THE GLASS EYE
Entering the State ofÖ I D A H O
Interview by Sean Gentry (with help from Matt Dunlavey)
Idaho is more than a sparsely populated plot of Sand in the center of the US ó itís the name of the innovative musical project of Jeff Martin, whose spatial, dream-like, heroin-laced soundscapes, alluring baritone vox, and custom made, de-tuned 4 string guitars have helped to separate Idaho from the common strain of bands.
Idahoís The Palms EP and full length debut Year After Year were collaborations between Martin and sometime song writing partner John Berry. With rumors of drug abuse and Ēcreative differencesĒ the duo split. This Way Out, Idahoís latest release, is the first offering featuring just Jeff and his custom made guitars.
The Glass Eye recently talked with the auteur of Idaho, on the road opening for the Cranes, about the departure of Berry, those freaky four-stringers, and of courseóOJ. Simpson...
THE EYE: Why did you and John Berry (former Idaho guitarist and co-songwriter) go your separate ways?
JM: There were musical differences-not exactly musical differences. He wanted to stick with a certain approach to song writing, a certain mood, a certain formula. He wasnít able to adapt to my more experimental escapades; and he had a drug problem that got really bad, which was the dominant factor in his demise with the band. Heís good now; weíre still good friends. We played together the other day, heís wrote some really beautiful songs. He might record a little bit on the next record. It wasnít ready destined to go on forever; I knew ultimately I needed to work by myself.
THE EYE: Is Johnís departure the reason for the difference in the sound of This Way Out, compared to Year After Year?
JM: Yeah, but it would have sounded a , bit different anyway. It would have sounded a bit heavy-handed, and I just couldnít have done another record with him at that point; the what if is so big. I played a lot of the guitar on the first record, but only rhythm and all of a sudden I was stuck with a coloring job. On the new record it was like me turning on my amp for the first time and going Whoaaaa, and I feel I got pretty good at it and Iím much better now after touring. It is a very different situation without John. The new record happened over six weeks, and the first record happened over a year. The lyrics are autobiographical, and are about something. Most the lyrics on the first album were just dream-like, and some of them are better than the lyrics on this album, but I wanted to try to write them this way. Itís a very transitional record for me; itís like itís the first Jeff Martin record, and the first record was based on a ten year relationship.
THE EYE: Was it difficult to find someone to replace him for this tour?
JM: Yeah really hard, I got really lucky with who I have.
THE EYE: Howís the tour going?
JM: Itís going good, itís the best way to improve your skills; itís great exercise, and itís pretty physically debilitating for me. Afterward you feel better in some way, if not physically, spiritually or something.
THE EYE: Who do you have on tour with you?
JM: Dan, he played on the record, and Iíve always known him, he was on tour with Idaho before as a second guitar player because I used to be on bass a lot. He was in a band, Pet Clark, with Mark Lewis, who is the Idaho drummer now, and he is pretty much a fixture now, as is Dan. Jim Brown plays bass, and we got him a week a two before we toured.
THE EYE: On the recording you used a lot of different musicians.
JM: I try to do most of it myself.
THE EYE: I noticed you used Joey Waronker?
JM: Yeah, he was in Walt Mink and then worked with Beck; his sister is in That Dog, who Tony Maxwell is the drummer for, and he played on the record too. I met him through Cross Roads, where I went to high school where a lot of bands, like Jawbreaker, Beth Thompson form Medicine, and That Dog came out of people I went to high school with. Cross Roads just has really good music and theater departments, it was a well-to-do, artistic school. The headmaster was just a really good teacher, and new how to run a high school.
THE EYE: And supported you artistically?
JM: Yeah. People just had really good taste, and I got introduced to a lot of new music.
THE EYE: What is the reason for playing four-stringed guitars, was it something you just evolved into?
JM: Itís kind of an accident that I took the ball and ran with.
THE EYE: Did it start out with a guitar with broken strings?
JM: I never wanted to play guitar, I was always very intimidated by how close the strings were and it didnít feel good to play and I always bent the strings around. Then I discovered a friend of mine had left a guitar with two strings missing, and I just tuned it up and heís like ďwhat are you tuning your guitar too?Ē and Iím like ďI donít know,Ē and I wrote songs pretty instantly. I thought it was really great and ďI could write songs all day this way.Ē With a new tuning itís like have a new slate, and you come up with great chords. I probably move up to six strings again maybe to get richer chords. I found out with four stings as I wrote music it simplifies thing; I may play two notes, and the other guitarist plays two notes and thereís lot of room for the bass. Itís more of a minimalist approach that works for me.
THE EYE: But you started out on bass?
JM: Well, piano first, then bass because I was in a band with John Berry around 1981, when we were 15, and I had to play bass because we didnít have a bass player; I stared singing around then too. I never touched a guitar though until about two and a half years ago.
THE EYE: Was it always a four-stringer?
JM: Yeah, I never touched a six-string. I had a four-string built after I got a record deal, and the strings were made farther apart and it was easier to play.
THE EYE: Did you have built from Scratch?
JM: Yeah, I would tell him to use a Jaguar body and a Tele head stock, and what color frame and pick-guard. So I basically design them myself.
THE EYE: Since the OJ. Simpson incident dominates every form of mass media; I might as well ask you about it since you were in the midst of it.
JM: You can hear helicopters on the record, but Iíd have to point it out to you.
THE EYE: What track is that?
JM: ďGlowĒ, between the speaker you can hear it.
THE EYE: It probably fit right in.
JM: Yeah. Where I recorded is right down the street. Sunset Blvd winds up pass my parentsí house where I had the recording studio at the time. Especially when OJ was ditching the cops and he started coming towards the house and a mob of people ran up the street; it was more insane than the riots. It was just completely insane; it brought back a lot of that riot tension. There were live news cameras on the street, people were getting shoved around, and news casters were getting fucked with. It was pretty heavy, and I was really annoyed because there were always these exhaust spewing helicopters perched above the house all day, even if nothing was going on.
THE EYE: Do you do all your projects at that studio?
JM: Now Iíve moved my stuff into an old, gutted recording studio that I found for cheap, but both records were recorded at my parentsí house.
THE EYE: Do write a lot of new material on the road?
JM: No, I find at sound check weíll start fiddling around and Iíll think ďI wish we had a tape deck.Ē But, no I donít write on the road but I should. I donít really have anything to play; I donít play acoustic. I write when I have do, when we need to do a record, or if Iím at home with nothing else to do. I donít push it, I like the break.
THE EYE: Do just write as it comes to you?
JM: Yeah, and I donít wait for inspiration either; I pick up the guitar and itíll happen, I know it will happen if I sit there long enough.