Nancy Glass, EDN
Armed with a BA in English Writing and a Masters in Education, this Eugene based singer songwriter teaches English as well as moonlights as a carpenter/landscaper by day, building decks and landscaping backyards and remodeling bathrooms. He loves the work getting tired and filthy. Nothing finer than the instant satisfaction of completing a project. Fortunately for him, it allows for a lot of time to be in his head; which for this singer-songwriter, is the best place for him to be.
He started playing cello when he was in the fourth grade. “My mom made me pick out an instrument to learn; bass, violin, viola, or cello. I liked that cellists got to sit down the whole time; the swooping bow motions seemed really natural. I played cello from fourth grade all the way through high school.” Jeffery gravitated toward guitar around the age of eighteen teaching himself to play by hunting and pecking which notes fit together. Thankfully the cello and classical music provided a great foundation. Per Martin, “It gave me an ear. I have an old unfinished cello, with no bridge and no strings, that I had since middle school. I look at it every day and long to fix it up and see if I can still play it worth a damn. Some day.” Using his handy chalk board where he writes a lot of song ideas down from his loft home in Eugene Martin finds inspiration easily from his cello.
He started playing guitar because he could make it reflect how he felt, Martin says. “I could improvise on it right away, and so it moved as I moved. This is something I could never make happen with the cello. Before I ever opened my mouth to try and sing, I felt complete satisfaction in the sounds of the guitar and how can so simply put to music the emotional place I was in at any given time.”
With a trained ear, and his classical music foundation, Martin recognizes the difference between hearing music and listening to music. “For me there is a big difference between hearing music and listening to it. I learned to listen, to words and the way the music builds and mingles and falls with those words, from a very young age. I remember being deeply stirred by Reba McEntire’s version of the Bobby Russell song “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.” There was such injustice in that song, “The judge in the towns got bloodstains on his hands.” I remember secretly listening to Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” over and over, and being in that weird place as a young boy of both knowing and not knowing what the hell he was talking about.”
Martin’s influences were along the line of story tellers such as Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Harry Chapin as well as the folk scene. Martin remembers “My Dad took me to see John Gorka (who in 1991, Rolling Stone Magazine called him “the preeminent male singer-songwriter of what has been dubbed the New Folk Movement) when I was pretty young, 14 or so, around 1998. We also saw Leo Kottke and Lucy Kaplansky. While most of my friends were mindlessly glued to MTV, or blasting the latest Blink 182 songs in the parking lots at high school, I was quietly pouring over John Gorka and Nancy Griffith. It was a great secret to have. I think some boys (like I was) like to imagine they are much older and much rougher and much more jaded than they really are. So I could listen to songs about death and lost loves and drugs and broken people, and know in my bones that we must all get dirty to feel much of anything. I’m finally old enough now to actually taste some of the weight of that. Sometimes it’s every bit as romantic as I imagined. Most of the time is a thousand times more lonely.”
Writing songs for Martin is a mixture of authenticity, creation, performance and/or experience. “ I think when we hear songs, we can pick up on their authenticity, and then, at that point, and not before, they can take us places. Very lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Justin Townes Earle. When he hits it right, he really hits it right. Harlem River Blues is a fantastic song. When I hear it, I always repeat it a few times before I can let it go. I don’t really dance, but I do dance (some might call it dance) to that song.”
“I don’t sit down to write a song as much as I’m sat down by a song. Songwriting pulls me deep into my head, and teaching drags me back out into the real world.”
The naked emotion captured in his songs accompanied by only the six-strings he plays, puts the listener between this man’s ears and heart. Hearing his songs is a lot like getting a musically guided tour inside the thoughts of a man who is trying to make sense of the world around him. Martin’s songs are easy to listen to and linger over. Songs like “Why Do I” and “Lady Nostalgia” are songs that echo Martin’s desire for clarity in world muddied with emotion.
On the other hand, sometimes songwriting can get a bit tough for Martin. ” Songwriting has always been a really personal thing for me, like a journal of sorts. And sometimes I have to convince myself, remind myself, that getting up on stage and singing about my most internal notions and hurts and joys is a good thing. Sometimes a song will get written that I really like, and then I’ll realize that I have to perform that song. Out loud. For people. That’s when it gets tough.”
Like all musicians who start out there are obstacles to one’s success. Lack of ability, lack of self-esteem, lack of skill are all barriers that each musician must overcome to achieve their goals. For Martin, one such hurdle was stage fright. “I used to get terrible stage fright. But that was back when I was trying to write and perform songs that I thought people (girls) would like me for. It’s terrifying to get up and sing about something that really doesn’t matter to you. When I first started writing songs I might as well have been a robot or a monkey or something. I mimicked what I thought I should do. But the live shows never carried the same feeling I had when I played at 3am alone in my room in the dark, for no one but myself. Then, slowly, I realized that if I allowed myself to slip into that place of caring about what came out of my mouth during a show, my fright went away. I started writing songs that moved me, not what I thought would move anyone else.”
Martin likes to start his live performances now with a song that can that will put him in that place right away. Songs like “Stolen From Them (Gold in the Water)” is just such a song that puts Martin “way back behind my eyes, in the song, and the notes all squeeze in there just as I want them to (mostly), and the words are right there as I call them up (mostly) because they actually matter to me.”
He goes on to explain the being a musician is actually an art in balancing many factors. “The scariest thing me for about chasing music is that music, songwriting, and performing, can be such consuming things. When a song grabs me, it can take hold for a while. I’m very comfortable retreating into myself, and it’s hard for people I love and care about to get to me when I’m there in that place. I guess I fear a lack of balance to some extent. I fear getting to that cliff edge and jumping off, into my self, and existing so much in my own head that I alienate myself from those I love and those who love me.”
For Martin, one of the most difficult aspects of his songs is he feels they don’t accurately reflect his feelings. “In the case of my dog, or people I’m really close with, it’s hard for me to write songs that I feel adequately capture them. I feel like everything I produce is a weak representation of the parts of them I’m trying to sing about.” This contradiction is truly riveting after listening to Martin’s music.
Having celebrated only 26 birthdays thus far Martin hopes to be able to continue with his career. “Continuing can look like many things I suppose, but really I just hope the writing continues well, and that I keep finding places to sing out what I’ve written. I feel so blessed already, to have the opportunities to play when I do.”
This month of August finds Martin playing the Elbo Room in Chicago on the 16th as well as the Sisters Folk Festival on the 19th.