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Star-Spangled Rock: Madison Rising Interview

Friday, January 3, 2014
“Know that it was the thunderous sound of Harleys of the Patriot Guard that escorted my husband home to me.”

These powerful words were spoken by Dorothy Woods, widow of former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, one of the four men killed during the consulate attack at Benghazi. Woods spoke these words on the stage of the Sturgis Buffalo Chip last summer, August 8, during the Chip’s annual Freedom Celebration. For 2013, remembering those who perished in Benghazi was the focus of the celebration, as former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty, another American who was killed during the attack while working security detail at the embassy, was also an honoree of the celebration. His brother Greg attended the celebration on behalf of his brother, telling the crowd to “Enjoy their freedom” while accepting a commemorative plaque from Buffalo Chip owner Rod Woodruff. It was a day when the hundreds of red, white and blue flags waving in the Chip’s ‘Field of Flags’ and visits to the replica Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall at the campground took on deeper meaning.

Seeing how the day was set aside by the Buffalo Chip to honor the brave men and women who dutifully serve our country in the United States Armed Services, it’s no wonder they elected one of the most patriotic bands around, Madison Rising, to entertain the crowd. Madison Rising’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” has gone viral, amassing over five million YouTube views. Addressing issues like the right to keep and bear arms and themes like soldiers suffering PTSD, the band wears its love for our country openly on its sleeves.

Madison Rising’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” captures you within the first few notes. The tone is set from the first few strummings of a bass guitar. The chords are clean and clear, the rhythm strong and urgent. Before long the softer notes of a guitar chime in, imparting a sense of familiarity to the orchestration as the unique rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” begins to unfold. By the time Dave Bray’s voice bellows out the first words, an unexplainable wave wells up inside you, be it pride, be it patriotism, it stems from hearing a symbolic song in a fresh, harder, edgier way. It reminds one that despite its faults, we still live in a powerful and proud country.

But reinventing a song that strikes such an emotional chord in people is risky business. Madison Rising’s lead singer, Dave Bray, was keenly aware of this, but for him the challenge it proposed outweighed the risks. Here’s how he explains why the band took on a song like “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“Well, that was another that I kind of took on because somebody told me I couldn’t do it. They said we can’t touch “The Star-Spangled Banner,” it’s too reverent, people get too bent out of shape about it. We knew it was going to be scrutinized and I knew it was going to be scrutinized, so when they told me I couldn’t do it, I just sat down. I was on a train back-and-forth for three hours, back-and-forth to New York and I was like, all right, I need to get working on this song. So that’s
Madison Rising American Hero
Madison Rising recently released its second album, American Hero, which includes the band's version of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'
Madison Rising Dave Bray
what I did, until I got it to a point that I liked and it ended up turning out really good.

“So I took it to the guys and said this is what I’d like to do with this, are you feeling it, are you not feeling it. That’s what we did and it kept getting better and better and better every time we played it, so I’m like OK, we got something, let’s make this thing happen. And that’s basically the story. I worked on it and worked on it even though the people at the label were telling me you can’t do it, we can’t risk you guys putting this out and it not being up to snuff and us catching hell for it for the rest of our lives. You don’t want to be known as the band that screws up ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’”

Madison Rising’s rendition of the song soon took on a life of its own. It was a response to high-profile people like comedian Daniel Tosh declaring the “Star-Spangled Banner”sucks, stating nobody had the song on their iPod. Another radio personality, Bill Press, wrote the song off as an “abomination.” This only inspired Madison Rising to create a version of the song that would strike a powerful chord of sentimentality in people. The band couldn’t have predicted its success. As more and more people saw the video and passed it around on social media networks, the band issued a “One Million Star Spangled Challenge” to see if the song could reach one million YouTube views. After this goal was easily eclipsed, Madison Rising upped the ante to the “Five Million Star Spangled Banner Challenge” with the goal of reaching five million views before the new year, 2014. One of our original intentions when we interviewed Bray was to help them achieve their goal as the video had 4.85 million views when we first talked. A handful of days later, the band had already reached its goal as the video currently has 5,031,119 views and counting.

Despite being relatively new on the scene, Madison Rising got the opportunity of a lifetime last summer when it got to open up for Lynyrd Skynyrd and Brantley Gilbert at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip. We asked Bray how the experience was for him.

“It was excellent. It was one of those dreams come true for me. You could call it a “bucket list” item if you will. I’ve been a Skynyrd fan since I was just a pup. It was pretty amazing, I was right up front having a good time. It was fun. I’m hoping we get a chance to play out there again this year, that would be awesome,” Bray said.

When asked whether they had ever played at Sturgis before, Bray replied.

“No, we’re a very new band, we’ve only been out for about three years now. We kind of got lucky with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s not really our song, but it turns out we’re not terrible song writers, you know. The new album “American Hero” is out and it’s doing really well. It does have “The Star-Spangled Banner” on it but it’s actually getting five-star reviews on Amazon and people seem to like it. It’s doing pretty well and made for a pretty good summer.”

Madison Rising Buffalo Chip Freedom Day
A couple of the guys from Madison Rising visit the Sturgis Buffalo Chip's 'Field of Flags' during last year's rally. The band was the opening act during the Chip's annual Freedom Celebration, this year honoring those killed in the attack on the Benghazi consulate.
Madison Rising at the Chip.
Part of that good summer was getting an opportunity to take in some of the Sturgis festivities while they were in South Dakota for the 73rd annual rally.

“We actually hooked up with the guys down at the Victory bus. They let me run one of their Victory bikes out, nice riding bikes, man. I don’t want to say I’m sold, but it was definitely a cool bike. I rode the High-Ball with the little mini-apes on it, I think little 14-inch apes. It was just stock but it’s smooth-riding. I went up to Rushmore and I also checked out the progress on the Crazy Horse monument up there. It’s kind of hard for me as a rider not to, when you get up to Sturgis, to want to sit on a bike and get my head in the wind a little bit. Great riding and great roads,” said Bray.

In addition to patriotic-themed tracks, Bray talked about a song on the new record that should appeal to bikers.
“The new record, the “American Hero” record, has a song Open Road on it. I kind of wrote it from a rider’s perspective, “Got the throttle wide open, feet on my pegs, got a hundred horses, between my legs. No destination, no end in sight, just me and the open road, riding in the moonlight.”

“There’s a part in there that breaks it down. A lot of the guys, a lot of people don’t even know, but the tie-in with motorcycles and the clubs and all that stuff is that, back when the guys came back from the Second World War and even the first, they started forming these clubs. I’m sure you’re familiar with how that all went about, but a lot of people don’t really understand that that’s how those cats dealt with PTSD and they still kept hierarchy and still kept rank, and that’s the way that rank and file itself kind of comes in. A lot of those clubs are popping up now and I know a lot of vets that ride because there is a sense of freedom and liberty and something about when it is just you and the open road, that you do kind of have control of something. I think a lot of those cats, they come home from being in war zones and being in combat and they get back into the civilized world and everyone’s like, “Get them a job, they gotta be hired.” Give these guys some time to just chill. Let ‘em just come back to earth, be a part of society and those clubs are important for them because they feel like they’re a part of a brotherhood. A lot of people call them biker gangs but I just think it’s kind of important. The fact that with PTSD, you’re shoveling that oxygen down your nose when you’re on a bike. You get that oxygen to the head, you get your head cleared out. There’s a part in the song that goes “Just two wheels and the open road, life or death in my own hands, I am my own justice, I am my own man, I never look behind to all that I have seen because all I need are white lines and gasoline.” Basically all I need is the road and some gas in my tank and I can clear all that negative crap that went on behind me. But that was the idea behind the “Open Road” and that song, so when you hear it you’re gonna go, “So that’s what he was talking about.” Hopefully it will become another biker anthem or whatever. I hope in the future that the community likes it and the biker community clings to that.”

Overall Bray says the biker community has strongly supported the band.

“They’ve really gotten into “The Star-Spangled Banner.” There’s a lot of patriotism in the motorcycle community as well. It’s a good fit. One thing they gravitated to, we were actually doing a fundraiser down in west Texas after the fertilizer plant blew up. There was a group of bikers that came through, and they’re all baggers and stuff, and we had a bunch of “Star-Spangle Banner” singles layed out for them. And they came through, this group of bikers, they all popped it in, and they rode off and all you could here is “The Star-Spangled Banner” playing with the rumbling of the bikes. It was really kind of neat.”

While Madison Rising’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner is on its new album, Bray says the band’s latest offering deviates slightly from their debut.

“The whole “American Hero” record is the way to go, the way this band is headed in the future. We started out heavy leaning on the right-wing political side of things and what we really found out, there is patriotism amongst both sides. We didn’t want to put down any other sides, we just wanted to pay homage to our troops, pay homage to the flag. Hold true to the flag of patriotism and then I think that this country may have a chance. Our first record I don’t want to say it is kind of divisive, but it was one of those deals where we called the media out, we called out people for what we saw. It is what it is but all you’re doing there is kind of just playing into the hands of hate and people and we just didn’t want to do that. So the second record, it has a little bit of that in it. We really tried to get this album to sort of be stomachable or tangible for both sides, both sides politically and hopefully the country as a whole can get together on it and see that there’s a good group of guys out here doing the right thing, walking a higher line and holding themselves to a higher level of expectations.”

Bray’s high level of expectations comes in part from his tenure in the military. According to his bio on the Madison Rising web page, he was “a Recruit Chief Petty Officer in basic training, a Master at Arms in A-school, and was awarded Top Dog in Field Medical Service School. He would finally serve in the U.S. Navy as an 8404 FMF Corpsman for the 2nd Battalion / 2nd Marines stationed out of Camp Lejeune, NC.” So his love for country and his sense of duty as a father, American and veteran is understandable. It also helps explain why Madison Rising’s second album goes out “to the men and women of our armed forces, along with the police, firefighters and other first responders whose sacrifice and selfless dedication to the service of this country help this great nation to remain the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

For 2014, the band is busy booking shows, writing new material, and is working on a studio version of “God Bless America” with hopes of releasing it as a single. At a time when faith in our government and our country is at an all-time low, it’s encouraging to see a band out there reminding us that the core principals of our founding fathers are still held in high standing by at least five million viewers. And counting.

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