THE BIG TAKEOVER # 48 - 1997:††

TITLE: My Favorite Martin


In issue 39, I listed my 20 favorite LPs of 1996 to that point†† I was surprised enough to place L.A. band Idahoís third LP Three Sheets To TheWind at #12, having always respected the band previously, but never rating them anywhere near this highly.

So imagine my shock now, with so many more LPs released the rest of last year, that I now consider Idahoís LP 1996ís third best album of the year (behind only The Wipersí The Herd and Whipping Boyís Heartworm).

For some unforeseen reason, Three Sheets just wonít come off my CD player. When it does, it fights its way back on. I never expected this somber but pretty album to have such astonishing staying†† power.

But itís one of those truly remarkable LPs that takes about 30-40 plays before you realize howspecial it is, especially the masterful, hushed second half. Itís in the snowy piano that taps around ďAlive Again,Ē underneath leader JEFF MARTINís caffeine-darkened, tranquil voice, a cross between contemporaries Mark Eitzel (ex-American Music Club), Mark Kozalek (Red House Painters), and a less-Neil Young like J, Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.). Itís swathed in the delicacy of the glistening ďA Sound Awake,Ē or the baying, gurgled majesty of the knockout, post-shoegaze, crawling closer ďGet You Back.Ē Or even in the two more pounding numbers earlier on, ďPomegranate BleedingĒand ďCatapult,Ē where Martin and other guitarist DAN SETAís four-string (yes, four-string) guitars shudder and hiss and squawk.

Maybe itís because this is the first Idaho LP recorded (and even written) by a realband, whereas earlier efforts were one man (or two man) efforts. Recently, as a test, I went back and tried out the earlier LPs and EPs. Again, Year After Year and This Way Out are both respectable,if flawed efforts (the songwriting could be stronger), and the earliest and by far best of them, 1993ís The Palms EP is even a good hint of the greatness that was to come (thatís probably the only other one I can wholeheartedly recommend), even if Martinís vocals were perhaps too coarse, where now they massage theatmospheric material perfectly. But still, Three Sheets is a hell of a surprise! Whether it was the addition of Seta, bassist TERRENCE BORDEN and drummer MARK LEWIS as full-time Idaho members, bringing depth, spark, and more creativity, or the amazing maturation of a long-time potential talent, is the first topic worth exploring when I collared Martin for an interview after soundcheck of his Hoboken, New Jersey Maxwellsí gig, on August 10, 1996, during an admirable tour in support of an LP released by a label, Caroline, whose contract with the band had already expired. Without the usual promotional machine effort behind it, the LP not surprisingly sank without registering with the public, but suffice to say those reading this would do well to purchase it on their own!

My thanks to DORIAN DAWSON for the transcription!

JR:So whenabouts did you decide that you were tired of going it alone? I know youíve played with other people in the past.

JEFF: I started the band with JOHN†† BERRY, whoís (the opening band on the tour) LIFTERíS tour manager upstairs and then I worked on the second album by myself. Through touring, I learned that you canít make people play something that you wrote and play it correctly. It just doesnít work with this kind of music. So, I came to the conclusion that I needed to find people I could work with and just give up some of the writing responsibility and be able to go and do a record and reproduce it live Ďcause youíre spending so much time on the road. So, Iíve found people that I can work with. We have a chemistry thatís just beginning and I think this new version of Idaho is a very young thing. I still look forward to doing a solo record someday. In one way, thatís how I get the most satisfaction, with recording a record and getting the final product, but this is a touring thing and you have to go and play live. This is really the best thing,so it was probably a year ago, a year anda half that I decided there was gonna become a band.

JR: How democratic do you make it by having a band?

JEFF: Well, very democratic. Sometimes I think too democratic, Ďcause the band really does need a leader and Iíve never really known how to be a bandleader. Iíve always done my best by myself or with one person. So, weíre still trying to figure it out. I write all thelyricsso I have whatever percentage...however youwant to break that up, Iíve got that load on me, and that steers the music in a certain way. So, no oneís giving me any input on that, but as far as coming up with the music, there are a lot of songs where the band has written the whole song and I just put vocals on it, and some minor guitar, in which case theyíre really running the show. Itís really a nice balance.

JR: It seems like some of the song writing is a lot more advanced, more hook driven than some of your previous efforts, which I personally like a great deal. The new album, I think is your best work, by far, actually.

JEFF:Oh yeah, well, Iím not as lazy as I was. The first records were slapped together. I mean, I was really alwaysí freaked out that I had a record deal I would just spew the stuff out, and MARTIN (BRUMBACH), my producer and I would kind of make sense out of it. And this record was done a little bit more methodically. Iím getting older and Iím able to sit still longer, and itís a few steps down the line in the development of this band. It was kind of dawdled over more, and the next recordís going to be a big leap from there. Weíre not playing a lot of those songs yet, but we are finding this new method of writing, itís really, really exciting. Thereís something about the old stuff I love because of that very sort of flying blind method of working, Ďcause youíre able to kind of lose control of the music and that helps too and I like that about them. But, weíre maturing pretty quickly I think, musically.

JR: How did you get your record deal with Caroline?

JEFF: It happened very quickly and it was a real surprise. John Berry and I were just doing some songs for the hell of it, we really didnít think anyone would ever hear them. John, I have a relationship with him that goes back to 1980 from high school, and weíd always been working on this sort of heavy, dark music, and it was mostly Johnís steering that one. I was really into bands such as THE POLICE and WEATHER REPORT; I was into fusion, like jazz rock and that sort of pop music. He got me into this whole BIRTHDAY PARTY thing and ULTRAVOX and this kind of dark stuff.

JR: The first two Ultravox albums? Ultravox (1911) and Ha/Ha.íHa!?

JEFF: Yeah, BRIAN ENO produced one of them.

JR: Right, the first one. I love stuff like, ďArtificial LifeĒ on that second one.

JEFF: Yeah, the JOHN FOXX stuff.

JR: Right, when MIDGE URE takes over the vocals on the fourth LP the band is worthless.

JEFF:I havenít heard that stuff in forever! But anyway, John really affected me in that way and weíd meet every few years and make a couple of songs. This was just our fourth batch of meeting every three years and doing a batch of songs; most of them are on the first EP and record. We gave the tape to a woman named KIM WHITE who knew someone at Caroline. We just ran into her in a market and gave her the tape. She gave it to BRIAN LONG at Caroline who called me and we figured out we were in fifth grade together which was so strange.

JR: (laughs) That is strange.

JEFF: He was working at Caroline, heís at Geffen now. He just left Caroline about the same time we did. Anyway, we just got signed very quickly, sight unseen, no live experience fat all. So we had to just get a couple of friends together to play the songs on tour. It was terrifying, but we had something going. 1 knew Caroline had THE BAD†† BRAINS and I used to like the Bad Brains a lot, and I thought, ďThatís kind of a cool label.Ē I didnít know much about it. We didnít even go anywhere else. I didnít think anyone else wouldíve signed us anyway.Brian just knew the music had something there.

JR: I think my own band left the label just as you were joining.

JEFF: Oh really, what band?

JR: I was in a group called SPRINGHOUSE

JEFF: Oh yeah, Springhouse. How do I know that name so well?

JR: We played the West Coast a few times on our tours. Youíre from Los Angeles. When you started discovering people such as NICK CAVE and John Foxx in the Ď80s, there were still an awful lot of underground music being made both in Los Angeles and coming to Los Angeles. Who would you have been watching in clubs around then?

JEFF:Around then? I think I was just getting introduced by a friend to the kind of SST Records thing. Like THEMEATPUPPETS and THE†† MINUTEMEN and HUSKERDU. I never saw Husker Du, but right about the mid~í80s is when I started getting into that kind of experimental, punk, melodicsound thing. I got into the Meat Puppets really heavily. Thatís when I started going to see shows but I was never much for live music. I never could take the volume. I still have to wear earplugs, I prefer the medium of recording a lot more, but the live thing is good therapy sometimes.

JR: Ha! I almost lost the hearing in my right ear last night.

JEFF: Last night? Whoíd you see?

JR: I was in the third row for THE SEX PISTOLS. Great show. Oh, almost forgot. What was I hearing about your group being beaten up?

JEFF: We got attacked by skinheads in Philly about three months ago. TERRY was hospitalized. DAN [SETA] broke his fingerójust a random attack in the streets.

JR: No provocation of any kind? Not even like a stupid line?

JEFF: No, zero. Well, the only provocation was one of them running down the street, kicked me, punched Dan, Dan beat the shit out of him. Big guy. Our guitar player has a temper. Then, other skinheads were around. Theyíd just gotten out of a METEORS†† concert.†† They saw it happen and just descended on us. It was really bad.

JR: How did it start? Just no reason at all?

JEFF:They were in a bar up the street, Nickís and we were down in another club. Khyber Pass. They had beaten up someone there and I think one of them just left and felt like punching someone else.

JR: I like anecdotes like this because most people donít know what itís like to be a band on tour.

JEFF: Oh, way worse, we lost $1200 cash last night. Our car was broken into. All of our money, our tour money!

JR: They didnít take any of your equipment?

JEFF: Nope, and it was in there, too. We just left the car for a second, stupidly and went around the corner to get something to eat to go. We hear this [crash] and went running. Dan, who is so organized, happened to leave his bag between the seats, tucked down, but somebody broke the window and grabbed it and all of our cash. We were bummed about it, but they didnít get any of these (guitars). These are all custom made and these were sitting in the back

JR: Oh yeah, you donít see too many four-string guitars.

JEFF:No, they were built in the fifties and sixties. I mean, I have a Gretsch Duojet, that GEORGE HARRISON was supposed to buy, Ďcause he likes four string guitars, banjos and things. But, no one plays them. The ones Gretsch and Guild made were about that long. They donít sound good. They go out of tune. But, they do exist. But this guy, JOHN CARRUTHERS, builds them. Heís an older Canadian guy, builds KEITH RICHARDSí guitars.

JR: One would wonder why you donít just use a six string guitar and avoid the two strings you donít use right now?

JEFF: Well, avoiding is, first of all, difficult. I never could play guitar so the strings are further apart on these. So, theyíre really easy to play. I like the limitations, but now I want to make a five string cause I want some bigger chords, more notes.

JR: Watch, ten years from now, youíll be using an eight string guitar!

JEFF: He went the other way! Heís crazy! (Laughs.)

JR: I have to say I admire your touring this new album, Three Sheets, when youíve gotten dropped from your record label, I canít say I see that very often.

JEFF:Yeah, it depends on how you say it, because people from there said they dropped us, but we were really done with our record. They promoted it just as much as they promote the other stuff, which is somewhat poorly. (Laughs.) So, I didnít feel like it was being dropped. I felt like we did our third record, they did their little thing, and coughed it out to a few stores, and itís over. And we were over anyway after three records.

JR: So you were glad to be gone?

JEFF: Yeah, because Brian Long isnít there anymore.

JR: Are you cavalier about a major label offer?

JEFF:Yeah, a little bit, I guess. I kind of think thatís the only way to go right now for us. I mean, I think that we need to do a record and have a budget and do it right.

JR: Some people when Iíve played your records for them have thought you reminded them slightly of AMERICAN MUSIC CLUB, or RED HOUSE PAINTERS or that your voice was like (DINOSAUR JR.ís) J. MASCIS a little, except less mumbles, and less NEIL YOUNG.

JEFF:A lot of people say that. I had never even heard American Music Club much until recently, Ďcause actually he comes to our shows now. MARK EITZEL, yeah. He loves us.

JR: Thatís good,

JEFF:I know, it is good. He wanted us to open for him on this new tour, but then he freaked out. He said, ďI canít: You guys are too good.Ē Heís so self...

JR: self-deprecating!

JEFF: But heís great. Heís such a smart, funny guy,

JR: You should have said, ďOK, well you can Open for us.Ē

JEFF: But then he wanted my band to be his backing band, because he couldnít afford his musicians anymore. And he thought, weíd open and then heíd use Terry, Mark and Dan. Those guys can learn anything in a second. Danís a good traditional guitar player and Terryís like a monster bass player. And that would have worked, but then I thought that would be too much work for them. Theyíd be so burnt.

JR: Burnt is a good word. It leads me to this question: Youíre 32 now. It seemed a lot more ridiculous after I hit 30 to be out on the road, touring, driving 8 hours a day, than when I Was like 21, thinking, ďBoy, Iíd like to be out traveling out on the road.Ē Does that come into play for you at all?

JEFF:Yeah, but itís funny, as I said before, Iím not really plugged into any kind of life at home. Either I stay in my parentsí guest house or I live at my sisterís. (John Berry walks in. They chat briefly about Ultravox and other things.) I donít have much going on there. I mean, really, this is my life doing this music, and strangely enough, I havenít had to work that much because I inherited some money six years ago.

JR: Not bad. Lucky boy.

JEFF:No, it isnít bad. It could be bad for some people, but I work really hard at what I do.

JR: That nest egg helps you pursue the muse?

JEFF:Yeah, and thatís really all I have to do. So I guess some guilt comes along with that, but you do it.

JR: Well, I donít come from a poor background, so perhaps I should not comment, though Iíve never inherited much money. Two final questions. One, about the tour you did supporting THE†† CRANES, I saw you in Phoenix a year and a half ago at Gibsonís in Tempe, on the ArizonaStateUniversity campus...

JEFF: Oh, did you see that? Yeah, that was strange. We still get a few people that saw us, like these Goth people come to our shows. That first record of ours kind of fits into that a little bit. Brian Longís wife at the time was The Cranes manager, And she got us a lot of shows. We played with THE†† PALE†† SAINTS. We did a tour with LISA GERMANO. A lot of people she manages, she would kind of get them into our music. So the Cranes somehow came about. They really like that first record of ours. That was an interesting thing to play for a lot of Goth, CURE fans. I donít think the music really fit with them at all but...

JR: You went over real well in Phoenix.

JEFF:Thank you, though I remember that being a bad show.

JR: Ha! Youíre starting to sound like Mark Eitzel, (Both laugh.) Where in L.A. are you from, anyway, that you could live such a non-working life?

JEFF: Iím from Brentwood

JR: (whistles) O.J. land, eh? Lotta mullah there, Gotta be the first decent band to come out of Brentwood.

JEFF:I donít think any bands have come out of Brentwood. A lot of bands came out of my high school a few towns over. Crossroads spawned JAWBREAKER and MEDICINE, SPAIN, and THAT DOG, another Geffen band (also from money, the daughters of Warner Bros execs). These are from my high school. Itís a tiny little private school in Santa Monica which is interesting. So, it was a good school for music cause we were all allowed to make little bands. We had a period where we were allowed to write music and perform. (Laughs)

JR: A little different than my upbringing! Mine was study hall and you canít talk. (Both laugh)

JEFF: I did go to public school, elementary school, so Iím not totally silver spoon, I mean, I got beaten up a lot.

JR: So you were prepared for incidents in Philadelphia! Bet you had your boxcutter!

JEFF: Yeah...

JR:Ha, you street punk from Brentwood! -