Jeff Martin is sitting at my desk talking about the essence of rock ’n’ roll.
He’s changed little since his days fronting The Tea Party during the Canadian band’s glory years in the ’90s. He’s still every bit the road warrior, snakeskin boots poking through tattered jeans, straggly hair framing a sculpted face. He still rolls his own — Drum tobacco finely spread over a licorice cigarette paper.
“What I find in rock ’n’ roll right now is that most of it is coming from here,” Martin says, pointing to his head. “Everyone is thinking too much.
“It’s got to come from here.”
I thought Martin’s finger was going to point toward his stomach — you know, music “from the gut.” But he’s pointing a few inches lower. I try not to look.
“Sex,” his voice booms in a stage whisper that seems to echo through the newsroom. “It’s all about sex. Rock ’n’ roll has got to be about sex.”
Who’s to argue? Martin knows of what he speaks.
Martin’s vocal style has been compared to The Doors’ Jim Morrison, who understood rock’s sexual essence perhaps better than any other artist. Martin’s guitar style recalls that of Jimmy Page, the mastermind behind Led Zeppelin’s anthem to sex, Whole Lotta Love.
Martin’s new solo CD, The Ground Cries Out, draws deeply from these influences, with a heavy dose of Delta blues and a flavouring of Eastern spiritualism. If you listen closely to the lyrics of songs such as The Cobra, you’ll get a good helping of sexual imagery, too.
“It’s rooted in what rock n’ roll came from,” Martin says. “But it’s a fresh approach to it all.”
He recorded the CD with his new band, called simply 777, at a studio in his new home of Perth, Australia. Martin, 41, moved to the island continent in 2008 after living a couple of years in Northern Ireland.
Perth is the birthplace of his wife, Nicole, and the move was made initially for the sake of his six-year-old son, Django James (named after Martin’s guitar idols Django Reinhardt and Jimmy Page).
“With the amount of touring I was doing, it was important for Nicole and Django to be around family — the grandmothers, the aunties, the uncles — just for a security blanket when daddy is away,” explains Martin, a native of Windsor, Ont.
Australia had always been fertile ground for Martin. The Tea Party was a hit there, starting with the band’s first releases in the early ’90s. It was during those early shows in Australia that Martin met current drummer Malcolm Clark and, through him, bassist, J Cortez.
After recording his first solo album, Exile and the Kingdom, in 2006, Martin put together a five-piece band for touring. He now says he found the experience “stifling, even suffocating.”
“You’re not allowed to go into a tangent and that’s what I’m love about music, the tangents,” Martin explains.
Working as frontman for a power trio such as 777 has given him new freedom, Martin says. It makes him feel as if he was back in the ’90s, performing with The Tea Party before internal bickering tore the band apart.
“It’s like having a second chance,” Martin says. “A lot of artists reach a pinnacle like we did with The Tea Party at an early age and never get it back. They can strive for it all their life and never have it again. I feel very blessed.”
Martin is bringing his 777 band to Canada for a cross-country tour this spring. They come to The Studio at Hamilton Place on March 24.