Jeff Martin chats to Soulshine about making and performing sexy, dangerous music, his duet with Tina Arena and transcendence through the medium ahead of his national tour with Armada bass player Jay Cortez.
Chantel Bann: How has this tour been so far?
Jeff Martin: It’s been fantastic! As far as venues go across Australia, I’ve got a few places that are very special to me now and one of the places here in the suburb of Cronulla is a little beautiful place called the Brass Monkey. So we played an incredible show last night and it was sold out but for the first time ever on this tour, I debuted a couple of the new songs and it was massive. It was a very joyous occasion.
CB: So they’re new songs for your new solo album or for a new Armada album?
JM: Yeah well, you know, solo album or Armada album, I write the songs, so, whatever we call it. Whether it’s going to be a Jeff Martin record or an Armada record really depends on how much Wayne can be involved. He’s a busy man and there’s the distance as well with him being in Ireland but we’ll see how it goes.
CB: And you’re recording the new album up in Byron Bay after the tour?
JM: Basically, I’ll be writing the rest of it at my house in Byron and then hopefully record it at Studio 301 in November to get it out early next year.
CB: Is there any new/exciting ground that you’re going to be treading or your more familiar, middle-eastern tinged rock?
JM: The way I look at things, from a song-writer’s perspective is that I have to evolve. I can’t just go and do a 360 and start doing country records, or something like that.
CB: Chris Cornell seemed to have a crack at that, though, didn’t he?
JM: [laughs] Yeah well that fell flat on its face now didn’t it. So no, I’m not going to go and work with Timbaland any time soon. What I’ve done, especially like even from the days of The Tea Party, that fusion of world music into rock music – I guess is kind of my trade mark, so to speak – the potential for that fusion of music is limitless. It’s infinite. So I’m just going to keep on pushing that envelope because it’s mine to push. And I think it’s what the people that are listening to Jeff Martin’s music, well that’s something that they’re expecting and want to be challenged with. That’s how I challenge myself as an artist.
CB: It’s interesting that you bring up the infinite possibilities of rock and roll music because there has been debate about whether modern music has killed rock and roll.
JM: Well it’s definitely under pressure. That’s for sure especially with the popularity of your idol programs and all that stuff. People are just so desperate to be famous and they don’t even know what it is to be famous. I think that actually, if they knew what it was to be famous, they would think again. I certainly wouldn’t complain about how my career has gone but it takes its toll, you know, on your private life and things like that. But all these kids just care about being the next Britney Spears, or whoever the fuck it is now – Lady Gaga. You have to be careful what you wish for.
Again, I’m very fortunate in how my career, with The Tea Party and my solo career turned out. I’ve got an incredible audience around the world that has a lot of respect for what I do and in turn I give them all the respect in the world. So it’s this beautiful relationship that I don’t really think could go wrong.
CB: Now, I remember you did a duet with Tina Arena on RockWiz of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up’, which was awesome. Have you been inspired to collaborate or duet with other artists outside of your music or even incorporate it into some of your solo work?
JM: It’s possible. That was a great experience because, you know, obviously with the RockWiz program they’re quite clever with how they set up artists and the way they position two opposite worlds together. You couldn’t get more opposite than Jeff Martin and Tina Arena.
It was funny because I knew Tina’s name but I would not know any of her music, at all. I knew she was very, very famous, especially in Australia, but I just had no idea. What a voice! What an incredible voice and that’s what blew me away because I’m the type of person, you know, I don’t really care where you’ve come from or where your cred is, it’s more what do you do? And how good can you do it? And when she opened up her mouth and started to sing, it was like ok, this is serious talent right here. It was amazing too because she didn’t even know the song, she knew of the song, but she didn’t know it. Not like I would know Peter Gabriel’s work and she was just very professional. The proof is in the pudding. It is still, to this day, as far as hits to their website, the most popular duet that RockWiz has ever had.
CB: So, let’s talk more about this tour you’re in the middle of with Jay Cortez, who is also the bass player for The Armada. Describe the dynamic between you two.
JM: Jay’s an anchor. That’s the way I view his talents and even our friendship. The man is very solid as an artist. It’s kind of like (pause), it’s a little narcissistic to tell you the truth, my friendship with Jay, because he’s a lot like me, musically speaking, not necessarily personality wise. Musically, the man can do anything. You put an instrument in his hands and he will make it sing. It doesn’t matter what it is, he’s going to make it sing. The guitar is my instrument which is best suited to my voice especially with what we’re trying to achieve as a duo and what Jay brings to the table – with all the colours around my voice and around my guitar – it’s like a beautiful cocoon. So, what’s happening on stage, I think it was said in Brisbane at a show in front of a thousand people, a reviewer came to the show and said “It was basically like witnessing a two man Led Zeppelin” or Pink Floyd or something like that.
CB: You would have loved that!
JM: Yeah! So it’s going great and I’m excited for people to come to the show because it’s something really special. It’s a little bittersweet because I won’t be able to do this again until the new record is out in 2011 so I’m certainly encouraging people to come out as much as I can.
CB: Do you find that you have to rework any of your songs to allow Jay to play around what you do or to be able to add anything else to the songs?
JM: Well, first of all, every night the songs are getting reworked. That’s inevitable because there’s no strict parameters on what we do where the arrangements are concerning. Everything is constantly in a state of flux. Even the old Tea Party songs, they’re constantly evolving and Jay just circles around. That’s what he does. It’s very ethereal what he does with the music.
CB: Do you find yourself facing any challenges with that amount of freedom of the direction that you may take each night? Is it even that thought out?
JM: It can’t be. The moment you put that much thought into it, it can become contrived and I can smell that in music a mile away, so it’s not something that I allow into the fold. It needs to be sensual. It needs to be sexy. It needs to be dangerous. Even if it’s two men with acoustic guitars onstage, it needs to be fucking dangerous. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re making dangerous music. Every night.
CB: You make it sound so exciting! Speaking of danger, you have released a bunch of live recordings from select shows…
JM: Yeah I have in the past. I’m going to be a bit more diligent now with the live recordings because basically, as a producer and as an engineer, that’s a world where I’m very strict as far as sound recordings and if I do release another live record, which is quite possible from the last Armada tour (we recorded a couple of nights in Sydney for a live DVD). I will be mixing that next week and I’ll see if the sound quality is up to scratch with my standards and hopefully it will be, we can release that. But I’m just going to make sure that whatever is released live from this point on, the sound quality has to be as impeccable as the actual recordings.
CB: Do you find that you’re more aware of your playing and that you’re conscious of the fact that it’s being recorded, that you’re thinking more or do you just let go?
JM: No, I would hope not. You have to let go, I mean, if you go into the mindset and you walk onstage and you know that the tape is rolling and you’re thinking about that, the performance is going to be very cold, very clinical. It’s the whole shamanistic thing, that goes back to my early days with The Tea Party, I make a point of getting outside of myself onstage and letting everything about me be honest and open and it has to be fluid. Otherwise it’s not a Jeff Martin performance.
CB: So, it’s kind of like transcendence through music, right?
JM: Exactly. As far as people have their religious experiences, you know, everyone is wanting to be part of the divine or understand what divinity is, and I’m not saying that I am, so let’s just make that sure that we get this right – but when I’m onstage and when the night is beautiful and everything is just happening, it’s the closest I will ever come to god. It’s just unbridled transcendence. It’s never perfect, but it’s fucking close.
See Jeff and Jay get close to God on the following dates:
7 May – The Basement, Sydney NSW
8 May – The Heritage Hotel, Bulli NSW
9 May – Clarendon Guesthouse, Katoomba NSW
11 May – Lizottes, Newcastle NSW
12 May – Lizottes, Newcastle NSW
14 May – Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
15 May – Pelly Bar, Frankston VIC
16 May – Ruby’s Lounge, Belgrave VIC
18 May – Tonic Bar, Launceston TAS
19 May – The Republic Bar, Hobart TAS
21 May – Jive, Adelaide SA
22 May, Jive, Adelaide SA