Tea Party’s Jeff Martin returns with new band, new album
By Mike Bell, Postmedia News March 1, 2011
Jeff Martin knows what’s in a name.
Or, rather, what’s in his name. And that’s the cachet it carries after 20 years in the modern rock world, first as the frontman for Canrock trio The Tea Party, then as a solo entity, then with the project The Armada, and now, recently, as the driving force behind the three-piece named, not accidentally, Jeff Martin 777.
The band’s debut The Ground Cries Out hits stores March 1, and is already garnering some attention, with the disc’s title track and first single already getting some radio traction in major Canadian markets such as Vancouver and Toronto.
And as good as that song may be — a heady, incense-scented rocker — by any other name, would the radio love be as sweet?
“That’s a good question,” Martin says during a recent cross-Canada jaunt to promote the album and upcoming tour.
“Probably –,” pause, “probably not. So I thank them for playing it,” he laughs. “And I thank myself for the legacy.”
Yet, much like the trio that provided most of that legacy, The Tea Party, which spent much of the ’90s, and early 2000s touring the world and populating rock radio, Martin is adamant that the latest project is, in fact, a band, and the decision behind the name was purely for practical purposes.
“My manager and I felt that when I released the last record (2009′s) The Armada, it was confusing to a lot of people because they didn’t really associate me with it…
“So we felt that it was important that everyone could link onto it and understand what it is, but we put the symbol behind it, the triple seven — it’s been a part of me the whole time, the whole (famed mystic and occultist Aleister) Crowley thing — but it basically represents the three personalities in the band, because it is a band.
“Even though I wrote all of the songs, we composed them all together.”
The “we” in this particular case is the rhythm section of drummer Malcolm Clark and bassist J Cortez, two musicians Martin befriended in Australia, where he has resided for the past several years.
Clark was originally a fan of The Tea Party, someone who Martin describes as having the “power of John Bonham, and the devil-may-care attitude of Keith Moon,” while Cortez is a more “melodic” bass player, whose opinion of Martin’s past was that “it wasn’t his cup of tea, so to speak.”
Martin admits it was only because of the strength of that personal relationship that he was willing to enter back into a musical partnership with another pair of players, and says the studio experience proved he made the right decision.
“I’ve never laughed so much making a record,” he says. “The two of them are like Abbott and Costello in the studio. It kept things really light.”
The musician believes that comes through in some of the album’s more “tongue-in-cheek” fare, such as “Queen of Spades” and the bluesy, country boogie jam “Riverland Rambler” — two of Cries Out’s highlights — and the CD booklet even features a rare picture of Martin with a genuine smile on his face.
The rest of the 777 disc, though, should really come as no surprise to fans of Martin’s past, featuring, as it does, much of the same dark and moody, world-influenced classic rock stylings that are his trademark and calling card.
For his part, Martin doesn’t dispute that, but thinks that trademark sound has evolved since he first started making music during his Windsor youth and subsequent Tea Party career, and credits his travels and sabbaticals to other parts of the globe to experience first-hand those cultures that have always coloured his artistic vision.
“I believe I’ve learned how to incorporate that music and those tangents into rock music better,” he says of the Indian and Middle Eastern sounds.
“So it’s not as pretentious, you know what I mean? But it’s a bit more seamless now. … I listen to (1995 Tea Party song) “Sister Awake” and, as proud of it as I am, I do find it a little pretentious.
“But ‘The Ground Cries Out’ and ‘The Cobra’ (from the new album), they’re very sexy and I’m not trying to say a lot of five-syllable words in a row. Musically, things have gotten a little more seamless, and lyrically, I believe I’m saying more now without having to say so much.”
Still, Martin knows that because of the music and even the entire band configuration there will be inevitable comparisons between his past and his present.
It something he actually welcomes, and is looking forward to using his upcoming smaller club tour — featuring many venues which he started out in — as the chance to prove something, to prove that he’s still relevant and that there is a future for Jeff Martin 777.
“As far as comparisons, I know it’s going to happen,” he says. “And I kind of welcome it. With my pride, I wouldn’t bring this band, a three-piece band, to Canada unless I thought in my heart of hearts that this could stand up to anything.
“I’m really looking forward to showing them both off.”
And as for that past and that legacy, which Martin describes as now almost “mythical,” he also remains incredibly proud of that, despite the fact the breakup just over five years ago with fellow Tea Party members — Stuart Chatwood and Jeff Burrows — was far from amicable.
In fact, he thinks the band calling it quits and when it happened was something of an artistic blessing in disguise.
“I think we stopped at the right time,” he says. “(2004′s) Seven Circles, in my mind, wasn’t a Tea Party record. Had we continued, we would have kept on making records that weren’t Tea Party records. That had to stop and I’m glad it did…because at least that legacy is intact, and it’s something I’m proud of.”
Proud of, but willing to revisit?
Martin reacts to recent reports that a presumably lucrative reunion tour with his former bandmates in the near future is a very real possibility with an open mind and, barely detectable, a twinkle in his eye.
“We haven’t spoken since 2005. I’m basically of the attitude, you never know what’s going to happen in life, you never say ‘never,’ ” he says.
“There’s a lot of things that would have to be — a lot of blockages would have to be cleared for something like that to happen.
“But, there’s always hope,” he says, and then smiles. “That’s all I’m going to say.”
Canadian tour dates include: Vancouver March 3&4; Calgary March 10; Saskatoon March 13; Winnipeg March 15; Toronto March 23; Hamilton March 24; Ottawa March 26; Montreal March 29.
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