I donít think weíre
in Boise anymore: Interview with Idaho
by Lawrence Ferber
Jeff Martin is a truly talented songwriter responsible for three albums under his bandís name Idaho. Whereas the first two moody, ethereal guitar-based offerings consisted of Jeff and a series of studio musicians, Idaho has evolved into an actual permanent band featuring Terry Borden on bass, Mark Lewis on drums, and Dan Seta on guitar. Out of LA, the band evokes an almost European musical sensibility and sound rather than many of the American independent bands theyíve been compared to. Nirvana comes up frequently, and although on Idahoís first two albums Martin does have more than a peripheral vocal similarity, on Three Sheets To The Wind, the latest, he comes far more into his own, the sound altogether echoing the very queer Kitchens of Distinction. Most of Idahoís songs evolve from jam sessions held within their LA-based studio (which contains a mirrored ďlove lounge,Ē according to their press release), and some are plain-old recorded on the fly. With image-evoking lyrics (ďHow can you leap/with nails in your feetĒ) and rich musicianship, Martin and company do themselves proud, and it was a pleasure to meet them at this crux in their careers, as the band is new, and only beginning to develop as a group. Queer friendly, intelligent and certainly culturally-broad, Idaho hashed about comparisons, musicianship, fans, and queers (lest I not forget about The Frogs, a very subversive band Jeff recommended).
Terry Borden- I think thereís a good way to open this interview.
Lawrence Ferber- Do tell.
Terry Borden- Idaho thinks that thereís nothing wrong with being gay and people who think that are totally fucked up.
LF- (sarcastically) But I understand that all gay people have AIDS....(laughter all around at this jab at right-wing belief)
TB- Well, I donít know about that. Weíre not gay, any of us, but I doubt thatís probably true...
LF- Do you guys have any sort of a queer following?
TB- Definitely. Everyone that weíve played in front of has been slightly queer. (Laughter again)
LF- Not like Pearl Jam or anything...
TB- Yeah. Theyíre all gay. (Laughter) Nah, Iím just kidding.
LF- By the way, you do get bonus points for not doing that awful, started by Eddie Vedder and capitalized by that awful Hootie and the Blowflsh, (imitating Dariusí vocal style) ďAwwwwuuuhhhhĒ thing. I swear to God, if I heard that vocal style I would have had to come out here and killed you in your van.
Jeff Martin- Strangely enough, on the first record thereís a song that the NME did a review of our live show and thought I was doing, like, Eddie Vedder (laughs all round) stuff. Iím just screaming out there, but Iím not, ďAwwwuuuhhhh,Ē a little of the Seattle Butt Roar.
TB- We come from a different world than those bands. Thatís big-time MTV whatever.
LF- What sort of bands do you guys go to see. LA is, like, tour circuit hell, so you guys must see everything....
JM- No, we donít. We donít really go see bands. TB- We go to gambling dens and bars.. LF- Hooch dens...
TB- We donít really go to a lot of shows. Weíre kind of too sophisticated a little bit. We like to go see really good bands, things I know will be good or if a friend recommends it.
JM- Highly recommended or we know itís great. Iíve never been one to go to shows at all, but when youíre growing up you have your heroes and you go see them, but thatís stopped happening.
TB- You get a headache, you know, itís loud! (Laughter)
LF- Have you guys ever gone to the ďhomocoreĒ shows (Gay Hardcore popular in LA), like Vaginal Cream Davisí bands...
TB- I know Vaginal Cream Davis. I was in a band and she always used to announce the shows... (to Jeff) You know who Vaginal is. Sheís like a big, tall black transvestite...
JM- Wasnít she in Glue., he in Glue...he she?
TB- Yeah, I think so. Yeah...
JM- Thatís funny, because she... he... uh... was... uh...
TB- Jeff and I have been kicking around the back streets of Los Angeles for probably ten years, so...
LF- So youíve been involved with the whole Underground LA thing.
JM- More indirectly. My first partner who was in Idaho hung out with the Dickies, at the Mask, and all that during the late 70s... 80s, and I was just this little preppy kid from Brentwood. My first partner introduced me to that underworld, but it didnít affect me greatly.
TB- It was never a sense of some great punk revolution ever in Los Angeles. Just once in a while you get a good riot, some good gigs, some drugs and stuff.
JM- A lot of riots in Los Angeles. Thereís definitely tension there. I was there way before the 90s.
LF- Letís bring up some comparisons here. Kitchens of Distinction.
JM- (looks at Terry and smiles) Well, I havenít heard them much, but Terry definitely has a lot of that in his bass playing.
TB- Well, they used a lot of feedback, and theyíre an ethereal band. Weíre not anything like them, actually, but I can understand the association, because they write very ethereal, powerful music, and thatís kinda what we do, but I think weíre different, totally.
LF- I think if any sort of comparison should come up between you and Cobain, the whole Nirvana thing, it would only be lyrical. At times your lyrics are a little disjointed and you seem to use words for the sake of their flow and feel rather than any sort of narrative placement.
JM- Thatís true. Weíre (Cobain) both pretty lazy, I mean, from what I read about him, he was pretty lazy about his lyric writing. He kinda just jotted them right before he sang them, which is what I do too, but I think you retain a lot of honesty that way if you donít let yourself polish over them and try to form your thought. Itís better to just spew over the page. I find later that when I look at them and go ďwhoah,Ē if Iíd really worked on these they wouldnít be this great!
TB- Thatís a musicianís point of view. Itís not like Jeff s a poet or something, heís a musician. But it comes across as poetry because itís written like a musician writes it, not somebody who thinks about words all the time.
LF- Why do guys think that itís expected from songwriters and bands in general to be totally autobiographical? A writer can write fiction, a filmmaker can make stories to watch, whereas a songwriter, like, unless it comes from the heart, personally, itís not worth dick. Whatís up with that?
JM- Well, I do write somewhat or totally autobiographically.... thatís a good question.. Itís hard for me to really answer it because thatís how I do everything.
TB- I have an opinion about that. Thatís a very media concept, that if a songwriter doesnít write autobiographical itís not valid, when thatís only a media opinion. There are songwriters who write completely abstract lyrics... thereís all shades of songwriting and to say one is more valid than the other is total bullshit. Did that make any sense? I mean, I donít think like that, one person writes this way or that way and itís more valid...
JM- Thatís why youíre not a rock critic. (Laughter all around.)
TB- I think Jeffís words are like colors in the song. He draws from experience to write them but to me itís more like they fit within the context of the music and theyíre another voice in the music.
LF- I think that another reason why songwriting is expected to be autobiographical is because itís the ultimate way to vent. You can just write down a song, whereas with a novel, you can have all the personal stuff in it you want, but youíre gonna spend weeks or months on that puppy, and how much personal shit can you put into that? So you can have a personal message, but ultimately not quite so potent as a song, because the song has to be right there.
TB- Musicís the best. The number one art form.
LF- What about Annie Sprinkle showing her vulva to audiences?
TB- I think she should carry on (laughter).
JM- Shocking people is very healthy too. This is a very puritanical society we live in, so shocking people is really one of the only ways to get through.
LF- Thatís the good thing about NC, itís very open... WHATEVER!! Have you noticed youíre in Jesse Helmsí state here?
JM- (laughs) I know! Weíre forgetting where weíre from.
TB- I keep seeing crosses everywhere and itís like I get worried.
LF- Be worried.
JM- Be afraid. Be very afraid.
LF- (Relates a recent experience where driving through NC/VA border area torches were seen burning in a field. After this, an unrelated comparison is made to Christian rock group Raspberry Jam)
JM- I donít know how religious they are, but weíve been playing with Low, and theyíre kind of like Mormon... their music has this quality to it, thereís a certain faith happening there like theyíre succumbing to a higher power.
TB- I donít want to associate them with like, religious fanatics, theyíre obviously open-minded. Their music is definitely very prayer-like.
LF- (Mark Lewis, the drummer, enters the van. During this shifting, UK band Suede is brought up)
TB- I know those guys in Suede.
LF- What is up with Brett (The ambiguous frontsman)?
TB- I donít know whatís up with him. I hung out with him one night, partying, listening to records.
JM- Did he make a pass at you?
TB- No... Nobody was in any shape to make a pass at anybody (Laughter). I played him a tape... Then we got to be friends with them.
LF- Did you guys go to any of the clubs? ML-† Terry rocks!
TB- Oh, yeah. I went to this really good party, and thereís this pool inside this disco.... lots of naked men swimming around.
JM- When I lived in England during 1983,I would go to these kinda drag queen, kinda underground clubs, and those were the clubs to go to, they were always more fun. Boy George would always be there completely, like, ďbang!Ē (Laughter)
LF-† With Marilyn in tow?
JM- Oh, Marilyn, the whole thing. I canít believe it was that long ago. I was like 19 or 20. That was pretty wild, and heroin was a big deal there, too. I didnít really get into heroin, but it was the drug you did there and that also infected my music a lot too. Being exposed to that culture and that drug culture kind of, like, affected things, the darker side of Idaho.
TB- Thatís why Idaho music sounds really good on drugs, not that we do drugs ourselves.
LF- To deny is to incriminate (Major laughter from all).
TB- (Changing subject) We sailed across the Atlantic in the raging queen.
LF- What a name! Were there fitting denizens aboard?
TB- There were many cabin boys, Iíll tell you that. (Laughter)
LF- (Changing again) Youíre very 4AD.
JM- Iíve think that Ivoís wife (Ivo is head of 4AD) was really into the first Idaho single, and Iíve heard that he likes our stuff.
LF-†† Is Ivo gay?
TB- I donít think so. You know what, itís hard to tell when you live in England, because you always equate gay people with being clean and intelligent. And all the guys in England are basically cleaner and more intelligent, so you think, ďmaybe theyíre gay,Ē but theyíre just English. Ivoís refined and very clean, so I dunno. He would give us tea and tell us we were good musicians. He said that if we got a girl singer we could make a record. That was another band. But we didnít get a girl singer.
LF- Youíve got Jeff.
JM- People often think Iím gay.
TB- Which is a compliment, really... (with LF)... because youíre clean and intelligent! (Laughter) You should go to West Hollywood...
LF- I lived there! Clean and intelligent! But the parking tickets...
ML- My God! The parking tickets!!!!
TB- They get back at the straight people!!!† (Laughter)
LF- I was like, ďdonít give me one! Not me! Iím one of you guys!Ē Iíd like to get a ticket in Britain, actually...
TB- I dunno. I was in a car chase with the police in Britain...
JM- You gotta watch what you say something like that, because weíre not big yet, but the guy from Oasis and his brother, they nicked some stereos, and now theyíre getting busted, so watch out what you say because that sounded like a pretty hairy chase!
TB- Yeah... uh... I take it back. (Laughter)
LF- Whatís the most ridiculous comparison youíve heard? Like, ďYouíre kinda like Allison Moyet except with a guy singer and different instruments.Ē
TB- Theyíre all kind of ridiculous because, and I hate to sound whatever, I think what weíre doing is really original. I donít think it sounds like anything Iíve heard.
JM- I think it does sometimes, I can tell maybe whoís influencing me, maybe subconsciously, at times when Iím playing. Even the Pavement thing I donít get...
ML- Yeah. Guys in Toronto said Pavement. That was the first time Iíd heard that, and I didnít understand it, but they hated us anyway so it didnít really matter.
TB- We played in MN, and we were really drunk, and I think we were like Pavement then. I guess they play drunk, so if you get real drunk and play, you sound like Pavement. (Laughter)
JM- Weíre such a goofy bunch. Weíre all just hitting 30 and weíre all still children.
TB- We have a birthday party every day!
LF- Are there any other Idaho rituals I should be frightened of?
TB- We get in a circle and we jack., no, I.... (Massive Laughter for minutes)
LF- Circle jerks aside...
JM- Going there.....
LF- (Mark and Terry go off for beers) So itís basically your band in essence.
JM- Well, itís becoming a group proprietorship now, I think. Itís becoming a band because I wasnít liking doing solo records and having to hire people to play. So I finally found people I could work with and I never thought it could happen. We have chemistry, we can just set up our amps and play and improvise, and it comes off beautiful. Way better than anything I could ever sit down by myself with a guitar. Weíre a baby band right now, and Idaho is changing a lot. Thereís a part of Idaho that I love, which is what I do by myself. I think that if we get a major label deal, and thereís money and time, Iíll do a solo record. Your favorite song, on the end, we just sat and played. The band just made it happen.
LF- Itís got that almost juicy kind of reverb feel without necessarily being reverb.
JM- Thatís a very hard thing to achieve, because I still have a weak spot for wettish kind of dreamy music, but it can be like a mask. That song represents that sort of flavor without going overboard, and it translates live.
LF- Any dream producers?
JM- Brian Eno is one....
LF- How about (Cocteau Twinsí) Robin Guthrie?
JM- I was gonna work with him. Weíre really trying to open for them out here. He wanted to do an EP, but we never had time to follow up on it. Iíd be a little worried about him processing things too much, because Iím more of a purist, and I know thereís a little of heavy-handed production heís done on some bands. But heís one of my favorites, and maybe if we go on tour with them and become friends... hopefully. And he likes Idaho a whole lot.
LF- (Terry re-enters) Who is your bass God? Please, not Jaco...
TB- I like Paul McCartney. Peter Hook. I like Andrew Rourke from the Smiths. (Mark re-enters)
LF- Do you feel slighted that the bass guitar is the most typically associated with porno scene intros. That ďBow-chika-bow-bow-bow.Ē
TB- I was getting really pumped playing bass, but you just turned everything around for me.
LF- Anytime;you wanna get it going ďMy sink needs repair.Ē ďBow-chika-bow-bow-bow.Ē (Laughter for quite some time)
TB- Maybe if this doesnít work out I can get a job doing that. Hang around on the set and watch.
JM- You can be a ďfluffer.Ē
TB- I could be a hedgehog. (Reference to round and hairy hetero porn star Ron Jeremy brings more laughter)
ML- Oh God!!! Ugghhhhh!
LF- Why is it that heterosexual films have guys which are godawfully repugnant, like vermin, and yet gay porns have Gods...
TB- We went over that already. Because gay men are more intelligent (Larry picks up and says as well) and clean! (Laughter)
LF- How political do you think youíll get with music?
TB- I donít think weíre a very political band. I think maybe we have our opinions about the way things should be, obviously. But we donít drag it into music too much. I basically think that all the people who like our music are basically cool anyway, so we donít need to preach to them.
JM- I noticed that many Idaho fans seem very conservative. I donít know if this a good or bad thing, but sometimes Iím pretty impressed by this because I go, ďwow, I donít think I can even talk to this person,Ē yet they like the music.
TB- Thatís political because it brings people together!
JM- Exactly, and maybe weíd be political in regards to the benefits weíd play.
TB- You donít have to be dogmatic to be political. Even if someoneís just singing about their own lives and people are playing honestly, and thereís something people are feeling, then their mind is changing. Allowing someone to feel their emotions empowers a person and makes them think straighter.
LF- Any bizarre fan mail or anything?
JM- Iím gonna have to start showing the fan mail to them now since the bandís not just me. Terry got an e-mail from a girl... (Terry is hearing this for the first time) ...that she might stalk you.... You havenít seen this yet.... I get more e-mail than fan letters.
LF- Anything to the tune of ďI would love to stick my fist in your ass so I can feel your heart beat when you sing?Ē
JM- No no no. But some Irish girl said that she jacks off to Idaho (Laughter). I met her in Boston and she was so sweet! I was like, ďNooooo!!!!Ē
TB- Sweet people masturbate, too. Iíve had sex to Idaho, actually, but I only play the tracks I played on... (Laughter)... Itís very good sex music... or rather, lovemaking music, rather than ďsex.Ē
LF- Imagine sex to Hootie, ďEuwwwwahhh!Ē Itís like, end it now! Whereís my penis?? Itís gone!
JM- In the bathroom thereís sports bar..
TB- Thereíd be shrinkage there. The first track comes on, Iíd be like, ďWhat the fuck??? You like this kind of music??? I canít fucking... I haveta go! Here, itís OK, I put it back on...Ē ďEuwahhhh!Ē You donít get attracted to someone with bad musical taste. If I was really attracted to someone and they said they were really into Hootie, Iíd immediately think, I have to get away from this person.
JM- Possibly weíd meet them and two of them might just be really cool.
TB- My dad might be into Hootie!
LF- Kill him. (At this point a dubious member of Possum Dixon comes over and announces heís a big fan of Hootie. Of course, it is requested he leave until the subject changes to a Dave Matthews rumor of dubious distinction) What would you guys do if you got some e-mail from gay guys, like love letters. Would you flirt or have to break the news to them, ďso you donít masturbate to our music too much.Ē/
TB- Well, thereís nothing wrong with masturbating to the music. I donít think Jeff leads anybody on on-line! We have a lot of respect for the people into our music, so I donít think weíd make sexual advance towards anyone.
JM- I would just say, ďIím not gay,Ē I wouldnít be repulsed or anything!
TB- Weíre from LA., you know. We have gay friends...
LF- (Discussion of gay groups takes over for a bit, and a hunt for something horribly smelly in the cooler- cheese) So whatís next for you guys?
JM- Next is just to tour a lot, and we have a real frightening task of going through three hours of jams, and there are beautiful songs obscured in the muck, and we have to filter them out, help find them and bring them to the surface. So itís that and traveling.
LF- Youíve definitely got the talent. JM- Oh, thank you.
LF- Youíre very welcome. And even if youíre not gay, youíre still talented. Smart, clean and intelligent (Laughter).