“…he came into the dressing room and we were all like “F*ck! Neil Peart’s in here. Wow!” And he said, “I really loved the combinations of rhythms and melodies that you guys use, but I really enjoyed that show…Don’t ever change that. Continue with that honesty.”…I’ll never forget it. It was probably the single greatest experience of my life as a musician” – Kevin Martin of Candlebox
Kevin Martin just wants to make good music. So why is he treated like the Devil? Martin and his band Candlebox were recently voted to Spin Magazine’s list of the Top 30 Most Hated Bands. Ranked 26th on the list (Creed and Milli Vanilli were in the Top 5), what crimes against humanity could the Seattle based band, who found recognition and radio-play during the (often imitated) grunge era, have committed?
Martin doesn’t sound like the countless camps of Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder imitators who make a buck from such thievery. Yes, they may have “looked” the part for a time, but even the hair metal scene was copping a few licks and looks from grunge. Does Candlebox deserve the criticism?
Shortly before the release of their first studio album in four years, “Love Stories and Other Musings” and one week before their concert at Capt’n Funs on Pensacola Beach, I interviewed Martin for my music column in the Pensacola News Journal. The Illinois-born musician discussed the band’s diverse influences, the music industry, peanut butter and jelly cupcakes from Magnolia’s and all things Candlebox.
Here is a link to the PNJ column and the full interview follows below.
***Kevin Martin interview***
KM: We want to take people on a bit of a ride. You know. Sometimes you want to start them out a bit easy and lay into them three or four songs in. Or you want to knock them in the teeth at the beginning and ease up on them midway through the set. It’s just a matter of sitting down. We do a different set every night. We sit on the bus at 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock, (lead guitar) Pete (Klett) and I and (rhythm guitar) Sean (Hennesy). We go through the songs and whatever we want to play tonight and it generally works out. We’ve had a couple of sets that don’t work, where we’ve walked off stage and gone “Jesus. What were we thinking?”, but maybe once or twice in a tour that happens. You don’t know it til’ you try.
MS: With the touring, recording, and live shows. What is the most amazing part of this Candlebox experience for you?
KM: That’s a great question. For me…wow…for me each one is totally different, obviously that hour and a half that you’re on stage is the greatest hour and a half of my day. When it comes to the writing process, my real thrill comes out of happy accidents. You kind of sit down and you start tinkering with something and then an hour later, you have a song and it’s ready to be recorded. And that doesn’t happen a lot with any band. You have those happen a few times and actually with this record, it happened three times in 12 days in the studio, where someone was playing something and it ended up being a song and being recorded and replaced a track that was going to go on the record. Which, for us, being that we’re not very prolific in the sense that we’ve only done five studio albums in 20 years, we’re very active when it comes to putting us under pressure in the studio and that’s where we work best. And one of the things that we tend to forget is that we do do so well under that pressure of being in the studio. So, I think we’re going to focus a lot more on that. Clearly, those two things are what I love most about Candlebox. There’s so many things that we do well and there’s a hell of a lot of things we do terribly, so those two things are really what I live for when it comes to being in this band.
MS: With everything you’ve experienced in the years Candlebox have been together; through the 90’s and the grunge era and nu-wave metal, you have stuck through it. How has the industry changed since you started to now?
KM: Obviously, the majors are going away. People have realized that they’ve been ripped off and they’ve been ripped off since the 70’s and especially bands. People think about, when you sell a million records, “Oh. You must be buying Ferrari’s and living in mansions.” It was never really like that. You had to sell several million records and you had tour several countries and be really successful to live that lifestyle and you had to be able to do that record after record after record and nowadays, you can make a great living being in a band and just touring the country and writing songs with your buddies and recording them in your garage and putting a record out and going on the road. That’s really the biggest change; that you don’t need a major label. You don’t have to have millions of dollars behind you and you don’t have to recoup millions of dollars. It’s great being able to just sit down, make a record, find a distribution deal or just do it through TuneCore, and release an album and go on the road. I think that’s been the biggest change in what we’ve had to kind of embrace. That is that the socializing side of it. The social networking side of how you, as a band like Candlebox, sold four or five million records in the United States and not having that kind of money behind us and we’ve chosen to go independent for the past few records. “What do we have to do to reconnect with our fans?” and it’s an accessibility thing. Whereas back in the day, you never heard from me, I wasn’t writing you a note on Facebook or anything like that because there was no internet when we started. There weren’t even cell phones for God’s sake. You had to pay like $8,000 to buy one. And again, like Dave Grohl said, “Making a record on tape is an entirely different experience.” And it’s imperfect and we made our first three albums on tape without a computer and that’s an entirely different thing. When you can sit down and make an album on a computer and put it out 24 hours later. It’s brilliant and it’s exciting and I’m kind of glad that the majors have taken it in the ass a little bit.
MS: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
KM: Very few bands like Candlebox should have succeeded. We’re such four different guys when we started…that actually were thrown together. We never should have succeeded because there were so many odds against us, but the thing was we found a common ground musically that works where we can use all of our influences and put them in a song. I listened to everything from Otis Redding, to the the Dead Kennedy’s, Black Flag, The Clash, Aerosmith, I was really more into the punk side of rock n’ roll music. I love the Beatles and I love Led Zeppelin, but really where my blood gets going and I want to run around and break shit is when somebody throws a punk record on and so I listened to a lot of that stuff when I was growing up. I’ve always tried to infuse that in the songwriting of Candlebox and it’s not that there’s anything punk about Candlebox, it’s just that attitude of just practice your “shut up face” and listen to this song for a minute. And then Pete coming from the background of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and a lot of the metal rock n’ roll, even though that first two Iron Maiden albums could be considered punk albums. Pete comes from that melodic element of heavy metal and writing those types of solos and those types of guitar parts and those are very evident in Candlebox songs and then Marty (Bardi Martin), our bass player, grew up listening to a lot of blues and a lot of jazz. When he joined the band, the first day he came to rehearsal, he brought the bassline for “Far Behind” and “You” and we ended up turning those into the two biggest songs we ever written in a matter of two or three days. And we still didn’t hire him in the band for a month. We made him wait for a little while. That’s where we come from. (Drummer) Scott (Mercado) is a jazz cat that was thrown into a rock n’ roll band. Somehow it worked. I don’t know why it did or how it did, but it did. And that’s why you get that diversity. You get songs like “Blinders” on “Happy Pills” to a song like “Butterfly” on “Lucy” to “Surrendering” on “Into the Sun”. It’s just so many styles of music that we like to throw into the mix. It probably hurts us a little bit too. We should probably be more one style and this is the formula and “here you go.”
MS: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
KM: “Have a good time, all the time.” (laughs) The best advice I’ve ever been given? I guess it’s when we toured with Rush and Neil Peart and the one time he came to our dressing room, we were in Austin. And he came into the dressing room and we were all like “Fuck! Neil Peart’s in here. Wow.” And he said, “I really loved the combinations of rhythms and melodies that you guys use, but I really enjoyed that show.” And he said, “Don’t ever change that.” and he said, “Continue with that honesty.” And that’s exactly what he said, I’ll never forget it. It was probably the single greatest experience of my life as a musician and we toured with Metallica and Aerosmith and Henry Rollins. And Henry Rollins was a huge influence on me when I was a kid. But Neil Peart, someone we all idolized, saying something as simple as, “Don’t ever change that” and “Keep that honesty”, that was it for us and we’ve done that on every record. We’ve had those arguments, that’s not us. “Why are you trying to shove that square peg in a round hole? Why are you trying to do that?” That’s not who we are and it happens on every level; Pete saying that to me, me saying that to Pete Scott. And that’s the one thing we always go back to, “Does this song feel honest to us?”
MS: What words of wisdom would you give to the guys just starting out in music, or just starting out in a band? What would you say to them, if they want to be where you are?
KM: You better be willing to take a few punches. Again, just be honest with yourself and honest with the music. You got to remember that just because your best friend says that it’s great doesn’t mean that it is. If you’re not feeling it and you’re just trying to shove something down somebody’s throat, it’s not going to work. You have to be honest with yourself and you have to be willing to work really, really hard. Shit, I’d hate to be a new band starting out right now. I don’t even know…Candlebox would not succeed right now. I don’t think there would be any opportunity for us. We were lucky enough to be from Seattle, we were lucky enough to have a few good songs that major labels paid attention to and we found a deal. That doesn’t mean we succeeded. Our success came in the sense that we were able to continue to write songs and people continued to appreciate what we did and 20 years later, we’re still on the road playing those songs and enjoying every minute of it. And that’s because we’re honest with ourselves. We’ve had some great songs that have never been recorded because we just didn’t feel that we were being honest with that music. That’ s just what I would say to anybody starting out right now, is really take your time, work hard at it, be willing to take punches because it’s going to happen. And just put it out there when you’re ready.
MS: Last two, kind of a crazy one, but I always have to ask it; do you prefer crunchy or creamy peanut butter?
KM: Wait, wait…what?
MS: Do you prefer crunchy or creamy peanut butter?
KM: Crunchy or creamy peanut butter? (pause) I don’t have a preference.
MS: Either one.
KM: Yeah, either one. I really love…we have this bakery up here, where-I’m in Los Angeles and it’s called Magnolia-they make a peanut butter and jelly cupcake. It’s ridiculous! I mean ridiculous. It’s got crunchy frosting on top with creamy peanut butter in the middle with jelly (laughs). It awesome! Yeah, I’ve got no preference.
MS: You’re killing me, Kevin.
KM: I’ll bring you one.
MS: Last question I want to ask you. It was posed to us in a psychology course a few years ago and you mentioned The Beatles. The question is, “Would The Beatles make it in today’s music industry?”
KM: No. There’s just no way. People know too much now. The Beatles started out as a cover band and they made two records, basically worth of covers before they found their direction with George Martin. I think they would have found success-not nearly the success they had, obviously-but on a level of college music, like an Arcade Fire or something like that, they probably would have. But if you’re talking from the inception of The Beatles til the “White Album”, I would say no. If you started out, maybe from “Sgt. Pepper’s” or “Help” on, yeah. It’s kind of selective. Based on what records…I mean, God! There are so many great albums, but I just don’t think people would…right now they’d be like, “What the hell are these guys doing?”
MS: Is there anything you want to add before we wrap it up?
KM: We haven’t played Pensacola in a long time and we’re really looking forward to it. I hope everybody that has ever been a fan of Candlebox realizes how much we appreciate and respect them. Without our fans, we have nothing. We wouldn’t be here doing this. It’s an interesting album for us; we’re very grateful for the opportunity that’s been given to us by everybody that’s been listening to us for 20 years.
-Michael L. Smith
Link to an additional photo gallery of the concert by the PNJ crew.