Catching up with Martin Sexton: A PhreshWater Interview

From a hotel room in Kansas, between two phones, I had the great pleasure of speaking with one of the most electrifying performers and songwriters on tour today: Martin Sexton.

S. Remington [SR]: Your lyrics tell such great stories and I was wondering if your writing style was more sporadic or a constant process?

Martin: I’d say my writing is more sporadic…I tend to sit at the kitchen table real late at night, turn on the dicta-phone, and just start playing and stuff comes out. Then, I try to tighten that up later. It’s proven to be good for me. I tend to write more when I feel like it. Some writers write every day from…oh…nine to three and I don’t seem to posses that type of discipline…..I’ve been told it’s like fishing; you can’t catch anything unless your line is in the water. So you can’t catch anything unless your pen is hittin’ the pad or you’re playing your guitar. And I try to do that.

SR: Your vocal style has so much soul and I was curious if you attribute that to your musical influences or mentors and who that might be?

Martin: I attribute it to some of my earlier influences like Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. And I think the soulful style in which I sing comes also largely in part because I tend to mean what I’m singing about; I really mean it. And when I mean something I think it brings on conviction…..I sweat , I shout it. I think that goes hand in hand in soul music when it comes from deep down within somewhere.

SR: I’ve heard you play a lot of swing type tunes like ’13 step Boogie’ and even ‘Beautiful Baby’ and ‘Minnie the Moocher’ and its just so great to hear. I was wondering if jazz is a big part of your musical life too?

Martin: Yeah. Growing up in Syracuse there wasn’t a whole lot of variety on the radio, it tended to be mainly top-40. But the college station used to play only jazz. Not so much old-timey stuff, it was all newer jazz guys like Mel Torme, Harry Connick Jr., Al Jarreau, or Bobby McFerrin. And I used to listen to that quite religiously and I got a lot of bits from that that I use. But any Cab Calloway influence came solely from the Blues Brothers movie.

SR: How did you first become interested in playing the guitar?

Martin: My older brother had ‘ Frampton Comes Alive’ when I was about nine years old. I went up there as a nine year old and put on the headphones, up in the attic….played it, listened to it, heard that crowd…...and the crowd went wild. He started singing and I thought ‘Wow, this is just Bad-Ass!’ Then I discovered Abbey Road in the basement; I got Frampton in the attic and Abbey Road in the Basement…

SR: What motivated you to create your own record label?

Martin: The independent spirit that lies within me…..the unyielding part of myself…

SR: Are there going to be other acts on Kitchen Table besides yourself?

Martin: Not that I know of. I wouldn’t say ‘No’. I just think that its just a great time in the world, in the music business, to be ‘indie’. I definitely took a tip from others like Ani DiFranco who proved that it can be done….some of the best music has left the major labels and the music is still getting to us.

SR: Would you say that doing the independent thing is freeing you of the pressures of dealing with a major label and the influences that they might impose on you?

Martin: Well, I was lucky in that they never tried to force anything on me, I had a pretty good deal with Atlantic with artistic and creative control….When it comes time for marketing or advertising it has to come out of my own little coffers, which I’m happy to do because it all comes back. It’s like a river, its flowing and it comes back.

SR: I understand that you allow taping of your performances. Why is this important to you as an artist?

Martin: I just figured it was another means of spreading the music. A good friend of mine works with Dave Matthews and he was telling me how much of a benefit it was to him early on in his career. People trading tapes and spreading the music back before the radio push and when he was a bit more ‘indie’ himself. And, not to mention that it was an unstoppable thing to try and go out and police 1000 people who have mini-disc recorders…it’s just impossible.

SR: What song do you get the most requests for when you play live?

Martin: It’s funny but, it’s a lot of songs, a whole bunch of them. There’s not just one that everybody requests. I’m kind of happy that there’s not this one ‘Hit’ that everyone is dying to hear…it’s just a bunch of songs that people really want to hear….Every night it’s different and it really depends on the city.

SR: What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on the road?

Martin: Boy, that’s…….well…......hmmm…

SR: You were visited by the ghost of Elvis?…

Martin: It WAS ghost-like. In fact, in North Carolina. Oh yeah, This is a good one. Do you know where Black Mountain is?

SR: Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Martin: You know the Monte Vista Hotel?……My favorite hotel; it’s old, family owned and it’s haunted. And I had some experiences there before with my friends when we heard old men talking and there was nobody there….I knew that it was haunted because I felt it myself, I had heard these voices, I talked to the owners and to other people. So, I told my tour manager the next time through about the history of the place and we had rooms right next to one another. The next morning at breakfast, in that wonderful dining hall they have, my tour manager says to me ‘Hey, nice try last night Man.’ And I said ‘What are you talking about?’ and he says ‘Yeah right. Like you don’t know.’ I said, ‘Yeah right, I DON’T know.’ He says to me, ‘Like…that wasn’t you scraping the walls? It sounded like some tool was scraping the walls.’ I said, ‘Dude, that wasn’t me…..’ <> He said he heard someone walking back and forth upstairs with a boot on, like a high-heeled boot, going 1-2-3, turn around and then walk 1-2-3 again the other way like at 4 in the morning. And, there was no one there in that room that night, totally vacant - we checked. Then we looked between both of our rooms and there was this door to a broom closet with tools hanging in it..…it was crazy. I just love that place….there’s just so much vibe, so much energy….

SR: One last question for the ‘readership’. If you could give George W. Bush just three words of advice right now, what would it be?

Martin: Love Your Brother…

SR: Awesome…..

By: S. Remington article originally appeared on PhreshWater.com 09/02


Vinyl: The Groove Ambassadors of Northern California

For decades the soils of Northern California, the Bay Area in particular, have facilitated the growth of the deepest of musical roots and inspired the evolution of some of the most radiant musical souls. Far from the insatiable cries of Hollywood and the smoggy horizon of Southern California, bands that call Nor Cal their home seem to have a different air about them. Vinyl is one of the many emerging acts from this northern creation station, and they embody a unique home-grown blend of spicy grooves, slithering melodies and beats that seem to command the blood in your veins. The seven layers supply a distinctive sound, utilizing every musical genre from reggae, to Latin jazz, and everything in between, and crafting the innovative multi-textured fusion that is their signature jam.

The ground floor houses the big three, guitarist (Billy), bassist (Geoff), and drummer (Alexis), while the higher stories make room for the addition of funk and flare to the foundation. The second story consists of Danny on trumpet, Doug on saxophone, Jonathan on keyboards, and the latest edition, Johnny, presiding over the percussion section. The guest house is left fully stocked for the extended family and appearances by vocalists, a variety of other musicians and producers, and even the occasional celebrity. Whether you are among the enduring fans, the cast of back up stars, or even a Vinyl first-timer, you will feel right at home with the welcoming grooves and affable ambience their live performance provides.

I was fortunate enough to experience them the night before Thanksgiving on their fifth annual Black Wednesday performance. Within the wooden walls of Sweetwater, in their stomping grounds of Mill Valley, I sat down with a few of the guys before the show to tap a little further into the source of their flow. At the moment their average day consists of touring and preparing for the upcoming release of their new album recorded at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco entitled, “All the Way Live”. They recently added a new percussionist to the gamut, Johnny Durkin, who brings a hint of East Coast flavor into the West Coast zest.

Among the many guest appearances on the new album, one in particular that is quite unique is the accompaniment of Huey Lewis, who plays the harp on one of the songs. For a band that has worked with everyone from Les Claypool to Phil Lesh, and Huey Lewis to Pancho Sanchez, the possibilities are endless for where their collaborative future will lead. Having a song produced by Stuart Copeland, formerly of the Police, or playing with Santana, are a few of the collaborations that dance on the edge of their hopes.

Though they are hesitant to narrow the possibilities of this vast future down to any specific goal, they are open to take their sound to the next level and explore the vocal avenue further. The backbone of Vinyl has been primarily instrumental for so many years, and taking more of a vocal focus would certainly forge a new path for the band. One of their most stunning qualities as an instrumental band is that the listener can create their own interpretation and plant themselves at the heart of the music. However, adding a vocal layer to the mix, aids in expanding the sound and offers a new approach for those music fans that find a solely instrumental group difficult to open up to. One thing is for sure, any vocalist to join the likes of these talented few would have to be as varied and multi-faceted as the musicians, and that may be hard to come by. The imminent future is clear despite the uncertainties of the more distant horizon, and for Vinyl, the focus at the moment is writing new songs, keeping the sound fresh, and most importantly putting themselves out there on stage to the delight of their loyal fans.

By: Kristina Ensminger article originally appeared on PhreshWater.com 12/03


Let It Roll: A Conversation with Paul Barerre of Little Feat

Very few, if any, bands have been able to intermingle such an eclectic variety of musical styles so successfully as Little Feat. Whether it's rockabilly, country, blues, jazz, or any combination thereof, Little Feat has dazzled music fans and musicians alike with their inimitable approach and sound. They are currently in the middle of a lengthy fall tour, playing songs from their new album, "Kickin' at the Barn" as well as old favorites. Phreshwater.com had the chance to catch up with Paul Barerre, the longtime guitarist for Little Feat.

Pete Kolesari [PK]: You are in the midst of another lengthy tour and an upcoming Jamaican fan excursion. What will fans have to look forward to on this tour and will the fan excursion be a yearly event?

Paul Barerre [PB]: The tour will reflect our large catalog of songs, done with a lot of jamming, and we will be including some of our newest songs from the upcoming first release of a studio record for our own Hot Tomato Records called 'Kickin it at the Barn' Also, later in the tour we will be doing some all-acoustic shows where we perform the Little Feat catalog in a slightly different fashion due to the acoustic nature of the instruments. But there will still be a lot of jamming aspects to it! We feel the Jamaica Excursion will continue on a yearly basis, however we may start to check out different places to hold them, like Mexico or Costa Rica perhaps.

PK: I think Featbase is a great resource when tracking down Little Feat set lists throughout the band's history. How many songs are in the Feat live catalog and how are the set lists decided from show to show?

PB: We have over 160 songs in the catalog, including some that are covers that have not been recorded by us. Out of that total, we can probably play at least 60, I would think, with a little prep at a sound check. So what I do when laying out a set list, knowing that most folks feel cheated when we don't play Dixie Chicken, I almost always include that song and then try to change the set list from night to night. If it's a venue we play a lot, I try not to have the same songs from the previous show, even though it might be a year between shows. Then I look at who's singing what song and make up a set that disperses the lead vocals throughout the show. Lastly, I look at the guitar changes that need to be made in a show and try to keep the same guitar for a few songs in a row so the guitar tech isn't always running on stage. However, having said that, the set list can change at any moment in the show depending on how we feel and if a song is requested a lot and such

PK: What is the band's approach to live shows? And how does this approach differ from the studio?

PB: Live is more stretched out, I think. We like to really improvise a lot and in the studio we might do some of that, but not as much. The studio is for capturing moments, and repeating them, in that I mean finding the groove for a new song and then laying into it over and over until it's right, once you have it like you want it. When you do it live, you can really stretch it out.

PK: I think that the full-band acoustic shows are a great thing. What is the your approach to acoustic versus electric shows, and what are the pluses and minuses of each?

PB: Well, the plus is that we can show the songs in a different light with acoustic instruments, those songs that were mainly electric to begin with that is. And it's really a lot of fun having to come up with different solos since there is no real sustain on the acoustic guitars, but the power from the rhythm section remains the same.

PK: Do you prefer festival-type or club shows, and why?

PB: No preference really, they both have their good and bad sides, but mostly good. The large festivals are great cause of the number of people you can draw energy from, while the small club shows are more intimate, and you can share a little more closely with them.

PK: I know you have played with the Big Wu, String Cheese Incident, among many others. Many fans would love to see a live collaboration with Phish on "Sample in a Jar" (a song that Little Feat regularly covers). What are your thoughts on some of the "newer" bands playing and touring, and are their any artists you would like to join forces with in concert or in the studio?

PB: There are a lot of the newer bands that I find wonderful because they are so unique in their styles, the way it used to be really. There was a time in the late 1980s and 1990s that so many bands sounded alike I couldn't tell the difference. Bands like String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon, Govt. Mule, Derek Trucks, Sonny Landreth, and on and on. I just got into the Gourds and find them a lot of fun, especially their cover of "Gin and Juice"

PK: Little Feat has a long association with the Grateful Dead, dating back to Lowell George producing the Dead's Shakedown Street album in the late 1970s. Little Feat opened several stadium shows for the Grateful Dead in the 1980s and early 1990s. Bill and Paul went on to join Dead bassist Phil Lesh in his post-Dead outfit, "Phil Lesh and Friends." How did this collaboration come about and how was playing in this setting different from playing with Little Feat?

PB: I got a call from Phil asking me if I was interested in doing Phil and Friends while I was on the road, and it blew me away. I said yes immediately, then he asked me to see if Bill Payne was interested. The Dead's songs are a lot like Feat songs in that they sound so simple until you start to play them and find all the cool bits within, that was really cool. Billy and I had a wonderful time with Phil and Friends, and it really opened our eyes to jamming again. We had been getting a little stagnant with our shows just performing the songs as they were on record. After Phil, we opened up the doors and let all the music in, and out, and it's been really refreshing. It took us back to our old days when we would play instrumentals for 20 minutes like 'Eldorado Slim' and 'Day at the Dog Races.'

PK: You played several Little Feat songs with Phil Lesh. Also, Dead standards "Dark Star" and "Tennessee Jed" are regularly incorporated into Little Feat set lists. Is there any chance of future collaboration with Phil Lesh, or any of the other Dead members?

PB: Ya never know, I would certainly welcome the chance to do it again.

PK: Little Feat has recorded some incredible live albums (Waiting for Columbus, Live at Neon Park, and Down Upon the Suwannee River). The band allows taping at their concerts, which has put a sizeable number of Feat shows available for trade among fans. I think live tapes are a great chance to see how the songs and jams differ from tour-to-tour, even show-to-show. What are your thoughts on taping and trading live shows?

PB: Again, this is something we learned from the Dead and our fans. The tapers are a great bunch of fans, and our fears of bootlegs were really unfounded. In fact I think that tapers will buy the records as well cause they like to see how the songs change from recording to live, and live from night to night.

Many thanks to Paul Barerre from Little Feat for taking the time to speak us. Phreshwater.com encourages everyone to go out and buy the latest Little Feat album, 'Kickin it at the Barn' This vibrant, new release captures the band at their creative peak features nine new songs, all of which are sure to be well received by music fans everywhere and concert staples for years to come.

By: Peter Kolesari - article originally appeared on PhreshWater.com 10/03


Steve Burns: Blues Clue's Meets the Flaming Lips, Literally...

Yes, that Steve Burns, the one who used to consort with a blue puzzle-solving puppy. Yes, that Steve Burns, the one who once sought advice from salt and pepper shakers made of felt. But now allow your brain to handle the fact that this is also the same Steve Burns who colluded with the likes of Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips and record producer David Fridmann to create a lush, imaginative, off-center album for adventuresome grownups called Songs For Dustmites. Or, as Burns himself describes it, "It's an album of sweet songs about science and love."

You can hear the kind of playful, metaphysical rock Burns and Fridmann and Drozd are after from the album's opening track, "Mighty Little Man," a bouyant, space-rock epic propelled by an overdriven bass line that buzzes somewhere between Ween and Radiohead. "Steve Burns approach to music is so strange that I had to work with him and I'm glad that I did," says Fridmann, who has added his otherworldly touch to albums by the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev and Mogwai. "Steve is the best ex-children's-show-host-record-making-weirdo I know," he adds. Go deeper into the album and you�'ll uncover Burns' Bowie-like desire to push the boundaries of music. The sweeping "Troposphere," which was written on an airplane pondering the layer of the atmosphere before you hit outer space, builds from a contemplative little ballad to a sweeping rock dynamo flush with strings. A similar orchestral flair comes to light on "Stick Around," with its elegant use of trumpet and cello.

For Steve Burns, the shift from children's TV into the world of rock music isn't much of a leap at all, considering he's had the music bug ever since his dad carved him a toy guitar more than 20 years ago. But growing up, Burns found more opportunities in theater than in music. The acting remained a focus for Burns for years, leading to an audition in 1995 that changed everything. "I auditioned for Blue's Clues in camouflage pants, long hair and earrings. I thought it was a voiceover audition," he says. "When we started it was kinda like being in a punk rock band," he explains. "We had all these crazy ideas no one knew if it would work or if kids were going to talk to the TV screen, but we all really believed in it."

Burns treasures his five years on the show, but eventually, the time was right to make a new start. The music bug was beckoning -- as well as some other bugs. "I literally started writing this album because I was obsessed with a picture someone had shown me of a dustmite fighting with a micro gear," he says. "There are these tiny machines that are so small that dustmites, these microscopic animals, assume they are competing for food sources and do battle with them."

Starting from a single, combative dustmite, the album took on a life of its own according to Burns. "It all happened when I got a decent computer. I used to have a 4-track and now I can have an one hundred and four track. When I was 14 I would get my brother-in-law's bass and beat the hell out of it until I sounded like Fugazi or something. I did the same thing with the computer, having no idea how to use it I just pounded on it until I sounded like Boards Of Canada or Radiohead or whatever."

From those sessions of messing around with loops and noises and ideas, a few songs started to emerge. But what to do with them? "In my wildest dreams I thought 'who are exactly the people I would want to work on this with' and I actually got to work with them," Burns explains. Through a friend, Burns called Fridmann, sheepishly explaining who he was, and how much the Flaming Lips Soft Bulletin (which Fridmann produced) changed his life, to ask if maybe Dave would be interested in listening to a few of his songs. As fate would have it, Fridmann had just thrown a Blue's Clues party for his kids the night before. All of this led to David Fridmann's Tarbox Road Stuidos in upstate New York becoming home for some of the key tracks on Songs For Dustmites. "It's the Mecca for uncommon production value," says Burns. "It's a cabin under 40 feet of snow at all times. It's sort of like The Shining with vintage audio compressors."

With Fridmann¹s help, the album shares much of that cinematic psychedelia the Flaming Lips are known for, with more sonic color and wonder added by the Lips' own Steven Drozd. "When I met Drozd, it took us about 10 minutes before we were sitting on the floor writing fake rock songs like a couple of high school kids," relates Burns. " Drozd can rock out as hard to Zeppelin as he can to Air Supply and that's what makes him a genius." For Drozd, the feeling is mutual, calling Burns the "smartest, funniest, and sweetest man I've met in 10 years."

By: A. Nelson this article originally appeared on PhreshWater.com in 7/03


Starsailor: America Isn't Easy, But They Will Be Soon

Rolling Stone called Starsailor one of the top ten bands to watch in 2001. Early in 2002 however, a majority of the United States had never heard of them, and Rolling Stone declared them a 'miss'

Starsailor is made up of James Walsh (guitar and vocals), James Stelfox (bass), Barry Westhead (piano), and Ben Byrne (drums). Stelfox and Byrne had played together for ten years before inviting Walsh to the group after seeing him perform at a school choir. Westhead joined later on and Starsailor was born.

Love is Here, their debut album sold over a million copies world wide, most of them being in Europe. After a world wide tour, including the U.S., most of the world awaited their second album. Legendary producer Phil Spector came out of a two decade retirement to start the collaboration with the band, however sessions staled, and the band only recorded two tracks with him as producer. They continued on without Spector, and went with engineer Danton Supple as co-producer. The result is an album Music Week says "A huge leap forward from their million-selling debut, this album cements Starsailor's position as one of the most important new bands in Britain."

Silence is Easy, released on January 27, is Starsailor's second album. After the usually pressure to make a second album as good as the first,(the pressure being in Europe) the critics shut up and gave the album amazing remarks. Barney Jameson of Play Music Magazine said "..a record that's going to make them your favorite band. Buy this and play it until your CD player breaks." Powerful comments about a band not many Americans have heard of. The 11 track, 40 minute album has a bit of everything. The lead single and title track, 'Silence is Easy' not only ruled the charts in Europe but is now making its way up the U.S. charts with a powerful beat and strong guitar. The album has stronger touch the whole way through with exceptions to 'Some of Us', 'White Dove', and 'Telling Them'which are the softer songs on the record. However, even the softer songs have a little punch behind them. 'Four to the Floor' is the most powerful song on the album with a solid beat to it along with some great guitar/piano riffs. Songs like 'Shark Food' and 'Music was Saved' are songs that will never be on the radio that could become your favorite songs. The album is a perfect example of CD you could leave in your car and listen to all the way through multiple times without getting sick of it. The album is a must have for everyone that wants to hear something different.

Starsailor recently finished a short 13 show U.S. tour promoting Silence is Easy. The tour ranged across the country from New York to Los Angeles. However, on January 29, they put on a show to remember in Minneapolis at the Fine Line Music Cafe. After a 50 minute set that almost put the crowd to sleep by Matthew Ryan, the crowd was defiantly ready for some excitement. Around 10:20, the lights went down, and 'Shark Food', the sixth track from their new album began to play through the speakers. After a minute and a half of waiting, the band walked on stage, and performed one of the most amazing starts you will ever see by any performer. As the song played in the background, the band got ready, smiled at each other, and picked up at the perfect moment in the song along with the lights (which would rival Dave Matthews Band in my mind). After the song finished, they continued straight into 'Music Was Saved'. The atmosphere was set for the night. As the night went on, the set varied from both Love is Here and Silence is Easy. It included songs 'Alcoholic', 'Poor Misguided Fool', 'Fever', and 'Telling Them'. However, the show was filled with more than just good songs. Three Fourths of the way through the set, the fire alarm went off which gave a scare considering the Fine Line once had a fire which burned most of the building to a crisp. The show was still the most exciting moment of the night including a cover of Neil Young's 'Southern Man' and a great version of their recent single 'Silence is Easy'. The highlights of the evening were 'Four to the Floor', in which James did a little dance with the song, and the finishing song 'Good Souls'. The 80 minute set was one of the best shows I have ever seen. They are a band in which you have to see them live to appreciate their talent.

Q Magazine calls them "Superb". In deed Starsailor is 'Superb' but I would call them more than that, I would call them amazing. Even if you haven't heard a thing about them, if you listen to 'Four to the Floor' on Silence is Easy just once, you will be hooked. Fortunately for everyone, they are planning more tour dates in March for those who missed them. If you have a chance, go see them, you won't be disappointed.

by: Brian Kostek