BOISE WILL BE BOISE
When main spudman Jeff Martin was traveling solo through the Idaho ether, the nights were dark and somber. With three new members along for the ride, the band joyrides through new, unknown territory. Raquel Munoz-Corbl checks out their coordinates. Joshua Kessler keeps an eye out.
With your eyes closed, you’d swear Neil Diamond is appearing live in the living room of your own private nightmare. Open them and it’s Terry Borden, Idaho’s quick-witted bassist, doing a faultless impression of the bushy-burned crooner. Terry isn’t the only member of this Angeleno band with sharp mimicry skills. When no one’s looking, singer Jeff Martin sneaks his best Thurston Howell “thuh thurd” into the tape recorder. Drummer Mark Lewis and guitarist Dan Seta are equally sly, making monkey noises that could unearth Diane Fossey from under the gorilla-in the mist. One thing’s for sure: though capable-of making dreamy, chaotic melodies, they’re no bunch of brooding horizon-gazers.
As Idaho consume Bass Ales, vodka tonics Mai Tais tonight in the campiest of L.A.’s Chinese restaurants, their booth is abuzz with disclosure of the milestone in every indie-rocker’s life: The purchase of the first single. “My was ‘Space Oddity,” confesses Mark. “I went with my mom.”
“A man of taste and distinction,” praises Terry, taking a swig of his ale. “She took me to a record store and I just picked that one out,” continues Mark, who by no means appears to be a mamma’s boy, though by his apple-pie face you might think that a shopping spree with mom would still seem an option for him.
Terry chimes in, “That was prophetic, because you have a connection to...” Laughter erupts as each Idahoan takes a turn poking fun at Mark, who, according to Jeff, “points out UFOs.” Mark, takes the ribbing in stride but prefers not to elaborate. “I can’t really go into it.”
“To the ether and beyond,” adds Dan, in a mock toast.
“I am a space oddity,” pronounces Mark.
A Motown classic was Dan’s first choice. “The single was ‘Sir Duke’ by Stevie Wonder,” he recalls. Were it not for the hint of a goatee beneath his lower lip and his urge to rock and roll, Dan would look squeaky clean enough to be boy scout camp counselor.
Jeff, who pulls his hair from his face with hand and reaches for the nearest filled glass (not his own) with his other, can’t seem to remember his first single. “It could’ve even been Peter Frampton’s ‘I’m In You,’” he finally says, a declaration met with groans from everyone.
“I made the leap with ‘I Believe In Music’ by Davis,” muses Terry. “I was going through the 45s looking for what I wanted to buy and I said, “Yeah, I believe in music, yeah.” Over his wiry frame he wears a striking, retro-polyblend shirt, one that Mac would surely envy.
If memorable singles are significant because “they move you,” as Mark claims, then Idaho’s latest and third full-length album, Three Sheets To The Wind, bares potential for memorable singles of its own. Catchy rock songs like “Catapult” and “Pomegranate Bleeding” depart from the “dark stuff” that Jeff concedes was a big part of Idaho’s first releases. Still, the band’s roots peek out on introspective songs like “Stare At The Sky” (“My crooked life is dead... I need to feel I might breathe you again”) or “If You Dare” (“So rough to hide”), which embellish pleading vocals with hints of trembling feedback.
Idaho’s patent four-string guitars wind in and out of feedback on all of the new songs except for one. On the bare-naked “Alive Again,” Jeff sits at the piano to sing a song that he wrote as a Christmas present.
“My mother said, ‘We’re not buying each other Christmas presents this year,’” he explains. “’We all have to make presents.’ So I did it two hours before I gave it to them.”
Up until the foursome’s collaboration on the Bayonet EP and Three Sheets To The Wind, Idaho was exclusively Jeff’s baby. Mark and Dan came aboard first, touring with Jeff upon the release of 1994’s This Way Out.
“It’s to the point now where it’s not like they’re playing on my songs anymore,” Jeff explains. “They’re kind of running away with it. They took my band away from me, my band of one!” He’s quick to add, “It’s much more fun this way.”
Dan adds, “Mark and I have been in bands where we had a kind of egomaniacal main person who censored us, who didn’t let us do much, and Jeff just generally trusts everybody a lot. It took a while to earn that trust, but he makes sure we’re all taken care of. Idaho’s been a lot of time investment, but we wouldn’t do this if we weren’t all getting a lot back out of it. And we really do.”
“That was so rad that you said that,” gushes Terry. But just when the mood threatens to turn into a Kodak moment, he adds, “I was always in bands where the only thing we argued about is who gets the last cold one.”
“When Terry joined the band, that was the final linchpin in the thing,” says Dan. With their new-and-improved line-up in place, Idaho went to work on polishing their live performance. They faced what Dan calls, the “welcome challenge” of learning complex songs that were not easy to reproduce onstage. “That really tweaked us in a completely different direction. It was learning how to play the guitar in a completely different way,” Dan admits. “Now it works live, things happen... it’s scary.” Not as scary as when Jeff dons beer goggles and starts flirting with one of the female barflies with whom Terry has been chatting. Witness the “id” in Idaho.
Idaho appear to be one big happy family now, but when they’re asked to compare themselves to TV families, they reject comparisons to the Waltons, the Evanses on Good Times, and those sappy Partridges. Jeff takes a sip from a nearby glass (still not his own) and opts for the Addams family. He says he wants to be “the kid in the little velvet suit,” which suggests that Jeff hasn’t wasted his youth in front of the tube, because as most couch potatoes know, he’s describing Eddie Munster. Meanwhile, Terry likens himself to “Thing,” the freakiest and perhaps the most detached (ahem) member of the family.
Dan makes a comparison to The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father, but with a plot twist that would unite Eddie’s dad and the housekeeper in marriage. “I’d be Mrs. Eddie’s Father,” he jokes. “Well, Mark and I would kind of both be Mrs. Eddie’s Father ‘cause both of us pack up the van and take care of the details.”
Imagine Idaho if they’d been discovered years ago by soap-opera/rock-star babe Rick Springfield. “My grandmother accosted him on a plane once,” explains Jeff. “She gave him one of my demos. They got drunk together and she said,” he mocks a granny voice, “’You look just like my grandson.’” An animated chill moves up his spine.
“Now there’s a comparison!” pipes Mark.
But when it comes to comparisons made to Idaho’s music, “I think they’re just vague pigeonholes,” Jeff says. “When Idaho was first called ‘slo-core,’ I thought, ‘Well that’s cool, at least they’re not calling it sappy, ‘80s kind of melodramatic pop.’ Slo-core sounds a little more tough.” He pauses before asking, “Does that word still get used?”
“This band is multidimensional,” Terry declares with a bit of sarcasm.
Take “Get You Back” as an example. “That song’s such a strong point of what we do,” he boasts. “I love that sonic-assault sensory side of it and the ethereal, meditative, side to music. Doing that in one song, to traverse different, emotional, musical qualities... That song encapsulates it. That’s the beauty of the record, whether it’s rock songs or whatever.”
“We have tapes of us playing where we just do complete joke music that would make the Flaming Lips look like Joy Division,” Jeff adds.
In the wee hours of the night, as Terry “Diamond” belts out, “They’re comin’ to America,” the men of Idaho find a deli where they chow down on sandwiches and matzo ball soup. After the foursome fully recover from any potential hangovers, and when Jeff is no longer distracted by femme fatales, he sips iced tea and elaborates on “sad-core,” a term that’s been frequently used to describe their music.
“This record is taking it away from that just a bit, and then the next one is going to completely blow the last one out of proportion. We’re writing all kinds of different colors, and moods, and approaches. I dare anyone to label it.” AP