Minimum’s Maximalists

By Craig Willingham


By design, life is neatly sewn up by the old adage that anything worth having is worth waiting for, especially the beauty of understanding an artist’s expression. The Los Angeles group Idaho moves within the boundaries of this philosophy and in the process succeeds in creating crystallized works of art in the form of monolithic styled songs. In their approach to music, time seems to virtually stand still, frozen in the lap of eternity. Their bodies of work, which include the Palms EP and the full length Year After Year, radiate with this esthetic of beauty and power over speed.


The origins of Idaho go back nearly ten years to a friendship struck between the fellows who make up the duo, Jeff Martin and John Berry. “We went to rival high schools and eventually became friends,” says Martin. “Our music at that time was kind of a neo-romantic thing that we began refining over the years.” The elegant fury of the instrumentals on their recordings alone points to a dynamic picture of immersion to which Martin claims, “Our music is more of a happening along the lines of jazz improvisation. Once we go into the studio the songs tend to surface as if I have no control over them, like a form of expression flow.” The emotional impact on the music is equal parts Berry and Martin and the meshing of their personalities. The brooding overtones can at time be bittersweet and sobering. This personality equation is one of the essential elements that make Idaho. “John brings out this alternate side of me when we collaborate that most certainly seasons our music. The songs that I do on my own, like “One Sunday”, tend to be just slightly more upbeat, yet there still is that Idaho feel running through it. On my own, though I don’t feel I would write songs like we do together.”


Idaho’s process towards making music up until this points has been a bit tedious. Several of their early demos took years to make and were not necessarily in the forefront of either member’s lives. “I’m finally getting to the point where I can finish songs,” Martin tells me. This more serious work ethic resulted in the completion of their first song “You Are There,” which appears on the Palms EP, while an alternate version appears as “Endgame” on the album. This song caught the ear of someone at Caroline and culminated in the subsidiary release of the “Skyscrape” seven inch and their introduction to the world, so to speak. Soon after, came their full deal with Caroline, the EP and finally the album, all in relatively a short span of time.


The format in which Idaho has concentrated it’s energy has been studio work. However, earlier this year they embarked on a tour supporting the Red House Painters, followed by a solo tour both here and abroad. “What we do is rather hard to reproduce live, but when it does come together it’s pretty incredible. We were best received in Europe, which is no surprise. I believe that they can be more open-minded at times,” says Martin. “When we played in America on our own there would be like five fans in the audience familiar with our music and the rest of the crowd would be going ‘what the heck is this?’”.


As far as the live aspect of their music goes, Martin’s descriptions vary from very good to horrible, which is not too unexpected from a band’s first live outing. “It’s not the type of music you can just set up in a small club and do justice to,” states Martin. “I would write totally different music for that atmosphere.” “Would you say that there is an atypical Idaho fan?” I ask. “I think we appeal to a more cross section of fans now,” he replies. “Before it was a kind of nerdy college guy, then it evolved to young girls and now it seems to be older women. I’m probably generalizing but that’s just what I’ve noticed.”


I put the question to him of why they don’t experiment more with instruments such as piano, cello, or others in order to flesh out some of the melodies... to which he replies: “I feel it may be a little too obvious and too baroque-ish, although we may experiment more in those areas in the future.”


Idaho’s discography is fairly small at present, consisting only of the “Skyscrape” seven inch and the EP and album mentioned earlier, but Martin is optimistic about changing that. “I’m simply happy with the fact that we have the opportunity to make music and focus on that aspect of our lives. I’ll attempt to release as much music as possible.” As of late, the band has an EP slated to be released on Quigley, their label and plans for touring again look like a vague possibility, so amidst this information I pose Martin the question of possibly achieving breakthrough status. He calmly answers” “I feel pretty safe right now, away from the big eye in the sky, I think once bands lose their anonymity it’s harder to stay grounded.” With that said, Martin reveals two things to me: One, that Idaho may have a hard time keeping their anonymity but Two, with an attitude like that staying grounded should not be a problem.