Hardcore and Madball: Two Exclusively American Institutions
Madball frontman Freddy Cricien literally grew up in the New York hardcore scene. Brought into the fold by brother Roger Miret of the legendary Agnostic Front, Cricien learned the ways of the streets and the then-fledgling hardcore punk scene that originated in New York’s Lower East Side. It was a direct line into a world that few people outside of a close-knit group would ever experience.
We had a chance to meet up with Cricien and get his reflections on his nearly three-decade rampage through the ever-changing landscape of the hardcore scene, as well as the mutations that have befallen the city that gave birth to it.
As a kid, you grew up in Florida. Roger was in New York creating NYHC history. What was your relationship like with Roger?
I was born in New Jersey, and my family relocated to Florida when I was young. Roger was the only one that stayed back. He was still pretty young, too, but we had a lot of friends and relatives up there. At that point, our relationship was just when he would visit, which was pretty regularly; when he started touring, they made their way down south, so I actually saw him quite a bit, considering the situation. We also talked on the phone and wrote letters to each other.
This was the late '70s, early '80s, so a lot of the bands that people might consider legendary in the world of hardcore were just starting out. What kind of music were you into at that time?
It was 1980 when my family moved down here, and Agnostic Front was formed around ’81, United Blood dropping in ’82. I was into whatever I could get my hands on, meaning anything and everything. I was always a sponge with music. I was 7 years old when I got introduced to hardcore when my brother started AF; I really took to it, more so than anyone else in my family. Maybe because I was young and impressionable, or maybe because I’m a little nuttier. I listened to everything — I listened to hard rock, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon. I was big into hip-hop, which was coming up around then; I could remember really loving that culture. We had salsa records — a lot of Latin music was playing in my house, and I loved that as well. I was lucky because my parents are of Latin descent, so they grew up with that music. We had such a diverse palette of music.
At that age, did you envision yourself making music?
I didn’t. I only envisioned it because the guys told me I could do it. I had a strong connection to music. It was one of my favorite pastimes: Grab records and look at the album cover, read the booklets. It’s one of my favorite memories as a kid. That’s why I gravitated toward music.
You started traveling with Agnostic Front when you were around this age. What was it like being a young kid in that environment?
It was loads of fun. I was a little kid and I just wanted to get out of my house. Not to delve too much into personal stuff, there were a lot of things happening in our household — not that it was all bad all the time, but sometimes dysfunctional things would go on, like in many households. Doing that was an escape; it was an escape from the family. Hanging with my brother was even more of an escape because there were not many rules. I went to the L.E.S. at 7 years old, he brought me to [famous early '80s show spot] A7 and introduced me to this whole world. It was very fitting for someone of my disposition.
At what point did you realize you could be a singer?
I would sing a song onstage with Agnostic Front from early on, then it turned into two songs; it would be a thing. First it was [Animals cover] “It’s My Life”; then it was “Last Warning.” It became a tradition. I wasn’t trying to get that kind of spotlight. I was just kind of hanging — I was like their mascot. It was like, “Look at this little kid,” and they called me “Agnostic Fred”; it was my first name before “Madball.” I forgot who coined that one. Somebody made me a shirt, I think it was [former Agnostic Front guitarist] Steve Martin that said “Agnostic Fred”. Vinnie [Stigma] came up with “Madball,” and they ran wild with that whole thing. It all came to light when they figured, “Maybe we put him on a record?” It actually started to really happen thanks to guys like Howie Abrams, who worked at Relativity, which was In-Effect at the time. AF was working on their record Liberty and Justice for…, and they mentioned something about a project where I sang; Howie jumped all over it.
You seem like a natural up there.
That took a lot of time. I didn’t feel comfortable; I had the gusto to do it early on, but you don’t get super comfortable up there until you’re doing it for a while. I was also a matter of feeling it. I always tell people you have to feel the music. If you’re not feeling the music, you’re not getting the full experience. You almost have to become possessed.
Back in the '80s, hardcore was just being invented. The '70s is when punk happened; you had the Ramones, New York Dolls, Stooges. Hardcore is an American thing.
The U.K. had a big punk explosion, so you have to give them some credit for that. They contributed a lot to punk and Oi. For me, I got into punk later because my brother and these guys I was around were already doing AF, and the hardcore scene was starting to blossom. That was my first dose of real heavy stuff. As time went on, I started to pick up the punk stuff. I remember with my brother on the G.B.H. tour; AF did the East Coast and Cro-Mags did the West Coast. They were like really heavy punk, almost hardcore. Hardcore for sure is exclusively American.
Nothing existed like hardcore prior to the '80s. Then, 20-30 years later, there’s a million different subgenres and styles, and everything is out there for people to pick from. How do you see the scene changing as far as people’s attitude towards the music?
It was very raw in the early days. People didn’t know what they were doing. It was just happening organically. I don’t think one person or one band can really take credit — I think it was a discovery made by several people, in several areas of the United States. Sometimes, by coincidence, people were doing similar things with a little variation. They were calling it “hardcore punk” because it was a harder, more aggressive version of punk. It’s a cultural thing. I might sound biased, but I think New York was one of the scenes that really put a stamp on it and kind of got rid of the punk element; not musically, but more branding-wise. It was New York Hardcore, and you have to give credit for that much.
Nowadays, it's global. It’s everywhere. There are great bands from all over. As the world evolves, hardcore is going to evolve. With that comes good things and bad things. The bad things are the trendies, people getting into it for trendy reasons. You start to lose some of the raw aspect, but that’s just like life. It’s hard to recreate a moment in time.
The state of it today is that it’s bigger than it ever was, but it is a lot of subgenres, a lot of variations, and it’s getting even more diverse. It’s cool, but I don’t know where we draw the line. I don’t want to sound like a purist, because Madball wasn’t a band that was liked when we first came out with our brand of hardcore. We were doing something different than AF and everyone else before us.
At first, it was basically ripping off AF songs. That’s the first 7": just all AF songs redone by me. After that, it was Droppin' Many Suckers and Set It Off. I understand being the next generation, but I think we still held on to the old values of certain ethics. The lifers will be here doing what we do and the fly-by-nights will come and go. There are also a lot of young people that may help carry this thing into the future. There are newer bands out there that are different, but you can still see the connection, that part of their DNA, that strand that is making them a hardcore band.
Do you have any more plans to work with DJ Stress?
Yeah, I do. I was actually just talking to him. I plan on doing another hip-hop record and some other projects, creative things that we’ve got going on.
At some point over the years, you became a family man. How do you balance family life with being in the band?
It’s hard. It’s not an easy task. My wife and I were married for a bunch of years before we decided to have kids, partly to do with my lifestyle, and she enjoyed traveling and running around with me. We held off and finally decided to have children. My son is going to be 5 in a week and my daughter is seven months. It’s beautiful; I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m very big on family; I always have been. I try to bring them with me — that’s a new thing we’re experimenting with. It’s great because I have them near me. [It] can be a little hard on them, but you have to do what you can — you have to try and work with your situation.
Are you exposing your kids to music?
Yeah, but I’m not pushing anything. They listen to everything. Our house is like how I grew up. My little one’s just a baby, but my son is exposed to everything and he’s his own guy, he’s going to do his own thing. He is definitely musical. We were at Stress’ studio, and he picked up drumsticks and started playing the drums. It was very impressive.
So, he might end up being a musician?
I hope not a hardcore musician.
What’s next on the horizon for Madball?
We have a lot coming up. I’m leaving in a week for a tour that starts in Pensacola, Fla., and goes all the way to the West Coast. We follow that up with a tour with Suicidal Tendencies through the Midwest, then we go to Europe; pretty much up until the end of the year, we have something going on. We might be doing South America in December. We’re working on new material in between, trying to get a new record out. I feel like that last one just came out, but it’s like two or three years now. Time flies.
How do you feel about the way the city has changed?
I lived in the Lower East Side / East Village area when a lot of things were changing there. I moved over to Brooklyn, the Greenpoint area, right next to Williamsburg. I can remember when Williamsburg was nothing, and now it’s one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the world. There are elements of it that are cool: There’s cool shops, you can get some decent coffee, but you also get a lot of other elements that you get bummed on. Prices are going through the roof, making it unaffordable for normal people. Then you get people that just don’t respect the city. When I came to New York, I experienced the wild side of it. I respected my environment. Now, it’s so calm and safe; people come and just don’t respect the environment. There could still be a little neighborhood kid lurking around the corner that you have to watch out for.
I have a very deep connection with New York. I always have. Since I was a child, since I stepped foot in the city, I immediately felt comfortable. I was somewhere that I was supposed to be. I wasn’t born there, I’m not a native per se, but I was an honorary New Yorker because I became a man there, our band was started there. I spent my formative years in New York, personally and as part of the band. In my heart, I’ll always be a part of New York, and it will always be a part of me.