Interview with Johnny Madrid
LA-based indie alternative rock band Johnny Madrid may at first attract attention due to the fact that young, breakout actor Logan Miller (Benjamin in The Walking Dead, Scout’s Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse, Before I Fall, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Take Me To The River, Plus One, Disney’s I’m With The Band) is a member, but the band also stands strong on its own musical terms. Johnny Madrid’s raw and gritty rock sonics and perceptive lyrics are riveting and the band is energetic and electrifying in the live setting. All four band members reveal details about their music and mindset in an entertaining and enjoyable interview.
Heya guys! It’s so cool to connect with you and find out more about you and your music. You dropped your self-titled debut rock EP on February 18th. Before we go into that, can you list who’s in the band and what instruments you play? Who is the main lyricist or is it a group effort?
Johnny Madrid: Thanks for having us! Logan Miller is on guitar, Matt Harting is on bass, Corey Slater plays the drums, and Ely Henry is the vocalist and lyricist.
How did you all get together to form Johnny Madrid? Were you all friends with each first?
Matt Harting: I came to the party late through Corey. I can only assume the previous bass player was left at a diner.
Corey Slater: It was because of Ely's birthday bullshit.
Logan Miller: Yeah, we played for Ely's birthday a year before forming the band. Doing a couple of his songs that he had written, we then decided to form together as a band and start writing some original material.
Ely Henry: I'd been writing singer-songwriter acoustic stuff for a while and wanted to put it up with a band for a birthday show. Called Logan and Corey because they were the guys I knew who could play and then we had our friend Nate Harar play bass (He's now doing his own project called Dalton). The show went well and then, like Logan said, we decided to ditch the stuff I'd been doing and get heavier.
I found out about you from being a fan of Logan’s since his time in Disney’s TV show I’m With The Band and I’ve been following his acting career ever since. How has having a ‘known’ person in the band affected your dynamics? Has this opened any doors for you, music- or other-wise?
Logan: I've definitely tried to take connections I've made in other spheres to get the music out. It can only help sometimes when you have a little of push elsewhere, however you have to show more of an effort to make the music good. So many actors go the music route and, honestly, I feel it falls flat. I want to make sure that I give as much effort to this as to everything else I do, so I'm constantly trying to push the envelope.
Matt: I’ve been in a handful of bands. I’ll say this. Johnny Madrid’s first show had SIGNIFICANTLY more people in attendance than any other band in which I’ve been a member. We rented a huge loft space downtown and filled it. I think I personally contributed 1.5 guests. First show attendance for me in other bands hovers around 4-8 people.
Bands just starting out, you’re relying on your friends to show up. Nobody has heard any of your music, so the first show is a good faith show. Honestly, Logan is a friendly guy with a lot of supportive people in his life, so that got people in the door. But after that first show comes and goes, you have to be more than a social animal to get people off their comfy couches on a Wednesday night. You’ve got to be better every show.
Ely: I was not aware Logan was an actor.
What are your musical backgrounds? Have all of you been in other bands or is Johnny Madrid your first time rockin’ out?
Matt: Started on guitar at around 12. Played with friends and in bands pretty much ever since. Studied and now work as an audio engineer and composer.
Logan: Been playing guitar since I was ten and I had been in two bands previous to Johnny Madrid. A band in middle school called Lokdown (real hardcore), then a band in high school with about ten different names. Some of them being "pee shiver", "road side couch", and "Afnopo".
Corey: Music my whole life. Born with Steel Teeth.
Ely: My two older brothers are professionally trained musicians so I've been around it my whole life. Like I said earlier, I was doing a lot of singer-songwritery stuff for a long time, but this is my first band.
Are you all LA natives or did you come to the City of Lost Angels to achieve your music-based dreams? How has LA shaped your outlook and tunes?
Logan: I'm from Dallas, Texas, but moved to LA to pursue acting. Being in a band thankfully came with some like-minded musicians we started to hang with.
Matt: My then girlfriend, now wife, and I were cozy in Chicago, but television writing brought her, and me by extension, to LA.
Ely: I moved here from Toronto, Canada to be an actor and writer, but mostly I spend my time drinking and yelling at birds I see.
Corey: I'm from Baltimore. I moved here to dance for Beyoncé.
You have a raw, gritty, and riveting rock sound. What bands do you count among your influencers or inspirational touchstones?
Matt : Logan is the starting point for the writing. He brings in riffs and pieces, song nuggets, and then we expand and arrange those ideas as a band. The crucial initial riffs, to my ears, typically are on the more aggressive side of rock / post punk / metal / sometimes psychedelic. We’ve talked about Kyuss, At The Drive In, Radiohead, the noisier side of Nirvana, as references of things that seem to marry our individual tastes.
Logan, Corey, and I have a lot of shared rock influences, whereas Ely is the wild card, and up until Johnny Madrid, hadn’t hung out in that world as much. My favorite thing about his vocals is he sings lines that I would never think of over our music. I’ve tried to sing some lines to aid the vocal writing process and my lines always sound unbelievably trite over our stuff. Retreads of the worst ‘90s alt-rock vocalists. If you don’t like our stuff, just know, it could be way worse.
Logan: I like this answer.
Ely: I also like this answer.
Corey: Oh, and Kanye.
Rock bands in general usually vent their frustrations with the world or express their dissatisfaction with their own lives or – well, some are just party bands. You’re definitely on the serious side of the fence, especially lyrics-wise. What are some of the themes you delve into on your EP? What are you fighting for – and/or against?
Logan: I just come from a darker background in music, so I'm always trying to incorporate metal and possibly some thrashy tones to what we're doing, but also try to root in jazz and blues. All those tend to come from more a depressed side of music-making, but I also want to make it as fun as possible. I think bands like Mr. Bungle and Ween did perfect jobs with that and I want to gear more towards being a band that explores all mediums of the music.
Matt: Maybe the music on its own, especially these songs on the EP, have a darker, serious tinge. It’s weird. When we play live, it feels fun. We’re not projecting, “THIS IS SERIOUS!” to the audience. It’s rock. You can stomp to it. Howl along with it. It’s a cathartic energy release. We’re not the right band for a catered party at Malibu Wines, or a dance club, sure, but if you come to a show, you can rage party and have a laugh with us.
Ely: Yeah, like Matt said - We really don't see ourselves as that serious. I wish I could say I had a logical reason for the lyrics being as dark as they are, but really it just kind of falls out of my face. During practice I usually improvise stuff over the songs and see what sticks. Sometimes a line will jump out at me and I can write the rest of the lyrics off that. Looking back on it, there's absolutely themes of isolation and loneliness and feeling out of place. But that's just because I have the dark soul of a poet. Or clinical depression. Or both.
Corey: Ely is secretly talking about killing me in all the songs.
Ely: That too.
LOL, OK, so, speaking of issues, the political/social atmosphere in the US has drastically changed for the worse under the current divisive President and his administration. Have you been impacted in any way by the erosion of our rights, facts, and intellect, and the spreading of lies, hate, and fear by the ones in power?
Matt: As 4 straight white guys in LA, we could choose to ignore it all. The ol’ privilege. It’s almost misery appropriation to say that we personally have been impacted. Well, barring the issue of health care... and the environment. Shit. Anyhow. We’re not ignoring it. It’s mentally and emotionally taxing to live in this time. For many groups in the US, there’s way more at stake. Anxieties will be expressed in many ways. We’ll never be an overtly political band, but good music exposes truth in humanity and vulnerability, so hopefully we’ll do some of that.
Corey: We’re not a political band but very political people. The current climate will change music for the better. We all have something to be angry about and we should express that with art.
Ely: I'm from Canada and so I think everything here is insane.
Logan: Fuck Trump.
On a lighter note, what is the meaning behind the Johnny Madrid moniker? It reminds me of the Johnny Utah character/name in Kathryn Bigelow’s adrenalized action classic Point Break. Any connection there or relation to movies at all?
Matt: I wasn’t there at the start of the band.
Logan: Amazing that you associate it with Point Break, we LOVE THAT!
Corey: Point Break is my favorite film of all time and the best piece of fiction ever written.
Ely: When the Sony email leaks came out, one of them detailed what aliases celebrities use for checking into hotels. Tom Hanks' was Johnny Madrid. It just felt right.
Cool! What’s rockin’ your world these days, music- or otherwise?
Matt: Very excited about Father John Misty’s new record, Pure Comedy.
Logan: Kaytranda, Badbadnotgood, Le Butcherettes, Converge, and Tobacco .
Ely: Run the Jewels, Anderson. Paak; Childish Gambino's latest record is awesome.
Corey: At the Drive In is back!!!
It’s been a horrible year for the passing of music legends like Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Prince. But let’s celebrate musicians’ lives and achievements instead by picking an artist who has inspired you the most and explaining why.
Matt: I’ll go with Trent Reznor, who is incidentally, heavily inspired by Bowie. Reznor's whole catalog deserves a considerate listen. I don’t love everything he does, nor do I listen to Nine Inch Nails nearly as frequently as I did in high school, but damn, he puts in some serious work. Inspiring.
Logan: Mike Patton. As someone who also comes from a hardcore background, I love Mike for the vast array of the music he pumps out. Whether it be Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, or his scoring work, I find him completely prolific.
Ely: Paul Simon is my favorite. His lyrics, his songwriting - It all hits on such a great level. That doesn't really apply much to what we do with Johnny Madrid, but when I can, I try to pull from him.
Corey: Bowie was the man, but my main influence would be my friend Jamarcus; he’s dope.
What’s next for you as Johnny Madrid? Will you be releasing a full-length record soon, or another EP? Do you have any gigs lined up?
Matt: Well Corey keeps threatening to die. He’s a romantic. But we’re fending Death off by dangling future projects. We’ve penciled in a session to do a split EP with a band called The Oil Barons. They’re better than us. You’ll love them.
Logan: The split EP and then hopefully an album. I'm on the road working right now, so when I get back to LA more music will be made.
Corey: And some shows.
Ely: What they said.
Crazy 'n' hilarious Nobody Wants To Jam With Logan video at Logan Miller's official YouTube account (from December 3, 2014):
Logan Playing Guitar from Logan Miler's official YouTube account (from February 21, 2011):
Paralysis, a short film about sleep paralysis at Logan Miller's official YouTube account (posted April 10, 2017; music by The Flaming Lips, The Antlers, Roy Orbison, and Logan Miller (on acoustic guitar)):