Nate Martinez of Thieving Irons
At the release party for his new Behold, This Dreamer! (QRO review), QRO caught up with Thieving Irons’ Nate Martinez. In the conversation, Martinez talked about the new record, his band, touring (hopefully with friends These United States – QRO interview – and hopefully more than just rock clubs), recording vs. touring, the “necessary evil” of industry festivals, Catherine of Alexandria, and more…
QRO: How does it feel, having Behold, This Dreamer! out?
Nate Martinez: It feels good. It feels really good.
We recorded it last June, and the whole process took literally under two weeks – about thirteen days, total, of tracking and mixing it was done. It was mastered in August, and then I spent September on trying to find a label, before realizing, ‘You know what? I’m gonna do it myself…’
So it feels really good, because I didn’t want it to even take as long as it did to come out, but that’s the way it came out, and it’s fine. So it’s feels healthy and awesome.
QRO: So it’s quicker to actually make it than to get it out?
NM: Yeah, because how do you release music now?
QRO: How did making it, and the whole process, compare to making [first record] This Midnight Hum (QRO review)?
NM: The first one was a lot of trial and error, in particular because I was figuring it out – the whole singing thing was a real new thing.
I started demoing all the songs, and had these sort of ‘templates’ of songs, and instead of redoing them with a full band, I kinda felt like, ‘You know, there’s something special about ‘em. Let’s just add everything to it.’
QRO: So you took the demoes and then you added…
NM: Pieced and parceled together. This one was literally getting three of my great friends, we got into the room, there was really no pre-production – I just had the songs and the guitar arrangements completely written out. We played with the full band for four days.
So it was really different, because it was very fluid and everything was really natural. Some of the stuff was first, second take. One of the songs, “Letters To Catherine”, I literally – we set up on a deck outside, in the middle of the side of this mountain in Woodstock; I sang the song with one take just out in nature, with a couple mics. So it was pretty different.
QRO: Was there less pressure Behold, as it wasn’t your ‘solo debut’?
NM: Yeah, I guess so. Everything’s trial & error – you know what I mean? I feel like whatever needed to happen to click me into… not only me, but everything came together in a way that needed to grow and change, and it’s arrived at a point where, collectively the group of us that we got together to do it, have a long history of friendship, and musical experiences together. And I’ve gotten better singing. So we’ve hit a point where everything’s matured and really well.
So there wasn’t any pressure – there wasn’t even any pressure with the first one. I’m excited because I now feel like there’s more of an awareness of what kind of foot you’re putting forward, as opposed to just doing it. So, in that sense, it feels even better to have this record come out.
QRO: Is your current band the same one you had in the studio for Behold?
NM: Yeah, it’s Dan Brantigan, who plays EVI, trumpet, and keyboard; Andy Nauss plays drums, percussion; and Josh Kaufman plays bass, and on the recording played some original, muted piano, and some background vocals. And him and me, we produced it together.
QRO: Where did you find your current band?
NM: Josh and Andy, we all went to college together. We went to New Paltz a long time ago. We got there all at the same time, and within a matter of two weeks of starting school, we started a band. So we’ve been playing music together for about sixteen years.
Dan Brantigan I’ve known for about seven years now. We met through a mutual friend, and he used to come and play at some of the New York shows that Pela would put on. We’d have him come and play trumpet with another one of our friends who plays trumpet. And then we formed a friendship and a musical relationship.
So it was kind of really easy to get these guys together. It just made sense.
QRO: Do you have any touring plans?
NM: We’re never touring again… [laughs]
We’re gonna tour in the fall. There’s gonna be sporadic stuff happening throughout the summer, like in August I think there’s a few things that are gonna pop up, but come fall, we’ll be getting the wheels in motion a little bit more.
QRO: How much have you toured as Thieving Irons?
NM: Not much. When that first album came out, we did some regional stuff, and then Josh and me did a duo thing opening up for Josh Ritter on some dates.
Right after that got done, it was literally a month later that I had already realized, ‘Oh, I have a couple of songs written for the next album. Why don’t I just go into writing mode?’ And wrote the rest of the album. The whole album came together in four months of writing.
QRO: So you are looking to tour in the fall – do you know how far?
NM: I don’t know yet, but we’re gonna be doing it with more frequency.
I look at it right now as the album is done, it’s finally out, and give people the opportunity react the way they’re gonna react.
From a ‘singer/songwriter perspective,’ when you’re playing music that people don’t know… all you’re searching for is a connection with each other; when you’re playing music that people don’t know, well it’s very easy to be in the moment, also I think it’s hard for people to be in the moment sometimes – there’s so many distractions. ‘Why should I pay attention to this right now?’
The idea of getting the music out there and have people form whatever kind of bond or relationship they have to it, it’s gonna be a more pleasant experience for all of us. ‘Cause we’re really choosing to be in the same room at the same time, as opposed to it being more of a discovery-type thing.
QRO: What about a Thieving Irons & These United States tour? You both are putting out records right now…
NM: Jesse just texted me…
Hopefully… That’d be great. I’d love to do that.
QRO: Are there any cities/venues that you particularly want to get back to as Thieving Irons, that you’ve haven’t since [your old band] Pela (QRO spotlight on)?
NM: There is, and there’s a whole approach that I want to do, and I think collectively I want to do, that’s different.
And I think that we want to look for more intimate venues to actually do it in, as opposed to being where a part of the evening is you have a bar, it’s louder… We’re trying to have people really focus on the music.
There are a couple songs that get a little more high-energy, but, for the most part, it’s a pretty varied experience, musically, and so doing it in a different environment, whether it’s a church or some performance space, I think it’s speaking to us more than doing the traditional rock club kind of thing.
QRO: What is the set list like? Do you still have stuff from the first album?
NM: At this moment, not so much, actually. We have one song that we reimagined, and it’s totally different, but, for the most part, we’re playing all new material. I think at some point we’ll filter in more, but I find it fun to not play the same thing all the time, so when we have brought in some of the older material, it will get reimagined – sometimes in the moment, sometimes it will be conceived beforehand – but just to be excited to play it in a different way.
Thieving Irons playing “Poison” live at Mercury Lounge in New York, NY on June 9th, 2012:
QRO: It was just Northside Festival in Brooklyn, which you played at in 2010 for QRO. What do you think of ‘industry festivals’ like Northside, CMJ, or SXSW?
NM: That’s a good question. It’s tricky, because for bands, you’re going and you’re trying to create new opportunities for yourself, so in that sense, these are really good, because there’s more and more people focusing on going to them to hear new music or different music or music they’ve never heard before.
The problem is that every band is trying to get the same people’s attention, and there’s only a few who are going to manage to do that. So in a sense, it can be a waste of time.
And, financially speaking, such a costly endeavor – SXSW is a very costly endeavor for bands, and the pay-off doesn’t really add up. I guess it’s a matter of expectations at that point – ‘Am I going to have fun? Am I going to hang out with other friends in bands?’ In that sense, I think a lot of people find a lot of joy, but, from my perspective, I look at it like… I try to stay away from some of the confusion about it, you know? Sometimes you have to do them, ‘cause if you’re supporting something, you have to be there.
But I guess the long & short of it is that they’re a necessary evil… [laughs]
QRO: Do you think SXSW is less useful for an NYC band than one from, say, Boise? ‘Cause those people you were talking about, they’re either from New York, or come to New York a lot…
NM: Yeah, exactly. For other bands in different parts of the country that don’t have access consistently – a lot of writers live in New York. It definitely is a little bit easier for a New York band to get somebody to come out to a show.
But, again, if you have X amount of dollars to spend on something, what’s the best way that you can spend it? I would spend it on recording and trying to work on really good music.
QRO: Do you worry that that’s the fun part of music, recording and stuff – that your personal preferences on what is maybe more enjoyable, maybe colors your idea of what makes economic sense?
I know bands that love recording and making new songs, but if I didn’t hear your last album, don’t tell me you’ve got a new album…
NM: That’s true. It’s tricky. Every band and every project is different. And they also have their different ways of approaching how they want to present themselves, too.
As far as releasing albums, mine, the last one came out in August 2010, this one is out in June 2012 – I’m never gonna allow that much of a time gap happen with releasing music, because my output is higher. I just need to keep creating and putting it out – if people connect to it, they hop on, then there’s a lot more music they can tap into, if they’re into it.
But it’s tricky. It’s also like, each band is unique.
QRO: How was playing the Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Festival?
NM: It was cool. It was different for us because we did it as a trio, and we didn’t play the music verbatim in the context of how it came out on the album. So that was a fun challenge, and the environment that we played in – cinema space. So we played to the room.
It was awesome. The festival was really great. Everybody seemed to really enjoy it ‘cause it flowed really well. It wasn’t too crowded, and it was multi-faceted.
QRO: How was making the video for “Poison”?
NM: That was the first time I, with this band, did a video like that – being in it. It was fun.
I didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but this guy Micah Van Hove did a really good job. I liked the imagery, and I didn’t really even see any of that. I saw bits & pieces of that imagery as it was being projected through these different screens while we were filming, but I had no idea how it was gonna turn out. But I started feeling really good, halfway through, ‘cause I started seeing more & more of the stuff, and I was like, ‘Oh, that is just really neat’.
It was a good experience.
Thieving Irons’ video for “Poison”:
QRO: Is there a Catherine of “Letters To Catherine”?
NM: There is. It’s in part about Catherine of Alexandria, historically speaking. It’s about her and her story, but also it’s a little bit more than that.
There’s also this girl, Rachel Corrie – she was that girl who was trying to stand up with the Palestinians, and she got hit by a bulldozer. In a way, she’s an example of Catherine of Alexandria – not entirely, though, but those two were certainly inspirations for the song.
Catherine of Alexandria, she basically just had this effect on people in a really positive way. Everybody who she spoke with was just really enamored with her spirit; she was really about being very equal, treating your neighbor like you would treat your sister; everybody’s the same and also completely devoted to a spiritual way of life.
And the king found that really threatening, ‘cause she converted his wife, and he was killing a lot of people, just doing a lot of bad shit to stay in power. She died by, they call it the ‘breaking wheel’…
QRO: Oh, the Catherine Wheel…
NM: The Catherine Wheel, right. It’s deeply inspired by that, but also, there’s other inspiration too.
QRO: Have you been to Block Island of “Block Island Blues”?
NM: I’ve driven by it. I just met somebody who lives there.
So Block Island is in Rhode Island. That’s drawing from the name ‘Block Island’, but I’m kind of more referring to Manhattan, as in just chopped up blocks, and it’s an island.
QRO: Are there any songs that you particularly like playing live?
NM: All of them. Really, all of ‘em. They’re all musical journeys, and the way that we play together, we kind of look at them like they’re these breathing organisms. So as soon as we seep into the vibe of each one, it’s really enjoyable to play every single one of them. For different reason, but I enjoy them all the same.
QRO: Are there any songs that you can’t play live?
NM: No, we can play all of them. There’s only some little bells & whistles, but that album is pretty much playing live. So we can do everything. It sounds like there’s way more sounds going on, but it’s not. Which is a fun challenge.
QRO: Finally, do you have a favorite tour story?
NM: Not in particular. It’s really enjoyable to go to different places, and see different things. You do find yourself in weird situations, sometimes.
Like last week, we were in Providence – this is not an enjoyable experience, but like a, ‘Well, that was interesting…’ We were walking to go to a café; we had some time to kill. We’re walking down the street and I look over and see this guy – he’s lying facedown on the sidewalk on the other side of the street. And I’m watching people walk right by him.
So I ran over there, and immediately saw that he was bleeding, and immediately called 9-1-1. This woman comes running up, and she’s rubbing his back while I’m on the phone with them. Ambulance and fire company came right away – but to see people just walk by, ‘Oh, that’s just not my problem…’ It’s in my nature if I see something to act on it.
In that instance, you find yourself, depending on what’s happening in your universe and the city that you’re in that there’s always interesting things happening. But that was one of the more recent, odder ones.
But I think the guy’s okay…
Thieving Irons playing “Tow the Line” live at Bar Matchless as Northside 2010 in Brooklyn, NY: