author PP date 23/06/11

Mitts, 40, has been the guitarist in Madball for ten years now, but he has been a part of the New York Hardcore scene for 25 years. He was going to the shows and buying records back when yours truly was still wearing diapers, so what better man to ask some questions about the history of New York Hardcore? We grabbed him for a lengthy interview about Madball and the whole New York Hardcore scene in an interview which might be one of the most interesting reads we've had in this section on the site so far. Check it out! What's new in Madball?
Mitts: We have the new record that came out in October. It's called "Empire". We're over here on our third European tour this year, third out of four. We try to break out touring up and we try to hit every region, so we don't come for six weeks now. We come for two weeks now, then another two weeks, and then two weeks. We played on this tour, we started in Germany, we did Vainstream Fest, and Never Say Die! fest, and a show last night in Flensburg, and then we're working our way up now to Scandinavia. We got tonight here in Copenhagen, Oslo tomorrow, and then on Friday we go to Gothenburg to Metal Town festival. Great. Actually I'm going to West Coast Riot the day before.

Mitts: I think we're gonna go to that too, actually, because we have a day off, and I think we're gonna go check out the Bad Brains. Like you mentioned you guys released the new album called "Empire" last year. What do you think about the album today now that you've had a little bit of space since it was released?
Mitts: It's funny, I listened to it the other day for the first time in a long time. I think when you're making a record, you're immersed in it, you hear it every day, and then when it's done, then you're just playing your shows. I went back and I listened to it for the first time in a long time, and we're very happy with it. When we set out to write a record, we want to do two things. We wanna continue the Madball sound, we don't wanna do anything too super-different, you know, we're not like Coldplay or U2, where we're gonna experiment with sounds. This is hardcore, so we're gonna make a hardcore record that's gonna sound heavy, it's gonna sound aggressive.

But at the same time, we also don't want to make the same record over and over again. So we're always trying to add in a new angle, little different elements of things, and different vibes on certain things and move forward. So feel like this is the best album that Madball in 2011 is going to put out, or 2010 when it came out. So we're happy with it. I was listening to it and I'm like "wow, this is...we did a good job", I was pretty proud of it. So you mentioned you don't want to write the same album over and over again. Do you think that's ever been a problem for Madball? Like similar sounding albums one after the other?

Mitts: It depends on how you look at it. If you're a fan of us, then you're not gonna see it that way. If you don't like our band, then you're gonna go "oh that stuff all sounds the same". For me, I've never had a problem with bands that put out similar records. You have a band like AC/DC. To me, they're the best hard rock band in the world. They put out every single record, when you buy an AC/DC record, you know what you're gonna get. I happen to like that. When I buy a Coca Cola, I know I'm gonna get something every time, this is the product that I want. AC/DC makes this great sound. I wanna hear their newest version of that great sound. Slayer, they are going to put out a brutal record every time, and it's gonn a always gonna sound like Slayer, and I like Slayer. So I don't care. I don't want Slayer to go out and get ukuleles and fuckin', you know, congas and start doing some experimental eastern Indian sounding shit. I wanna her Slayer. So for us, again, we wanna stick to our formula, which is hardcore with groove to it, with a little bit of bounce to it, and we're gonna always try to move forward, you know, what's something we haven't mixed in there yet. Just spice it up, new ingredients. Obviously Madball has been a band for a very long time now. So lets imagine you were in school and you had a teacher who assigned you an essay topic with the following title: "Madball: a hardcore institution". What would you say or write about?
Mitts: It's a big honor to have anybody even say that about us, obviously. Me, personally, I've been in the band for ten years now, Freddy and Hoya have been there since the beginning. An institution is something that, kind of like what I said about being able to count on something. I hope that people know that they always know what they're gonna get with us. When you come to our show, you know we're gonna put on our best show. Every single night. When we make a record, you know it's gonna have that certain sound to it, and then we ride the waves...there are certain areas of the world we are playing for a hundred people, and then we went to Vainstream fest the other day, and it was six-seven thousand people. So we're gonna do what we do. The institution part to me becomes about the consistency of it. We're gonna do what we're gonna do, no matter whether there's five kids there, whether there's a hundred kids, or a thousand, or ten thousand, or twenty thousand. We're gonna make the best record, whether nobody buys it or or whether it becomes all of a sudden the new trend and everybody starts "oh Madball, they're a hot new band again" or some shit. We do what we do, and we're lucky enough that for over twenty years now that people have appreciated it and have kept us here. Because we wouldn't be here if it weren't for the response. Alongside Sick Of It All and Agnostic Front, you guys are one of the most successful bands from the New York Hardcore scene. If you go all the way back to the 80s, then, why do you think that New York out of all cities was the place where there was such a strongly developing hardcore scene in the States?
Mitts: I think that the environment at the time...hardcore is aggressive music. New York Hardcore came from New York City and the neighborhood and the area. You had the environment where there were the clubs, there was your CBGB's, there was a place called The Continental, and there were all these other venues that I can name like Ritz, which is now Webster Hall again. Places where hardcore bands could play really easy. CBGB's was a place for hardcore not because the owners liked hardcore, the owners didn't give a fuck about hardcore, but CBGB's was a place that had an open space on Sunday afternoons, and they would give shots to local bands. So then all of a sudden it started becoming a place for bands to go play. Hardcore bands, in the early stages, would play wherever they could find a gig. Whenever a club would allow this kind of a show where people are jumping off each other, smashing into each other and jumping off the stage, if you had a club that would allow that, that's where the shows went. So that's why CBGB's became that.

I think that back in that period of time, that was a very hard neigborhood. The area down there was pretty dangerous and it was some tough living. I came from the suburbs, I was not a city guy, but I used to go, when I used to go to the shows, I mean that was the scene I wanted to be a part of. And I think that the vibe of New York City reflected in the music. You had West Coast hardcore like Black Flag and Circle Jerks and that. That stuff was a little more about the suburban mentality. New York Hardcore was about street life. New York Hardcore was about Lower East Side. Originally. Then everybody grew on to do other things. But I think that's why New York, that's the New York signature to me, that aggressive sound that came from that kind of a scene. Obviously, singer Freddy's brother is in Agnostic Front. Is there any kind of friendly rivalry between the two bands?
Mitts: No, I don't think so. There are bands that we are friends with that we feel a rivalry with, but I very much would stress the fact that it is friendly. There's nobody that we would ever play with that we wouldn't want to do well. But there are bands that we would play with that if they have a great show, we wanna have just as good a show, if not better. But they're our friends, I wanna see them have a great show. And then I wanna have a great show. But Agnostic Front, it's weird, we're super tight with those guys. There are times when we are in the States and we'll have four or five songs with Agnostic Front, we don't even do two vans. We all go together in the same van. We share equipment, we'll share the ride, we'll stay at the same hotels. They're family, they're part of us, we're part of them. I never felt competetive to can you be me Agnostic Front is the most legendary hardcore band in the world. There are bands that are bigger, there are bands that have made more money...but Agnostic Front invented the New York Hardcore sound. They were the first ones that had that real raw sound. And they're also able to change with the times. They've grown and they've gone, they've done more metallic stuff, and then through the 90s, they brought back a little more of the punk, but it always had that AF sound to it. I think that, and I've always said, I think that Agnostic Front belongs to the Rock'N'Roll Hall Of Fame. I know that nobody there would ever give hardcore that kind of credit, but to me, they are legends. Roger and Vinny, that's legends right there.

When somebody throws that at Madball, I step back, number one because I'm ten years in the band and not for the full time, and secondly because you can't sit there and let somebody say that. That's up for somebody else's opinion, but to me, Roger and Vinny and Agnostic Front, those are legends. Legitimate legends, because they were born into it, and they carried it for all these years. You guys played Groezrock in Belgium in April where you also had bands like H2O, Sick Of It All and CIV, and they were obviously all part of the New York Hardcore scene in the old days as well. Was it good to be reunited with the old colleagues?
Mitts: That day was... I didn't have enough time that day to have as much as I wanted to have. I mean there were so many people there that we were friends with. Not just those bands, but there were other metal bands that were there and punk bands that we know just through touring. We're friends with people besides having to do anything with music. I know one of the Descendents guys, the guitar player, he came over and he's a really sweet dude. There was Comeback Kid, good friends of ours, we've toured with them a bunch in recent years, they were on the show. That was like a party, and you had to go play. It was a great, great, great time. I think H2O might have had one of the top three shows they've ever had in their career. That was an amazing H2O set. Obviously you guys have been around in the music industry for a long time now, and again this is one questions that stretches a little bit further back, how would you say that it has changed over the years, watching from your position?
Mitts: I can definitely answer...I mean even before I was in Madball I've been going to shows since I was 15 years old. I've been a part of the hardcore scene for my whole life from 15 years old. The scene to me has changed, the number one thing I would say is the internet. When I was a kid, if I wanted to get records, I lived about 45 minutes to an hour outside New York City. So I had to take the train to New York City and go to speciality record shops that were only in the Greenwich Village or the Lower East Side to get these records. Warzone, Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, casette tape demos and stuff like that. You couldn't get the music, you had to know somebody or know where to go to get the music.

Nowadays, you can be in India and go on the internet and download the new Agnostic Front record, or the new H2O record. Now anybody can have access to the music. So even if you can't go to a show, you can still get the music no matter where you are in the world, and it wasn't always like that. And that's why every city back then had its own sound. New York sounded the way it did because all the bands were inbreeding with each other. Members would change and go between bands. I knew nothing about Boston. I knew Slapshot, you know, we don't fucking still see it with Slapshot, but they were one of the bands I knew from Boston. I knew Bad Brains were from D.C., but I didn't know that much, I mean I got into Bad Brains after a couple of years, but when I first came into the scene, I didn't know what these bands sounded like, you know, because you didn't have a chance to get their records! There was just no distribution. There was no way for you to get any of that, so. Do you think that the attitudes have changed over the years?

Mitts: No. I think attitudes are all based on where you are in life. When you are sixteen or seventeen, you carry yourself a certain way. You see a music scene as your life, that's your world. And now we're in our mid 30s, I just turned forty this year. I still love hardcore but I don't go to shows and look at it like it's my life. I love playing these shows, I love being...when I was a kid, looking up on the stage, now I'm up on that stage, and I'm playing for these people. I don't think the attitude is any different , it just depends on where you are in your life cycle. You guys have been on a ton of different record labels over the years. Who would you say has been the best one to work with. Lets exclude Nuclear Blast for now, obviously, because you are signed to them right now.
Mitts: It's hard to say. The best people I think we've ever been associated with are our deal in the States for two records with Ferret. And then they became Good Fight Entertainment. Those are people that are legitimately good people. I can't really comment on the business side of things, that's something Freddy's more in control of than me, I don't really handle any business with the band. Those are the people that when you meet them you can see that they are legitimate. There is a legitimate friendship there, and they've treated us well. We're a hardcore band, we're not gonna sell 500 thousand records, and we've never been made to feel like that through those guys. But just as a broad statement, any label that we ever deal with, it's not like an R&B artist or a metal artist that wants to feel like a rock star, who wants to be taken to crazy dinners, and you know, treated like royalty. For us, all we care about a label is that they get our music out and promote our band so more people can get in what we're doing. So how come you guys have been switching labels so frequently?

Mitts: It's kind of like what I just said. We're always going to re-assess. We don't want to lock ourselves into a long term thing with somebody. We always want to have our options out there to go to the place where we feel is the best for us. Our goal is to get the music out, and make sure kids that like the band, fans of ours, supporters of ours, are going to know where to find the record, and again, get us in some magazines, promote it and get our message out there. What would you say is the best Madball album and why?
Mitts: I don't know what I would say...I'll tell you before I was in the band and then after I joined the band. The record that I think is the best Madball record before me was "Hold It Down". That record to me, I remember when I got it, I was friends with the band for years before, and somebody had an advance copy of it, and when we heard it, we were blown away. Just the sound of it, the vibe of it, was to me, a defining record of the band at the moment. And then since I've been associated with the band, since I've been in the band, I'll say that "Legacy" is my favorite record. We had taken about a year, year and a half, close to two years where we broke it up. And when we first came back, we did an EP and we didn't want people out there thinking that we were a reunion band. We looked at it and we were like "you know what, it was too early to break up, we made a mistake, we're coming back full tilt". When we took some time off we realized that we had more to say. And "Legacy" for me was the statemenent of "look, we're back, this isn't just a reunion, this is our new record". We made a big effort on "Legacy" to have every era of the band represented. There was some metallic stuff on it, there was some just straight raw old school hardcore tracks, there was some more groove stuff. I think that "Legacy" was a full picture of everything that Madball ever sounds like. We were fresh because we had come off of...that was the first record in five years, the first full length in five years, so we were kind of ready to go. I'm very proud of that album. I'm proud of all three that I've done with the band, but that's the one I feel is the biggest achievement. I have a couple of fan-submitted questions that were submitted by our readers. First of all, when did Freddy start singing, and how did he get into singing in the first place?
Mitts: Again, as old as I am, I can tell you these stories even though I wasn't in the band yet. Roger Mirat from Agnostic Front is Freddy's older brother, and he used to take him on tour in the summer time when he wasn't in school. And then it was the thing of like "give the kid a mic and he'll sing a song", there's videos of YouTube you can see of Freddy when he is 10 years old singing with Agnostic Front. I remember going to Agnostic Front shows and seeing "that's that guy's little brother!". They got it started like that, and they threw around the idea of "hey lets give this kid a band". The first Madball release, "Wall Of Destruction" 7-inch, which was Agnostic Front guys playing the music, and Freddy singining, so that's how it got its start. Okay, next one. One of our readers saw you guys play in Århus, the city on the other side of Denmark in 2008. He claims to have noticed that Freddy appeared annoyed by Mackie Jayson's drumming, and now Mackie isn't part of the band anymore, so he wants to know what was the problem with Mackie, and why didn't it work out with hm as a Madball drummer.
Mitts: Okay. First of all, Mackie is family of ours, he is a dear, dear friend. If somebody saw something on stage on one night, I mean that happens with every band. There have been nights where we've all looked at each other and been annoyed, or whatever. So one thing has nothing to do with the other. Mackie played for this band for a year and we had great shows with him, and it was a great time to tour with him because he is such a close friend. Mackie also played for Hazel Street that Frieddy and Hoya were in and that I ended up being in in the later years.

He didn't work out with the band more so because of the Cro-Mags became a more active thing. During the time he was in the band, all of a sudden they started getting more and more opportunities to bring the Cro-Mags back. It's John Joseph and Mackie playing in the Cro-Mags now. That became a conflict. Madball is a full time band. We couldn't have him say "oh I can't play this show because I've got the Cro-Mags", and we weren't gonna tell him that "you can't do the Cro-Mags". So we just parted ways. But again, anything that got seen on stage, it's life, you're on tour, not every night or every show is going to be happy or perfect. And when we are on stage, we're also very...there's a lot of adrenaline. It's absolutely nothing personal, Mackie is our family, so. What does Madball do to kill time in between cities?
Mitts: We like to sight see alot. If we're in a city like this, I'm a little dinged up right now {Ed note: he was limping one of his legs] but normally I'd be getting out walking around town sightseeing. I love to sightsee. I'm very, very grateful for the travel that we get to do with this thing, and so we'll try to get out and see some culture, and eat some good food. We're big into food, local food. When we go somewhere we wanna know "what is this city famous for?". We gotta try that. Because when we go home and somebody goes "I've got this", then we can go "no no, I had that from the place that invented it". I wanna be able to say that I've had the best in the world. When we go to Germany, I'm drinking beer every city I'm in, because Germany has the best beer in the world. We'll have Escargot in France. We go down into United States, when we go down south, we barbecue every day. Or maybe not every day, but for the first three or four days we're eating barbecue, because that's the best barbecue in the world. In Japan we're gonna eat sushi, because that's where sushi comes from. We're very into the trying the local foods. Local beers, local foods, and going out and seeing local culture. How many more albums do you think Madball has in them?
Mitts: A hundred. A hundred? Madball - the first band to reach a hundred records?

Mitts: There you go. To be honest, I don't see us stopping the travel. A couple of guys like Freddy has a baby on the way, Hoya has a son, the travel takes its toll on people's family lives. But at the same time, we also don't travel the way we used to. We don't do seven week tours anymore. We do two week tours. So I don't see any reason why we would stop. We haven't talked about "oh this is gonna be our last record and we're gonna wrap it up", you know? If the opportunity is there, and if the audience is still there, I don't see any reason why we're gonna stop making records and touring. For right now, we're gonna do another record, and then after that, we'll probably make another record, and just keep going. Okay! That's it from me, thank you for the interview. Do you have anything to add?

Mitts: Thank you. I would say that if you haven't seen us before, come out to the live show and check us out. We put on our best show every single night. It's a special experience, and check out our new record "Empire". We're very proud of it, and it's where we are right now, 2011 Madball.

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