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


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