Having your band’s tour funded by strippers is pretty rock ‘n roll.
Well, the men of Minneapolis’ La Madness (not to be confused with “L.A.” Madness) can put that at the top of their rockstar resume alongside touring Europe on five days’ notice, sharing the stage with Papa Roach, and headlining a Saturday night at the Whisky A Go Go.
I sat down with La Madness frontman Kurt Vatland at the world famous Sunset haunt to talk about his band’s recent European run, his take on the band’s “indie grind” style, and why he is so deeply inspired by the streets of LA.
Give me the CliffsNotes on La Madness, NOT L.A. Madness…
Kurt: Yeah, thank you for the “La.” I was in San Diego, then Houston, then came back to Minnesota. I had written all of these songs in acoustic, and I was just going to make an acoustic record. Then I got with our drummer, Aaron. It’s funny, when I moved, Riggs (our guitar player) was my neighbor. But I got with Aaron, and after fifteen minutes he was like, “Put the fucking acoustic down, dude. Let’s make a record.”
We started working as a two-piece for a little bit, then we were like, “Let’s bring in a bass player and see what we’ve got, see what songs work.” Riggs jumped on board after our original bassist (that was like a year-and-a-half ago), then right away we recorded our first track with Brian Mengy, who worked with New Medicine.
I love New Medicine…
Yeah, right? So Brian was like their road guy and did their records from the start — a good friend of mine. He said he was going out on tour with Shinedown and New Medicine for a while, so to just come into the studio. We went in and cut that [record], then the Varsity theater called to say that we were playing with New Meds. I was like, “We only have seven fucking songs…”
I knew we were going to work with Brian and Colt Leeb (Soul Asylum, New Medicine), whom he has a studio with now, so we started to make a record. We would play maybe one or two shows a month. It was about finding out what our record was. Our sound is “indie grind blues,” and that’s important to get across.
That’s different. I like that.
And I really wanted to tour the West Coast. I just missed it so much. Then the fucking Whisky got back to us right away. The next morning, they were like, “Saturday night cool?” I was like, “Fuck yeah.” This only our thirtieth show. [Laughs] They hooked us up and have been really good to us.
I’m a big Morrison guy. It’s funny because back in the day I used to have a house gig at the Cat Club, and I always wanted to go to the Whisky, but I refused to go inside until I actually played here. I finally got to do that the last trip. Then we booked this show. The Whisky’s been great to us.
Tell me about your recent run in Europe.
Just recently — like two, two-and-a-half weeks ago. We had entered some competition to play with Papa Roach. I had just seen them at First Avenue, then I saw this thing on Facebook that said, “Enter to win to play with Papa Roach in Europe.” So I was like, “Fuck it — I’d play in Germany. That’s where Grandfather’s from.” Then they called and were like, “Dude, you’ve got five days to get over here.” Fuck. Our tour’s gonna start. We’re fucked. But we were really fortunate in that our number one full-nude, full-liquor gentleman’s bar King of Diamonds was sponsoring our tour. It was so great going over there, and when people were like, “How’d you pull it off?” we could say that we had a whole bunch of strippers fly us over there.
That is so rock ‘n roll.
They just fucking died laughing. We played a couple shows in Europe, then when we got back and played First Avenue in Minneapolis, then drove 31 hours straight to Vegas and LA. Since our first show, if you even want to count that shit, we’ve maybe played as a whole band, like 75 shows? But in forty-some shows, we’ve done a little over 20,000 miles worth of touring without management or a label.
How did German audiences and Papa Roach’s fans react to you guys?
It was great. It was kind of funny because when we got there, people knew who we were already. That was an odd thing as a support band — that people already knew us. Then again, we’re still young as a band…dude, we just wanna fucking play.
So lifetime, how old is the band?
Like a year-and-a-half. I was doing my own stuff and everyone wanted me to sing in their band. I was like, “I don’t want to sing in your fucking band — I want to do my own stuff.” But I didn’t have a band, so it was frustrating. I moved to Texas, then back to Minneapolis, and I started doing hair. I was a hair stylist. Then Aaron and Riggs said, “Dude, you’re doing a record.” They just wouldn’t give up on it. It’s been a real dream and a whirlwind because everything I wanted to do, I’m doing now. Were still a very young band, but we’re not virgins of the fucking road. We’re definitely hitting it hard for a band just out of the gate.
Before La Madness, were you solely just a singer-songwriter then?
I had a band in college. I mean, I’ve always been a front guy. I wrote stuff, but I was just like, “You guys play it.” But yeah, the last couple years I had just been a singer-songwriter because I couldn’t find a band. Having a band is like having five fucking girlfriends, so that in-and-of-itself is just kind of insane.
Originally it was going to be Kurt Vatland solo-acoustic, and the album was going to be called La Madness. Originally it was going to be L-E, “Le Madness,” like it was in French, but it always looked stupid in the font that I liked. Every song is about me fucking partying in LA anyways, so it was like, “Fuck it. Let’s make it an ‘a’ as an ode to Los Angeles.” But now it’s funny when people call us L.A. Madness.
I was positive it was “L.A Madness.”
It’s funny because when the band started, we actually got more love out here at first. It was like, “Fuck, you know what ’3rd & Figeuroa’ is. You know what the fucking ‘Rainbow on Sunset’ is.” People in the Midwest don’t, and unless they know LA, they don’t fucking know. I think the music just naturally gravitated to here because it’s about here.
Did you used to live in LA?
In San Diego, but I was always up here playing acoustic at the Cat Club. I stayed with a friend of mine [there]. We were broke, so we would take the Greyhound up from San Diego, get champagne, and spike it with vodka. We didn’t want to go down 20 floors [at our hotel] to smoke a cigarette, so we’d just hang out the window. It was like, “We’re calling TMZ before we call 911 because if you ain’t famous before you die, you’re gonna be famous when you go.” That song “Hella L.A.” is about that experience. A lot of songs have a real reference to my love of Los Angeles.
Where do you think La Madness is going to fit into the rock spectrum? You have this bluesy thing going on, so is it more Southern rock, or are you going more grunge?
No, we’re making our own called “indie grind blues.” People are always asking, “Well, what the fuck is that?” It’s good you’re asking a fucking question. If I said it was “rock,” it would be in one ear and out the fucking other. Most people think they know rock, but most people don’t know shit. And they don’t. The average listener doesn’t. They just want to like what they like, and that’s no fault of theirs.
We made “indie grind blues” a stamp. It’s on our records. It’s on the back of our shirts. It’s very important to us to say, “No, we’re not in someone else’s genre — we’re our own genre.” That’s what rock kind of needs to have happen. I don’t want to be a flash in the pan, and it’s not just music — it’s fashion, it’s hair.
How does that (fashion/hair) fit into “indie grind”?
If you think back to early rock ‘n roll, even the ’70s and ’80s, for me, especially being a hairdresser, you think of models and runway shit. It was like, rock ‘n roll was what was cool, and now it’s not. It’s like fucking Kanye West. Blow my brains out. You’re fucking stupid.
We put together a benefit in Minneapolis called Rock the Catwalk. It was a really big event that local media really took on. It was a big event for breast cancer awareness. At first people were like, “You’re going to take a fashion show with no money and put rock ‘n roll into it? That’s crazy.” But it solidified and people were like, “Holy shit, I’ve never been to a fashion show that was rock ‘n roll all the way through in a long time, if ever. And if I did, it sucked.”
But it was huge, and now it’s an annual event. And again, I think we’re doing something different and taking different angles. We’re just trying to play as much as we can and get it out there.
So what’s the goal during this run out here to LA? Is the goal to try to get signed?
Absolutely. I like comfort. I’m not gonna get on my knees and blow someone for a record deal, but I think that we have something that’s not happening or that hasn’t happened in a while. Our fan base is so wide, and it keeps growing. I think to be doing what we’re doing and not be signed for very much longer is fucking idiotic.
Well, there’s a grunge revival that’s pretty apparent. That being said, how are you guys doing something that’s different?
Well, I definitely think that the music has a different flair, just sound-wise and tone-wise than those bands did. Obviously, you pick up a lot of similarities in the type of energy we put out.
You guys kind of remind of what would happen if Nirvana and Buckcherry had an illegitimate child…
Thank you. I would totally want to hang out with that kid.
Between all of us, there are so many different influences, but yeah, I think we bring in some new flair with some definite familiarity. We’re rooted in the blues, but we’re not stuck in the blues band category. I think that as much as we’re different, the things that people like about the band are our tenacity and work ethic — all that shit.
By the way, you look stoked to be here. (I was noticing the bass player sleeping in a chair inside the Whisky green room).
Dude, David sleeps the entire time, okay. Combining all the types of music we play makes him tired. [Laughs]
Have you had success on radio in any markets?
Here’s the thing: we have three singles in three different markets on major radio.
What markets are you in?
Minneapolis, Phoenix, and LA now.
You’re in LA?
Yeah, KROQ actually hit it up first (“Got Me Wrong”).
Did they think your name was “L.A. Madness” when they hooked that up? [Laughs]
[Laughs] The West Coast has been so nice to us. I mean, Minneapolis I love, but it kills itself. LA takes a little more pride in shit coming out of here.
How is the scene in Minneapolis?
It used to be fucking great. To me, it’s not what it was. There’s definitely a ton of talent there, but they kill their own. Its’ like, if you’re not a part of this little clique that never does anything nationally — why the fuck are they running shit anyways? — if you do anything outside of that, it’s like, “Fuck you. Are you too good for Minneapolis?” Then when you do well, they turn around and suck your dick and act like they were best friends with you the whole time. It’s like, “No, you actually fucking weren’t.”
I don’t give a shit now. If you like me now, I’ll take it. I want you to love me, and it was nice to see my hometown be supportive. We got a lot of shit when we first started from people like, “Oh, fucking LA?” First off, you don’t even know the fucking band name, so don’t even open your mouth.
I mean how is a band with no label and no management on three different stations in three different markets? That doesn’t happen. But we’re trying…we’ll prove it. We’ll prove it as long as we have to. In rock ‘n roll it’s about going into a new city, burning that fucker down, and doing it again the next night. That’s fun.
Keep up with La Madness and check out their single “Got Me Wrong” on the band’s official website.