Kevin Martin of Candlebox
When frontman Kevin Martin received the call letting him know that Rhino Records was releasing a Candlebox Greatest Hits album, it set the wheels in motion. After speaking to the rest of the original line-up they decided to make the most of the opportunity and hit the road in support of it. With six million records sold worldwide over their career, it had been many years since Candlebox had even existed in any way, shape, or form. What would the reaction be?
From the moment they hit the stage Kevin described it as riding a bike. When music is your livelihood, it’s not hard to pick right up where you left off. While each member had pursued other musical endeavors over the years, playing as Candlebox had to feel like coming home to each of them. Could they really do it all again? With a successful tour under their belt and currently in the middle of another one, the answer is a big, loud YES! Fans are showing up en masse to relive the songs that defined Candlebox as one of the stand out artists of 90s and the Candlebox of today doesn’t disappoint – serving up all the hits on a delicious musical platter. With their new songs intertwined with old songs, there’s not a a soft spot in the set. The songs are as relevant today as they were they day they were written and there’s no place better to see living proof of that than on stage night after night.
Lead singer Kevin Martin, who never stopped making music, sat down with TWRY to discuss the Candlebox of old and new as well as what the future holds for this project.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | August 2007
So for a few years you sort of went off on your separate ways and were involved in a lot of side projects, what was it that brought you back together as Candlebox?
With this best of record that came out last year, Rhino Records called us and told us they were going to release a best of cd and wanted to know if we were interested in picking the songs. I called up Pete and said hey they’re doing this best of record and we haven’t done anything in seven years, do you want to go out and tour? He said yeah, when are you coming up. I told him I’d be in town for Christmas and we could get together for some coffee and to talk about it and that was it, that was the catalyst. We had so much fun touring last year that we started writing a new record and we were going to try to get it out early this year but then we got sidetracked. Bardi got his law degree, passed the bar. He’s actually not touring with us now.
Oh he’s not?
No he took a job at a human rights law firm. Half of The Hiwatts are actually out with us. So yeah, we had so much fun that we decided to come out and tour with these new songs we have and make sure that’s the direction we want to go. The audience is liking them so I guess we know what we’re making.
So the greatest hits album came directly from the label it wasn’t even your idea?
Nope. It never is, bands don’t say “Hey we’ve got greatest hits.”
Yeah, good point.
When you first got back together was it a temporary thing or did you plan on touring extensively and recording a new album?
I think that a couple of us probably were just thinking that we could go out and make some money over the summer, that wasn’t me. My whole existence is music, regardless of whether it’s Candlebox or the Hiwatts so for me it was a perfect opportunity to restart a band that I had started fifteen years earlier. That’s been my concept since day one, to put this band back together in its entirety and go out and make records and continue to do this. We don’t have to deal with a label anymore.
Right, you’re doing it all yourself…
Yeah, and that was the catalyst to the breakup of the band was the bullshit that went on with Maverick so now we don’t have to deal with any of that. We don’t have to owe anyone anything but ourselves and our fans. They are the ones that make it worthwhile and that’s what we do what we do.
Did you stay in touch during your hiatus?
Yes, every time I went to Seattle I’d go and hang out with Bardi, Scott and Peter.
So what was that first moment like when you guys were all back onstage together as a band?
It was pretty awesome. Honestly it’s like riding a bike or a nice comfortable pair of pajamas. It’s just perfect.
It felt like no time had passed?
No, none at all really. It’s funny, the Hiwatts, for me, my side project was very much like Candlebox is now. We don’t owe anyone anything, we do what we want, it’s a revolving group of friends that make music with the Hiwatts and it’s a revolving group of friends that tour with Candlebox. With Candlebox the only difference is that there’s the solid which is Pete, Scott and myself but it’s still the same fun now that it was always suppose to be.
So what is the status of the Hiwatts?
We actually have a new record in the can that’s probably going to come out early next year. I don’t really focus on it, it’s kind of like a fun thing. There are a couple of guys in the band who are chomping at the bit who want to tour. The record is done though. Tympanic Records is the label I started so we’ll put it out there and throw it against the wall and see if it sticks kind of thing.
So let’s talk about the new Candlebox album. I know there were some working titles, have you decided on one yet?
You know we have some working titles?
How do you know that?
I read it online, you know everything you read online is fact. There was one..
Play the movie?
Yeah that’s it!
That’s the closest we’ve got to any real title now. Picking album titles is always a strange thing because it doesn’t come to fruition until you have the record done. It’s like a painting (pointing to the one hanging above my head), it’s got some Cottonwoods, it’s in a field, it’s got this darkness to it, its dusk, or maybe it’s..you really have to look at it and listen to it and come up with a title. I think that’s what we’ll end up doing. Play the Movie just represents the direction the band has gone and the story that we’ve had to tell up until now.
How close are you to finished? What is the anticipated release date?
We’ve got twelve songs, we’ve got six that are solid and that we’re sure we’re going to put on the record. We’ve got to write probably about another five or six while we’re out here on the road and we’ll start the album in September. We were ready to go, but we kept writing and when you hit that stride you don’t want to stop. We’ve scrapped almost eight songs.
I’ve read where the album is being called politically charged – do you think that fits and can you tell me what that really means to you?
Well, there are politics in everything. Unfortunately it’s like saying that all Seattle bands are grunge bands. Politics represents the relationship between you and me and your relationships with friends your relationship with the environment, there’s always some sort of political energy that you have to deal with on a level that you may not want to deal with. This record is very politically charged by what’s going on in the world. I’m not afraid to say that because it’s going to effect record sales like a lot of bands are. I don’t know if you read the article in Rolling Stone about all these bands have these political songs about the state of the government but none of them are willing to stand up and say yes this song is absolutely a song against the administration. The bottom line to them is how many records they are going to sell and they don’t want to turn off people. I don’t give a fuck. My opinion is my opinion. You can take it or leave it, it doesn’t matter to me, it’s about the music and if you don’t like what I have to say then don’t listen, and that’s where I come from.
So, with that in mind – this is something that always interests me with bands that do hold a strong political view, would you keep it within the music or are you someone that would get up on stage and speak your political mind?
Absolutely. If you give me a fucking soapbox I’m going to get on it. I will tell you though that these are MY opinions, but please pay attention to the things that you are missing. You can go as far back as you possibly can to the existence of man and find how politics and greed have altered the world for the worst. Every single time, it’s not about the people, it’s always about them. It’s funny, I watched Apocolypto yesterday for the first time, and I saw it in the film. I saw exactly what Mel Gibson was trying to do. This guy standing up there cutting peoples heads off for the Gods, because it was about power. It was about instilling that fear in the people so that you can do the things you want to do. The reason that their lands were drying up and that their crops were plagued was that everyone they were killing they were throwing into a ravine. There’s a scene where there’s hundreds of thousands of bodies just rotting in the sun. There’s a metaphor in there, the imagery is the metaphor as to what’s happening in the world, we are killing ourselves and we’re allowing our government to do it.
But don’t you think that those things get lost on a lot of people?
Absolutely. People don’t want to educate themselves. There is an enormous amount of stupid people out there, incredibly stupid people.
Yeah, I’d have to agree. Okay, interesting. So years ago you were sometimes called a grunge band, do you think that was just more of a result of being from Seattle rather than an actual reflection of the music, because I’ve never really considered your sound as grunge?
Yeah, we’re just a rock band. Grunge I think was a term that was misused because it represented an image rather than a sound, in my opinion. That’s why it became fashionable. We all had long hair and Seattle was really cold and wet so we wore flannel and we wore thermals under our fucking pants because it’s cold as fuck up there. That’s the way it is and it’s always wet, Doc Martins are the only shoes that are waterproof and that’s why you wear them. That was the problem with it. Alice in Chains was a metal band, they were not a grunge band. Soundgarden is a metal band, they’ve always been a metal band and everyone in Seattle called them a metal band. There are times that you could say that Candlebox is a bit metal because I go into the higher range with my voice and hoot and holler like a banshee. It’s just the wrong term. The nice thing about it was it allowed us an audience that maybe we would never had reached. It was a bad scene to be lumped into from a media perspective but not from an audience perspective.
How was the writing process for you being that you haven’t written together in awhile, did it just come naturally?
Pete and I write the songs. In the early days Bardi wrote quite a bit but it’s easy for him to get distracted. Pete and I really focused a lot of our time towards writing the records and the right songs.
So is Bardi officially out of the band now?
I believe so…yeah..he’s not coming back anytime soon. He took a job and he’s making a lot more than he would make on tour.
Yeah and he worked really hard for it..
Yeah Human Rights, I respect him for it and God Bless him for it. Like we were just talking about, there’s politics in everything and that’s something that gets looked over every single day.
So Human Rights law, what exactly does that entail as far as practicing it?
Here’s an example of how it would work. Let’s say you are Sudanese and you get raped by an American diplomat over there. You cannot sue there, you do not have any rights there. You don’t have any rights to sue that American diplomat. Or vice versa, if you’re American and you go over there and get injured by a Sudanese. If you were to come over here as a Sudanese and find that guy, and serve that guy, you can sue him for what he did to you there because he harmed you in a different country. That’s human rights law. A lot of the things going on in Guantanamo Bay, that’s all human rights laws and it’s all protected by the Geneva Convention. And Bardi has always been a deep deep human being and he’s very sincere about it. He’s always been for the underdog and I respect him so much for that. It was really hard to make that decision to tell him he couldn’t do this with us because he wasn’t focused enough. He needed to do what he’s doing, he just paid eighty thousand dollars for college, don’t waste your time in a band.
You’ve given us a taste of the new album on your myspace page by streaming the songs Stand and Surrendering. Can you take us through a few of the other songs? Their feel lyrically and musically?
Not that I would want to.
There’s this song called Breathe which is about the day I met my wife. There’s a song called How Does It Feel which is basically an extension of a person that has totally lost control of themselves and being human. There’s a song called Miss You which is about my father who is a World War II vet and passed away a couple of years ago…
So it’s safe to say that you’re pretty emotionally attached to these new songs..
Oh yeah, very much so. That’s the only way to make music. People can smell bullshit a mile away. I think that’s one of the things that always made Candlebox special to our fans is that there’s nothing bullshit about us. You listen to our records, whether you like them or not, there’s no lies in there. That’s exactly who I am as a lyricist and songwriter, very charged.
Has your wife heard the song you wrote about her yet?
Does she love it?
My wife is not a music fan. If Neil Young sang it to her she’d be like “Oh my God…” She’s Australian, when I first met her she was like Candlebox, what’s Candlebox and then called me a week later and said “I just saw you on MTV”.
So let’s talk about this latest tour…how has it been going?
Good, ups and downs.
Do you play any of the new songs live?
Just the two you have up on MySpace?
We’re playing three.
What kind of crowds are you seeing? Is it a mix of new and old fans?
It’s a lot of kids that are finding us on MySpace because they type in grunge. The nice thing about MySpace is that there’s that category that’s unsigned/indie/major. We’re in the top twenty of the unsigned category so that’s where the kids are finding our page. We’re at three million plus plays on our player and over a million profile views. I run the page so I approve hundreds of people a day. Those are the kids that are finding us..or it’s an older sibling and they find our cd in there.
Are you ever surprised at how well your music has stood the test of time? I think you can take any old Candlebox album now and play it and the music still sounds fresh and relevant. Sometimes you put an album in from ten years ago and it sounds dated…
Yes. Very much so. I wrote Far Behind for Andy Wood. I was a huge Malfunkshun fan and a huge Mother Love Bone fan and I got to know Andy early on in his career when I was working in a shoe store with Susan Silver who was managing Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains. So I got to know Andy really well and I think that that’s where my inspiration always came from was the environment that I was living in and Andy was such a part of that. When we wrote Far Behind it use to be “Now Andy, I didn’t mean to treat you bad, but I did anyway” and then I was like I can’t sing that, it’s somewhat of an Elton John/Daniel thing and I really didn’t want anyone to know who it was about anyway. Lterally until a few years ago no one really knew that that song was about Andy because it’s a special song for people, it’s a love song, and I didn’t want to take that away from anybody. But it’s actually a song about death and longing for that person’s inspiration to reach you. I knew when we wrote that song that that was going to hopefully be around for a very long time because it’s that kind of song, it’s a ballad. But did I know it was going to pay my rent for fifteen years? Absolutely not. That’s the greatest thing in the world, you can only hope for that. Here I am sitting in a dressing room out on tour with a tour bus…
..and you’re going to play that song tonight and we’ll all get chills..
Hopefully. I still do. People ask if we get sick of playing it, no, I don’t because I love the sound of my voice. It’s just one of those things. I love what I do. I love talking and I love meeting people. It’s like that Bono lyric “I love the sound of my voice but did I ever give anyone else a choice”. It’s really true from a singer’s perspective because that’s why we sing, there’s insecurity to us as human beings and that’s how we overcome that insecurity. There’s a need to feel that response and that’s why I love every song we play and we never get bored.
And your interaction with the crowd is pretty amazing, you have great chemistry with the fans..
Thank you, I really love it. There are no songs we play where I’m like “fuck I just don’t want to play this song”…I love them all.
Were you familiar with Cinder Road before asking them to join the tour with you? What do you think of them?
I met Mike when he was out on tour with Daughtry and we became great friends and I listened to the record and I was like, okay, this is this new kind of Def Leppard thing, it’s the new Jovi. We were doing this tour and I thought that they would be the perfect band for us to bring out to expose people to. We’ve always been the type of band that brings out our favorites – Sponge, Our Lady Peace, The Flaming Lips, Seaweed, Greta…and those were our choices. We want our audience to appreciate a different sound. I have such a hard on for this band Kings of Leon. I sent them an email telling them I wanted to open for them. Let us tour with you. I love the band. This new album especially is so ridiculously passionate, and they’re just kids. (brief interlude while Kevin plays me a Kings of Leon track)
What have you noticed as major differences in the music industry/scene since Candlebox’s inception and now?
What have I noticed? A bunch of shit! Well look, if Candlebox were to come out now, would it be relevant? We sold six million records worldwide without the internet so the biggest difference is the music business is sucked for the business. In the nineties it was super strong because they knew what they were doing, they weren’t greedy and they weren’t signing a bunch of crap. But then they didn’t protect themselves. When the internet came available there were two companies that went to the labels and offered them anti-piracy software to protect their cds and the four majors said that they were working on their own form of it. All of a sudden now 220 million songs a month are being downloaded. That’s a fucking insane amount of songs. There’s nothing they can do about it now. It will never be stopped. That’s what makes it harder for bands to have a radio based success because radio stations are shutting down. If you’re not a touring artist that can consistently tour or you’re not on American Idol or some tv show, you know Kings of Leon don’t sell millions of records. They toured with U2 all last year and they didn’t get a platinum record out of it, but they’re the coolest band to come out in years.
The live CD you’re putting out..what’s the status?
It’s done. The contracts are done. That was another nightmare. It’s like Maverick, it’s just logistics, and you cannot get away from it once you sign that contract. There are legal ramifications if you want to do anything. I went to the band last year before the Best of and said look we can let them release this or we can go into the studio and re-record all three albums in a month and Maverick would no longer have any rights. They’d have to come to us and license them from us. Had we done that though I wouldn’t be sitting here bitching the dvd would have come out last year. It’s coming out soon though, within a month.
Any pre-show rituals?
I do my vocal warm ups, have a drink, watch the opening bands. (We can hear Cinder Road sound checking) These guys are really good.