After a decade on the lam, Germany’s foremost psycho/punkabilly/rock ‘n’ roll outfit MAD SIN are back! New album, Unbreakable, finds founding member Köfte “The Big Chief” DeVille and St. Valle (double bass) returning to the fore, and they’re going all-in. Indeed, MAD SIN are embroiled in a new decade, and times have certainly changed, but the hard-bitten group remain solidly in the thick of things, their hard-won genre-blurring—punk to country, blues to hardcore, metal to ska and garage to pop—romp is as poignant as ever. DeVille strikes back inspired, more self-aware, and ready to honey bop to the darkest side of the moon together with the rest of the MAD SIN boys, who are none other than double bassist St. Valle, lead guitarist Andy Kandil, rhythm guitarist Manny Anzaldo, and drummer KO Ristolainen.
Formed in Berlin, Germany by DeVille in 1987, MAD SIN spent the better part of the first two decades of their career thumping clubs and releasing rowdy albums. In all, the hardscrabble outfit strutted through 14 full-lengths, eight EPs, and hundreds of live shows until their sneakers finally wore out in 2010. Despite all that MAD SIN had accomplished—debut album, Chills and Thrills in a Drama of MAD SINs and Mystery, is a certified psycho/punkabilly classic—DeVille needed some time off. The Big Chief got his sabbatical, but he also wrote, relaying riotous riffs and bluesy bops to his band. Ensconced but not out, MAD SIN penned cool tunes like “Are You Ready?,” “Alles Ist Schlecht,” “Shine a Light,” and the energetic gallop of “Moon Over Berlin.” Now on their 33rd unbelievable run around the sun, MAD SIN hot-rodded 16 incredible twangy ‘n’ crunchy songs for Unbreakable.
“The gap needed to be there,” says DeVille. “I needed this gap. I didn’t want to become the lame guy that lives on an old repertoire. The minute I can’t do it live anymore, or I can’t live by my motto on-stage or on-record, then it’s time to give up. I’ve been there and done that. Life’s been very good to me, but I haven’t been very good to life. I’m still standing, though. I’m surrounded by such great guys. We’re living it up real. We’re really feeling it. That’s what keeps me alive, and that’s what keeps the boys alive.”
Unbreakable was written at various European locations. Wherever the peripatetic DeVille settled, he’d write up pieces of his band’s 15th full-length, sticking everything to memory or phone. For a decade, the clubby frontman constructed songs like “All My Friends,” “Aggression,” “House of Fun,” “The Long Hard Road Back from Hell,” and the anthemic title track with little more than his dolphin brain and some rudimentary guitar skills. Hearing absolute psycho/punkabilly gems, DeVille’s gang—Kandil and Anzaldo—pinned up the rest, staying true to MAD SIN’s smorgasbord gambol. To round everything out, they also invited old friends Kim Nekroman and Stuv Hebbert to guest on “Mememto Mori” and “The Awakening,” respectively.
“I came up with the ideas for the songs,” DeVille says. “I then presented them to Manny or Andy. That’s how we start. I always have the rhythm and lead guitars in my head. I write like how genius director Sergio Leone makes movies. I don’t wanna say I’m a genius - I guess I’m just very lazy. He’s got no script. I don’t either. The songs are in my head. I might hum the rhythm guitars, I might sing the lead guitar, and I might figure out the drums in my head, but in the world of making MAD SIN music, I have no demos. We build off of what’s in my head. OK, I might hum something into my phone, but that’s hardly a demo. I then explain my ideas to the boys. Sometimes, the guys come up with better ideas, and we use those ideas—my boys are so creative in so many ways. I would say that’s why everything sounds so fresh.”
Although DeVille’s an affable chap, his music and lyrics take on a serious tone. You wouldn’t know it by “Kill Girl” alone—that one’s a fun splash into big-eyed ‘60s sci-fi—but a double-spin through Unbreakable shows DeVille’s lyrics deep in metaphor, stories of life cloaked in the virtues and vices of rock ‘n’ roll. To use a well-known rockabilly cliché, Unbreakable is bad music for bad people, and DeVille, if asked mid-milkshake, probably wouldn’t deny that either. MAD SIN are a kind/unkind reflection on the state of things.
“We’re not a fun band, but we love fun, and we love to have fun,” says DeVille. “Lyrically, we bring certain messages in metaphoric ways. There’s always a deeper, anarchistic meaning to our lyrics. We do carry a message, and often you have to read between the lines to understand the message. The lyrics have been in my head for such a long time. Every song on Unbreakable has a message or a meaning. I would like for the lyrics to have a different meaning to our fans than they do to me. That’s important.”
When it was all nailed down and as impressive as a properly coifed pompadour, MAD SIN holed up in Kápita Studio in Catalonia, Spain. There, they committed Unbreakable to eternity. Assisted by engineer and mixing gurus Albert Suzmosas and Alicia Marin Martinez, DeVille and his band put everything into their old ball and chain. For maximal results, MAD SIN brought in Sascha “Busy” Bühren (Seeed, Motörhead, Iced Earth, The BossHoss…) and TrueBusyness Studio in Berlin to master it. The overall production is bright and gritty yet crisp and street-wise. It’s psycho/punkabilly for a new era.
“I’m very happy with the sound on the new record,” says DeVille. “This album reflects a lot of my/our personal tastes. It’s so wide. Anything that feels real to me is, in my universe, good music. It doesn’t matter the style. No matter if it’s punk, hardcore, metal or blues—well, everything’s the blues at the end of the day—garage, (real) country, or rockabilly, it has to be real. I don’t want barriers, but I want my style. That’s what we got on Unbreakable.”
As for next steps, MAD SIN are wise to the realities of the day. Their footloose lifestyle isn’t the same at the moment. That gigs large and small, tight and loose, from one end of the world to the other aren’t possible now. For sure, they’ll celebrate Unbreakable’s release.
“We want our fans to be a part of Unbreakable,” DeVille says. “They’ve made it possible that we’re still alive. We owe them everything.”