A homecoming of sorts
By Jim Barber
The Middle Eastern-inspired rhythms, tones and musicality is still there. There is hard rock bombast, inspired lyrical turns of phrase, dramatic changes in vibe and mystique. In other words, The Ground Cries Out is the prototypical Jeff Martin album.
But there is something else, something different and unique to this latest project, by the native of Windsor, Ont., that has been lacking in many of his previous work, whether it be with his former band, the renowned Canadian power trio The Tea Party, with his 2006 solo debut, Exile and the Kingdom, or his previous band, The Armada. That is joy — pure, unadulterated enjoyment and passion for the music being created.
Is Martin lightening up? Known — somewhat inaccurately — as a brooding, overly-introspective and indulgent songwriter and performer, Martin admits that he is in a different headspace with this new record, which was released March 1 in Canada through EMI, and that he is looking forward to bringing his new take on life and the music that came from it back to his home country.
“I look back at The Tea Party with incredible fondness. Hindsight being 20/20, I can concede how some critics might have considered The Tea Party’s music to be more pretentious, and maybe taking itself a bit too seriously, or me taking myself a bit too seriously,” Martin said. “But when you come out of the starting blocks in this business, you’re insecure. You hide behind your influences, and it comes out as arrogance,” he said during a promotional stop in Hamilton.
“But with this record, what J and Mal (bassist/multi-instrumentalist J Cortez and drummer Malcolm Clark) have brought into the equation is it was just so much fun making this record. That joy has really come through on songs like Queen of Spades and Riverland Rambler. This is a type of music, or more accurately, maybe a sentiment that hasn’t existed on many of my other records. And that’s what makes it fresh, and it’s been just a pleasure to create.”
The trio is touring Canada this month, including a stop at The Mansion in Kingston on March 25.
And Martin said he deliberately kept the group as a trio, because he feels it’s the best venue for the music.
“With the first solo record, Exile and the Kingdom, I attempted a five-piece band, and it was suffocating for me, because there was no room to go anywhere, musically,” Martin said. “And if I was going to do rock and roll again, I had to go back to a three-piece, because, especially with what Mal and J bring to the table, we can establish signposts in the live context, and how we get to those different signposts on any given night will change, and that’s what will make it fresh and fun every single night … and that’s what I need from rock and roll,” Martin explained.
Fans of The Te a Party, and those who know his work from Exile and the Kingdom and the short-lived Armada project (which was never released in Canada) know of Martin’s affinity for and ability at incorporating exotic, eastern, Middle Eastern sounds to his brand of rock and roll. At times in the past, it was through the instrumentation used, and very obvious structural references within the songs.
On The Ground Cries Out, the influences are still there and fans of his previous work will not be disappointed, but it is done more subtly this time around.
“The more I go further into these influences, the more interwoven they will become,” Martin said. “It’s not like it’s latched on top. It’s just in there. With all of my stringed instruments that I have in my home in Australia, I could have brought out my whole collection, but I felt it was just time to concentrate on the electric guitar again. Because that’s who I am, that’s what I do. And I wanted to see how far I could push the electric guitar, just like I used to do with The Te a Party, with the tunings. That’s how you get those sounds and those melodies to come out of a rock and roll song.”
As confident as he is in his ability as a songwriter and musician, Martin admitted there was some trepidation about coming back to Canada with new material. He has been dipping his toes in the waters of the Canadian music scene for the past few years, and realized that there is still audience for his music.
For the past few years, he has called Australia home, living in Perth, and before that lived in rural Ireland. And while there are no plans to repatriate himself, he does plan on spending a lot more time in Canada.
“What pleases me, and really puts a smile on my face is that media, in all facets so far, has really embraced this coming back and this new record. And that’s cool, because if the record is a success, it will allow me to keep coming back here to Canada, which is what I want to do. I want to be able to come and play music again here. And so far it’s all working out,” he said.
“One of my friends said it was like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, and that’s why I am here (do a promo tour) … because I felt it was warranted and justified because I have been away for so long. I needed to re-aquaint myself with everyone in the media and the music industry, and make those relationships again.
“And I think this is kind of a re-calibration for me. For people who weren’t fans in the media, there’s a certain stigma attached to me, maybe a misconception, or I might have ruffled feathers in the past, and I am just trying to show people how the headspace has changed and things have changed for the better.”
The work on The Ground Cries Out began about a year or so ago, and involved the construction of a new studio.
“I had written all of the sketches, and it was really a case of putting together a studio that as far as the audio requirements that I needed for my style of production and everything, to make the sound happen … but once we started the recording process, there was about four sessions over the course of about six months, because I had touring commitments in Australia in amongst these sessions,” he said, adding that working with Cortez and Clark was a treat because those two had a long, pre-existing working relationship.
“J Cortez was part of the Armada, the touring aspect of it. So J and I have been working together for at least a couple of years. But Malcolm Clark I have known since the mid-1990s, because he was a very big fan of The Tea Party, and every time we would play in Perth, Malcolm was always backstage or something. So our friendship sort of started back them. And he’s just an amazing drummer, and it was only a matter of time before basically the three of us would get together and do this because Mal and J have been the best of friends for more than 15 years,” Martin said, drawing a comparison between his new trio, and the trio of he, Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatwood that comprised The Tea Party.
“It is similar, but in some ways it is different, because obviously the personalities and individualism that Malcolm and J bring to the table, would be very different than what Jeff and Stuart brought to the table, but it’s still me overseeing it. There’s still a good portion of the record that is represented by the Middle Eastern meeting the hard rock (on songs like the title track The Cobra and The Pyre), which is sort of my signature, but the things that Malcolm and J bring onto this record is where it becomes fresh.”