Insight

Number four

The beans behind the band, Jeff Martin started Idaho and will probably end it. Together with his troupe of players, he plays indie rock on a semi-major like Howard Roark made buildings in the Fountainhead. He is a paradox, and in a few words, presumptuously, with originality, and somewhat blindly. Not to mention his attitudes are somewhat obnoxious. .Like Howard Roark, he drowns in irony: on a label like Caroline with no one at his snows; making- more unusual music on a heavy .hitter than most make on an indie; perhaps defeating: his own ends with his own focus.

Insight: Tell me about what happened with the lineup.

Jeff Martin: Yeah, Itís just me now working by myself to an extent. On the last record I had some drummers play on it, Joey Warnker who was in a band called Walk Naked. Now heís with Beck. A guy named Tony Mackenwell from a band called That Dog, and my old drummer, Jeff Middey, who toured with us last year. He played on a song and I basically played everything else.

I: Right. Did John fit into that or no?

J: John Berry? No, we had our creative differences that were happening right in the beginning, and we had a real interesting formula that we kind of beat to death, I think, and it was time for me to move on. I always knew I would.

I: What was the formula?

J: John would come up with some chords that he liked, generally like two parts of a song, and I would arrange it and add a break or some extra color to it. He would do this feed back stuff all over it. He wouldnít really write parts, he would just turn up his Marshall to 100 watts of screaming assault, and weíd record him going nuts. He really had a gift for that. It wasnít just capturing a lot of noise and making sense of It later. He was pretty capable of producing the stuff first take. And then I would write lyrics and do the vocals, and weíd just mix the song. We wouldnít really think much about it. It was that sort of process. It would happen really quickly. It was very satisfying, I mean the stuff came out beautiful, but after a while I got tired of doing that. It just became too automatic. Our tastes were different. Iím still very good friends with [him]. Iíve talked about working with him in the future.

I: Alright, so did you have any kind of musical training?

J: Yeah, I guess so, I mean I was a classical pianist. I did recitals playing in front of thousands of people at times. My high school had a real advanced music department. Professors from USC. University of Southern California, took over the class at my high school, Cross Roads, in Santa Monica, and I was a music major with all these Asian violinists and this kind of crazy bunch of classical musicians. I didnít really fit into that at all, but at that time I was actually studying to be a concert pianist. In a way I think I knew pretty much right off the bat that that wasnít what I was going to end up doing.

I: Right.

J: So I did that for a little while, and then I discovered jazz, and I started learning how to improvise. I stopped studying sight readings, and I eventually forgot completely how to write music.

I: So how long ago was this?

J: From age eleven to age fifteen or something.

I: And how old are you now?

J: Thirty.

I: So did you find that kind of music satisfying? Was it as cathartic as the stuff youíre doing now?

J: What I was doing back then?

I: Yeah.

J: Uh, no. (laughs)

I: You were playing everybody elseís stuff too right?

J: Yeah, I mean that was just like Kobiaz. Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky, and yeah, it was great stuff, but right about at that point I started writing stuff myself that I thought was just as powerful on the piano, (laughs) or it gave me a lot more satisfaction. I didnít really want to be a robot, you know.

I: Yeah.

J: I think I could play the stuff extremely well. My piano teacher would cry all the time whenever we had lessons when I played something, (laughs) So I knew I had a touch for it, but I grew up. I think it was a good discipline. I got really good at that to the point that I could jump over to bass guitar when I was about nineteen, and I was good on it quickly Ďcause my hands knew what they were doing. My teacher would always call them tools. At least I had that developed. Then you know, three years ago I switched to four string guitar, and I was instantly turned on to that.

I: Would you consider the music youíre doing now as serious as the music you were doing then? Is it as respectable? Does it demand as much respect as Stravinsky or Bartok or whatever?

J: Maybe. Iím working up to that. I donít think it is yet, but I think Iím going there I hope.

I: Are your arrangements that complex?

J: No. (laughs) Not really, but I think that complex arrangements arenít what make something have that emotional impact at all. Iím more into simplicity and texture.

I: I think a lot of classical musicians would argue with you on that.

J: Yeah. (laughs) Thatís true. I donít argue about music much with people. I feel that if they have to argue they donít really care that much.

I: Yeah, what about this four string guitar? Iíve never even seen one.

J: Well they exist. I just bought a 1957 Guild hollow body electric thatís a four string. Theyíve been around forever. Theyíre called tenor guitars or plexic guitars. Thatís why a lot of the music on the first record had this mulchy kind of brown sound. A lot of itís just because the tunings are really low.

I: What do you do live when you do break a string? Do you just play it out or what?

J: For some reason Iím the one who breaks the strings. I donít know why. Just because I think my angst gets transferred into the wood, (laughs) so generally what weíll do is play it out, but Danís gotta learn my parts. Heís learned most of them because then he can just play and we donít have the lead guitar in it anymore. Yeah, itís pretty dorky to stop playing a song.

I: Itís really kind of sacrilegious to turn a song off in the middle. I always had a pet peeve about people that make you tapes and then they have one song at the end and It gets cut off. (Oh, I wonder who thatís supposed to be? -Bridget) I erase the rest of the song because you donít want to lis≠ten to half a song.

J: Yeah it has a real sort of negative effect. Itís shocking, like a jolt. So what are you interviewing for?

I: Insight. I used to write for Your Flesh. Iíve reviewed all your records.

J: Oh really? I think in my scrapbook I have a review from Your Flesh.

I: It might have been from me. I got the Palms E.P. to review, and I loved it. Thatís what started me listening to your stuff. Caroline called me up and asked me if I wanted to do an interview with so-and-so, and I was like ďUrn, not really... But you know who I would like to do one with is Idaho...Ē Sorry if telling me this stuff is redundant for you, Ďcause I donít know that much about your history, but I like the records.

J: Right, well thatís all that matters. They didnít send you a bio or anything?

I: They have, but I never read them.

J: Yeah they are really stupid.

I: I remember reading the first bio and I didnít like it at all. I said in the review for Your Flesh that I didnít care what the deal was with you and John you know. Did you read them?

J: Yeah, It was kind of bullshit too.

I: It said that John was some street smart hustler and you were some classical savant.

J: Itís an utter cartoon version of reality. Weíre actually almost exactly the same. People think we talk the same, we both kind of stutter. People think weíre brothers. He just happens to have some bad toxic habits and I donít, and thatís the only difference.

I: Did that affect the band? Was that part of the problem?

J: I think that Johnís always had a problem with that. Weíve worked with each other off and on since we were about nineteen, and he got into heroin in like 1986. We were just working on a project then that was really, really cool.

I: You said it was heroin?

J: Yeah, heís always had a drinking problem but a lot of Americans do, and people donít really care. They donít notice it until it gets to be some evil drug. So he got into that and it killed what we were doing at the time. He went through a string of problems after that. He got arrested, but then in 1988,1 think he was at a drug rehab, he became a counselor and he was really respected. Heíd go on tour In California and speak in front of lots of people about it. After heíd been clean for about two and a half years he kind of joined this joke band that I was in just on drums and eventually he snagged me out of that and got me to start working with him again, and we started doing the first song for Idaho. He was great the second we signed our deal in December of Ď92, but then he started using again. A lot of people I know in bands in L.A. that are getting these big gigantic record deals, people who had drug problems, they instantly start up again. When things get too comfortable and success is knocking on the door, itís some weird decision thatís made, now I have money I can afford it sort of, and it seems like I can get away with it now. I have a life, my dream has come true, so I might as well celebrate and get back into my old friend. So it just happened to him again too, and once it started happening he stopped. He wasnít able to write his music anymore. It was somewhat of a nightmare. The small amount of touring we did though, he would always manage to get up on stage and do a really good job for the most part. I mean, he was always breaking equipment and was like, ďYouíre so lucky to have me around to fix this stuff and keep things cool.Ē So it just didnít work out, but Iím glad we got to put out two good records and go play. Thereís great live recordings of a lot of shows that exist. I just canít hang with that anymore.

I: It seems like it would be good music to take heroin to. Iíve never done it, but I mean, If I did It (laughs) I think thatís what I might like to listen to.

J: (laughs) Either that or some type of music youíd hear when you died or something which is kind of the same thing.

I: Thatís really funny that you said died because I wanted to have you make a list separate from this interview about the top twelve records youíd like do something to, like to do drugs, to die. to have sex. Itís a serene kind of music.

J: Right, which is changing a little bit. Iím doing some new stuff that has a more aggressive quality to it, kind of steering away from that meditative sober thing.

I: Have you ever heard of Lambchop or Bedhead?

J: Yeah I have, but I donít really know their stuff that well. I was just reading about Lambchop.

I: The mood is comparable to what you guys do. Thereís a little more sarcasm in it, but Bedhead does really pretty music. And being an alternative band on an alternative label makes that an unusual thing. Most people are doing ďpop grunge,Ē and when somebody turns down or slows down itís a weird thing.

J: Yeah, I hope it happens more.

I: Itís refreshing.

J: Itís funny, I donít really know why, Ďcause Iím still recording a lot. I did that record, and we donít tour that much, but Iím kind of getting into the third record, and I want to listen to stuff.

I: Can you ever picture yourself doing catchy pop songs that are up beat?

J: I think a lot of Idaho are pop songs, I think theyíre catchy. I think a song like Skyscrape is really catchy. Itís a little bit somber of mood, but you can hear it as elevator music very easily. Iíve always written sort of pop type catchy stuff, and I think some day I will do it, but I donít think the climateís right. I think that Iím still gonna try to fly below the radar now until the climateís right for higher quality pop music to happen. Iím getting older too, I think itíll make more sense when Iím about thirty-six or thirty-seven. I might actually be writing pop music, but I think itíll always be real high quality. Itís not gonna be a sell out. But thatís going to take awhile to happen. For now I want to wallow in my obscurity and enjoy that for awhile.

I: Do you have a big problem with people selling out or yourself selling out?

J: Not really, but it just seems like something horrible happens to people when they do. Their own music starts going down hill.

I: I think a lot of people focus on that when they watch their favorite band grow or change and put out records. Theyíre always analyzing when theyíre gonna sell out. It seems like some people can do it and it doesnít really matter.

J: Like who?

I: What can be more tacky than Neil Young doing a tribute to Kurt Cobain? But yet he can do that and it doesnít sound tacky.

J: I think thereíll be a way for me to sneak through this and keep my feathers unruffled. Keep writing honest stuff for myself.

I: Keep your integrity intact. As far as the indie thing, do you feel like you fit into that scene? Your music is probably closer to something like, as far as expressing mood, something more like classical than stuff thatís in Maximum Rock and Roll. But your audience is probably closer to punk kids.

J: I donít really know what the audience for Idaho is yet. Iíve never seen more than four at once really, but I have no idea. Theyíre all sorts of different kinds of people. There are like sixteen-year-old girls to this fifty-five year old man whoís written me saying heís a big fan that loves to talk about it.

I: Do people come to your shows?

J: It depends. Here in California we had four hundred people come to see us play Ďcause we were number one on the college radio station there, but thatís absurd for the most part. Only a handful of people come to the shows. I donít know where Idaho fits in.

I: I donít think you guys are really a live band.

J: Not exactly. It was never my intention to play live with this stuff at all. I like it now Ďcause itís a challenge. Itís making me a better singer, better guitar player. Itís fun to travel Ďcause otherwise Iím pretty reclu≠sive. I donít do a lot. I like to stay home. Itís good for me to get out into the world, but yeah, itís a very modern band, and I think it doesnít quite fit in to the current system. Itís kind of a freakish thing.

End

Jeff Martin currently is releasing Idaho records through Caroline.