Martha Davis on the web:
Clean Modern & Reasonable
I Have My Standards:
CEV talks to Martha Davis of The 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
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
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.