THE BIG TAKEOVER # 48
2001photos by Alyssa Scheinson
Our second interview with
Jeff Martin of
Setaís entrance, (along
with drummer Terry Borden and bassist Mark Lewis), beginning on the 1995 The
Bayonet EP and the bandís masterpiece album, 1996ís Three Sheets; to:
the Wind, completely rejuvenated and refreshed
Martinís recordings, even as the
The foursome that made
those two records,
But when a disagreement
about tour commitment for the new LP led Martin to part with Seta before it
began, he needed a replacement, and fast. With nowhere else to go, he turned to
his old friend
All kidding aside, it was
a blast to see him on stage, back in his rightful place for the first time in
seven years. And you can be sure we did not blow this unusual opportunity to
interview the two old school chums/pals together on the road, here in
Martin was as we
remembered him thoughtful, unbothered, and honest, willing to dissect his
artistic processes and history. But
In any case, my thanks to
both Martin and Berry, and our ace transcriber Mark Suppanz,
who was kind enough to sit in on this interview as well, backstage at Knitting
Factory before Idahoís third New York appearance on this Heart of Palm tour. (Suppanz also added in a few questions.) Best of luck to a
fine American veteran, an exquisite artist making music of his own personal
conception, as he heads into his second decade. Though
JR: [to John] So how did you end up back in the band? It seems to me that only a month ago, I didnít know about any such thing! I thought Dan Seta was still in the band.
JOHN: It was quite sudden. Iím just like a traveling side musician.
JR: Traveling side musician? That makes you sound like some kind of circus freak! Do you swallow swords, or something like that?
JOHN: [laughing] I donít like the analogy there, so no I donít! No, I mean, Iím just filling in. I donít want to make it sound like Iím ďin the bandĒ again, because Iím not.
Yeah, Johnís been sort of managing us, with his girlfriend Dale [Stewart], and
he was the only obvious choice I had to fill in for the position. Because at the last minute a lot of things came to a head with Dan
[Seta]. Dan and I had been... not necessarily growing apart-or maybe we
had been, a little bit-but it seemed like Dan had a lot of problems with the
tour, the way we were touring and how much we were going to be touring. He wasnít
going to be able to do the whole thing, and so there was no way we could
continue on that way. So what it did was, it made us have
to speak our minds, and talk about what we were unhappy with-with the band, and
the way things were operating. I think we just had different ideas of what
JR: Without question! He wrote my favorite song on Alas!
Right, ďOnly in the Desert,Ē I remember your review. He definitely has his
style, and he creates great stuff. Heís not a songwriter at all, but he comes
up with neat parts and has a good sensibility. It was a fruitful relationship,
though it definitely isnít what makes the band
JR: Well, thatís true of pretty much any group where people actually contribute something other than just being backing musicians that you tell what to play.
Right, and in
JOHN: Well, the fantasy is always better. I mean, it wouldíve been fun to play old songs, or how I remembered my version of Idaho to be, but this is totally different, having to learn the-l donít know what youíd call the keyboard parts-but theyíre so...
JEFF: Theyíre not connected with what youíre playing or what youíre hearing. Heís pushing buttons, and if stuff happens, it doesnít really coincide with any physical movement of your hand. Itís like youíre starting a tape deck.
JOHN: Right-itís not like youíre playing an instrument. Itís more like youíre operating a sound effect that happens at a certain moment.
JEFF: The way your brain was wired to play an instrument, it doesnít really work for you. [John agrees]
JR: [to John] Well, youíre still playing guitar, so that hasnít changed.
JOHN: Oh, yeah! Well, some songs are more fun to play. I mean, ďGet You BackĒ is amazing, even though Iíve been accused of lifting Danís style.
JR: What else are you supposed to do if youíre taking someoneís place, playing songs already recorded?
JOHN: Well, Iím also playing a part. Just because he [Dan] played it with a screwdriver doesnít mean that itís not a part.
JEFF: Yeah, Johnís been accused of stealing Danís screwdriver trick, which has become a funny item on our message board!† [at www.idahomusic.com]
You actually listen to that garbage? [I would agree that most unmoderated message boards on the Internet are garbage, due
to the many dolts who join just to post irrelevant, asinine, and sometimes crude
messages. But the
JEFF: Oh, once in awhile you look at it, and itís funny.
JOHN: Dan of all people accused me of stealing his best parts!
JR: Thatís sounds petty. Youíre supposed play his parts on this tour.
JOHN: Thatís just silly. I mean... whatever. Heís probably just feeling as if Iíve moved in on his territory.
JEFF: [agrees] Yeah, it looks like that to him. But it isnít true.
[to John] Well, why not
Yeah, if I were to do something with John again, weíd probably call it something
else, because what Iím doing now, my new record [Hearts of Palm] doesnít even
Yeah, and itís still something I want to do, just to have a creative outlet.
And I really like it. I would love for Jeff to play on it, but itís not
JEFF: John and I have known each other since we were 16, and to me he feels like a musical kindred spirit. Heís somebody I enjoy working with. And this record company idea will probably go on, and weíll have this relationship with that.
JOHN: Well, thatís the hope! [laughs] Unless the whole thing flames out!
[to Jeff] Until he takes all the money and goes to
JOHN: Thatís right, ďFuck you!Ē [loud laughter]
JEFF: Oh, boy! Donít worry, Iíll find you!
JOHN: Iíll mail you postcards! [more laughter]
JEFF: I mean, I can imagine John conning into the studio and making some noise. He, like Dan, was always great at just picking up a guitar and coming up with some neat things, [joking] And with a computer, you can rape it for all itís worth!
JEFF: I know, all this talk of sword-swallowing and raping and sodomizing...
JR: The readers will be appalled! [laughter]
JOHN: Thank God thereís such a thing as editing! [No luck there, smart guy!!!-MS]
MARK: In your last interview with Big Takeover, you talked about how you used ProTools, a computer program, to create some of the sounds you hear on the album. I was curious if that was difficult to bring to a live show? Especially for John, who is coming in and learning to play the new material?
JEFF: Itís difficult in a way, but you donít have to bring everything to the live show. You simplify it. The parts that were created in ProTools, in theory, you can make samples of. Because I believe that if it was made in ProTools... For example, if it was just Dan shaking the whammy bar, and getting feedback, and this beautiful four seconds happens, and I take it and lower the pitch an octave, and then reverse it, and then take him pulling out his chord and have a funny harmonic pop off, and doubling it and twisting it around-thereís no way thatís gonna happen live! So you would put that in the sampler, and let it happen.
JR: [joking] What, you canít make that happen live?
JEFF: [laughing] Sure you can! But it will happen once!!!
JR: Well, to be fair,
JEFF: And there are some
bands that really rely on that [The Doves, for one]. So yeah, it is a live
band. The band youíre seeing live, doesnít reflect the record in the sense that
none of these people played on the record, and we didnít have a real band
identity. So weíre sort of using these songs as models, learning the parts, and
playing. I think that there was a time, in 1996 [circa the masterful Three Sheets
to the Wind], when
JR: What are some of the songs weíre missing as a result of Danís departure?
JEFF: For example, from Three Sheets, songs like ďPomegranate BleedingĒ and ďNo Oneís Watching.Ē Not very many more off that record. Mainly the later records, where it was mostly myself, with Dan coming in and working with me-stuff off the Forbidden EP, like ďGoldenseal.Ē
JR: Yeah, I noticed you did two of that EPís songs by yourself.
JEFF: Right, which Iím enjoying playing alone. Itís nice, and in the future, I could imagine just touring with three people, maybe Bryan [Kertenian] and John [Goldman, his current tour players], where John would do a lot of samples, and Iíd bring a piano. Just scale it down a bit. We could still get really big, if we have to-Iíd have to play bass, maybe. So getting back to the question, there are a few songs we donít do because Dan is not around. But not enough to keep us from touring.
JR: Well, I saw the gigs
you did with Dan and this same bass player you have on this tour, with a different
drummer, last time you came to
JEFF: Well, everyone who we end up picking has the same sensibility. Brian is a very young drummer with not very much experience, but heís...
JR: Not very much experience? He sounds great!
JEFF: Heís just a natural
talent. Heís 22, and heís only been playing drums a few years. We had to rein
him in a little bit, because when I first met him, he was all over the place,
with a lot of high-hat tricks. But heís quickly learning how to play minimally,
and, listening to
JR: When we interviewed you last time, you had a totally different band that played out on the West coast.
JEFF: Yeah, at that point it was Joey [Waronker, now in R.E.M.] on drums and Christy Schnabel, who was also in the bands Lotusland and Ugly Beauty. Sheís an old friend, with a great voice, a very talented singer-she did backup, and samples.
JR: Sheís on which record?
JEFF: She only really
sings on the Shanti Project Collection [1999 benefit
compilation for HIV/AIDS], on ďThe Sun is All There Is,Ē and ďThis Cloud Weíre OnĒ from Hearts of Palm. She also sang the parts [live] that
Melissa Auf Der Maur sang
JR: So who was behind the live album [People Like Us Should Be Stopped, recorded in 1993, released in 2000] with the old John Berry lineup, then? Was that your doing, John? Was that a tape you had lying around?
JOHN: No, we just happened to know that that show had been taped by somebody in a band called The Lemon Merchants, I think.
JEFF: Yeah. We knew that somebody had recorded it, and nobody had ever recorded that lineup.
JOHN: And they contacted Jeff a few years ago, and then Jeff lost the e-mail, and we really wanted to hear it!
JEFF: And they disappeared on me a few times too, there was some fishy stuff going on! But it was the only account of that lineup out there!
JOHN: But we found it, and we listened to it, and we had talked about doing something like that [releasing a live LP].
JEFF: There was a certain power to that lineup, and those times of our lives-l donít think we knew any better. But there was this rage that happened.
JOHN: Itís like watching a car accident, I think. Thatís how I felt about it. It was released more because it was a document of a certain time, rather than for the music itself.
JEFF: Itís mostly for fans, because fans love it. I even listen to some of it, and think, ďThis is atrocious, it sounds like you blew up a toaster or something!Ē
JR: ďIt sounds like you blew up a toaster?!?Ē [loud laughter] Jesus! You could be a rock journalist! Iím sure theyíre looking for guys down at the LA. Weekly! You can review all the CDs that come in, with an imagination like that!
JEFF: Send them my way! But yeah, I think it was worth putting out.
JR: For instance,
JOHN: I love The Swans.
JR: Remember the original records they made that were really dirge-like?
JOHN: Uh-huh. I love Cop [Swans second LP, from 1984]! JR: Think of Filth [first LP, from 1983]. There was a review of that in a fanzine here called Flesh & Bones, and the writer Jeffo said it sounded ďlike two brontosauruses having sex!Ē [loud laughter] That was one of the most accurate reviews Iíve ever read! If you ever heard the Swans, you realize itís true. It sounded like some gigantic earth-moving experience, thatís for sure!
JEFF: So crude, yet profound!
JOHN: I like that stuff, though. I thought it was very cathartic. I would list them as an influence. We had tracked down Vinnie Signorelli, who had been the drummer for The Swans for a little while. Heís the drum≠mer on a couple of things on our first record, Year After Year.
JEFF: John just found him, and somehow tracked him down.
JEFF: John [
JOHN: Jeff Zimmitti was a drummer. Love him. He did the drums on [This Way Oufs] ďForever,Ē I think they were amazing.
JR: Well, the live album
was interesting to me, because I had never seen that lineup. The first time I
saw the group was at Gibsonís in
JEFF: Oh, you were there?!? Yeah, John was sort of freshly gone by then. Well, maybe a year, year-and-a-half.
JR: Did you think you guys would still be playing together, nine years later, in the same band? [both give an emphatic ďno!Ē] You have five albums now, Jeff, right?
JEFF: Five albums, some EPs, and a live record. And a whole shit-load of unreleased stuff that could be great if I went in and fixed it up a little bit. But it would just take a lot of time. But I like looking ahead, and moving in that direction. Weíll see, someday if I can get organized in my life-which is a big goal of mine now, to clean out closets and document things. Iíll get back to it. But Iím such a perfectionist that I would listen to it, and I would find something wrong with it, and I wouldnít want to go fix it. But thereís some neat songs there. Thereís as many [unreleased] songs as released ones.
JR: [to John] Heíll make you do it!
JOHN: [flatly] Oh no! Not after all this!
JR: Had enough?
JOHN: No, itís not that-although Iíll look forward to a month off, or something! Itís just been a little overwhelming, ever since we decided to start a label. Thereís a lot more footwork involved than I had realized.
JR: [kidding] Yeah, youíve got these pesky magazine editors chasing you for ads, right? [laughs] At least one, anyway!
JOHN: No, I was e-mailing
you about the info, [looking through the magazine] The Black Watch! Weíre on
the bill with them, for their show in
JR: I know the feeling. Iím
actually playing drums with them, next month at Luna Lounge and Arleneís
Grocery. My band Springhouseís bass player [Larry Heineman]
is in on it too, weíre their
JEFF: After that. Weíre
not headed to
JOHN: We go to
JR: Wow, youíre really promoting your new album.
JOHN: [laughs] Weíre trying!
JR: I thought this was just another hit-and-run East coast jaunt!
JEFF: I have to break
through that, because that sucks.
JOHN: [to Jeff] Yeah, you played four shows in 1998, and you hadnít played any in two years up until then. And then another two years went by! I felt like I was twisting his arm to get him to go out again!
JEFF: John really was the one fueling the fire.
JR: The label guy is the one that has to do that! Well, youíve obviously recorded for other labels until now-Caroline and Buzz. And now the onus is on you to be a label all your own. You have to take over all the duties, including promotion.
JEFF: Thereís a lot of stuff. John and Dale do most of it. Itís fun-l mean, itís fun for me, to watch it happen!
JOHN: [laughing, sarcastically] Itís fun for Jeff!
JR: He shows up and says, ďWhereís my royalty check?Ē
JOHN: Not yet! But he will.
JEFF: No, but itís an adventure. We donít have record labels knocking on our door, so I thought, ĎWhy not just do it ourselves?í John and Dale, between them, seem to have the knack; they have what it takes to get to the right people.
JOHN: Itís called stupid tenacity!
JR: It seems like weíre going to see more and more bands, whoíve built up at least a small name recording for established indie and major labels, just say, ďForget it, I can just do this myself now, or my friends can.Ē
JOHN: I think that the
term ďDo It YourselfĒ has a weird sound to it, but thatís what this is, and itís
just because nobody would even book this band. I went to Billions, I went to
Flower, I tried to get Aero-booking out of
JR: So you booked this tour yourself?
JOHN: Oh, yeah. Weíve done everything!
JR: Howíd you do such a good job?
JOHN: [emphatically] Dale!!! [laughter]
JR: Typically, when bands book themselves, they end up putting themselves into some inappropriate clubs without knowing. How are you going to know where to play, if youíre 3,000 miles away?
JEFF: Word of mouth, Internet, what other bands have played there.
JOHN: Websites like Pollster [www.pollstar.com].
JR: So you put in a lot of effort, then.
JOHN: Oh, yeah, a lot of research! Iím very obsessive.
JEFF: John and Dale work, like, 19 hour days!
JR: Heck, even being
booked by William Morris, we played two or three shows [out of 100] where I
hated the clubs. Club Rock in
JOHN: I never heard of Club Rock!
JR: Thatís exactly the point! [laughter]
JEFF: We also had a good booking agent before, and we were also playing inappropriate places. But I think this works better.
JOHN: Well, a lot of places we just know, because weíve been around.
JR: But if I just throw a
name out, like
JOHN: The Shelter. Been there, in 1996.
JEFF: John toured with the band Lifter that was on Interscope. He wasnít in the band, he was their road manager.
JOHN: No, I was in Lifter, I was the drummer! Hey! Anyway, I played at Pine Knob with Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette! It was weird, because they [Lifter] were a huge band on MP3.com, and they [MP3.com] submitted like 20 bands to Tori and Alanis, and we just happened to be one of four picked! It was a lot of fun.
JR: So how many people were there? 7,000?
JOHN: It wasnít full yet, I would say 3,500.
JR: Is that the biggest crowd you ever played for?
JOHN: No, I think the
biggest would have been
JR: Thatís got to be about 14,000, because thatís a hockey and basketball arena, [changing subject] So, is your Dad still alive, John? [referring to Ken Berry, sitcom actor on shows such as F-Troop, where he played the bumbling fort commander, Captain Palmate, and Mamaís Family] [Yes] How old is he now?
JOHN: Heíll be 67 on November 3.
JR: He mustíve done movies in addition to TV, right?
JOHN: A couple. JR: Any worth mentioning?
JOHN: [chuckling] Yes. Herbie Rides Again\\\ [uproarious laughter] [Actually, Ken Berryís movie listing on the Internet Movie Database is surprisingly sparse-his work has been primarily in sitcoms and; few TV movies-MS]
JR: I told John that my
four favorite shows growing up were Get Smart, F-Troop, Odd Couple, and Hoganís
Heroes [later AlI in the Family]. My entire sense of
humor [such as it is] comes from those our shows! The more bizarre and the more
JOHN: Itís like Ď60s slapstick, almost.
JR: I think I watched every episode at least two or three times.
JOHN: Really? I mustíve watched a lot of it, too. I wasnít a huge fan, but I watched it a lot, so I mustíve been accepting it!
JR: Nice going,† Dad!† Larry Storchís† [F-Troopís Corporal Agarn] appearance on Get Smart as a Groovy Guru is really
JOHN: Not really. He just wanted me... not to be a fuck-up! And hatís exactly what I did! [laughs]
JR: Donít laugh, I was watching the bio on Mackenzie Phillips [child
actress from One Day at a Time and daughter of Mamas & the Papas stars]. I
mean, going out with Peter Asher when you were 16?!? The guy was 40 or so, he
was in Peter & Gordon in the Ď60s! The offspring of the
JOHN: Actually, not to
leave her out, my Mom had a very nice career too. She was a character actress,
her name was Jackie Joseph. She was in the original Little Shop of Horrors. She
played Audrey. She was also in a bunch of films, like Gremlins and
JR: Wow, thereís a rock
and roll reference! [John laughs] You know my friend Bobby [Schayer]
from Bad Religion? His mother was in Blue Hawaii with Elvis Presley,
and in the Cheech & Chong
movies like Up in Smoke. And whenever you ask him, ďWho did she play in these
movies?Ē he always says, ďThe Mexican!!!Ē [laughter]
His father was a cop in
JOHN: Well, it was just
more of a private school, it wasnít that it was a
nicer area. His school was in
JEFF: The amusing thing is that when I met John... [to John] Do we want to tell this story, or is it too embarrassing?
JOHN: [joking] Oh, yeah! But you can tell it!
JEFF: [to John] Maybe you better tell it, because Iíll fuck it all up!
JOHN: Iíd been playing in
rock cover bands with Chris Owens, who is [old TV show Laugh In announcer] Gary
Owensí son, and Chris had this idea-he started getting very cuckoo-of starting
a band with
JEFF: I had gone to the prom with Ed Asnerís daughter Katie! [Ed Asner was TVís Lou Grant, from the Mary Tyler Moore and Lou Grant shows, and Broadway actor from plays such as Born Yesterday]
JR: Wow! Bizarre! Katie Asner! Yeah, and one of his sons I remember was in a punk
rock band in the early Ď80s, back when that was more culturally despised!
Anyway, we could go on this forever. Does everyone always ask you guys in
interviews why you called your band
JOHN: Actually, Mike
Coulter, who was the Lifter singer, had a band called
JR: And have you played there yet?
JEFF: Yes, we played in
JR: I was talking with Joey
Shithead [Keithley] of D.O.A.
about those awful old bands,
JEFF: Doesnít that sound horrible?!?
JOHN: Thereís also an
JR: No really: [mimicking
an announcer] ďLadies and gentlemen...
JOHN: [confused] Passed them?!?
JR: Passed it. The business. In
JR: No, thatís where Fountains of Wayne got the name. You know, when youíre trying to think of a band name, everyone goes ďI donít know,Ē and then all of a sudden everyone starts calling out everything their eyes see around them. ďOh, yeah, how about Joeís Pizza!?Ē
JOHN: Well, that was part of naming us. That it was just such a stupid... that did play into calling it. [stops] I donít want to go any further because I donít want to get Jeff into trouble! [laughs] I donít want to bag on the state!
JEFF: Itís just a band name!
JR: Or a bad name?
Wanna come over here and say that? [They fight. Jack
is killed in the fight. Don King demands a rematch, anyway. Mark takes over Big
Takeover, propping up Jackís corpse at his old computer, since he never moved
from there much, anyway, and insists that, despite being ďtechnically deceased,Ē
and otherwise ďmetaphysically challenged,Ē Jack is still the ďCo-Executive
Editor,Ē along with Jackís cat Mina. John Berry takes over as reviews editor,
with his sly references to exploding toasters. Jeff defies Don King, and
announces his next bout will be with Dan Seta, and a bus-full of prospective