Rebecca Martin: Here, the Same, But Different
RM: It was re-released by EMI Toshiba in Japan. They've included 9 extra tracks to the original record, which are the rough mixes of the second record. It's still hard to find, but it's out there.
AAJ: I saw you guys play in Harvard Square.
RM: Anthony Wilson was on that gig...
AAJ: He's with Diana Krall now, right?
RM: He is. I loved working with him. In Once Blue he was very part-oriented, as well as being a great improviser. He would come up with guitar parts that could define the song. He's a good friend of Jesse's from way back. I believe they met through a connection at Bennington College.
I want to say something about Once Blue, because so often people ask me about it. I'm really proud that I was a part of that music. Once Blue was a definitive moment in my music. Crossing paths and collaborating on a regular basis with Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kenny Wolleson , Jim Black, and Ben Street had a big influence on me. Talk about good timing. With Jesse, I was writing melodies that were uncompromised. And lyrically, what we were coming up with was the most poetic writing I could ever have hoped for. The melodies dictated the lyrics. That is true with my own writing today.
AAJ: That's a different approach than the norm, isn't it?
RM: Everyone has they're own way of doing it. Most of the folks I know are very crafty and have a narrative in mind. I'm driven to express a strong emotion or sentiment. There is a great deal of myself exposed in these songs. I find this provokes what's underneath the surface in us all, which is what I want to achieve. That's when the healing can take place and is the reason that I'm drawn to do this sort of work.
AAJ: Tough to explain but probably the most important thing you've said so far.
RM: Sometimes people ask what a song is about which is really hard to answer for this reason. The inspiration for my songs are for me. The result, I choose to make available on a record for anyone who is interested to hear.
AAJ: Can you talk me through a couple of examples from your new record?
RM: All of them are good examples because they are all written in the same way. I was asked recently what "These Bones are Yours Alone." was about. I decided to turn it around and ask that person what their interpretation was. "Skeletons in the closet?" I thought it was wonderful and quite fresh to my ear, but not my intention. It had never even occurred to me. That is why its source needn't be important to anyone- so long as it's my truth, it can be a universal truth. I want those who listen to have their own relationship to these songs. That is what I mean when I discuss balance in my lyrics. Even though the songs are very personal to me, my overall objective is for the listener to make them into whatever it is they need them to be.
AAJ: Kind of like jazz or instrumental music, all of which involves putting your own thing on it.
RM: That's a wonderful compliment. I don't ever want the lyric to encumber the music.
AAJ: Anything about the musical compositional aspect that you go through-like influences, jazz changes versus pop changes, etc. Do you compose on guitar?
RM: I do it all on guitar and by ear, organizing sections that I think sound good so as to inspire a melody. The band helps in deepening the harmonic and emotional quality. Steve, Bill and I have been working together for such a long time...
AAJ: How'd you meet those guys?
RM: Once Blue brought Steve and I together. Bill and I were in line for at least an hour one night at Small's waiting to hear Kurt's band, with Mark Turner, Ben Street and Jeff Ballard many, many years ago. We had met over the years, but never spent much time together. We decided that night that we really should get together and play. The first session I had with Bill was at his place. He had me hold one note for an entire song! I actually found that work tape recently. I remember thinking, "Does this guy know that I write songs?" But it was a marvelous musical experience. It made me think about tone, breath, intonation as well as how to blend with a collection of instruments. Both Steve and Bill are excellent teachers. Pete Rende, Matt Penman, Ben Monder, Darren Beckett and Dan Rieser have come to the music through mutual friends all at different times. There has never been a methodical thought process in putting people together. But I know that by working with great musicians there will be a beautiful outcome. As you can imagine, being with this stellar group, my ears have had the chance to develop in an intense way.
AAJ: Would you say that perhaps, with some of the tunes you've written before that they've reharmonized or recontextualized, that now, as you go, you're starting to add these elements yourself? To tell you the truth, it's very surprising for me to hear you don't know theory. You're tunes are so hip in so many ways, it just seems to me you would.
RM: It is my ear and the relationship that I've developed with my guitar that I depend on for songwriting. I'm definitely not trying to be hip about it. I explore the guitar for bass lines and build rich harmony around it - so to inspire something challenging melodically for me to sing. The musicians have had a lot of time through performance to flesh out their parts.
AAJ: Every one of them are great composers too.
RM: Yes. So it seems songwriting and putting bands together is a mix of intuition and good fortune. I've witnessed many songwriters hiring folks because they've played on this record or that, and are looking for a similar sound. There aren't any shortcuts in the long process of developing trust and relationships with musicians.
AAJ: Uh, you've assembled a pretty bad-ass posse there.
RM: Thank you.
AAJ: I was surprised to find out you didn't already know McHenry from Maine.
RM: That's right. Ben Street 's from Maine too, but I met him in New York City as well. It's been fun to watch their careers develop, even in some cases from a far. I met Ben Monder through Ben Street many years ago at a birthday dinner. I'd always hoped we'd have the chance to work together, and I'm really happy that we crossed paths recently. He's an amazing player as you know, and one of the brightest guys...
AAJ: A total intellect. A quiet genius. A quiet hilarious genius.
RM: I know that amongst the musicians he's an important part of their diet.
AAJ: I'd say he's an immense figure. You mention his name to anybody who knows his playing, his music, who plays any instrument, their eyes widen! I'd love to be his agent! My problem is I have his number but not the numbers of the people I need to call on his behalf!
RM: T hat's really nice of you to say. I feel the same way. I saw Ben play with Bill's band recently at The Village Vanguard with Paul Motian and Reid Anderson. What Ben was doing that night was just outrageous.
AAJ: I'd say he's the best musician in any band he's in and leave it at that.
RM: The musicians are crucial, though I anticipate playing a few solo performances in the future so to experiment and strengthen the songs and their structure so they and I improve.
AAJ: Have economics ever made you think about that? You could easily pull off a solo gig.
RM: It is a big investment to have a band, but I've never thought of doing it any other way.
AAJ: In the Lillith Fair days, you were always with a band as well?
RM: With Once Blue, yes indeed. We opened a lot of shows for wonderful artists in pretty big theaters. The sound was excellent, though I prefer small rooms. The intimacy of a small place matches the music. The label was paying for us to be on the road, so we did whatever came our way. My favorite tour was opening for Shawn Colvin. That audience was fresh, forward and always growing. There was an energy that was current and exciting, not unlike the Jazz audiences that I, too, am a part of. I'd like to work in front of them with this record, though there's a bit of a prejudice toward female singers I think.
AAJ: C'mon, jazz singers are enjoying a great resurgence.
RM: Yes, it's true, but I'd say it's still tough. Women are encouraged to be as polite and non-threatening as can be in order to have commercial success.
AAJ: Well, you have such your own bag.
RM: I hope this new audience will be open to what I am doing.
AAJ: I can't imagine that they wouldn't. I know they'll be crazy for you.