“Rock n’ roll is sex,” Jeff Martin pronounces, sprawled across a dark leather couch in his loungeroom. “Rock n’ roll is that rhythm, it’s that beat, it’s that primal thing.” He leans forward to pick up his almost empty glass of red wine and for a short second, we both ponder that idea, the idea that rock n’ roll goes deeper than how you see it on a stage, deeper to a level you can’t get to on your own. It’s an interesting thought, one which halts proceedings somewhat, and so we step outside to smoke a cigarette and watch the rain and we talk about fishing.
I was supposed to meet Jeff Martin – iconic frontman for Canadian rockers, The Tea Party, solo artist, frontman for The Armada and now, Jeff Martin 777 – at the pub, but as I mentioned, it began raining and so we’re at his place, which is exactly as I thought it would be as I drove over. Dark wood, sloping ceilings, exotic instruments scattered around the room, eastern music emanating quietly from an unseen stereo. Martin himself is bandana-ed, ripped-jeaned and cowboy booted. He may come across as a rock n’ roll parody, but I’ve met him a number of times, and he is, in fact, the real thing.
We’re talking about his latest in a long line of projects, the aforementioned Jeff Martin 777. In a nutshell, Martin left The Tea Party (not on the best of terms with now former bandmates, Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatwood) in late 2005. He struck out in solo guise (for which he regularly employed a tabla player), releasing the sublime Exile & the Kingdom in 2006. He then teamed up with Irish drumming sensation, Wayne Sheehy, to form The Armada (whose eponymous record appeared in 2008), a move which saw him pick up his Les Paul for the first time since leaving The Tea Party. This move heralded bigger things to come, for now with 777, we see Jeff Martin squarely back where he belongs; fronting a rock n’ roll band, backed by bassist, J Cortez and drummer, Malcolm Clark; a move which seems destined to have happened.
“Yeah, I’d say destiny is definitely on the cards,” he muses. “J joined The Armada three quarters of the way through, but I’ve known Malcolm since the mid-‘90s, that’s when we became friends…but definitely destiny, because I tell you, the three of us, even though this band is still in its infancy, so to speak, the way that the band is coming off live, it would seem like this band has always been together.” Martin and 777 have already completed a 21-date tour of his native Canada, promoting the group’s debut release, The Ground Cries Out, and it seems it’s a unit that’s clicked into place almost immediately. I ask Martin how easily he was able to slip into the band dynamic after being so long from the fold.
“Well, I think it was easy for them, but for me it took about four shows in Canada…we’re not talking about starting again, because of my past…but it took me three or four shows over there to really get my wings back,” he explains. “[It took me that long] to understand that behind me is a rhythm section that rivals any rhythm section in the world as far as rock n’ roll is concerned, so I don’t have to think about that anymore, I just have to think about this, and go, I can experiment again. It’s so liberating.”
Liberating is a word which leaps quickly to mind when listening to The Ground Cries Out. It’s a record which begs to be played loud and it’s a record which crosses a range of styles; from the bluesy ‘Queen Of Spades’ to the chugg-and-grind of ‘1916’ to the reflective nature of ‘Blue Mountain Sun’, it’s certainly not a record that sticks to any one formula. “Well, when I look back, my favourite Led Zeppelin record is Houses Of The Holy or Physical Graffiti,” he says in explanation. “A lot of people think of Zeppelin and think of Zeppelin II, there’s a formula running through that, and I love it.
“But for me, where the band shines is when they really show off all of their influences and yet there’s a cohesive thread running through albums like Houses Of The Holy,” he goes on. “So I want people to listen to The Ground Cries Out as an album, not a concept album, but there is the intention of me taking you on a sonic journey, there’s a top and there’s a tail and every song has its place, I really do take a lot of time and care and effort to…keep the flow going.” There is a flow, and as I suggest to Martin, that no matter how eclectic the record is stylistically, that flow is pure, unadulterated rock n’ roll. The Ground Cries Out is a rock n’ roll album.
“Yeah, and the reason is Malcolm Clark,” Martin emphasises. “He’s the anchor, there’s that drum sound that is the tie between all the songs, much like Houses Of The Holy or whatever, he’s got his own approach…all I did as producer and engineer, I just captured the animal without. And I do mean animal, because when I’m sitting in the control room watching Mal play, it’s John Bonham, Keith Moon and Animal from the Muppets.”
The Ground Cries Out is the band, particularly Martin who has nothing to prove, having fun. It’s uplifting yes, but it’s also joyous and it’s Martin finding his second distinctive voice after The Tea Party. Rock n’ roll is sex and it’s primal and raw, and Jeff Martin is at the coalface of such ideas, and despite the fact he’s been quoted as saying he “doesn’t have to do this anymore”, he’s also been quoted as saying, “…but I want to do it more than ever before.” Rock n’ roll, my friends, is in good hands.
Samuel J. Fell