Alternative Press – November, 1993


Slack Attack

Brentwood, California is not exactly Boise. But overlooking both the Hollywood basin and the Santa Monica bay from atop dusty hills, it’s almost as far, metaphorically speaking, from the hype-encrusted, creatively stifled music scene of Los Angeles. That might be one reason why Jeff Martin and John Berry decided to call their project Idaho. “It’s sort of a metaphor for LA.,” says guitar/vocalist Martin. “I don’t feel like there’s much of a sense of community at all, you just kind of drive around in your car and go about your business. I don’t feel like I’m part of anything. Like we might as well be in Idaho.”

“There’s this kind of tension here,” guitarist/drummer Berry adds. “Everyone’s focused on what they’re doing. It’s not a friendly city—it’s kind of cold and impersonal.”

While that sense of tension and isolation are present in Idaho’s sound, blending meditative, deep tenor vocals with tenuous guitar chords and scorching feedback. Like Los Angeles’ hot, arid, hazy climate, Idaho, on The Palms EP and new Year After Year album (both on Caroline), can be enveloping, intoxicating, even mesmerizing, hiding beauty in its stultifying ether. Songs like “God’s Green Earth,” “Memorial Day,” and “One Sunday” bring to mind slow motion images of girls in tank tops mopping their faces with cold soda cans; a homeless man rolling over as he tries to sleep on the baking sidewalk; lovers holding each other by the neck, kissing foreheads; a car , the roadside, its radiator venting like a geyser. In short, the soundtrack for an indian summer.

Martin admits the scenic views from his home-built Piercing Sound Studio play inspirational role. “It either helps it or hampers it. It’s just so nice up there that you can get lazy, stare off into space...” A quality definitely present in the music.

“Yeah, the stuff I’ve done with John has always been like that,” Martin agrees, we’ve always made this kind of creepy, lonely stuff.”

Though they’ve known each other and played together for twelve years, Martin and Berry come at their muse from nearly opposite perspectives. The for-attended private prep school, learned classical piano, composition and studio engineering, playing for hire on tours with famous names he’d rather not mention. The latter, well...

“You don’t work for the National Enquirer”?” Berry asks this interviewer over the phone. “I’ve been burned by them. They tracked me down and they waned to do a story on my dad.” Berry, as it turns out, is son of television actor Ken Berry (Mayberry R.F.D., F Troop). “I was broke at the time and they kind of suckered me into talking to them for money.” That’s only one of many archetypal Hollywood experiences the younger Berry has packed into his 29 years—playing in bands since the late ‘70s. hanging out on the LA. punk scene with friends in the Dils, Deadbeats and Blasters (“I actually had the banner from the Masque for a while”), and acquiring a habitual taste for heroin. “I used to see Anthony from the Chili Peppers around,” he recalls, “he and his girl on one corner, me and mine on the other, waiting for the same pusher” After a few possession raps, a parole violation led Berry to a couple months hard time in the L.A. County jail. “It’s a very real experience,” he says, “getting to learn the underbelly of society, and how many scumbags there are in the world.”

Berry doesn’t deny that his experiences affect his music: “I think junkies, I mean ex-junkies, like the kind of sad, melancholic music. I do.”

“His life’s been a very bumpy road,” Martin says of his partner. “I’ve always been fascinated by it, and I guess I pick up on that energy. I find a lot of my lyrics, especially on his songs, have this kind of gloomy, doomish thing.” Critics have already picked up on that vibe, using words like distraught, devastating, sombre, melancholy, ennui, hopelessness (and that’s just one review!), which leaves Idaho faced with the question of whether they have a fascination with death.

“I would say not really,” Berry answers, “but I don’t know if that would be entirely true I mean, up until Idaho started to happen in a professional way, I was suicidally depressed...but,” he continues, “there’s only one song that has to do with somebody dying and that’s ‘Gone.’” Which is also, incidentally, one of the album’s highlights, along with the melodic “Skyscrape.”

Admitting the influences of Codeine, Red House Painters, Leonard Cohen (Martin adds Sebadoh, Pavement, Nick Drake; Berry notes Crime and the City Solution, Swans, Neil Young) the pair now look forward to a progression from the sound Martin describes as “kind modern blues, a catharsis thing.” Up to now they’ve performed most of the instrumentation themselves—Martin using a customized four-string guitar—but this July, Idaho fleshed themselves out into a full band in order to play live. “The stuff we’re doing now is taking a turn,” says Martin, “a little more dynamic.” Agreeing their music is “Not really quick-impact,” Martin confesses, ”It takes me personally a long time to get into my stuff.” He adds, “I don’t know how that will affect the future...I guess I don’t care!”


—Eric Gladstone