Madhouse Disciples proof positive that hard work, and doing what you love, always pay off

Despite what you may have learned from watching the troglodytes on The Jersey Shore, working for a living hasn’t completely gone out of style. Most of you probably do it every day, schlepping from job to job, making ends meet–you know, basically working-class life in America. The members of the Sacramento-based punk band Madhouse Disciples do it too, but unlike many of us, in their off hours, they fucking rock.

Starting as a three-piece, the street rock/Oi! band formed in 2003. In that time, members have come and gone, but as of now Madhouse Disciples stands strong as a tight-knit four-piece ready, at long last, to release their debut full-length album. Mike Montero, Madhouse Disciples’ drummer, is the sole founding member of the group. But he says no matter how many personnel shakeups there may have been, he never felt the need to stray from the band he formed or playing the music he loves.

“We play street rock ‘n’ roll, Oi!,” Montero says. “That’s what I love, that’s what I’ve grown up on. The people who have came and gone in this band were also into that same thing. That’s one thing that all of our members have shared. And the name, I wouldn’t change it because I’ve been doing it since I was 16. It’s my baby.”

When the band parted ways with its vocalist in 2007, Montero turned to his cousin Brian Rawlins to fill in, even though he wasn’t the most obvious choice. Though Montero had fostered Rawlins’ acceptance into the Traditional Skinhead (read: working class, pro-union, anti-racism) subculture, and Rawlins was an avid punk show-goer, he had never sung before, at least not in front of a crowd.

“The only times I’d sang before that was in the shower or in front of family,” Rawlins admits. “So it was something I wasn’t very comfortable with.”

Rawlins came to join Madhouse Disciples under peculiar circumstances. Around the time the band’s singer had left the band, Rawlins was out on tour with venerable Sacramento punks Pressure Point, working as a roadie. One night in Elko, Nev., Mike Erickson, Pressure Point’s frontman, blindsided Rawlins with a severe ultimatum.

“Mike and some of the other guys were telling me that I had to do karaoke,” Rawlins recalls. “I was like, no, I’m not really comfortable doing that… Mike told me, ‘If you’re not going to do it, we’re leaving you here and you’ll have to find your own way back.’”

The threat of being abandoned in the middle of Nevada was all the motivation Rawlins needed. He nervously belted out a rendition of “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. However, his performance left enough of an impression on Erickson that he phoned Montero and told him he should consider Rawlins for Madhouse Disciples’ vacated vocalist position. Strangely enough, the thought had already crossed Montero’s mind.

“I already wanted to try Brian out because I’d known him forever and just thought it’d be fun, but then I heard he actually could sing,” Montero says. “Mike told me about that, and it just kind of clicked.”

With a solid group, the band went into the studio to record its first full-length album. Fittingly, Erickson served as producer. Montero says that financial concerns kept the LP from seeing the light of day, but in January, the band plans to finally release the record. Not only was he a first-time singer, but Rawlins also wrote lyrics for just about every song on the record–also a new experience for him. He did what any good writer would and just pulled from his own experiences.

“I write about things like working-class ethics, unity and anti-racism. I also write about things on a personal level that can also touch other people,” he says. “Coming from divorced parents, who also had a heavy drug abuse background, there’s stuff that I learned from that. It’s not a path I have to follow.”

At 12 tracks, the self-titled album is long on message, but also extremely entertaining–just good, honest rock ‘n’ roll with searing lead guitar work courtesy of guitarist Tony Courtney. Who said having a conscience and having a good time had to be mutually exclusive? In separate interviews, Montero and Rawlins broke down for us their experiences working on their debut record as well as living in the punk rock subculture.

Mike Montero

Did you have an inkling that Brian would be a good vocalist, or was it just because you had a good relationship and thought it would be fun to have him in the band?
One, because we were related and I knew he was a solid dude. Two, if you’ve ever met Brian or know anyone who’s met Brian, he’s got more energy than any human being alive. I thought if nothing else, he would have great stage presence. That was the basis for me wanting to try him out.

You recorded your first full-length album coming out soon. You worked with Mike Erickson from Pressure Point to record this album. I know you did a split with Pressure Point before, but what was it like going into the studio with him to record your own album?
Mike is a great producer. He has an amazing ear for music. We spent a lot of time in pre-production. We played those songs over and over, to the point we didn’t have to think about it any more. Mike was a big part of that. He kept us motivated and going in the right direction as far as being militant about practicing and getting so good with those songs that we could play them in our sleep. As far as recording goes, Mike was producer and Eric Broyhill was the engineer. We recorded it at the Pus Cavern. Eric and Mike have been working together for years, and those two together are a deadly combination when it comes to making music. They know what it should sound like as far as tones and everything. Once we got in there, we let those two figure out the tones we were going for. We gave them a small amount of what we wanted. We wanted to sound more like an old rock ‘n’ roll record, and they knew what amps would sound good, what guitar combinations and stuff like that. It went like clockwork, really. It came together like it was meant to be.

As a drummer, have you had to adapt to each new player coming in?
Not so much. With the kind of straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll stuff we play, the drums aren’t really supposed to be super flashy. There’s not a whole lot to change. The drums are just the backbone. It’s nothing real fancy.

You’re doing the CD release at a house show. Do you prefer those over shows at venues?
The venue to me isn’t really the point so much. I prefer to play all-ages shows, where the younger kids can get into it and have a good time. It’s a good positive outlook. You play bar shows, and often times there are a lot of people sitting at the bar who don’t care about the music. They just want to get drunk, and that’s fine. Whatever, that’s cool. You want to get drunk, get drunk. Typically punk and Oi! subculture has been a youth subculture. It has a lot to do with the younger kids. All-ages venues are more preferable. Our bass player [Dirty D] owns a house that has a great big shop in the back, and it’s totally DIY. We put a stage and a PA in there, and it’s a cool thing where this is our thing.

How did you get involved in the Oi! subculture?
It was a natural transition for me. I was a punk rocker. I had crazy hair and all that stuff. It got to the point where, “I can’t find a job if I look crazy.” I didn’t change any of my values in that sense. This is what I am. This is what I believe. I’m extremely anti-racist. I can’t stand that shit, and I’m extremely working class. It comes from my lower middle-class upbringing. I was taught that you work hard for what you get. That’s one of those values that I kept with me.

Your music is a lot of fun to listen to, but there’s also the message behind it that comes through very strong. Is the enjoyment or the message more important to you?
It’s a double-edged sword. In my opinion, in punk rock and Oi! music, the message is always more important than the music. It’s not like this new fucking pop bullshit that comes out that has no message or anything to it. There are definitely things that need to be said, and I think Oi! and punk music is where that stuff is said more than in the mainstream.

Brian Rawlins

Mike said he was already thinking of asking you before he heard from Mike from Pressure Point about it. Were you aware of that at all?
A little bit, but not so much. We kind of joked about it. When their split CD with Pressure Point came out, I was like, “Dude, you should let me sing in your band,” and my cousin said, “No dude. We already have a singer. Sorry. You suck at singing.” I’ve known him my whole life, so he’s brutally honest with me, but it’s all in good fun.

How did you feel when you got off that karaoke stage? Did it make you realize that you wouldn’t mind singing for a band?
No, I was terrified, to be completely honest. I was nervous and extremely embarrassed. With my friends, we have a saying that ball-busting is a sign of endearment, and I was preparing myself to get handed a bag full of endearment, I guess you could say.

How is it for you now? You’ve been with the band for a while. Are you comfortable singing in front of people?
It’s weird. I still get nervous, but that’s one of those things, I guess. It depends on the person. I still get the jitters. I prefer not to eat before a show, but that’s the same way I was with sports growing up–playing football. I didn’t eat before games, because I knew I was going to throw up.

Sports and punk rock seem like two different worlds.
Polar opposites.

How did you move from one to the other?
Well, as far as sports went, I started playing when I was 7. I played football all the way up until I graduated. I found myself not going to parties in high school, because I just didn’t find myself getting along with the “jocks.” It wasn’t because I had a beef with them or I hated them, but I just didn’t fit in with them. They could tell I was not one of their upper middle class brethren. I was from a poor family, so it was definitely one of those class differences.

You worked with Mike from Pressure Point on this record. Was he a big influence for you heading into the band?
Going to Pressure Point shows sucked me in pretty hard. Watching those guys play was amazing. Everything he said in between songs, and reading the lyrics, spoke to me on a different level. That’s when I realized it was something that mimicked my life already. It was an easy thing to take part in.

And now you’re working with him on this record, so that must be a big thrill for you.
For Mike to produce us was really awesome. It was fun. And he’s actually someone I respect, so when he suggested something, I wasn’t like, “Uh, I know what I’m doing.” It was really nice, because I could listen to his point of view and perspective and take a different look at things. He’s been doing Pressure Point for over 15 years, and it’s like, of course I’m going to listen to him with respect and admiration. Any advice that he had, I listened to with open ears.

Mike, your cousin, was saying that you spent a lot of time practicing the songs in pre-production, and that Erickson was a big reason for that.
Huge. Before we went into production, he said that he wanted us to be able to play them forwards and backwards–know them so well that we could go and hit it the first time and then work on any little things we wanted to do. You’ve got musicians like Tony in the band, who’s an amazing guitar player. It was fun. Practicing with these guys has always been fun. It’s never been like work.