Kurt Vatland of La Madness: Out of their Minds with Rock n' Roll

By: Justin Beckner

It is my pleasure to introduce you all to La Madness, the brainchild of singer/songwriter Kurt Vatland.  Their debut album dropped last year and already the band has toured two continents and has begun work on a follow up album. Their sound, previously described as Indie Grind Blues revisits the grit and honesty that rock music has been missing for so long.  The idea that a little debauchery won’t kill you may have gotten lost somewhere in the mid 90’s. Fortunately La Madness brings it back to the table. The spirit of classic rock does indeed have a pulse, its lives on in bands like La Madness.

JB: Tell me how this whole La Madness thing came to be.

KV: I had been in a lot of bands for a long time and then I spent some time in California and Texas struggling along as a singer songwriter. I came back to Minnesota and I was still writing stuff that was all just acoustic stuff. The guy who mastered our record, Colt Leeb, I had set everything up to record an album with him. I had the funding and everything all figured out for it but something went haywire with one of the people I was getting funding from and I just didn’t want that person’s money involved with my record. So I just said “Fuck It” and I put it off for a while and actually put down my guitar and didn’t play for a while. During that time I met our producer, Brian Mengy, and we became friends and he got me to record this acoustic song I had written that is not on the album, it will come out one of these days but anyways that got around to some friends and that’s how I met my drummer, Aaron Willey. That’s kind of how it started; I had about three albums worth of stuff when me and Aaron started jamming. We got to work and got a bass player and a lead guitar player and dove right into the studio because Brian was going on tour with Shinedown and Adelitas Way, he was running sound with those guys for a long time. So we just jumped into the studio and cut the first track called “She’s A Devil” at Winterland Studios. Then he was gone for like two months and after he got home, we spent about two months working on the album Chances Are. I just picked a handful of songs that I really wanted to get out there. Originally it was just going to be a Kurt Vatland solo acoustic album and the album was going to be called La Madness. So once we got a band together, we just called the whole project La Madness. But we made Chances Are and it came out June 29th of 2013. We did a tour of the west coast just prior to its release. I really didn’t want this to be just a Minneapolis band. I did the gypsy thing and traveled around a lot and the west coast has always been really good to me and we really wanted to go out on a national level immediately and not get stuck into being a local band. We had another west coast tour booked and about a week before the tour started, I had seen Papa Roach at First Ave. and the next day I saw this contest thing about playing with Papa Roach in Europe so we submitted our stuff and we got picked. They called us 5 days before the first show in Europe and told us to get our asses over there. So the number one strip club in Minnesota called King of Diamonds supported our tour and got us over to Europe. We did a bunch of shows over there and then got back here and did another west coast tour. So since that album came out, we’ve toured over 20,000 miles. The band is really tight right now.

JB: How did the title Chances Are come about?

KV: The name of the album actually came about sometime around our seventh show or so. I’m a huge Blind Melon fan – I was on their tribute album Twenty Stories Below. I have a long history with the Hoon family and the Blind Melon guys and our seventh show was playing in Indiana for Shannon’s vigil. We went to a strip club after that because that’s just the kind of band we are and the club was called Chances Are. We had such a great time there so we had a bit of a Spinal Tap moment where we decided we’d just call the album Chances Are. We wanted to bring back that 80’s kind of attitude where a little debauchery is good. I ended up knowing a Playboy model named Jessica Zelinske who agreed to do the cover for us, which was great.

JB: What was the intention for the band when you went into the studio? Where did you want this record to take you?

KV: Personally, I just wanted a bitchin rock record that could take us on tour and maybe get a label. When you hear the record, we can sound like that on stage every fucking night. That was another thing that was really important to me. There’s nothing worse that liking a band’s record and seeing them live and they sound nothing like the record. The whole idea was that I just wanted to be honest. All the songs are true stories. I think the songs are a really good representation of what the band is about. One of the strengths of the record, and one of the pitfalls as well, is that we don’t have one real category that we fall into sonically. We call it Indie Grind Blues. Our producer was really great in that he knew exactly what I wanted. The one song was done at Winterland Studio but the rest of it was done at Wild Sound in Northeast Minneapolis. Colt and Brian now have a studio in Minneapolis. That’s where we’ll be going back in June to work on the second album. We had a perfect team working with us and we weren’t really trying to do anything specifically – we just wanted to do something honest and rock it out. I hope people dig it. I wrote every song on the record acoustically first. I keep it pretty simple. Everything is a half-step down. There’s some Drop D stuff. I always write it acoustically but with the idea that one day I’d like to play it with a band.

JB: Was there any one songwriter that inspired you to start writing your own music?

KV: My older brother got me into Van Halen. I remember hearing G&R for the first time and my mind just being blown away. After that I became a real big Jim Morrison guy. I always wanted to sing. I wasn’t sure or confident about becoming a guitar player. Then Nirvana came and Kurt Cobain didn’t use that many chords. Kurt Cobain was a big deal for me. There was also Elliot Smith, Lou Reed. With Cobain and Lou Reed, it was like if you’re playing more than three chords, you’re playing jazz. Keep it simple. I like that format. If it’s got a lot of soul, you don’t need a lot of chords.

JB: What was the first song you learned to play on guitar?

KV: “About a Girl” by Nirvana was the first song I ever learned how to play. It’s so funny that you ask me that because we just played in Rochester, MN and I was going through a box of my old stuff in my old room at my dad’s place for nostalgia’s sake and I found this old Memorex tape that I made with my friend Bobby, who taught me how to play. I only knew like one chord and I was already writing songs. It was funny because every other song we played on that tape was either a Nirvana song or a Doors song. Its come a long way since then.

JB: That tape sounds like a keeper.

KV: It’s definitely a keeper but I’m sure as hell not going to play it for anybody.

JB: It might be a little early to start talking about what the second album is going to sound like but do you have any goals for what sort of progressions you’d like to see for the band on the next album?

KV: I think adding Taz on lead guitar helped to define our sound a little bit. The first album was very off the cuff and I think the second one you’ll hear a little more of a craftier songwriting style and the musicianship will be a little more intricate. But Taz really brings us that G&R vibe on guitar. I play my Fender Deville and my hollowbody. Taz brings the Marshall Stack sound. Then I think just being on the road has solidified us and the songs that we play have sharpened up. We’re not the type of band that is going to overthink everything and we’re focused and really excited for the next record to come out.

JB: Would you say that you’re comfortable in the studio now?

KV: For sure, just the other day I went into the studio and cut a country song with Kevin Bowe, who has written a few Grammy nominated songs, so that was pretty exciting working with him. Working in the studio is always exciting and it’s starting to get a bit more comfortable now.

JB: Do you think you’ll ever make a solo acoustic album?

KV: I don’t know, I’m just really trying to do the La Madness thing right now but later this month, we’re doing an acoustic show as a band. It’s going to be like an Unplugged Storytellers type show at Winterland Studios. We’re excited to bring it back to the roots. I think that where we’re at as a band right now, we feel much more comfortable doing acoustic stuff. It’s not far-fetched to think there might be an acoustic song on the next record.

JB: Do you think that playing acoustically helps the tightness of a band?

KV: Yeah, I think it’s all about feel. When a band can turn around and play songs acoustically, that says a lot. All the bands I like can do it. I think it’s an important aspect to be able to strip down the songs and have them still sound good.