Australia, but logistically, we are refrained. I’m excited about the stageit.com shows, though, because they will be broadcasted from the “Attic” and we will do a regular set, then requests, and then we will have all of our stage props, scrims, banners, lights, and all the Madina stuff we have left available for anyone who wants them.
Ooh, the infamous “Attic!” There was a rumor that it was actually in one of the band members’ apartments…but if you’re all moving soon….?
Madina started out in a rehearsal room we rent at Superior St. Studios in Chicago. We’ve been here for so long that it’s basically become our home. The room has an energy to it that we could not part with. Prior to our arrival, a heroin-addicted artist lived in the room and chronicled his existence on the walls, floor and ceiling. We built a loft in the room, couches, studio, desks, and our Madina lights, stage banners, scrims, projectors and other oddities adorn the walls. We X to the Izo it here. I’m here now, in fact!
Tell us a little more about these props and lights and things that you’re going to make available, and how that’s all going to go down?
Stageit.com has a feature built into their infrastructure that allows us to interact, and I believe facilitate transactions with those who join us. I’ve assembled everything I’ve ever spent way too much money on to offer it to any interested characters. We have 7 stage scrims, 3 giant backdrops, the Madina lights, and more. Many of the ambitions I had never quite made it to the stage. Example: I have a backdrop of a starry night with an old man on the bottom center. It has LED lights built in, that were intended to take the audience from sunrise to sunset. There’s a hole in the man’s mouth where he was to blow confetti, and a hole in each ear that he was to shoot fog out, at synchronized parts of the set. It was designed for headlining shows in the UK, Europe, Japan and Australia, where the rooms are large enough…but we learned that to get this thing shipped was $5,000.00 each trip and required special code licenses which of course, I didn’t get.
Many of the River People have questioned who will replace Dan on the final UK tour, or if you plan to use just his drum tracks (like your bass tracks were used in your absence after your attack a few years ago). Is this a decision that has been made yet? Same question regarding the stageit.com shows, now, too!
Here is an impossible question to answer. The reason is that there is something that may happen, and if it does, it will certainly change the answer. This “thing” was highly unlikely to come to fruition but within the last week, it has gone from a 5% chance to an 85% chance… You’ll know the moment we do!
And so, the mysteries of Madina Lake continue..! Haha There are so many positive things in store for your future, and that leads me to the most important question of all: are you truly, unquestionably, unashamedly happy at this point in your life?
I’m happy reading your questions and reflecting on Madina and the RP while answering them. I’m happy to have connected and made so many friends around the world, such as yourself! I’m humbled by the love given that jump started my heart when it petered out back there. I love loving, and I’m loving that I get to love and be loved. (Sorry, my OCD called for me to fit 5 “love’s” into one sentence…) I’m not unquestionably happy, though, sorry to report. But that’s okay! I have happiness around me and I can dip in and take a soak of it when I need or want to, but I make no delusions about the nature of life. It is hard. Lila is a hard game to play. It ebbs and flows and shocks and rocks your foundation, and twists and turns and assembles and disintegrates without a polite “fyi” before doing so…but it’s exciting and fascinating. Peacefulness is my new happiness. And laughter, always…at all things, at all times…laughter is my elixir.
You were my very first interview for this TWRY back in 2007… When we wrapped it up back then, I asked what your “famous last words” would be. You said, “Everybody start living in the moment. Drop…suspend all judgement and be happy.” With Madina Lake approaching a reincarnation, and so many other things about to take place in your lives, I’m going to switch it up a bit this time, because I don’t view this as an ending for any of you…merely a pause before a fresh start. What’s your opening statement going to be?
“See, I told you!….Now, where were we?”