Most artists claim they would suffer for their art. The founding members of Chicago's Madina Lake gamely faced death for theirs, crawling through trenches, munching on cow parts, ingesting maggots and eventually being hospitalized, all in the name of rock n' roll. A year before they were recovering from their adventure in infirmary beds, twins Nathan Leone (vocals) and Matthew Leone (bass) had joined musical forces with guitarist Mateo Camargo and drummer Daniel Torelli - two musicians who shared the siblings' vision for creating hook-laden, pop culture-inspired hard rock with a message - to form Madina Lake, named after the fictional 1950's town from a story Matthew penned.
The town is turned upside down when its most famous socialite, Adalia, mysteriously disappears. "Madina Lake is a microcosm of what's happening in America today," Nathan explains. "Everyone wants to be famous and everyone wants to live louder than everyone else." Tackling the consequences of society's fixation with pop culture and materialism might seem like heady stuff for a rock band, but Madina Lake isn't out to preach or bring listeners down. Instead, they deliver their message with stunning pop sensibility. Their sense of humor might be due in no small part to the time they experienced that "living louder" lifestyle firsthand. Egged on by friends, the Leone brothers applied for and were accepted to appear on the "twins" episode of the gross-out reality show Fear Factor. "The producers asked us 'Why do you want to be on the show?'" Nathan recalled. "We were like 'We don't. We're not athletic types, we're skinny little rock dudes!' I guess they liked that we didn't care." Not having body builder physiques proved no match for their unstoppable drive. Accepting the Fear Factor challenge in hopes of scoring the grand $50,000 prize to kickstart their career, the brothers had to dangle from a helicopter and chug ground up cow parts while clambering through a trench.
Though they both picked up a nasty infection that nearly killed them, their ambition proved solid and they won. Upon recovery, IVs were quickly traded for mics and a touring vehicle. A demo was put together, shows were booked, a record deal with Roadrunner Records was promptly landed. The band went to Los Angeles to record their debut album, From Them, Through Us, To You, with Mark Trombino behind the board. Having worked with Jimmy Eat World, Motion City Soundtrack, Finch and blink-182, Trombino was the perfect choice to capture Madina Lake's upbeat pop sound while preserving the intense subject matter of their songs. From Them, Through Us, To You bounds from speakers with subtly catchy hooks and poignant vocals shouting brilliantly-crafted lyrics. Album opener "Here I Stand" starts with a delicate introduction before erupting quickly into heavy, speedy guitars. "At first listen it sounds like it's about losing a girl and being bummed about being alone," Nathan says. "It's really about what you do if you might not be able to realize your dream. How do you live your life?" The album's debut single is the turbulent "House of Cards," which is led by a driving beat and deeply tormented vocals, revealing secrets like "I'm afraid to be alone / I'm afraid that one day you'll find out." Nathan says the track is about "people who keep a million secrets.
No one will admit it, but if you pry a little you'll find out the weirdest things about people." "Adalia," about the disappearing socialite, juxtaposes harsh, shrieked background vocals with a bouncy drumline. It's fittingly experimental for a song Nathan says is about "girls that really struggle with things like depression and anxiety...the super-famous social butterfly who has all the demons underneath." And while many songs that tell the Madina Lake story are ultimately about people or society in general - like "River People," a song about integrity - the band isn't afraid to get highly personal as on a track like "Me Vs. World." Set against dark, hook-laden instrumentals are lyrics about "feeling completely outcast, alone, and not understanding how the world works and why people don't feel the same as you," the song is at once about the twins' loss of their mother, and about the struggle of adolescence. "We're not going to be afraid to talk about what we believe," Nathan says. "We don't put constraints on ourselves. We want to carve a brand new path and do our own thing."
Obviously, the world is listening. To date, Madina Lake has played over 120 shows in just 10 short months of touring. They are selling around 100 copies of their EP a night and have amassed a loyal fanbase who sing their praises on MySpace.com, various blogspots and fansites. They have toured in the United States with 10 Years, Halifax, Red Jump Suit Apparatus and in the U.K. with Paramore, Cute Is What We Aim For and Gym Class Heroes. The band is set to head out again in the U.S. with Halifax upon release of the record. Though they are only at the beginning of that path, Madina Lake have already crafted a detailed map to lead listeners towards a new horizon in rock. Their sun has only begun to rise.