I don’t think we’re in Boise anymore: Interview with Idaho
by Lawrence Ferber

Jeff Martin is a truly talented songwriter responsible for three albums under his band’s 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 they’ve been compared to. Nirvana comes up frequently, and although on Idaho’s 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 Idaho’s songs evolve from jam sessions held within their LA-based studio (which contains a mirrored “love lounge,” according to their press release), and some are plain-old recorded on the fly. With image-evoking lyrics (“How can you leap/with nails in your feet”) 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 there’s a good way to open this interview.

Lawrence Ferber- Do tell.

Terry Borden- Idaho thinks that there’s 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 don’t know about that. We’re not gay, any of us, but I doubt that’s probably true...

LF- Do you guys have any sort of a queer following?

TB- Definitely. Everyone that we’ve played in front of has been slightly queer. (Laughter again)

LF- Not like Pearl Jam or anything...

TB- Yeah. They’re all gay. (Laughter) Nah, I’m 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 Darius’ vocal style) “Awwwwuuuhhhh” 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 there’s a song that the NME did a review of our live show and thought I was doing, like, Eddie Vedder (laughs all round) stuff. I’m just screaming out there, but I’m not, “Awwwuuuhhhh,” a little of the Seattle Butt Roar.

TB- We come from a different world than those bands. That’s 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 don’t. We don’t really go see bands. TB- We go to gambling dens and bars.. LF- Hooch dens...

TB- We don’t really go to a lot of shows. We’re 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 it’s great. I’ve never been one to go to shows at all, but when you’re growing up you have your heroes and you go see them, but that’s stopped happening.

TB- You get a headache, you know, it’s loud! (Laughter)

LF- Have you guys ever gone to the “homocore” shows (Gay Hardcore popular in LA), like Vaginal Cream Davis’ 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. She’s like a big, tall black transvestite...

JM- Wasn’t she in Glue., he in Glue...he she?

TB- Yeah, I think so. Yeah...

JM- That’s 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 you’ve 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 didn’t 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. There’s definitely tension there. I was there way before the 90s.

LF- Let’s bring up some comparisons here. Kitchens of Distinction.

JM- (looks at Terry and smiles) Well, I haven’t heard them much, but Terry definitely has a lot of that in his bass playing.

TB- Well, they used a lot of feedback, and they’re an ethereal band. We’re not anything like them, actually, but I can understand the association, because they write very ethereal, powerful music, and that’s kinda what we do, but I think we’re 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- That’s true. We’re (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 don’t let yourself polish over them and try to form your thought. It’s better to just spew over the page. I find later that when I look at them and go “whoah,” if I’d really worked on these they wouldn’t be this great!

TB- That’s a musician’s point of view. It’s not like Jeff s a poet or something, he’s a musician. But it comes across as poetry because it’s written like a musician writes it, not somebody who thinks about words all the time.

LF- Why do guys think that it’s 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, it’s not worth dick. What’s up with that?

JM- Well, I do write somewhat or totally autobiographically.... that’s a good question.. It’s hard for me to really answer it because that’s how I do everything.

TB- I have an opinion about that. That’s a very media concept, that if a songwriter doesn’t write autobiographical it’s not valid, when that’s only a media opinion. There are songwriters who write completely abstract lyrics... there’s 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 don’t think like that, one person writes this way or that way and it’s more valid...

JM- That’s why you’re not a rock critic. (Laughter all around.)

TB- I think Jeff’s words are like colors in the song. He draws from experience to write them but to me it’s more like they fit within the context of the music and they’re another voice in the music.

LF- I think that another reason why songwriting is expected to be autobiographical is because it’s 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 you’re 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- Music’s 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- That’s the good thing about NC, it’s very open... WHATEVER!! Have you noticed you’re in Jesse Helms’ state here?

JM- (laughs) I know! We’re forgetting where we’re from.

TB- I keep seeing crosses everywhere and it’s 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 don’t know how religious they are, but we’ve been playing with Low, and they’re kind of like Mormon... their music has this quality to it, there’s a certain faith happening there like they’re succumbing to a higher power.

TB- I don’t want to associate them with like, religious fanatics, they’re 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 don’t know what’s 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 there’s 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, “bang!” (Laughter)

LF-  With Marilyn in tow?

JM- Oh, Marilyn, the whole thing. I can’t 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 didn’t 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- That’s 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, I’ll tell you that. (Laughter)

LF- (Changing again) You’re very 4AD.

JM- I’ve think that Ivo’s wife (Ivo is head of 4AD) was really into the first Idaho single, and I’ve heard that he likes our stuff.

LF-   Is Ivo gay?

TB- I don’t think so. You know what, it’s 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, “maybe they’re gay,” but they’re just English. Ivo’s 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 didn’t get a girl singer.

LF- You’ve got Jeff.

JM- People often think I’m gay.

TB- Which is a compliment, really... (with LF)... because you’re 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, “don’t give me one! Not me! I’m one of you guys!” I’d 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 we’re not big yet, but the guy from Oasis and his brother, they nicked some stereos, and now they’re 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- What’s the most ridiculous comparison you’ve heard? Like, “You’re kinda like Allison Moyet except with a guy singer and different instruments.”

TB- They’re all kind of ridiculous because, and I hate to sound whatever, I think what we’re doing is really original. I don’t think it sounds like anything I’ve heard.

JM- I think it does sometimes, I can tell maybe who’s influencing me, maybe subconsciously, at times when I’m playing. Even the Pavement thing I don’t get...

ML- Yeah. Guys in Toronto said Pavement. That was the first time I’d heard that, and I didn’t understand it, but they hated us anyway so it didn’t 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- We’re such a goofy bunch. We’re all just hitting 30 and we’re 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 it’s basically your band in essence.

JM- Well, it’s becoming a group proprietorship now, I think. It’s becoming a band because I wasn’t 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. We’re a baby band right now, and Idaho is changing a lot. There’s 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 there’s money and time, I’ll do a solo record. Your favorite song, on the end, we just sat and played. The band just made it happen.

LF- It’s got that almost juicy kind of reverb feel without necessarily being reverb.

JM- That’s 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 Twins’) Robin Guthrie?


JM- I was gonna work with him. We’re really trying to open for them out here. He wanted to do an EP, but we never had time to follow up on it. I’d be a little worried about him processing things too much, because I’m more of a purist, and I know there’s a little of heavy-handed production he’s done on some bands. But he’s 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 “Bow-chika-bow-bow-bow.”

TB- I was getting really pumped playing bass, but you just turned everything around for me.

LF- Anytime;you wanna get it going “My sink needs repair.” “Bow-chika-bow-bow-bow.” (Laughter for quite some time)

TB- Maybe if this doesn’t work out I can get a job doing that. Hang around on the set and watch.

JM- You can be a “fluffer.”

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 you’ll get with music?

TB- I don’t think we’re a very political band. I think maybe we have our opinions about the way things should be, obviously. But we don’t drag it into music too much. I basically think that all the people who like our music are basically cool anyway, so we don’t need to preach to them.

JM- I noticed that many Idaho fans seem very conservative. I don’t know if this a good or bad thing, but sometimes I’m pretty impressed by this because I go, “wow, I don’t think I can even talk to this person,” yet they like the music.

TB- That’s political because it brings people together!

JM- Exactly, and maybe we’d be political in regards to the benefits we’d play.

TB- You don’t have to be dogmatic to be political. Even if someone’s just singing about their own lives and people are playing honestly, and there’s 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- I’m gonna have to start showing the fan mail to them now since the band’s 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 haven’t seen this yet.... I get more e-mail than fan letters.

LF- Anything to the tune of “I would love to stick my fist in your ass so I can feel your heart beat when you sing?”

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, “Nooooo!!!!”

TB- Sweet people masturbate, too. I’ve had sex to Idaho, actually, but I only play the tracks I played on... (Laughter)... It’s very good sex music... or rather, lovemaking music, rather than “sex.”

LF- Imagine sex to Hootie, “Euwwwwahhh!” It’s like, end it now! Where’s my penis?? It’s gone!

JM- In the bathroom there’s sports bar..

TB- There’d be shrinkage there. The first track comes on, I’d be like, “What the fuck??? You like this kind of music??? I can’t fucking... I haveta go! Here, it’s OK, I put it back on...” Euwahhhh!” You don’t get attracted to someone with bad musical taste. If I was really attracted to someone and they said they were really into Hootie, I’d immediately think, I have to get away from this person.

JM- Possibly we’d 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 he’s 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, “so you don’t masturbate to our music too much.”/

TB- Well, there’s nothing wrong with masturbating to the music. I don’t think Jeff leads anybody on on-line! We have a lot of respect for the people into our music, so I don’t think we’d make sexual advance towards anyone.

JM- I would just say, “I’m not gay,” I wouldn’t be repulsed or anything!

TB- We’re 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 what’s 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 it’s that and traveling.

LF- You’ve definitely got the talent. JM- Oh, thank you.

LF- You’re very welcome. And even if you’re not gay, you’re still talented. Smart, clean and intelligent (Laughter).