Interview with Kevin Martin from Candlebox
Candlebox shook the Earth when they dropped their seminal self-titled album in 1993. As Maverick Records’ first commercially successful act, the Seattle quintet had a meteoric rise to fame, amazing their fans with super loud, high-energy live shows and hit-filled releases. Kevin Martin’s powerfully unique voice, heavy, melodic guitars, and rock solid rhythm made them media darlings for many years.
But the rigors of the music industry took their toll. The grunge rock scene began to take a back seat to Pop Music and, due to conflicts with their Major label, the group went on hiatus in 2000. But the allure to perform is a force to be reckoned with, and the group reunited in 2006, performing for eager fans anxious to catch the group again, for the first time.
Their latest release, “Love Stories and Other Musings,” just hit the market, and Candlebox has made their way back to Syracuse once again! I got a chance to sit down with Kevin Martin prior to their triumphant return to the 315, almost 18 years after my first performance by the group at Landmark Theatre.
G- Hi Kevin and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! It’s been quite a while since you’ve played Syracuse… How is everything going and what the hell has kept you?!
KM- (laughs) Everything’s going great, man! I don’t know what’s kept us… Probably our agent.
We released a record in 2008 (“Into The Sun”) and I think that was a great record for us as a return album, 10 years after the date of “Happy Pills.” But you know, the industry is so different now and a way for a band to keep themselves relevant… There’s no MTV, Radio is almost an entirely dying breed, which is unfortunate. So we’ve kind of tried to have our own way of getting out there, and a lot of times it’s just basically word of mouth. It’s the hardest thing about what we do now as an independent artist.
Last time we played Syracuse, we played that little club… I can’t remember what it is called?
KM- Yea, which was great! We had a lot of fun and I remember we walked down the street to a bar afterwards and played some pool and had some drinks, and had a good time. But, it’s such a different marketplace for bands. For us, it’s really been trying to rebuild and re-establish this band in a media frenzied, World Wide Web kind of atmosphere, which is not easy.
G- Yea the digital space is pretty much changing everything, especially with tangible product going the way of the buffalo, with the exception of vinyl which has seen some resurgence, but no where near enough to sustain the market that once was.
So, for fear of being slightly redundant, something I’ve always wanted to ask… Candlebox has been a group since 1990. When did everyone meet and what was your first performance like? Where was the show and how did it go?
KM- Scott and I actually started the band in 1990, and it was called Uncle Duke, and when Pete joined in 1991, we changed the name to Candlebox. I met Scott at my 16th birthday party. When I was 19 years old I ran into him again, and a friend of ours named Rick Vaughn was doing some demos and said to come down and jam on it.
Rick left in Spring of 1991 and we got a phone call from our friend Kelly Gray, who Scott had worked with back in the metal days of Seattle. Kelly said he had a buddy named Pete who was a great guitar player, so Pete came down to the studio and the first day he came down we wrote “Change,” “Cover Me,” and “Pull Away.” So that was kind of an exciting moment for us.
G- Good first practice!
KM- Yea it really was. We had this bass player friend of ours named Perry who would show up and jam with us, and then we kind of got real serious that Summer and we got rid of Perry and hired my buddy Barty from high school.
Our first show was in a friend’s basement. I think everybody in the house was on acid… We probably were as well. I don’t really remember it, but I do every time I drive by that house on I-5 in Seattle headed north to the studio. I see it and I think that was our first show… Summer of 1991.
G- “Love Stories and Other Musings” was just released, and it is as strong as ever. How do you feel this record compares to your previous releases? Is this a return to form for the band, or did you find yourselves experimenting in the studio a bit?
KM- I think it’s our best record to date. You know, people always talk about your first record you have your whole life to make, your second record you have 2 years, whatever. I think, with this album, we’ve gone through so much as a band, and we’ve grown so much as musicians, that we’ve really found the exact place that we’ve always wanted to be, musically. We just never really knew we were going to get there.
We’ve always written the heavy songs in 6 and that kind of rock song, like “Arrow,” which you have on this record with “Youth in Revolt” and “Life Like Song”… They’re there, but they’re more poignant I think, and they are a little more focused. They’re not so much parts thrown together to make a song.
Candlebox was always kind of a jam band in how we wrote. This time, we actually wrote the songs, and wrote parts out and discussed where they were going to fit. We weren’t totally prepared, but we knew which direction we were going and we ended up dropping 3 of the songs we were going to record and wrote 3 new ones in the studio. I think, as a band, we are better than we’ve ever been, and this record is a reflection upon that.
It’s a reality check, I think, for us. We always hoped this would be the band that we would become, and here we are. I wish we had done this in 1996 or 1997, when we had better opportunities and more money available to us from the labels. All we can hope for now is that people are responsive to the record and they’ll tell friends about it, and we can have some sort of growth with this album.
G- Since you’re currently touring “Love Stories…” How has the response been on this current tour? Are fans digging the new output?
KM- The songs are going over great! We put 5 songs in the set every night and that’s been great. For me, when I would always go to shows, I hoped the bands would play new stuff. I would also hope that they would play my favorites, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re putting the new songs in the sets that fit just perfectly with the old stuff. It’s kind of an extension of the 2, 3, an 4th Candlebox records. I don’t know why, but it just seems to be fitting correctly (laughs)
G- (Laughing) That’s good! That’s what we like! So ping ponging a little with history… You guys made Maverick Records… Candlebox made Maverick Records a real success, and you had some internal struggles with the label that contributed to the group’s hiatus. Music industry bullshit is music industry bullshit… How has the transition been from Major to Indie label?
KM- Meteoric rise to meteoric decline? It’s been difficult, man. When you start a band, you can only hope for the best. And when you get the best, you want to keep it. When the best goes away, you want it back.
It’s humbling, it’s grounded us, it’s made us better friends and closer as friends and musicians. And I think what it’s ultimately done is made us hungry again. I think that, a lot of times… You know, we didn’t ask for the success that we got… It just so happened that we wrote a song that, I think, everybody in the world kind of understood, and it was exploited that way by the labels. Unfortunately, that is what their job is. For us, we weren’t prepared for it, and it hurt our growth as artists.
I think that, now, knowing what we know and knowing what we’ve done and accomplished, we’re prepared for if it happens again and if lightning strikes twice. We’ll know better what to do with it and better how to handle it… Letting the manager control the direction of the band rather than the label controlling the direction of the band, because a lot of times that is what happens.
We had an opportunity to open for the Page/Plant tour in 1995 when they did that acoustic tour. They asked us to open up, and our manager at the time turned it down, which we didn’t know about. We were fucking pissed (laughs). That’s never going to happen again with Jimmy and Robert, but hopefully somebody of that level says “Guys… Come out on the road with us for an acoustic tour.”
G- Oh man… Your manager was a fucking idiot! We’re gonna stop this conversation… Anyways, “Stand,” off of your “Into The Sun,” charted very quickly after its release, and I think a lot of people were surprised at its rapid success. Now, “Believe In It” is also charting… As a band that rose to fame during the grunge years, what was it like to get the news that a new track had that type of impact.
KM- We had hoped for that. Unfortunately, the label we were signed to wasn’t prepared for it, and as quickly as it gained the traction, it lost the traction. That’s kind of the name of the game, nowadays… If the labels that you’re signed to and the people that you are working with aren’t prepared, it comes quick and it goes just as quickly.
G- But at the same time, there’s not too many bands can say that every single album they’ve written and recorded has charted… After all these years, especially with the ever-changing and super-touchy music industry and commercial genre preference, how does Candlebox maintain its momentum and attachment with their fans?
KM- Our fans are rabid, and they’re great. They’re great people and they’ve never left us, which is fucking awesome… They’re solid, and I think when they find Candlebox music, they love to tell other people about it, which is great for us because it means they are loyal, and that they love us for what we do, have grown with us over the years, and they are going to continue to grow with us.
And it’s only because we write honest music. We never tried to write something that wasn’t us. When I wrote “Baby Love” on this record, I wrote it at 4:30 in the morning, and I was nervous as hell because it woke me up. I was nervous to play it for the guys, because I didn’t know how they were going to take the song because it is such a different song for us. But the more I think about it, it’s like “Blossom,” It’s like those sides of Candlebox that I had forgotten about. It’s an extension of us.
G- What do you think is Candlebox’s craziest show to date? We all know you conquered Woodstock 1994 on the main stage, but are there any other shows that particularly stand out as grandiose, excessively rowdy, or otherwise highly memorable? Where were they and what were they like?
KM- That’d be Madison Square Garden with Rush, just because… That’s the garden! You’ve basically gone to heaven at that point. That was in 1994. And I would also say touring Europe with Henry Rollins in 1994. Every single one of those shows was eye opening for us.
I mean… My first concert was Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, and Butthole Surfers in Texas when I was 13 years old. So when I had the opportunity to tour with Henry Rollins, it was fucking mind-boggling, man! I mean… I didn’t talk to the guy because I was star struck, and at the end of the tour at the last show, he was like ‘Why haven’t you said anything to me?’ I told him the story, and that he was the reason I sing. I told him everything about the show and he was like ‘Oh yea!” You know how he is… He remembers EVERYTHING. He remembered that show, and we ended up talking for like 2.5 hours. So those 2 instances, for me, were like ‘Wow… I really made it!’
And of course when the Flaming Lips toured with us in 1994, that was something that we really wanted. When they accepted, we were stoked! They blew us away every night, and they are such a great band. I mean, look at them now… They were destined for that greatness, and we have an opportunity to say those guys opened for us, and we did a great tour with them. Those things will always be in our mind as some of the greats. And that K-Rock-A-Thon we played back in 2006 when we first came back was awesome as well… When you come back and 15,000 people know your songs, you can’t beat it!
G- Lastly, for all of the up and coming musicians and the kids out there that have the dream… What advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands out here in Syracuse, in NYS, and everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
KM- Work really, really hard. Be honest with yourself about where you’re at as a musician, as an artist, as an engineer. Don’t portray yourself as something you are not… You’ll get there, just work really, really hard.
As quick as Candlebox rose, we all worked really hard to get where we are at… Spent YEARS playing, and all of your favorites bands worked hard to get there… It didn’t happen overnight, so just understand that. Just be honest with yourself. Just because your friends says you’re awesome doesn’t mean you are. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘What am I doing and where am I going, and how soon do I want to get there.
Have a realistic dream. It’s great to dream, but it’s fucking hard work, and be patient.