IDAHO are not from Idaho, but they do create some of the saddest, slowest, most sombre sounds this side of Red House Painters and American Music Club. EVERETT TRUE (words) and STEVE GULLICK (pic) met them in lush uptown LA
Outside, the sun burns down upon rolling hill after rolling hill of green and brown, and a dog runs around on the springy turf. The hazy light causes the water in the swimming-pool to sparkle like crystal; further down the slope, even the electrified fence looks harmless. Not a car can be heard.
From inside this sprawling, lighted mansion comes the sound of laughter, chatter. Four or five figures wander around with home-made margaritas in hand, someone’s chewing on a hunk of grainy bread, someone else is just tucking into a lettuce and fruit salad. A shutter is pulled up and the house magically expands its horizons tenfold
Lower down, a state-of-the-art studio juts out into the countryside: 24-track mixing consoles sitting proudly next to a 1928 Steinway.
Welcome to the LA home of Jeff Martin’s parents.
JEFF is half (the singer/bassist) of the haunting,
beautiful Idaho. Imagine a thunderstorm waiting to break, the static in the air
building up until if s almost unbearably charged. There’s no relief. Think of
the melancholy epic sweep of Mark Kozelek’s voice, only weighed down with
slow, ponderous powerchords and sculptured feedback.
I started this piece with a description of Jeff’s
childhood home because I wanted to contrast it
with Idaho’s almost devastating grandeur. Yet it makes perfect sense.
It’s that “Less Than Zero”, doomed LA rich
white kid feeling - eternally bored and nowhere to go. Why not form a
IsolateD from his peers by precocious musical talent (a classically trained pianist, Jeff was knocking out two-fingered compositions by the age of four) and an annoying stutter, he attended a high school for gifted artists in the Santa Monica warehouse district. Which was where he met John Barry, 12 years ago.
John’s background couldn’t have been more different from Jeff’s. A roadie for seminal LA punk band, The Deadbeats, at age 13, he’d already tasted the inside of an LA jail several times before he met Jeff. Born to actor parents, he passed up college in favour of a crash course in alchemy, using his body as a laboratory. A San Francisco space called “The Mutants Loft” -where he was first exposed to early Eighties electronica - shaped much of what was to come.
The difference between their characters is instantly apparent. John is hyper-nervous, wired, forever fidgeting and trying to make sure we’re comfortable. He’s cursed with quite an alarming cough. When we first bumped into him, in a New York bar, we thought he was obsequious to the point of irritation, but later realise that was merely down to paranoia on his part. He has difficulty sleeping, difficulty confronting his demons. When I ask him whether he has problems with life he replies, “Sure. Who doesn’t?”
John’s cool by us. He also makes a wicked cup of Java.
“John seems to have this weird conflict in conforming to standard methods of living,” explains his singer. “He’s always had this fear of sleeping...”
Jeff, on the other hand, is far calmer, more sedate. He crank-calls Mark Kozelek at the behest of his manager He’s the one who organises picking us up from the hotel, playing us the video. (The video is perfect: shot on Super 8, grainy images of faces and flowers and sky slowly drift across the screen, caught in the hazy after-light There’s the pervasive whiff of lotus blossom in the air.)
In Idaho, Jeff supplies the structure and framework; John supplies the layers of tortured feedback and slow-burning chords. He puts a fire under Jeff’s butt and makes him sing harder.
“SINGING is a real struggle for me,” says Jeff, “It’s very hard for me to let go and feel it. When I sing, I’m trying to leave the room and tap into something I don’t even have a name for. It’s a constant struggle. I don’t even think I reach it that often.”
We’re nearing the end of our stay here. The tequila’s nearly finished, the shadows are drawing in. It’s even starting to feel chilly.
What emotions are you trying to articulate?
“I’m not really trying to do anything;” the singer muses. “It’s just what I do.”
Are lyrics important?
“No, not too much,” he replies slowly, swilling round his glass to reach the last remnants of his margarita. It’s now, and across the hills, tiny lights are starting to twinkle in the fortunates’ houses.
“Miles Davis’ trumpet, for example, can say so much. But I like the sound of words if they’re put in the right order. It’s a challenge trying to put together something that can be read in several different ways. The subconscious knows what it’s doing.”
The room falls silent.
“Idaho sound almost tragic to me,” says the guitarist. “There’s a sadness to the music, but there’s some hope also.”
I would imagine the music would be very liberating for you.
“Yeah, very much so,” he agrees. “And, at times, it’s a little victorious. Like we haven’t f***ed it all up yet.”
‘Year After Year’ is out now on Quigley.
Idaho will be touring the UK, November 10-22, with Radial Spangle and Sun Dial.