La Madness

La Madness

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

Kurt Vatland, Riggs Kessler, Seth Levine, and Aaron Willey have formed a new rock band called La Madness that is quickly making a name for itself in the state.

Vatland lived in Duluth for a while and played shows around town before settling in Minneapolis. He brought together a group of guys from the harder side of music to form a band that plays in the key of Buckcherry with some sprinkles of The Doors, Blind Melon, and maybe even the Melvins.

“On lead guitar is Riggs Kessler, who graduated from Berklee,” Vatland said. “I think he was kidnapped by the Black Crowes as a child. Seth Levine is on bass and has great precision from a progressive side of rock. Aaron Willey is a heavy handed percussionist with hands in everything from rock to hip-hop.”

When you read the band name correctly it is an homage to the French instead of what I had first assumed was Vatland’s love of Los Angeles. Once described in song as the “suitcase man” with a previous group, he explained how the band name came about from his various travels.

“It actually was going to be the name of my solo record in the French style of le madness," Vatland said. “I’ve decided since the songs referred to LA so much I would make it La Madness as an ode to Los Angeles. I moved back to Minnesota after a stint in California and it took on its own identity after a while. So I just decided to call it La Madness, but it’s not LA Madness, it’s La Madness.”

For those familiar with Vatland’s bands and career he needs no introduction, but for those who do not he may need some explanation. Vatland fronted the popular Saint Cloud band Velveteen for many years, but they broke up after a trip to Los Angeles where they were shopping their album to several labels. He continued his journey by playing solo from that point on and has played hundreds of shows over the years. I asked Vatland how this band will be different from his previous projects.

“I think there are many similarities because I wrote the songs in all my bands, but in the end it’s a Kurt sound through and though. I have some great people behind me putting their touch on it and I’m proud of it and my players. Solo shows are intimate by nature, but this project is a solo thing with a band, and it’s what I’ve always wanted,” Vatland said.

One thing that Vatland said hasn’t changed is his songwriting, but he does feel that what he writes about is different as he gets older.

“My songwriting is the same I think, but how I view it is different,” Vatland said, “I get a riff or get an idea and I might stew on it for months. Then sometimes it just comes to me all in one shot. So it varies. Since I’ve lived in other places than here in Minnesota, like San Diego or Houston, I think I have taken a bit of something from every place I’ve been. Those experiences can’t help but make the appeal of my sound grow. I can also relate to many different people now I guess. I think as I get older I get even more enjoyment when I see younger people into my music and it’s exciting.”

On Saturday La Madness is playing the FineLine in Minneapolis and they are in the process of scheduling shows up here at a few venues.

“We are brand new and our debut show was just a few weeks ago at Cause in Uptown, Minneapolis. We have the FineLine and Varsity Theatre coming up next and then Rochester's Wicked Moose in June. We will also be playing the Vigilstock in Indiana this summer and I know we will be making a trip back to my California too. I’m very excited about that one,” Vatland said.

I asked Vatland how he would describe the sound of La Madness and he said it was, “Indie Grind Blues.” He also talked about recently recording some tracks with a major producer.

“We recorded only a few weeks after being together as a band,” Vatland said. “The single "She's a Devil" was created with my friend and up and coming rock producer Bryan Mengy at Winterland Studios. I learned while recording that Prince recorded Purple Rain there. We were fortunate enough to have Colt Leeb of Soul Asylum, Prince and Meat Puppets fame offer to mix the track for us. These two guys are our recording gurus and know what La Madness is about and what we are trying to do.”

Vatland also had a story behind his meeting with Leeb.

“I’ve never followed trends, so I won’t start now,” he said. “The backdrop to this is upon returning to Minnesota I was gonna have Colt record me and had an investor lined up. I ended up making him return the money because it was dirty and this project meant too much to me. Colt thought I was insane, but he respected me and we ended up becoming friends. So working with Colt after all this was surreal. Bryan is currently on tour with Shinedown, Chevelle, and Adalitas Way right now until June along with a band he produces called New Medicine. We open for them at the Varsity Theater on the 17th. Upon his return we will have both Bryan and Colt head up our EP. We’re gonna see what happens, but with real support from San Diego, Houston, and Minnesota, as well as New York, I like our chances. I just want people to hear these songs and I think they will be a true statement of my best solo stuff.”

One artist that Vatland has a special connection to is Jim Morrison of The Doors. Amongst his many tattoos is a hand drawn picture of Morrison etched into his arm. I asked Vatland if he could go back in time would he rather see Morrison fronting the Doors at the Whiskey in LA, or would he rather see Blind Melon at Woodstock back in 1994.

“The Doors,” Vatland said immediately. “With that said, Melon is the most underrated band of the last 30 years. Right now I am listening to Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Strokes, Fitz and The Tantrums, The Doors, and The Delta Spirit.”

You can listen to their debut track at and and www.lamadness.comare under construction and coming soon. The song is also available on iTunes.