Interview – Jeff Martin July 2011
By Shane Pinnegar for RockPit
Last week I called Jeff Martin in Ontario, a few dates into his reunion tour with The Tea Party. Jeff now lives in Perth, of course, and us, as well as the rest of Australia, are extremely keen to see him with the CC Entertainment “Whole Lotta Love” Led Zeppelin tribute in September.
SHANE: Hi Jeff, It’s Shane from The Rockpit in Perth mate, how’re you doing?
JEFF: I’m good, man, I’m good.
SHANE: We’re primarily here to talk about the ‘Whole Lotta Love’ Led Zeppelin celebration. Firstly, how did you get involved?
JEFF: The producers of the show, last year wanted me to be a part of it, and finally it came around. One of the producers gave me a ring, out of the blue, and I had the month of September free – I’m over here in Canada doing The Tea Party reunion shows [at the moment], but, you know, I had a really good experience with the producers… I did one show for them, the “Let It Be” concert at the Sydney Opera House. They’re very professional, and Led Zep are just such an amazing influence with their vocals and guitar work on what I do
SHANE: Absolutely, and it seems a very inspired choice to us…
JEFF: Thanks very much
SHANE: You’ve made no secrets of your love for Led Zep throughout your career. We’ve seen you jump onstage with the [fellow Canadians] The Trews at The Indi Bar in Perth [Jeff’s birthday party last year] for a few Led Zep songs. How does Led Zeppelin’s magic work for you personally?
JEFF: Well, I’ve always kind of – what I’ve appreciated and what inspired me from the music has been that most of Led Zeppelin’s music is a bit dangerous, you know? And honestly there is a lot of sexuality in the music as well – male, primal sexuality that is, I mean, that IS Rock ‘n’ Roll. You really can’t go wrong!
SHANE: Sounds like a party.
JEFF: Yeah, exactly! I think that, especially as a young man, before I started writing even, I was very much inspired by music that was dangerous, and Led Zeppelin was really my first experience of hearing a rock band, you know, that approached those tangents. Later, with The Tea Party we certainly tried to take that a lot further, but that was definitely the catalyst for me and the inspiration to do it.
SHANE: Have you started rehearsals yet?
JEFF: No, no – I’m in Canada right now, doing the Tea Party tour… And yeah, the songs that I’ve chosen to do in this concert series, you know, I know these songs at the back of my hand, so it’ll just be a case of “let’s get together in a room with all the musicians and everything and just hammer it out”.
SHANE: Cool. Having seen the show last year I think a large part of the reason it was so magical and just worked so well was that it wasn’t just a bunch of hard rock guys, there’s a real diversity to the talent on show, you know, we had artists from all sorts of genres performing. So does that make – not that you’ve started rehearsals – but does that, getting a group of people like that from very diverse musical backgrounds, does that make it harder or easier to all get on the same page with the music?
JEFF: I’m sure that’s… Again, what I really respect from the position of the show is that the musicians that are chosen, when we get all of them together with the band themselves, these are like, the finest musicians in Australia! That makes it easy for us to just go in and appreciate, sorry, approach the songs in a different way. I do believe that we should have the ability to step up and do it!
SHANE: You never seem to stop working, you know, you’ve got the Tea Party, the Armada, solo work, Jeff Martin’s 777, your production work, and now this… it must be fair to say you’re a pretty restless musically?
JEFF: (laughs) Well, I’m not comfortable staying still! You know, for me, my life is, musically it’s a journey to someplace. I don’t know where I’m going but I know I always have to be going. And so in everything that I do, I’m striving to achieve a great work in my life.
SHANE: Of all the albums you’ve released – and I count something like eleven studio albums, there’s a handful of live albums, at least one compilation – Which comes closest in your mind to Jeff Martin’s true sound?
JEFF: I think if you combined “The Ground Cries Out”, which was the latest record that I did with 777, if you combine that with “The Edges Of Twilight” [The third album from The Tea Party, released in 1995], that would be the closest thing. Kind of like a cross between the past and, you know, the future. So, yeah, very rocky, you know, but so many incredible experiences in my life, and so that’s given me the skills in order to get this massive amount of music that’s in my head all the time and get it out, get it out safely, properly, you know? All that stuff.
SHANE: You’ve worked with a lot of different styles and sounds and a lot of musically diverse people across all of your albums, tours and what-not. On the musical landscape, what is left for you to explore personally?
JEFF: Oh, there’s just so much! In the new year I’m going to do a bit of a sabbatical and go back to places I’ve been already, like Morocco and places like that. Even though I’ve done a lot with fusion – with rock n’ roll and bringing [world music and ethnic instrumentation] music into it – I just want to go away and, it’s about going over there and just… LIVING for three or four months – to just live, be, take it all in and all that and then come back, you know? And then use what you’ve seen. I’ve always had a fair amount of pride and integrity, so when I make a new record, what I’m trying to do, is hopefully better what I’ve done in the past – the past keeps pushing me.
SHANE: And a big trip like that – three or four months sabbatical. Are you taking the family or is that just you off on a pilgrimage?
JEFF: Oh I’ll definitely take the family. I mean, it’s hard enough now that I’m over here in Canada for six weeks, you know, to be away from the family for that long… it’s quite difficult, you know?
SHANE: Oh absolutely.
JEFF: Obviously it’s quite difficult, you know, but in the end it’s just about the music – it’s been a great thing getting back with Jeff [Burrows] from Tea Party and, you know, it looks like there will be a future to the band again and so the sacrifice of six weeks over here away from my family, I think in the long run I’ll be happy with.
SHANE: Well that was my next question, actually, how are things going with the Tea Party guys because obviously there were a lot of heated words been fired back and forth over the years and it did seem very unlikely you’d ever reunite with them.
JEFF: Yeah, well, you know, when I met with Jeff & Stu [Chatwood] in March I was over here with 777 – we were doing a tour of Canada – and the opportunity came for me to sit down for lunch with Stuart in Vancouver, then sit down for coffee with Jeff in Windsor, in our home town and say I have let go of all the bullshit so let’s get back on the stage, we’ll get to a rehearsal room, let’s see if we can find that magic again and if we can, we’ll be smiling at each other through it all and if we are, then that’s all we need, you know? And we’ll just move forward. And we were all in agreement on those terms and that’s what happened. We got into a rehearsal room and I think I made a decision for us to let’s just do it chronologically, starting with ‘The River’. And we started playing ‘The River’ and we just started smiling at each other, you know? It was undeniable, The Tea Party was one of the greatest, you know, great rock bands of the 90’s. And there’s a reason why there was something magical happening there, and its still there. And it’s relevant.
SHANE: You’ve already done a couple of shows, I think, is that right?
JEFF: Yeah, yeah. We did a one-off show, and we played Montreal which was very, you know, a very special place for us and that was a bit of a homecoming and, you know, three thousand people in front of us and grown men crying in the audience (laughter) it was, yeah, it was a big big night
SHANE: Can you see another Tea Party record on the horizon?
JEFF: I’m certainly not saying ‘no’. You know what I mean? Like, you know, that sabbatical that I talked about – that would be part and parcel of if there was to be another Tea Party record because, I mean, we make such massive musical statements that, you know, then I would insist on bettering what we had done in the past. I would have to really dig deep and go to those places in the world and come back and make that better than an “Edges of Twilight 2”
SHANE: Right on. Well, I know a lot of people will be very excited about hearing another Tea Party album, that’s for sure. The 777 tour that you did in Canada, I believe you had our own Gab Lee of [Perth band] Stillfire in tow for some supports on that one. How did those shows go?
JEFF: He was fantastic. You know? Gabriel was up there every single night, he was quite the charmer on stage! Every night just him and an acoustic guitar – I was very, very proud of him, you know? He really stepped up to the plate and he was a great ambassador representing the history and dedication of Perth’s musical tradition, you know? So, it was really cool.
SHANE: Awesome. OK so we’d better wrap up, if you could’ve helped write and perform any one Led Zeppelin song, which would it have been?
JEFF: Which would it have been… uh, probably Kashmir.
SHANE: Nice. And you mentioned earlier the songs that you’ve chosen to sing on the ‘Whole Lotta Love’ tour; are there any surprises in there?
JEFF: Yep, there might be one surprise in particular, you know? Its also gonna be the way certain arrangements come about, things like that, but I don’t really want to let the cat out of the bag, you know?
SHANE: Fair enough
JEFF: There won’t be a Led Zeppelin fan walking away from this not absolutely lovin’ it!
SHANE: No, last year’s tour was just stunning, jaw-dropping, amazing. So, we’re really looking forward to seeing this year’s. So finally, Jeff, what for you mate is the meaning of life?
JEFF: Um… love, happiness, passion.
SHANE: Very nice. Thanks very much for your time, mate. And we’re looking forward to seeing you back in Perth.