Crowley & Tire Snakes: An Interview with JEFF MARTIN 777
Written by: Alexander Hutt
You may remember Jeff Martin from his time with The Tea Party and in 2008, the Armada. Now he has returned to Canada with a new band, Jeff Martin 777. There is also a new album, The Ground Cries Out , that is one of the best rock and roll records out this year. Jeff Martin 777 is Martin (vocals, guitars), Jay Cortez (bass, mandolin) and Malcolm Clark (drums). The “777″ comes from the book of the same name by occult leader Aleister Crowley, even though Martin notes that the focus wasn’t really on the occult’s facets. After seeing 777 live, I would definitely recommend seeing their live show, it’s a concert you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
“You have cue cards man, that’s not fair,” Martin jokes before we start the interview. He also remarks about starting the tour. “There’s a lot of positive nervous energy, at least on my part. Jay and Mal and just cool cats.”
Even though 777 is related back to Aleister Crowley, it also relates to the three differing personalities in the band.
Jeff Martin: 7 is a very powerful number and the three of us as individuals are very different. We are very powerful as a band in how we can affect people in our lives. I felt that the symbol made sense.
The lead-off single is ‘The Ground Cries Out,’ which coincidentally applies to the recent events in Egypt and the Middle East.
Jeff: When I wrote ‘The Ground Cries Out’, it was just a sketch that I brought to the band. I had some lyrics even back then but the events that have taken place in the Arab [world] now weren’t the exact focus. It’s only a bit of synchronicity with what is happening. I find it quite peculiar in a very esoteric way, that ‘The Ground Cries Out’ is our single and you look at what the events are right now. ‘The Ground Cries Out’ comes from a Sufi poet in the 16th century, and symphonic life and spiritual uprising and power.
Along with ‘The Cobra’ and ‘The Pyre,’ ‘The Ground Cries Out’ make up the three most enjoyable tracks. In addition, ‘The Cobra’ continues in Martin’s tradition of having a song per album that is usually, in his words, ‘Snakey.’
Jeff: The serpent is in so many philosophies and religious tangents. In Christianity it is representative of the Devil, and in Hinduism it’s part of Kundalini and all that is where ‘The Cobra’ is coming from. When we constructed the song in the studio there were no lyrics for it. The three of us were sitting around and I was trying to figure out what I was going to say on top of this massive massive song as it’s very serpentine and snakey. The riff comes from an oud player that Jay found on YouTube who played “A Song For Oum Khamsoum,” which was an instrumental homage to her. She was like the Edith Piaf of the Arab world in the 40s and 50s. It made sense to create a storyline around that riff and you see that in ‘The Cobra.’
Jay Cortez: There are a hell of a lot of snakes in Australia that you have to step over to get into the studio. Tire snakes, man.
Jeff: Have you heard of the tire snakes?
Jay: They are snakes that roll in a circle like a tire and roll down hills and bite you on the ankles.
Jeff: Australia is a crazy place, the women are beautiful but the snakes will kill you. Hey, beauty will kill you.
Contrary to some misconceptions, Jeff Martin 777 is a band and not a solo project. An example of this is Jay Cortez’s creation ‘The Mekong,’ the sixth entry on The Ground Cries Out.
Jay: At the beginning of the year I spent some time in Cambodia with some musicians over there. A lot of them were disabled through injuries from collecting precious material from land mines or grenades. One man in particular had his left knuckle blown apart by a grenade, and he played a sting tro, which is a coconut violin basically. Half a coconut, with two strings; it’s a primitive sort of violin that he played with his left hand that had no fingers. His right arm was lost at the elbow from a land mine. He was the inspiration of that song and it’s a tribute to the spirit of those people and the country that has been through so much.
Jeff: It’s a testament to the fact that even though this record is under the name Jeff Martin 777, it is so that people can associate the record to something that isn’t a solo album. This is a record, that’s why Jay brought ‘The Mekong’ to the table. It was too beautiful not to include. This is a band that has three different personalities that all put a lot of work in.
‘One Star In Sight’ has echoes of ‘Requiem’ from The Tea Party’s album Triptych, and ‘Daystar’ from Martin’s solo work. It also continues in the vein of alluding to Crowley, as in the name of the band.
Jeff: ‘Requiem’ was a song that was composed in a minor key, ‘One Star In Sight’ is in a major key. That’s the different between the two of them. ‘Requiem’ was based on a composition by Anton Bruckner’s Mass In E Minor, which is a very famous choral piece that he composed. Me being the rock and roll magpie that I am I’ll steal from wherever I can. ‘One Star In Sight’ is closer to songs like ‘Messenger’ in terms of my lineage from my past. I was talking to Alan Cross (Explore Music) and he was telling me that it’s the only song that is in a major key on the album. I would say that some of the bluesy songs on the album are in a major key. ‘One Star In Sight’ is a very joyous and uplifiting song. The poetic inspiration for it is from a poem with the same name by Aleister Crowley. He wrote it in his infancy of writing poetry and the title made sense to me because of some of the things that I am going through in my personal life. When composed it on the acoustic guitar it was just a melody in my head and when I brought it to the band we put it together and made it very orchestral.
The closing moments of ‘She’s Leaving’ reference another The Tea Party song ‘Release,’ which was written as part of the White Ribbon campaign, which combats violence towards women.
Jeff: It’s definitely an homage. I don’t think as far as rock and roll is concerned especially coming from the male perspective in the rock and roll life, we live like the gypsies that we are. We have people in our lives that we love and adore and we are continually apologizing to them for said life. I can’t really stop writing those types of songs because of that. I knew that ‘Release’ was a moment in The Tea Party’s career and I’ve always felt that hindsight, being twenty/twenty, is that the journey is never finished and that’s the whole beauty of it as far as being an artist is concerned. Like Mal said it’s a little bit of a homage at the tail of that song, and it’s an evolution of what ‘Release’ was. That’s what you do as a songwriter, you evolve on what you accomplished in the past.
Audiences in Australia are apparently very honest with their reactions to live shows, as they will not hesitate to point out if you are lacking. Canadian audiences however, react differently.
jeffmartin777-groundcriesoutJeff: The thing is that I’m Australian and I’m Canadian, musically speaking. The Tea Party was successful in Australia at the same time that it was accepted here in Canada. I find that in the media in Canada there is a bit of the tall poppy syndrome. If you become big elsewhere, the media back home tends to try to cut you down a little bit. That’s what I’ve experienced in the early days of The Tea Party. The thing about Australia is that you have to go into the trenches and be the cat’s ass rock and roll band or they will send you home packing. I remember this interview in Kingston, somehow, someway, English bands came up. Bands like Oasis are built up as the greatest “rock and roll band in the world” and then they go to Australia and they are told very quickly that they ain’t. They are sent home packing. It’s a testament to The Tea Party back in those days and it exists now with what the three of us are doing. Mal and Jay are seasoned veterans of the rock and roll scene in Australia.
Jay: Veterans? We’re not that old are we?
Jeff: I find that Canada is a little bit too influenced by what’s going on down south, even in rock and roll. I’m digging everything that is going on in new rock music. My only concern is that most new rock whether alternative or retro rock, a lot of it is people thinking too much and not feeling enough. The most successful rock and roll is going to be at an emotional, primitive level. There is an understanding of that in the Australian rock scene that I don’t hear a lot of in the Canadian one.
Jay: Jeff, Malcolm and myself are excited and grateful to be here, and see how you guys can party on.
A compelling element of the cross-Canada tour is that the shows are in small, intimate venues like the Media Club in Vancouver, not large concert halls or arenas.
Jeff: The thing is that we made a point to play in small intimate venues. We could have come to Vancouver in a 700 capacity club that would have been cool in a way but I really want people to experience it full on. We have gear in the club that should be in a 700 seat club but it isn’t. It’s a place that only holds 200 people, and I think they are going to walk away with an experience that they aren’t going to forget.
Another common theme in Martin’s music has always been a connection to the blues. To date, The Ground Cries Out feels the most in tune with the blues.
jmartin2Jay: It just kind of happens doesn’t it. We seem to bring out things in each other that are not planned, it just comes out through our chemistry.
Malcolm Clark: The first day we recorded in the studio, we had everything minced up and we decided to just have a jam. We started playing and had a twenty minute jam, and most of it was just a blues jam and from there came the focus.
Jeff: What I’ve done in the past, I didn’t want to do again. With The Tea Party I was always the architect and had a mission statement and Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatwood followed suit. I didn’t want this band to be like that. It had to be more open-ended; we just had to let it come in. The most important this was that it was going to be fun and how we are going to make it a f***ing blast. That would be songs like ‘Queen Of Spades’ and ‘Riverland Rambler.’ ‘Riverland Rambler’ came from Jay playing over and over that Jeff Bridges song from Crazy Heart, ‘Falling Flying.’ That song somehow someway became riverland rambler.
Malcolm: We might put that jam up on the site. The placing of the mic and the sound was interesting compared to the sound of the album since it was three people jamming in the same room.
Religion also plays a large part in Martin’s works, previous and present, and an example of that is in the track ‘Santeria.’
Jeff: The Tea Party shot that video in Cuba and that’s where I first experienced the ceremony to do the Santeria. Basically it’s the Cuban version of the Haitian voodoo. I attended some ceremonies and I was very lucky to do so because it was very closed door. It is a beautiful process because the citizens of Cuba have combined hardcore catholic beliefs with their own ancestry, African pagan religion. It’s a very interesting and powerful hybrid.
In closing, Martin gave a semi-mission statement for Jeff Martin 777.
Jeff: We want to prove ourselves as a band and we will. When the album comes out, what’s going to happen? We are seeing the momentum happening, the record came out March 1st and EMI has already had to reorder new stock for the record stores. People like what we do, and we are making people happy, that’s awesome.
Jeff Martin 777 is currently on the second half of their cross Canada tour to promote The Ground Cries Out. For more info please visit www.jeffmartin777.com.