Jeffrey Martin: Naked and Not So Alone
Back in 2011, when Jeffrey Martin was still living in Eugene I had the opportunity to hear his music for the first time. Nothing fancy, just him and his guitar. Like his stripped down production on his 2009 release of Gold In The Water, Martin’s first full length CD, it was easy to recognize his powerful songwriting skills as well as his ability to articulate a moment in time. Songs like Why Can’t I, Song In My Head, and Change reverberate emotions of a man trying to make sense of the world around him. Here’s a story about that conversation from 3 years go.
Now, lest you think Martin is “some guy” from Eugene who can sing and who moonlights as an English teacher or carpenter by day, it was 2011 when Martin was invited to the Sisters Folk Festival as an emerging artist, returning in 2012 as an officially showcased artist. In fact 2012 proved to be the pivotal year for Martin. Out of hundreds of hopefuls, he was one of the few selected to perform at the NPR Mountain Stage New Song Contest in New York City. Of the contest Martin posted on his Facebook page:
“Official Mountain Stage New Song update: I did not win the contest, BUT I feel like I did in every way. I made it to the final round (which was a huge honor that I totally didn’t expect) It has been such an amazing weekend; great people, invaluable connections, great exposure, publicity. I’m sure many good things will come of this. It’s a step toward some greater things.”
Martin was right on the money. Not only did he go on to tour nationally and perform at such noteworthy folk festivals such as the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival but in addition, his songwriting earned him opening performances with such well-knowns as Anais Michell, Joe Pug, Gregory Alan Iaskov, Sean Hayes, Frank Fairfield and David Wilcox.
In the midst of his 2012 rise, he released an EP Build a Home that revealed some of the changes going on for Martin. For example in the title song he chants the line:
“I’m in love with a woman she makes me want to sing a song. I’m in love with a woman and she makes me want to build a home.”
Noteworthy because of the way Martin articulates his feelings for another, Martin turns his incredibly effective natural melancholy into a song that both gives hope and invokes feelings of longing for what he’s singing about. This marked an increasing level of maturity in both the songwriter and the man. While these words and emotions aren’t yet Kleenex worthy, that would change.
“if I could play guitar half as well as I can write, I’d be wearing nicer pants.”
Martin has a playful side underneath all the pathos. Martins confides:
“On my EP Build a Home I put a hidden track on the end called the Naked Song. If you let the album (or the last song called Build a Home) play another 30 seconds the Naked Song starts. Its a SUPER happy song. And get requested often at shows. On the recording it features my friend Isaac Sturdevant (who recorded it for me) playing rhythm on his shirtless belly. He even gets an album credit.”
THE NAKED SONG
The Naked Song is an ode to the sheer delight that comes from being naked with someone you love.
“There’s something bout you being naked in the morning. Quiet all these voices in my head. Yeah there’s something bout you naked in the morning. Shut my mouth and put me back to bed.”
Right? The snappy tune that accompanies those lyrics I found rattling in my own head for hours after I first heard it.
“To date, The Naked Song “is the happiest song I’ve written” Martin confesses.
I asked Martin how he expresses his happy emotion, as I don’t hear a lot of it in his songs. He explained it like this:
“I played a show a while ago in Sisters, opening for Keith Greeninger. I love Keith and his music, but our styles couldn’t be more different. Basically I brought the room down for 35 minutes and then Keith spent the next hour and a half building people back up until everyone was out of their seats dancing to Stand by Me. After the show a man came up and whispered to me, “I’m like you, serious songs make me happy too.” He walked away and I thought, he’s right. Serious songs, hell, even sad songs, make me happy.
The truth is that I’m deliriously happy to be performing. Always. It’s a feeling that for me transcends normal happiness. It makes me contort my face and body. It’s a deep satisfaction, the feeling of working things out, of capturing moments and experiencing how words take shape and land in a room. For the other kind of happy, the kind that reveals teeth and relieves stress, I wrestle with my dog and go fly fishing and drink beer around a fire while somebody picks on a beat up old guitar.”
FLUFF AND GRAVY
“I first heard Jeffrey play two summers ago at the inaugural Wildwood Music Festival.” Shepski said.
“He opened the festival and I was dumbstruck – completely captivated by his voice and his songwriting. I am a songwriter myself, and turned to my wife and said “this is exactly the kind of *$&*$&#^ that makes me want to stop writing music” meaning that there is just nowhere else to go after hearing Martin’s songs! Shortly after, I was able to meet Jeffrey and we hit it off well together. He started attending a fire pit gathering that we regularly have at the Fluff and Gravy Studio and we developed a mutual admiration for each other’s writing. It was only natural to work together at that point ” Shepski said.
“I felt that I wanted to work with him from the moment I first heard him. Not only does he have that voice and the ability to write a song that will pull you in, but he has a terrific stage presence . He owns the audience from the moment he walks up to the microphone.”
Martin, who had released his music independently up till now explains:
“I teamed up with Fluff and Gravy Records because I love the people who run it, and I respect their integrity and passion for making music. That’s it. They didn’t promise me any money or fame, and they didn’t make me sign any horrible contracts. They don’t make me wear sequined jumpsuits and they aren’t suggesting I change my name to something more catchy like Ocean Malone. They just love my music and told me they wanted to help promote it in every way they can.”
The result of this new relationship was a brand new record: Dogs in the Daylight.
On the road to the new record, Martin claims to have had many deep conversations with his faithful traveling companion, his yellow lab named Ben. You can get a taste via this self-made Youtube video “Dog Miles and Existential Breakdown“. In it Martin tries making sense of the hard questions in life over a conversation with Ben:
“1500 miles, I’ve asked Ben a lot of questions. Just things on my mind and stuff. And I think for awhile, he humored me. Now, it’s just like, he gives me these looks. Or he doesn’t even look at me. He’s just like ‘Jeff, I don’t know the answers to these questions. These are impossible questions. So just leave them be.’ I feel like that’s what he says.”
Still, all the dog miles apparently yielded some valuable insight. Martin explains that the title Dogs in the Daylight comes from the bridge of the title track:
” “All these wolves in the dark are only dogs in the daylight.” Although the album is a serious one, for me it has an optimistic tone, and this one line ties it all together. What I see in the dark is usually inflated by fear of what might be out there.” Martin said.
“This feels like my first real album. When I recorded before I was still trying to settle into my own sound, my own songwriting. This album feels true to me in a way that the others don’t.”
While all of Martin’s music is well recorded and produced, this record definitely has a sound of it’s own. The songs on Dogs effortlessly capitalize on universal themes and successfully bring the audience in. Most listeners will experience the emotions in the music as strongly as if the stories were their own; Martin’s music subtly yet eloquently renders the listener captivated.
“We recorded this album in the basement studio at Fluff and Gravy headquarters, and we recorded almost everything live, meaning I sang and played in the same room as the bass and fiddle, mandolin, etc. It’s my favorite way to record because everyone can feel what everyone else is doing in the moment and the song grabs an energy that it otherwise wouldn’t have.
My friend Sam Howard played upright bass. He’s a wizard. Sometimes I forget how to play my songs because I’m so captivated by what he makes happen on the bass. Anna Tivel played fiddle and mandolin and sang some harmonies. She’s the most intuitive musician I’ve ever known. She’s amazing. My friend Kai Welch, who lives out in Nashville, offered to lay down some trumpet for the title track. And Jody Redifer, the coolest drummer I know, came in and shaped the songs into something I didn’t even know I wanted. It was wild. The multi-talented John Shepski (co owner of Fluff and Gravy) gave some of the tunes their haunting piano chords.” Martin said.
While Martin claims to be very happy, and I do believe he is, the songs on Dogs in the Daylight are packed with such an emotional undertow that I found myself reacting to many of them. One song in particular, Wellspring, wouldn’t let me go. Because of my surprisingly strong response, I asked Martin about it’s roots.
“I honestly don’t know where the song Wellspring came from. It’s like the story had been crafting itself somewhere in my guts for a long time, and then it appeared one night on paper. I’ve been reading a lot of Cormac McCarthy and I think it put me in a mood to write a dark story-song about murder and legacies that we can’t escape. Although I certainly believe we aren’t bound to the mistakes of our parents, I also believe that in some ways we are. There are things that we can’t escape, the cards we’re dealt, the family we’re born into, the consequences of certain actions. I wanted to explore the idea that our actions, our successes and failures, have rippling effects that continue long after we are dead” Martin said.
Draw the Line is another standout track:
“Draw the Line is about addiction and the way it can turn people into strangers. I’ve known a few very good people, good husbands and wives, who allowed their addictions to turn them into people who can’t be recognized anymore. There are always loving people waiting on the outside, wanting so badly to have that person back because they remember how good they used to be. And those people have to decide how much of their own sanity to give to a situation that never seems to change.”
Then there is the song Coal Fire. This song talks about emotions that are subdued and disregarded until such a point when they can no longer be ignored.
““You said I could stay here. Open my chest for you just you to see. All these acres of quiet fire that are burning down in me.”
Truthfully, while I was listening to the songs over and over again, it was like listening to early Bob Dylan …manifestations of a level of emotional intimacy and raw naked sentiment far beyond Martin’s twenty-nine years of circling the sun. As odd as it may sound, Martin’s songs have their own heartbeat, their own world.
The last song on Dogs in the Daylight, is a wonderful song entitled “Grower of Trees” where Martin actually debuts his piano skills.
” I’m sure any real piano players would cringe as they watched me play that song. Some songs just have to be written and played on piano, and that is certainly one of them” Martin said.
As for what the future holds for Martin? He tells me
“I’m already writing the next album. I’ll make and record and play music right up until I die. Lately I’ve been meeting, and getting inspired by all sorts of people who felt compelled to do something, or to live a certain way, and so they did it. So they are doing it. It seems simple, but it’s really rare when you think about it.
I know a young couple with a newborn baby who built a tiny house on a trailer because they felt compelled to. And then they moved to Africa for the same reason. A friend of mine quit working a well paying job in healthcare and became a photographer because he felt compelled to. He is now living in Manhattan and recently sold some old clothes of his to a vintage clothing store so that he could buy groceries for the week. Another friend bought a scroll saw and started cutting out fantastic and odd wooden shapes, the same shapes he’s been doodling for years. They are inexplicably brilliant. An old man became a motorcycle mechanic. It’s funny (tragic) how much we choose not to do because we can’t find the logic in doing it.”
Finding an answer to the question “what are you not doing because you can’t find the logic in it”, was a bit of a tougher question for him to answer.
“Absolutely there are things I should be doing, should have done. I’ll battle that for my entire life. I think everyone does. The trick is to keep wrestling with it I think. Currently I’ve been putting off taking a motorcycle fly-fishing trip up through Montana, Canada, and into Alaska. I’ll do it soon. Really.” Martin said.
When he does go on that fly-fishing trip you can count on Martin having a pencil and paper handy as well as his 1970’s Takamine guitar, gifted to him by his uncle when he was young. The same guitar he has written every single one of his songs on except one: the Dogs in the Daylight song Grower of Trees. He wrote that on piano. That guitar is still the only guitar he plays to this day.
THE NEW ALBUM DEBUT
On August 2nd, 2014 at the Unity of the Valley Church, Martin debuts his new album, Dogs in the Daylight released on the Fluff and Gravy Records label out of Portland. Anna Tivel will be opening with a set of her songs as well. Show starts at 7pm with a $10 suggested donation at the door.
Jeffrey Martin is a singer/songwriter whose songs capture moments in time that strike the emotional chords within all of us that causes the lump in the throat and eyes to tear. His songs capture an unadulterated raw emotional intimacy that each of us, as human beings experience, but to whom few can articulate, let alone capture in a song.
– Nancy Glass
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