From our beloved Austin, Texas, Madisons are an eight-piece garage-folk band who know how to party. Founded by lead singer and songwriter Dominic Solis, Madisons are often referred to as “Austin’s best-kept secret” by many locals and are loved for their storytelling through music, relatable lyrics and melodies that emit a sense of joy and belonging. The full band consists of the following members:
Dominic Solis– Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Heidi Garcia– Vocals, Violin
Thomas Damron– Upright Bass
Nick Kukowski– Vocals, Banjo
Mike Rothschild– Drums
Cass Brostad– Accordion, Vocals, Percussion
Zack Patteson– Electric Guitar
I had the chance to meet with part of the band on a sunny afternoon at Dominic’s house. Upon arriving I was warmly welcomed with smiles and a beer, and I immediately knew this was going to be a fun group to hang out with.
Can you tell me how Madisons originally formed? How long have you been around?
Dominic: We’re in our eighth year. It originally was just a duo — me and another person who’s not in the band anymore — but after that person left I started doing Craigslist interviews. Nick, Mike and Thomas are Craigslist hires. After a while, we just keep looking for musicians. It’s very much a working band. I knew Cass was a great songwriter, so I was like, “Hey, would you join the band?”
Oscar and I grew up together. He played trumpet in the church band, so when I started playing music, I was like, “Come play in my band!” And he was like, “Well, I can play the trumpet.” They came out all the time and eventually I got them to stick around for awhile. It’s a weird mix of organic stuff, but it’s hard work and picking the right people. We’ve fired people before.
I was actually just telling this to a friend the other day, and it was interesting to say it out loud. He asked, “Well, why? Why did you fire that person?” And I responded, “Well, they weren’t good enough.” So yeah, we’ve fired people because they’re not good enough and people have left the band.
What is the meaning of your band name, Madisons?
Dominic: The original violin player’s middle name is Madison. Her first name is Rachel. Rachel and I were in a band before called Jubal’s Lawyer. We were with another group of guys who quit. It wasn’t fun to break up that band, so when we made this band, I was like, “All right, I want a name that is forgettable. I would like a simple name.”
We think the music is good, and we want people to remember us by music. So we thought Madisons was a decent name, forgettable, and if you’re going to come around, you’re not going to come around for a flashy name. That’s where it is, and I still think that rings true. The music will bring you back.
Where do you get inspiration for your music?
Cass: I get a lot of inspiration from regular life. Most of the things I write about are things that have happened to me or friends. I have a few songs where it’s made-up scenarios, but most everything is from something pretty direct. I guess from living life, which there’s a lot to write about.
Nick: Definitely the same for me, life experiences and a lot of dark things.
Zack: It just comes from the heart. Life experiences. Everyone has their own musical influences, but everyone also has their own voice.
Can you share what your creative process is like?
Oscar: Dominic usually comes up with a foundation and then we all kind of add our own little bit to it. Me personally, I like the little weird stuff. The little weird sounds. I look towards that but everyone has their own little way of adding to what Dominic comes up with.
Dominic: I think we get a solid foundation, and then it goes out and everybody brings in their own take on it. Then after that, we all get together and manage how those takes will fit together. It’s like a big puzzle, but it’s going in a certain direction and then it’s like, “Let’s fit stuff in this other direction.”
Cass: The fine tuning is the hardest part in a band.
Dominic: I think it’s very collaborative, but a solid foundation first. The rhythm section is killer. It holds it together and it provides everybody else the opportunity to do this outward soundscaping, kind of like drawing. If it’s a painting, everybody is drawing this picture on the outside and then just fits it together. It’s very humbling. We all come together and get told no a lot. Sometimes you tell yourself no. It’s eight people, but it’s also eight creatives. There is a direction and one person, but it’s also a lot of people bringing in a bunch of different shit. It’s kind of like a soup.
Cass: I feel like whenever we start a new song I’m always like, “How is this even going to be a song?” Then two months later I’m like, “Oh, this song is kicking it.”
What has been one of your favorite highlights or memories since the band formed?
Zack: Calzone night in Athens, Georgia, was one of the most fun nights of my life at an after show. I had been in the band for a month and a half at that point, or close to two months. We were playing at the Georgia theater, and in the middle of a song, Dom was on the ledge. I thought he was going to die.
Cass: That’s my least favorite Madisons show!
Zack: That was the scariest moment, but then it was over. Anyway, the guy we were staying with was a super nice guy. He let 10 people stay in his house and be obnoxious. We’re all loud. And he gave us a great speech full of wisdom at the end of the night.
Dominic: Yeah, he was like “I would like to share with y’all some of my wisdom.” And we were like “Yeah! Tell us, tell us what it is!” And he responded, “Okay. My wisdom comes in 11 parts, and the first part is eight minutes.” And I get it: As a performer you need to have a captive audience. We were a very appreciative audience to his numbers one through six. Right before seven started the door bell rang because we ordered food, and everyone shouted “Calzones!” Saved by the bell. It was really funny, and we were like, “Sorry man, we’re hungry,” and he was like “It’s alright!” But really, he was one of our best hosts ever.
Zack: Yeah, that was definitely one of my favorite moments.
Nick: For me, I think every other show there’s somebody that’s traveled ten hours to come see us. I haven’t seen a huge breadth of fans, there’s not a ton of them, but when they are a fan, goddamn they’re a true fan.
How has your music evolved since you first formed or joined the band?
Cass: It’s hard for me to say because I’ve been in the band for four years and the only member that’s changed is the guitar player. We had some guitar players in the middle that were just short term. I don’t know if they were so much a part of the evolution; some were more than others. Everyone else has remained static since I joined. However, Dominic was already on this track of, “I’m trying to do something a little bit different,” so I’ve definitely seen that evolve and that has been pretty cool.
Nick: It dips all over the place, our music, so it’s not necessarily changing in one direction. I think the album is getting more complicated as we go. There is a little more depth to some of the songs. I don’t know about the overall sound changing too much, but it’s definitely more intricate.
Zack: I can’t speak from experience, but having to learn all of the music very quickly, I do see a huge change from the first album, which was its own thing, and the second two albums, which are more similar to me. And then the album “No Man’s Land” is just amazing. The songwriting has grown, taking chances and doing things that aren’t conventional.
Cass: Yeah, the song “Parade,” for instance.
Zack: Yeah, “Parade” and “Basketball Practice.”
Dominic: That one [“Basketball Practice”], everybody was all about it. I had told everybody, “Hey, this is what I’m going to try to do.” Most everybody was there with it. The only person that said something or questioned whether or not we should have it as an opening track, and I was like, “I’m not budging on that one, but I appreciate and I hear you. That’s a good thing to bring up.”
Cass: So many people that I know, that that’s one of their favorite songs. My cousin, just people from different walks of life that I know, it’s one of their favorite songs.
Dominic: We got really lucky. We were writing good songs early, and the music was trying to get there, but it had to catch up to the lyrics, and now it’s caught it. The music is now a thing that we don’t even know how to work with everything we’ve got. It’s so much. It’s a cool thing. I think that’s my evolution — that the music has caught up to the lyrics and now it’s big. It’s turning. It’s super fun right now, and it might not last forever. We’re lucky for a little bit.
Where is your favorite venue to perform?
Dominic: Oscar and I were talking about this the other day; I think Stay Gold is our new jam. I like that inside room.
Cass: Plus, that disco ball is awesome.
Dominic: Yeah, Stay Gold is a new favorite. Blackheart back in the day, the small room in the back room was awesome. The Parish sounds fantastic. Saxon is fun. It’s different. I think right now though, Stay Gold.
What has been your biggest challenge as a band?
Cass: For me, it’s creating with a lot of creatives. You don’t want to step on toes, but you want to assert your ideas, but you want to do it tactfully because everybody’s friends. There’s also a business side of it. That’s kind of what I feel is the main challenge. We do it pretty admirably. I’ve been in those bands where there are these big dramatic blowups because so and so wants the bridge here, and it just isn’t going to go there. There is really none of that. I think that we’ve all managed it well, which speaks to everyone’s personality too.
Dominic: I think it’s managing personalities. Music is cool, but a big part of what’s going on here is that we’re getting along. It’s a big group of people that get along, and we’re getting along while we’re being super opinionated and creative. It’s this idea that, you think something is going to be badass, but will everybody accept it? Sometimes they don’t. And how do you deal with being told no, or how do you deal when you’re telling somebody else no and then they feel bad, and then I feel bad?
And sometimes we get to this point, where we ask, “Is this manageable?” Again, we let go of people sometimes. We’ll be in this creative process, in this business, this family relationship and sometimes just say, “Hey, this isn’t working. I think we gotta we gotta try something different.” We’ve settled on a good group. These are fun people. It’s still imperfect as everything is, but this is the best imperfect we’ve had.
What’s the ultimate direction for the Madisons?
Zack: Worldwide superstars!
Cass: I’m just here to assassinate Dom. It’s taken me a really long time. I’m a terrible assassin.
Oscar: In all seriousness though, I guess my goal in this band is to play as long as I can and have as much fun as I can. We’re really lucky that we get along, make great art and that people like it. Really, I’m just going to ride this train out.
Cass: I think that’s part of why we get along. Everyone’s got jobs and families and things that they do. Everyone’s heavily invested in the band, but no one’s invested where it’s like “This is the only thing I’m ever going to do!” That kind of intensity isn’t there, which is nice.
Dominic: I think Oscar said it right. We make great art and other people like it. We are so lucky that other people like our art.
Zack: For me, it’s the same thing, besides being world famous and rich. No but really, I just want to be a better musician and access creativity that I didn’t realize I had and learn how to do it with these people. I just want to keep having fun. I love it.
Nick: I love playing music. So the biggest goals have already been achieved. We are making music, we’re creating something new, and right now it’s making an impact. Maybe it’s not the biggest impact or the largest impact, but I feel like it’s continuing to grow, and more people are really digging it.
Cass: You can feel the love at the shows and that’s payoff enough.
Nick: From show to show, some of them are the same people and some of them are friends. But there’s always new people and I’m like “Who the hell is that? They know more words than us, what the hell?”
Zack: Yes! That was intimidating.
Cass: It is crazy having a room full of people singing your song back at you. It’s great.
Dominic: I’m going to go back to your previous question about one of my favorite moments because it ties into this. Back in the day, we went on our first tour. We made this record and it hadn’t even come out, but I sent my friend in Los Angeles a bunch of demos and booked this shitty tour myself. We were going to go out to Los Angeles and then just come back. We played a couple terrible shows on the way: one in El Paso and one in Phoenix. Then we got to Los Angeles and ended up playing in my friend’s basement.
This dude was helping us unload the van and was like, “Dude, it’s so weird to hear your talking voice. I hear your record all the time.” And I was like, “Oh…That’s weird.” So anyway, we finished unloading and people were starting to get there. My friend was an art student at the time and was handing out our music to all his art kid friends, and they all showed up and knew all the fucking lyrics and even made a banner for us. It was just crazy that we didn’t even know them, but they knew all the words to the songs from our demo. It wasn’t even a record yet. I remember we were playing that show, and our bass player, who was a way more experienced musician than I was, turned to me in the middle of that show and was like, “This is the best show I’ve ever played in my fucking life!” It was so cool.
That set the motivation and the mindset that we’re super lucky and maybe more people will like us if we keep making it. That’s really why we’re still here. I’m older, I’m in a band and I’m spending a lot of my time making art. Some people will think you’re just paying attention to fame if you’re still playing in a band, but we’re just making good art. We’re lucky that we have a small following. So my goal like Oscar said is to have fun, make good art, but still enjoy life. I love my life, I really do. I’ve achieved my goal, I think. Back in the day, I wanted an underground band that could smack pop and could pack small clubs. That was it, and we got it.
Is there anything else you want to give a shout out about?
Dominic: Country Music Sunday! Twice a year we have a big show here called Country Music Sunday. We all play on this stage in my backyard, a beer sponsor comes out, we make breakfast for everybody, have coffee for everybody and a ton of beer. We’ll fit about 100 to 150 people here. It’s happening April 28. It’s $7 suggested donation that pays for everything, but if you don’t have $7,still come!
After our chat wrapped up, I got to hear the band jam out for a bit, and I gotta say: I can’t WAIT to catch their next show. For more information on Madisons and where to see them next visit http://madisonsatx.com. This is truly a must-see local band here in Austin!
Leigh is a native Texan gone temporary New Yorker and now proud Austinite. Passions include but are not limited to music (both as a spectator and dabbler), traveling & cultural adventures, film & television, true crime, design (of the fashion, interior, and graphic sorts), and photographing & writing about all the aforementioned. Self-acclaimed coffee connoisseur & wino, cat aficionado, book worm, and nature junkie.