Madison Is Definitely Rising
When was the last time a member of a rock-and-roll band claimed that the defining issue that separates conservatives from liberals today is the virtue of gratitude?
Putting a finger squarely on America's political and cultural pulse is a talent that comes naturally to ex-Navy corpsman and Madison Rising lead singer Dave Bray. Regarding the issue of gratitude, Bray argues that "every other issue or opinion stems from that one fundamental belief: I'm owed vs. I owe."
What's remarkable is that despite heavy entertainment industry odds, Bray, the band, and the band's brilliant support staff have managed to catapult Madison Rising's deeply inspirational music and Reaganesque message to the top of the music charts.
In other words, Madison Rising may be a rock-and-roll band, but so far it has demonstrated the kind of talent and vision sufficient to illuminate America's most cherished conservative values in what may be her darkest hour. In short, Madison Rising is helping to supercharge America's conservative landscape.
Recently, lead singer Dave Bray graciously took some time out of his frenzied schedule in order to respond to some questions from American Thinker contributor Ed Kaitz.
AT: Dave, the name of your band, "Madison Rising," seems somewhat prophetic. In less than a year since the release of your debut album last October, you can already claim "bestseller" status with the other top 100 rock albums on both Amazon and iTunes. In addition, the band's deeply moving and inspirational rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner has hit #1 on Amazon's "Adult Alternative" chart. That's an extraordinary achievement in an entertainment industry that's often a minefield for conservative voices and talent. Did you have any idea at the outset that the band's music and message would resonate so quickly across the country?
Bray: We knew that if the right people heard the music and the message behind our songs, it would have a chance to do some big things. We're unique in the music industry in that we're touching on subjects no one else does, and people are really appreciative of that. In the end, though, it was our rendition of a song written almost 200 years ago -- a song that was written for this nation and all who love her -- that gave us the boost we needed to really break into the big time. Besides, we really didn't go the normal "music/entertainment industry" route. Probably the more interesting part of our story is how we bypassed a virtually impenetrable industry and found success with out using their mold.
AT: I found it thoroughly enjoyable to peruse the various buyer reviews of Madison Rising's music on Amazon's website. Typical comments include: "These guys are up to something great - something way overdue" or "Wow. They rock and they're conservative." More telling reviews, however, seemed to involve goose bumps: "Freaken serious goose bumps" and "Wow. Goose bumps." In fact, I recently sent an example of your music to an elderly female colleague of mine, and her response was the following: "Wow. Gave me goose bumps!" That kind of involuntary, physiological reaction obviously means your music is penetrating somewhere deep. Can you explain the "goose bump" phenomenon, Dave? It's not a typical response to things.
Bray: I'm sure the goose-bump theory can be explained in scientific terms...but you have the wrong guy for that. I think if you mix two parts of adrenalin with equal parts of anticipation, nostalgia, shock and awe, and genuine love, it seems to equal the cocktail we call goose bumps. ... The Star-Spangled Banner has been doing this to people long before we did our rendition. Turning it into a rock song and making it as powerful as we thought it could be just kicked it up a whole other notch.
AT: Dave, take us back to the initial inspiration you had in forming the band. When you looked out over the political and cultural landscape, for example, was there a tipping point you crossed? Was it a particular event or an accumulation of events that sparked the idea for the band?
Bray: I wish that I could take credit for the formation of the band, but it was our manager Rich Mgrdechian who had the idea of creating Madison Rising. He saw that there was a huge void in the market in terms of any form of pro-American rock music and decided that he needed to find a way to give a voice to people that care about this country and share the same values that we do. I came to an audition call with our first single, "Soldiers of America," already written, and the chemistry was perfect. I knew that I wanted to play a role in what was going on in the world today. I served in the U.S. Navy and wanted to continue in both music and as a serviceman to my country. The two came together for me in the form of "Madison Rising." They found me...right place...right time...pretty cool...
AT: I find it curious that America's left-wing "progressives" have always had a sense of self-conscious alienation with respect to perceived authority (e.g., "Reagan was a fascist," etc., etc.). Those on the left would also be the first to deny any tendency toward mindless conformity. And yet today's progressives think nothing of marching in lockstep behind what's arguably the most authoritarian and freedom-threatening administration in our nation's history. Do you have any thoughts on this interesting phenomenon?
Bray: Yeah, always found it funny that these sort of people always seem to express their individuality in the exact same way as everyone else does. In fact, our song "Honk If You Want Peace" is exactly about this sort of mindless and self-destructive repetition under the guise of some self-righteous cause. It's called getting something for nothing -- they don't contribute, yet they reap all the benefits of someone else's hard work while vilifying the people providing it.
AT: Dave, I spent part of my college years "In the Days that Reagan Ruled," which is the title of one of your songs. The lyrics include the following: "When he met with Gorbachev he stood firm and proud / Not like other men who would have knelt down and bowed / He was the Gipper, he had the knack / He took a bullet and he still came back."
A very large contingent of my college classmates at UC Berkeley despised Ronald Reagan and voiced their negative opinions of him on a seemingly daily basis. But like your band, Reagan championed limited government, self-reliance, individuality, originality, and free-market creativity -- the very opposite of authoritarianism and mindless conformity. For me as a young person, these qualities made Reagan "cool" in the same way I found conservative actors like Clint Eastwood and Chuck Norris "cool." They were tough, creative, independent, and resolute, but always willing to be generous and helpful to others on their own terms. In your opinion, what makes so many of today's youth reject conservative cool in favor of the more gray, debilitating, and statist-type cool typically associated with nanny-state champions like Michael Moore, Sean Penn, and Barack Obama?
Bray: First off, the left is light-years ahead of the right when it comes down to this issue. They figured out that if you can establish what's "cool" early on, then they have set the standard of what must be "cool." They have been using popular culture, the arts, TV, and entertainment long before Reagan and Eastwood came along. Not to mention, the kids in this country are being spoon-fed garbage at every turn within our educational systems and on most television channels. If you don't teach your children ... someone else most certainly will. The reality is that these kids have never faced any real adversity, so they have an innate need to make something up. And if they are taught to trust the ways of certain educators and broadcasters with their own political agendas, morals, and ideals instead of the truth, then the parents are the ones to blame. Unfortunately, I think that the more prosperous a society becomes, the more shallow large portions of the population will ultimately be.
AT: Like Madison Rising, I would rate James Madison as one of the coolest Americans of all time. Madison and the rest of the founding fathers were radicals in the very best sense of the term -- champions of independent thinking and self-reliance. At the end of his celebrated essay Federalist #10, Madison warned that in the future, "factious leaders may kindle" certain "wicked projects" that include "a rage for paper money [inflationary spending], an abolition of debts, and an equal division of property." What are your thoughts about Madison's rather ominous warning here?
Bray: My thought is that he aided in the creation of the greatest document by which a nations' citizens and government could coexist. We the people have stood idly by and watched as tiny pieces have been torn away from it again and again under the guise of humanity and justice for all, all the while empowering a government that has little or no respect for its people and stripping the hard-working Americans of their ability to be human. It was no coincidence that he gave these warnings. The reason he wrote them was so that we would recognize exactly what is happening today ... well, now it's here. The question should be ... okay ... now what can we do to prevent it from going any farther?
AT: A strong theme in your music is the sense of gratitude for America and for those who sacrificed to make America such a magnanimous country. For example, in the song "American Dream," the lyrics include: "For the hungry world we plant the seeds / Giving hope to those who really need / And send the soldiers off to foreign lands / To defend the rights of those who can't." And in your song "Before the Hyphens Came" you include the lyrics: "Talks of inequality, what people need, and forgetting what they've got." In your opinion, Dave, why do so few progressives and so many conservatives have this sense of gratitude "for what they've got"?
Bray: I think that right there -- the concept of gratitude -- is the ultimate difference between the two ideologies. Every other issue or opinion stems from that one fundamental belief -- "I'm owed" vs. "I owe." We know what side we're on, and our music reflects how strongly we feel about it.
AT: Dave, President Obama's official campaign team is marketing a new type of flag called "Our Stripes" [note: the flag was removed from circulation after this interview]. What do you think of the new Obama flag, and do you have any thoughts on what exactly "our stripes" might mean?
Bray: I'm really not sure what to think about the flag. If you are the president of the United States of America, you would think you would try to use strong American symbolism to convey the message of "for the people." He and his wife (and his entire administration, for that matter) really don't seem to like much about this country or our way of life and are eager to change all of it. It almost seems like a signal of sorts. But whom is he signaling, and what is he saying? In the end, though, it's just another way to divide people, which is what he's all about.
AT: Dave, it's obvious after listening to your music that the band has some perceptive insights into the current political and cultural scene. What kind of literature and media might have informed your and the other band members' perspective on history and politics?
Bray: I'm not a huge reader personally, but I do enjoy books on wars and battles. I got into them after going to Gettysburg as a kid and actually getting to stand on those battlefields. As far as politics, keeping up is like having a part-time job -- especially in an election year, but I drop in on Limbaugh, Beck, and Hannity when I can. I think that for all of us, especially as artists and musicians, it's less about books and authors, and more about having our finger on current events and what's really going on in our society.
AT: Can you tell us a little about the energy, talent, and intelligence the other members of the band (Alex Bodnar [guitar], Sam Fishman [drums], Steve Padelski [bass]) and its producers bring to Madison Rising?
Bray: Alex is a big reader of religion and philosophy and always equates everything in life back to classic wisdom and teachings that the rest of us then have to listen to for hours on end on the road. (Laughing.) But considering he is one of the best guitarists alive today, we put up with it. Sam likes to look at things objectively and is good at pointing out both sides, and Steve offers a light side to just about any situation. Our manager, Rich, is a Caltech grad and former NASA engineer, so he really helps us to define what needs to get done and how to get there. In the end, it's all a pretty good balance.
AT: Lastly, Dave, you served as an 8404 FMF Corpsman in the U.S. Navy. As practitioner of the healing arts, what's your prognosis concerning America's long-term health? Is there a disease that needs treatment? Do you have a remedy?
Bray: Well here's my prognosis: a 236-year-old Republic reports to Washington, D.C. with complaints of socialist and tyrannical tendencies being imposed by its government by way of hypertaxation and redistribution of wealth via inflation. Patient history does indicate an ability to overcome these problems in the past. However, recent patient history shows symptoms of ignorance and apathy and overall feelings of impending doom. All signs point to a severe case of governmentitis. Only possible remedy would be a presidential transplant and governmental downsizing recommended with appropriate doses of Madison Rising to reinvigorate patriotism and love of country.
Truly, the title of one of the band's most poignant and reverent tunes -- "Walking Through That Door" -- seems to suggest another kind of prognosis for Madison Rising itself: breaking old boundaries and crossing new thresholds.