Many artists become political after making the “big-time”, however, relative newcomers Madison Rising started out political from the band’s name to lyrical content to where they have performed.
Madison Rising, originally took the Madison from the street where their studio was on, then decided to incorporate James Madison, co-author of the Constitution, into the meaning behind the group’s name. Lead singer, Dave Bray, pens most of the songs with help from Sam Fishman (drums), Tom DiPietro (bass), and AJ Larsen (guitar). Straight-forward lyrics represent aspects of American culture like freedom, faith, the open road, gun rights, hunting, patriotism, and supporting the military and veterans.
In the course of the past few years since their 2011 inception, Madison Rising played the Daytona 500 (2014), opened for Toby Keith, Lynryd Skynryd, among others, and been on the Defend Freedom Summer Tour sponsored by the Concerned Veterans of America.
While attending the Support Our Troops Freedom Rally at Brandt Harley-Davidson in Wabash, Indiana, Andi Williams sat down with Dave Bray, lead singer of Madison Rising, America’s most patriotic rock band. Dave had just returned from the morning motorcycle ride to get ready with the rest of Madison Rising to perform right before the headliner, Jackyl.
AndiHHM: I know you just released American Hero in November 2013. Are there plans to do a new album this year or are you going to wait till next year?
Dave: We started messing around with a couple of new tracks. We just released “Amazing America” which was the single for Sarah Palin’s show, Amazing America, and that’s on the Sportsman Channel, Wednesday nights at 8 pm. Make sure you tune in.
That was the first track that we’ve really done since the American Hero album. Obviously we’ve mess around constantly with new ideas and things like that. But as far as an album, we’re still pushing the American Hero record.
AndiHHM: So that was pretty cool. Did you guys get to meet Sarah Palin?
Dave: Haven’t met her yet. I heard she’s a mean cook though. At least from what I hear about cooking grizzly bears or something like that. Maybe we can trade recipes when we meet. I do a lot of cooking also, so it’d be cool to do that.
I hope to get meet Sarah. She’s a powerhouse, not only political but she’s moving into the pop culture world as well as quite an interesting public figure. I’d like to sit down and hang out with her for a minute. That’d be neat.
AndiHHM: Speaking of hanging out with someone, who is your ultimate fanboy moment?
Dave: Hmmmm…I’ll have to go back quite a few years when I was a young concert-going, rock-and-roll dude. I jumped on stage with Chino from the Deftones. While I was doing that the bouncers that were in the pit basically pulled my pants down. So when I got on stage I was buck naked. I was at the Hard Rock Café in Myrtle Beach. So I pulled up my pants and I turned around, put my hands up in the air and everyone else put there hands up in the air. It was one of those (moments) kinda like, “I’m on stage right now!” (with a Southern accent). (Laughs)
So I had that moment. Grabbed Chino, gave him a big hug, after I pulled my pants up. Then I launched and jumped into a crowd of people. That was really, really probably one of my fanboy moments.
After the show, I was usually one of the last people to leave the arena. First one in, last one out kinda people. I saw the Deftones tour bus and I just walked up to it like I was supposed to be there and nobody stopped me. And I walked up onto Chino’s bus. I basically just said, “Hey man, I just wanted to say I just really enjoyed your show.” He was like, “Yeah man, my driver would have shot you if he would’ve known you were on this bus right now.” So that was my moment with the lead singer of the Deftones.
AndiHHM: That’s really cool. Anyone you haven’t meet that you would like to meet?
Dave: I’d like to got through and meet some of the bigs from back in the day. I haven’t met any of the guys from Metallica, or I haven’t met any of the guys from Megadeth. Some of those bands that I really grew up listening to. Some of the greats that are out there today.
I’d love to meet Kid Rock, love to meet Toby Keith. They’re all the kind of guys I feel like I would get along with for some reason. I think that it would be cool to sit down with them and drink a cold beer.
AndiHHM: Oh yeah, definitely! I’ve been to Toby Keith concert, a very close-up concert. He’s awesome. I love Toby Keith.
Dave: We actually opened up for Toby Keith.
AndiHHM: Did you really? And you didn’t get to meet him?!
Dave: I didn’t get to meet him, no. I sent five red Solo cups backstage to get signed for some friends of mine. I sat them down on this table. I figured if I came back with autographed red Solo cups I’d be the man. This table where I sat them down on at this corporate event at Dallas Stadium was backstage and there they were sitting, somebody saw them and they were autographed by Toby Keith. And they took ‘em! I went back and my red Solo cups were gone.
Truth be told, I may have just took them down to Las Vegas and seen how much I could get for them on Pawn Stars. I’m not sure (Laughs)
That’s what we’re all thinking. Don’t tell me that it’s not the dirty little secret behind every autograph you get these days.
AndiHHM: Right?! They’re not worth as much these days unless the person’s dead. We touched base earlier and talked about that you’re from York, Pennsylvania?
Dave: Yep, Old York, 717, PA.
AndiHHM: Now Sam’s from New Jersey.
Dave: Glen Rock, New Jersey. I think it’s 516 are code.
AndiHHM: Tom and AJ, where are they from?
Dave: They’re also close to New York. Stroudsburg area, Pocono Mountains is where they’re from. Tom and AJ knew each from a project when they were just like in middle school and through high school. After we found AJ, we were also looking for a bass player. So we reached out to Tom as well. Tom rehearsed with us one time and played with us the next show. We move quickly.
AndiHHM: Do you play any instruments?
Dave: I do. I play a little bit of guitar. It’s just enough really to let me sort of expand on some songs and do some songwriting. I don’t do any major leading or anything like that. I’m just a rhythm guy. I can calculate through a song and I can formulate a song with a guitar. I can build it from front to back. A lot of the songs from American Hero, are my renditions of songs.
“Something Wicked” is one of the ones off American Hero I did. The song, “Hero”, and “Ready If It Goes There” are all Dave Bray originals. Also, “Amazing America”, the one that we did for Sarah Palin’s Amazing America. You can tell which ones are mine cause they’re very simple in structure.
AndiHHM: Simple sometimes works best.
Dave: I try to focus on the lyric value. I try to get the most bang out the buck for lyrics and less out of the music. I left that up to the real musicians.
AndiHHM: Did you begin singing in church choir or at school?
Dave: I was born in England. We used to sing in our preschool. It was kind of, I don’t want to say it was like the same as it is over here, I know my sons go to preschool and they sing little church songs. We used to sing like a little choir. That was part of the preschool, or kindergarten, it was more like that, curriculum. Before I came here I was only five years old, but that’s where I started. I can remember singing in a group in a large, sort of schoolhouse cathedral or it might have been a gymnasium but I could remember just the way it sounded. The way it echoed and the way the voices came together. You could hear who was in or was out. Even as young kids we were taught this proper etiquette, how to sing, how to hold your voice, how to hold your head which I threw completely out the window when I started singing rock music.
AndiHHM: But you had training?
Dave: If you call kindergarten training. I was in my junior church choir, then my church choir growing up.
AndiHHM: When were you in the Navy?
Dave: 93-97. I was straight out of high school. I actually joined when I was 17, my senior year. I enlisted in the Navy through the delayed entry program. During that time I did recruiting aid and we worked at the recruiter’s office. Right before your deployment is after high school graduation, that’s basically when I shipped off and started my Navy deal.
AndiHHM: What was your MOS (job classification) in the Navy?
Dave: I was a Quad Zero corpsman, which is Blue side Navy. I was an EMT crew chief on ambulances. I was 18 getting out (of basic training), 19 getting out of A school. Right after I got out of EMT school, I went to field medical service school in Camp Johnson, North Carolina. I received the Top Dog award out of 190 guys in my class. They award the Top Dog Award to the person who has demonstrated leadership ability.
I left there, packed my bags went to CampLeJeune. Walked into my first station, and the commander asked, “Are you the guy that got Top Dog?”.
I was in air-conditioning for maybe half an hour, then out in the field with the Marines. We trained for the next 8 or 9 months. We went overseas on the USS Guam. We were involved in Operation Shared Response in Monrovia, Liberia. We did embassy guard. Basically preventing another Benghazi sort of situation, but much different circumstances. There was civil war in the area and we were there to keep the war from coming onto embassy grounds. In turn, what we ended up doing were a lot of refugee transfers, a lot of basic mobilization of civilians. We did a lot aid for the area as well.
AndiHHM; You got out of the Navy and you’ve been in Madison Rising for 4 years?
Dave: About 3 and a half years in (Madison Rising). As soon as I got out of the Navy I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do music. I was in a band in before I graduated high school, a talent show band. But I knew I loved it. It was an adrenaline rush, all your senses firing at once. Then you have to recite hundreds of words in perfect order, in perfect pitch. It was one of those things that’s really, really challenging, but so, so rewarding when you’re done with it. It just felt really good.
When you have five or however many people in \your band, all working together, at the same time, in time, perfectly for that one common goal, I thought that it was a really neat thing to be a part of. I fell in love with music.
Even while I was overseas in the Navy guys would send me recordings and I would sit and write songs. I was writing songs for this band that I was in after I got out called Soveren. I think I was out of the military maybe a week and half, almost two weeks and we were playing our first bar gig as Soveren. We did that for 6, 7 years or so.
AndiHHM: There in Pennsylvania?
Dave: Yeah, Pennsylvania. And we started opening up for some bigger acts: Tantric, Breaking Ben(jamin), and some of those post-grunge alt-style bands. We were getting a little airplay, here and there. We were just doing our thing trying to get picked up by a label. We thought that’s how you did it.
AndiHHM: I love the fact that you’ve gotten over 5 million views (on YouTube) of your rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”. I read the whole controversy about the Daytona 500 performance, but I didn’t really understand it, probably because I had already seen the YouTube video of Madison Rising playing “The Star Spangled Banner”. I don’t think they were ready for you guys, your rendition.
Dave: If Daytona would have really pushed our video a few weeks prior more so than they did, it would have been a come-and-go moment for us. But the fact that we rolled in there and did our shock-and-awe version of “The Star Spangled Banner” with drums and guitars and all this stuff that nobody’s really ever done. I think it caught people off-guard.
Here’s the thing: when we played that thing, after we got done, that whole 190,000 people, however many people were at Daytona that day-they stood up and screamed. They loved it! The reaction at the stadium was amazing.
What happened was, a few people that understand where we stand politically-because we are very out in the open about where we stand politically-people on the other side of the aisle, said, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that”. Well if it’s anything else, it’s “The Star Spangled Banner”. It’s done with reverence and respect and here you are saying that we’re trying to desecrate it or do whatever to it.
They just blew it up. That was sort of the turning point for us. We knew that “The Star Spangled Banner” was loved by more people than it was hated by. We saw more negative press, this is the first week after (Daytona), I was literally staving off the wolves at spear point to keep above water with all the media that was going down. A lot of it was I knew what was coming. It was all negative, basically to squash any sort of hopes of us continuing.
Here’s the great thing about Madison Rising fans, most of our fans are military, ex-military, they’re veterans, they’re people who have people in the military and they know what we stand for and they know what that song means. They know why we do it. They understand that it’s coming from a place of genuine origin. And they saw the attacks that we came under. There was this, “Not on my watch” mentality. The fans started swarming these sites and swarming these people that were bad-mouthing the band, taking everything completely out of context about us to make us look as bad as possible.
That’s one thing about Madison Rising fans I can say, they just are relentless. They have the biggest hearts, the strongest minds, and then they go to war for something that they believe in. It’s done with love but it’s vicious. They do it with love in their heart, but there’s a vicious, protective sort of big dog, the father bear mentality.
You’re also dealing with live television. You’re dealing with variables that were way out of their element as well as even ours. I’ll agree that we a little bit out of our element.
AndiHHM: All publicity is good though.
Dave: All publicity’s good. You gotta take it with a grain of salt.
AndiHHM: You have kids and your wife, Becky, helps out. How has touring been on family life? With the Concerned Veterans of America tour and so forth.
Dave: It’s trying. They understand when Daddy works that he goes away for a couple weeks at a time. I try to keep in touch with Facetime and Skype to keep the family thing in check. It would be one thing if I was 6000 miles away and stuck in a desert, dug in somewhere watching an enemy where I couldn’t use a FaceTime but instead I’m sitting in hotels. That’s the kind of perspective that I put it in. There are men and women that are fighting still overseas to this day. The horror stories and things that are coming back from there, I look at the sort of sacrifices that I am taking for my family compared to the ones that they do for theirs and for their country. I still keep a sort of military pride in what I do. I try to keep that mentality for the greater good in the back of my mind at all times. I think that helps my wife and kids understand, it helps the family realize that it’s one mission, we’re all working together.
You brought up my wife, she’s a powerhouse. She has really taken this band where it is, once again right when that Daytona thing happened, that was her show, she had planned all that. She was taking heat, I was taking heat, we were all taking heat together. We fought through it. It says something about her character as well, to stand up for her man and do what she does. Not only for us, as a band, but for our family, our children, and then she also works a full-time job.
AndiHHM: Oh my gosh! Wow! Hats off to Becky! Who would be your ultimate touring mate? I know you mentioned Kid Rock, Toby Keith
Dave: Oh wow, if I could put together a cool little tour thing? There’s a lot of America out there. Obviously I think Kid Rock would be awesome, just because he’s the American badass. It’s tough to top that. I think it would be great to have Toby Keith. He’s an American pride guy too. Willie Nelson, a lot of people don’t this but I believe he served in the Air Force or the Army. Kris Kristofferson, it’d be nice to have some other vets up there. That Americana feel. That’s where we want Madison Rising to sit. Just a little bit on everybody’s palate, just so they know that we’re here. That we’re trying to do what’s right. I think that says something about our mission. The type of music we do.
AndiHHM: That would be a cool festival, the American Pride festival. Good name, you just came up with it.
Dave: That was you, you just came up with it. (Laughs) I’m sitting here listening to you.
AndiHHM: What was your most touching moment? Somebody coming up to you and saying something to you about what you’re doing?
Dave: There’s been so many. Some of the hardest ones are Gold Star family members, Blue Star families that have lost their family members. Often times we have a flag we unfurl during “The Star Spangled Banner”. I try to pull two vets from the crowd to come up and hold it.
This one time there was this one kid, he was a younger kid, he came up and held the flag for me. I asked him if he’d like to fold it with me after the show. He said, “I sure would”. After the show the lights were down and I asked, kind of jestingly, “Do you know how to do this?”. He’s like, “Yeah, yeah”. So we started going through and he just started streaming in tears. He’s crying on this flag. This is the same flag that we’ve been touring with however many years. This flag has caught countless tears.
But this kid, he’s like 20 years old and as he’s crying he’s telling me the story of his brother who was a Recon marine. He had been shot. They didn’t know if he’d been killed or not for quite some time. Nobody was giving any report so there was hope and then all of a sudden this hope, a couple weeks later, diminished when they found out he was gone. This young kid really looked up to his brother; his brother was his hero. As he was folding the flag he was in tears, just dripping off his face.
There’s been many. That one just comes to mind.
AndiHHM: I do love the military. I love people who serve in any kind of capacity. It takes a special person to have a service mentality. That also kind of goes back to people’s faith. I see that you have a nail on your necklace and that you have a cross on the back of your vest.
Dave: I consider ourselves a God-and-country rock band. We’re not just about America because it’s my firm belief that without God there is no country. You can find that quote in our new American Hero CD. It’s written on red, in red, behind a red flag, but I wanted to make sure that it got in there.
Although being a patriot is mostly about country there is a God aspect or higher power aspect there that this country would not be if we did not have that. So I’ll leave it at that.
AndiHHM: I’ve taken up a lot of your time and I really appreciate it.
Dave: I’m enjoying the air conditioning. (Both laugh, 90 degrees outside)
AndiHHM: Best of luck to you. I really appreciate your time. Thanks for doing what you do.
Throughout the day as I spent time with Madison Rising backstage and at their merch tent, I witnessed their fans thanking them for what they represent and telling stories to Dave, Sam, Tom, and AJ about the impact Madison Rising has had on soldiers and veterans. Bikers at the rally came away with a newfound appreciation for the band especially after the “Open Road” song that epitomizes the freedom felt on “two wheels and the open road”.
Make sure to check out their social media sites and in honor of the 200th year anniversary of “The Star Spangled Banner”, Madison Rising is trying to hit 10 Million views of their rendition of the national anthem by September 7, 2014, 200 years after Francis Scott Key penned it.
Instagram and Twitter: @MadisonRising
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