Talks with Martha Davis of The Motels

 

Martha Davis

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The Motels

 

This

 

Beautiful Life

 

Clean Modern & Reasonable

 

Little Robbers

 

Essential Motels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CEV:  When you look back at the beginning of your interest in music what do you remember as a deciding factor that motivated you to become a singer/songwriter/musician?

MD:  I began playing guitar when I was eight. I would sit in my room and make up little melodies for hours. My guitar always  provided safe haven when anything  bothered  me.  At fifteen  I had my first child and moved to Tampa Florida to become an Air Force wife. It was there, in our very small house, very far from home, I wrote my first songs. But the deciding factor in my decision to attempt music professionally, was probably my moms suicide. After her death I found her diary. I read of her desire to be a writer. How she abandoned her art to be a proper wife and mother. How she ended up alone and heartbroken, and how sad her life was. I realised that even though I was mother of two and doing music was about as crazy an idea as I could come up with, if I didn't try, there was a possibility things could be worse. She was responsible for me doing music, it's the great gift that she left me. The album I released last year titled "A Beautiful Life" (a slight miscalculation) is for her.

CEV:  How was it that you learned to play? Formal training or self taught and what are the benefits and drawbacks of each one?

MD:  I was taught my first guitar cords A, E, and D, by my baby sitter Thelton Henderson, (check wikipedia, there is also a great documentary about him called Soul of Justice). I learned the cords he taught me and how to put them together to make songs. The first song we played together was "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley"  From that point on I taught myself.  There are pros and cons to formal vs self taught methods. I'm kind of sad that I can't read music. But sadder than that is a brilliant player who can read anything placed in front of them, and yet not be able to improvise a note.

CEV:  How did you go about distinguishing yourself from all the other artists out there who also wanted to be successful with their music? In other words how did you go about creating a sound that eventually could be identified as the "Martha Davis" sound?

MD:  More than any thing I think writing creates character and distinguishes an artist. I think the uniqueness of an artist is not just vocal styling but story. I have always loved singer/songwriters, I guess I'm just a sucker for that first hand information.

CEV:  Tell me about some of your first gigs and what you learned about performing in front of a live audience. Was it something that you enjoyed?

MD:  My very first was probably the best. Halloween night, San Francisco 1971. I was scared shitless. did not want to go on.  Then about 30 seconds before we were supposed to go on  I snapped, changed into someone else... We went on, I started stalking the stage, staring into peoples eyes, (something I could not do in real life), dropping down on my knees, acting completely crazy. Being on stage unleashed the beast, and I loved it! Also there was a naked man painted blue dancing in front of me.

CEV:  Where did the idea of forming a band come from and how did you go about doing that?

MD:  I did not form the original band. The band was pretty much together, they only needed a singer. The bass player, my friend Lisa calls me and says, "you say you want to do music, well I got a band and we have a gig in three days!" ( Halloween 1971)

CEV:  The Warfield Foxes became the Motels somewhere along the line so what was it precipitated this name change and why call the group The Motels?

MD:  The  "Warfield Foxes" moved to L.A. in 1975, the name was changed to the "Angels of Mercy". I didn't much care for the name and started griping. We were on our way to our first gig at Barney's Beanery. We were driving down Santa Monica Blvd where all the old motels used to be. As I was complaining Dean Chamberlain looks up at the signage and says " What about the Motels?" The rest is the rest.

CEV:  The Motels have been through quite a few incarnations over the years. I'm not sure all of the readers will have been familiar with all of them so could you give us a capsule view of the changes up to your current working group? Why all of the changes over the years?

MD:  I probably could not give you the line up changes for my entire career. During the Capitol years it was mostly guitar players. First Jeff Jourard then Tim MC Govern then Guy Perry. In the nineties there were so many changes I don't remember them all. Bottom line having a great line up is not easy. there are many factors. 1. musicianship  2. personality 3.  reliability  4. availability  and many other subtler factors.  I am pleased to say I now have a great lineup in L.A.  Eric Gardner on drums, Clint Walsh on  guitar,  Nick Johns on keys, and Jon Siebels on bass. I am also working on a North West line up.... never enough!

CEV:  As a woman in the music business what kinds of additional challenges did you face that were not faced by your male counterparts? How did you deal with this inequity then and possibly now?

MD:  I really do not feel like I suffered from being female, not in the music business anyway. I am a firm believer that if your art is good your gender does not matter. Now days I think ageism is more of a problem. A lot of artists will improve with age, yet the media seems fixated on  the belly button of the  young.

CEV:  The Motels were the beneficiaries of the video generation and of the push that MTV used to be able to give to artists looking to get the maximum exposure for their music. Some musicians didn't care for videos because it locked the song into a single visual interpretation. How do you feel about the videos that helped to bring the Motels' music into the spotlight?

MD:  I really loved making videos, and worked with some of the best, Russell Mulcahey and  David Fincher, among others.  It is true that videos have that arguable quality of 'fixing images', not allowing the imagination full rein over the music. It's very much like the book vs the movie syndrome.... but I do miss the old days when you could actually watch  videos on MTV.

CEV:  Do you think that with the advent of YouTube, MySpace pages and the Internet in general that videos are still a powerful tool in your promotional arsenal? Are you intimately involved with creation the look and feel of your videos or does that fall into the hands of the video director? If the director determines the course of the video how does that work out between the two of you so you are involved as well?

MD:  I am currently not making any videos, but there will most likely be some blogging going on. I was always very involved with the videos,sometimes  even  storyboarding them.  It was great collaborating with the directors, especially David and Russell.

CEV:  I know that as artists get older they want to keep their original fans but they still want to appeal to the younger listeners as well. How is it that you create the next generation of Martha Davis fans? How is it that you tune into the vibes of the next generation so that your music will appeal to them as well?

MD:  You have just asked the million dollar question! I try to surround myself with younger people, from band, to behind the scenes people, engineer, assistant etc. I've  always felt  more comfortable  with  the  'new generation' probably because I refuse to grow up! The other means to a new audience is through film and television which I'm also working on. Bottom line I think your stuff has to be cool!

CEV:  I know sometimes fans lose track of a group over the years when they are not getting the same amount of publicity that they used to get but that doesn't mean you as an artist have quit playing music. Over the last few years The Motels have reappeared in a large way. Tell me about what The Motels have been up to recently and the several new CD's that have come out.

MD:  I have been working my ass off, both with Motels and without. In 2007 I recorded three new albums "Beautiful Life", "This", and "Clean, Modern, and Reasonable".I also scored a pilot for a TV show with my engineer and co/producer  Matthew  Morgan. We  were on a reality show "High School Reunion" Shot in Hawaii for a day. I made two trips to Australia, one week for promo, and a month long tour, with a bunch of domestic gigs as well.  2008 has been even crazier, but in a different way. Lots of gigs, collaborations,  (look for a new artist, Kennon Bell, we have a sweet collaboration.) I have also taken over managing myself and am in the process of starting an artist resort, studio, bed and breakfast crazy thing called, KeeperTown. Plus other projects new and old that I'm trying to finish.

CEV:  Has your music evolved over the years from what it used to be when you released Only the Lonely to what you are playing now?

MD:  Yes I think my music has matured, but in a way that makes it fresher, if that makes any sense.

CEV:  Do you miss the fame that went along with your hits back in the 80's?

MD:  Not at all!! It's my least favorite part of the business.

CEV:  Tell  me about the current personnel lineup of The Motels and how you came together?

MD:  It started when my ex and I went to see Wayne Kramer. He had this awesome drummer, Eric Gardner, my ex who was also my manager at the time says,"you've got to play with that guy". So Eric became my drummer. Next we needed a bass player. We asked this one guy but he couldn't do it so he sent his friend Clint Walsh. He was a cool bass player, but a better guitar player (his real instrument) so he went to guitar and we still needed a bass player. Enter Nick Johns. Nick is also a great bass player, but an amazing keyboard player, so Nick went to keyboards, (his  main instrument), and we still needed a bass player! Along comes Jon Seibels, a great bass player, as well as guitar, drums you name it. The fact of the matter is these guys can all play everything, and play it all very well!  The funniest part is , the one guy who didn't join as a bass player Eric, the drummer is becoming quite a good bass player. ...go figure

CEV:  Comparing what you are writing now with The Motels with what you wrote back in the 80's what kinds of differences in subject matter do you see yourself covering?

MD:  I think the subject matter is pretty much the same, the thing that is different is that I freed my muse. In the old days I pretty much wrote Motels songs, but somewhere in the 90's I decided to branch out. Country, Jazz, Children's songs, Musicals,  Not a lot has been published yet,  but at some point  I'm sure it will.

CEV:  Have your fans from the 80's followed your music into 2008? Who are you seeing "finding" The Motels in terms of current fans here in 2008?

MD:  Definitely  the die hard fans have never gone anywhere. That said,  I am currently trying to expand the fan base to a younger demographic. At the shows we've  been playing  the new music has been going over great with new and old fans alike.

CEV:  Are you happy with where you are at with The Motels right now in terms of your music and your career?

MD:  Couldn't be happier!

CEV:  It's a brave new world for artists in 2008 compared to the 80's. How do you use the Internet to keep in touch with your fans, distribute your music and promote it?

MD:  We're putting together a vast inter network of fantastic new technology... just kidding I just started emailing this year. I'm doing my best to join the rest of the planet, but that's always been difficult for me.

CEV:  I'm about your age so I have seen the drastic shift that has taken place in the music industry in the last 25 or 30 years. Do you think that the major labels are going to survive this transition to new forms of distribution or have they seen their better days? Why?

MD:  I think it may be over for the record labels. There are already new label less record deals starting to emerge. It's possible some of the old majors could figure it out, I'm just not sure they'll do it in time. Sadly the record labels you and I knew have been gone a long time.

CEV:  Any thoughts as to where you'd like to see your music go in the next few years?

MD:  I would just like to see it out there in any shape or form. Film and television would be great. A nice IPod commercial would do wonders to support my thrift store habit.

CEV:  With Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney still going strong do you see yourself playing your music until you are unable to pick up your guitar anymore?

MD:  On stage or not I will continue to do music..... I can't not!

CEV:  And finally is there anything else you'd like to say to your fans who have stuck with you throughout the years?

MD:  Thank you all for your support over the years. I'm excited about the  future. There will be lots of new projects, plenty of new music, and if we're real lucky a brand new Democratic administration and filibuster proof congress...Amen

CEV: Thanks Martha for taking the time to talk to us here at Cutting Edge Voices and it is nice to see that some artists continue doing what they love to do when others have abandoned the path and gone on to sell insurance or something. Good luck for as long as you decide to sing your songs.