September, 2000



text and photo Aidin Vaziri

With the release of Idaho’s first ever live album, People Like Us Should Be Stopped, singer-songwriter Jeff Martin revisits the most turbulent times of his life. Recorded shortly after the Los Angeles band’s 1993 Caroline debut, Year After Year, and recently unearthed from the archives, the disc documents a period marked by extreme emotional and physical duress, as Martin flirted with clinical depression while guitarist John Berry bordered on death and destitution. “John was a full-blown heroin addict,” Martin recalls. “He went to hell. He was living in shopping carts, getting held up at gunpoint, stripped and beaten. It was terrible.’

After hitting what Martin describes as “rock bottom,” Berry finally recovered in time, not only to oversee the release, but to write the fascinating liner-notes for the appropriately titled album People Like Us Should Be Stopped. Berry now serves as Idaho’s de facto manager, while Martin carries on making music with an ever-evolving lineup that has, at various points, included Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur and former Beck drummer Joey Waronker. “John had to go through what he did to become what he is now,” Martin says. “He’s a real human being now.”

Martin experienced his own dabblings in excess a few years later, while the band was working on its 1996 album, Three Sheets to the Wind. “That was one of the most insane years of my life,” he recalls. “We were going out every day, experiencing the Hollywood nightlife, and then we would show up to record, not having slept and feeling real horrible. I was foggy and reckless and selfish.” Shortly after the album came out, Martin decided to pull the plug on the band. A few months later, however, he changed his mind and went back to record the breakthrough album Forbidden EP. “That was the turning point for everything,” he says. “We got back to something that was a lot more pure.”

This year brings Hearts of Palm, an altogether more sublime offering from an admittedly more mature Martin. The songs retain the chord of melancholy that runs through all of Idaho’s work, but sound more chilling and devastating than ever, as Martin’s aching voice rises and falls over minor-key masterpieces like “To Be the One” and “Happy Times.”

“I finally realized I was looking for contentment from external things in life, when everything is inside of us,” Martin says. “We don’t have to search and grope for better relationships or more of this and more of that. I just started shedding a lot of the baggage that I didn’t realize was there. But I still have a million miles to go before I make the record I think I can make.”