In this part, Martinez covered how the band came together, what they do for horns on the road, blogs, videos, A.M. New York, tattoos, geography, Portugal, and much, much more…
QRO: You and bassist Eric Sanderson are classically trained–
Nate Martinez: We actually studied jazz. We actually studied classical and jazz, and Eric, back in middle school/high school, studied some classical. But we met in college, studied jazz performance
QRO: Does that have much effect on your music now?
NM: No, it doesn’t.
I’ll tell you what though, the one thing that it does is, learning as much as we’ve learned, I think all it does is reinforce a better sense of communication with music. If that makes any sense. That’s something that’ll be relevant ‘til the day we die, as far as music’s concerned. We can communicate really well.
But we’re not putting any ‘jazz chords’ into – it’s rock ‘n’ roll.
QRO: How did the band all meet? You said you met Eric in college…
NM: We met first year in college. He wasn’t going to school at the time, he was there and then he took a semester off – I ended up not even knowing him until the end of the first semester. I moved in with all of his best friends from the previous year, and I didn’t even know it.
We became good friends, and I met a bunch of other friends, and Eric came to town to visit – I actually took Eric’s spot, which is the weirdest thing. My roommate, actually, had sort of a breakdown and left, so the first semester in school for me, I had a single, and Eric came and hung out, we had him play with this band we had started up, so I had him just move into my dorm. We started playing music right off the bat.
After school, he moved down to New York before me. We had been playing music, post-college up there for a little bit, but then he moved down here and ended up, he had his acoustic guitar, and he was walking down in the subway over in Park Slope – I think it was the 7th Avenue/10th Street stop, on the F? – and there was this other guy playing guitar, and it happened to be Chris Herb, who’s now the keyboard player with us.
They introduced each other, they hit it off, and the Chris was explaining how him and his best friend Billy were playing some music with this guy Brian [Shelvin], who was a friend of theirs from California. Basically, they invited Eric to come and play with them. They had been playing without a bass player, sort of had been psyched doing a trio thing, no bass. He showed up and they hit it off, started playing together.
I think I came down a few months after that happened just to hang out, ‘cause I was getting ready to move down here myself, and Eric played me this really horribly recorded demo on a mini-disc, and I was like, ‘This is awesome!’ I had been playing with a band, me and my band moved down here. Maybe a month-and-a-half after I moved here, Chris, he decided to leave, so I told them I would love to be a part of this.
From there, restructured everything – Brian, the drummer, ended up leaving, we had two other drummers come, we had another drummer, Andrew [Squire], and then finally we found Tom [Zovich]. It’s been like a long process. But that’s the story.
QRO: But Chris is actually back with you guys?…
NM: He is, yeah. He’s a ‘traveler’. He spent a lot of time in Australia and around the world, a lot of traveling with Billy. But he moved back to Australia for a few years.
In any case, he came back to the States, and when we were out last November, out recording, we had Chris around pretty much every day at the studio, and we just talked about it, ‘Why don’t we have him come play keyboards?’ And sure enough, here we are…
QRO: What do you do for horns, like on “Cavalry”, when you’re on the road?
NM: Just everybody sings. I step on distortion. We make it loud.
QRO: What about when you’re in New York?
NM: We’ve got a really good friend, this guy Dan Branigan, who plays with a lot of people, this great musician. Every chance we can, if he’s in town or in the country, he comes out and he does it with us. And he’ll play on between two and four songs.
I think, if we had a chance to add him to the band, we probably would at some point, but that’s just wishful thinking…
QRO: A lot of Brooklyn bands have horns on some songs, and then they always have trouble when they’re on the road.
NM: It’s tough. It’s hard enough, getting the core, and then to pay additional players. And then you have to think about additional hotel rooms… – it changes everything.
In Denver, there was a trumpet player who played in the other band, and we actually just spoke to him literally a half-hour before we played, and he came up and played with us. And I know that band, The Walkmen (QRO photos), in the past, they’ve sent out bulletins, ‘Hey, do you play horns? Well, let’s meet up beforehand.’ That’s a cool community thing, and a smart thing to do, but… it’s additional work.
We’ll figure out something in the future.
QRO: What was it like, being featured in [free daily] A.M. New York?
NM: It was really cool. They’ve done some stuff on us before. It was nice.
I’ll tell you, we’ve had a difficult time, of all places, in New York, getting responsive press, for some reason. I don’t know what it’s about, but the fact that they did that made us feel good. But the New York press, it’s interesting. I don’t know if it happens for every band, but they won’t pay attention to you, maybe they’ll play a little bit of attention, but then, I’ve seen it with some friends who’ve done extremely well for themselves, that they come around and are like, ‘Oh my God – we love you!’ ‘Where were you an album, two albums ago?’ But that’s just the fickleness of it sometimes…
But, whatever. Our whole mode of operation is, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, and we’re not going to stop. If people come and go, they come and go. We’re always grateful when people like A.M. New York or QRO are taking the time to actually find out a little bit more about us, or allows us a venue in which we can actually talk about the music little bit more. We’re always grateful when that happens.
‘Cause it creates that thing I was mentioning, with community, breaking down that barrier, and really creating a participatory environment.
It gives us an opportunity to talk about things, or what we’re doing, or a song we’re working on, or what city we’re in. It also gives people the opportunity to actually comment, and it opens up a dialogue, as opposed to being these separate entities. You know what I mean?
So we try to keep on top of that as much as possible.
QRO: You also post links to other people’s blog coverage of you guys, photos, things like that. How much do follow all of that?
NM: You know, people simply reach out and say, ‘Hey, I took photos – here’s a link.’ Or, ‘I wrote something – I’d like you to read it, and if you feel like posting it…’
We’re just honored that anybody took the time to do that, and we’re going to exploit it. It’s sort of a way of saying, ‘Thank you’, but also, it’s a different perspective for somebody to read. ‘Cause everybody’s experience is certainly different.
QRO: Where did the idea for the ‘Crowd Project’ videos come from?
NM: That was Eric. That was an awesome idea – at least I think it is.
It became a lot of fun really quick. It’s a way to really get excited; everybody gets to look at it.
QRO: That video for “Cavalry” – was that at Mercury Lounge (QRO venue review)?
NM: Yeah. I think that was from… God, it could have been last June, or last April? A friend of ours put that together.
Pela playing “Cavalry” live @ Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY:
QRO: Are there any new songs that you particularly like playing live?
NM: We’re playing probably, I’d say, maybe four-to-five new songs, per night, and we’re having a great time with all of them.
We’ve been playing this song “Philadelphia” for a while, and that’s a staple in our set, and has been for a while. And it’s actually cool – I know the album isn’t coming out for a year, but you know that [documentary] movie American Teen? I don’t really know the gist of it – some ‘modern-day Breakfast Club’. They used the music in the trailer, which is really cool.
That’s a staple, and we play this brand-new song Billy wrote, “Juarez”. We’ve been ending our shows with that song, where he’ll just play guitar, and then, at the end, we just go all a-cappella, we’re just clapping. That’s the participatory part that I’m talking about – at all these shows, we’ll end it with clapping and singing, and the crowd is right there clapping. And, of course, they don’t know the song, so they can’t entirely sing. But it’s this repetitive phrase that happens over and over, so I think people pick up on it.
That’s been a really exciting thing to play. And we’ve got this song, “Headlong”, that we recorded back in the winter, and revamped, and now we’re playing it the way that we feel like we’re going to record it. There’s another one, “California Sons” – we’re just working out the kinks, ‘cause we’re going to be going in and re-recording some of this stuff in the next couple of months.
Pela playing “Juarez” live @ Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY:
QRO: You mentioned songs like “Philadelphia”, “Juarez”, and “California Sons”. Is there any reason there’s so much ‘geography’?
NM: You know, that’s a good question.
I will say, “Juarez” is this southwestern/Mexican border town, Western murder kind of thing. [Juarez] is right up on the border, and apparently it’s this kind of thing where, over the past I don’t know how many years, they’ve uncovered hundreds of these shallow graves of women.
He was really inspired by the story and created this ‘gothic’, southwestern murder mystery song. It’s a really great tune.
QRO: Or “The Trouble With River Cities”, ‘cause they’re both on the river, Philadelphia & Juarez…
NM: I think a lot of it does, absolutely have to deal with geography, and small towns, and the experience of wanting to get out.
That’s a main theme of Anytown Graffiti – Billy wrote that song, “Trouble With River Cities”, back when he was eighteen and living in Sacramento, California. And that’s ‘the trouble with river cities’ – trying to break out, trying to get so far away from a place that you know, if you stay, it could possibly keep you down. Aspirations, dreams, a wide-open future – I think it’s easy for those to get strangled in some of those places. I think that’s why people flee to larger cities like New York, or wherever…
Pela playing “The Trouble With River Cities” live @ Music Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY:
QRO: Are there any songs from Anytown Graffiti that you particularly like playing live?
NM: We’ve been playing those songs for a while. I gotta say, every song that we’re playing live, we’re playing live because we like to play it live. If we weren’t into it, or we lost the connection to the song, we wouldn’t play it. At this point, they’re so ingrained in our DNA – they’re a part of us.
I guess that’s going to be interesting, when we get this next album done and we start really turning over a new leaf – the music’s that’s going to be on this next album is certainly different. We’ll be defining ourselves a little bit. That would be a really good place to ask, ‘What songs do you like playing?’ ‘Cause we’re obviously going to be weeding out some of them.
QRO: Are there any that you’ve already weeded out, or can’t play live, or just don’t like to play anymore?
NM: There’s a couple on Anytown that we’ve never played live, because of the way we recorded them. Some of the instrumentation, and our capabilities at the time – I think, if we had some sort of budget, live, and some time, and some extra equipment, we probably could have done it, but we figured out a while ago to operate on the ‘lean & mean’, figure out everything that we can handle, and don’t over-exert, because then there’s room for failure.
We just try to get our live show as tight and confident as possible. So a song like “Anytown Graffiti”, it’s lots of harmonies and stuff – I would look forward, one day, that we could actually step aside and learn it properly and play it. And I think we can, if we want to, but it’s just a timing, efficiency thing. And a song like “Rooftops” – it’s just a timing, efficiency thing more than anything else.
QRO: What cities have you really liked playing at?
NM: Honestly, we’ve had a great experience in pretty much every city. It’s tough to play favorites or anything like that, but we’ve gone in there looking forward to having a good time in every place that we’ve played, and we’ve come out having a good time.
I have to say, every town we’ve played, we’ve enjoyed. I mean, Seattle is a pretty special place, just because of the support from KEXP. I think it’s our biggest market. The enthusiasm is pretty inspiring – not that it isn’t in a place like San Francisco, it’s just different. Each city, they’re different animals – some towns, they just don’t go ‘ape shit’. Which is fine – it’s just a different thing.
We’re obviously looking forward to play in New York. It’s our hometown – our adopted hometown…
Every place truly has been great. I can’t think of a horrible experience. It’s nice, every time you go around on a different tour, you meet new people, you notice growth at the shows… It seems like, if it was already great, it keeps getting better.
QRO: Where are you going, when you play Europe?
NM: We’re working out some details with some people we’re working with, I don’t really know.
We’ve been laughing about this with these people we’re working with: the amount of requests coming in, they’re coming in from lots of different cities and countries over there, but Portugal has been ape shit…
NM: Which is really funny, because these promoters wrote months and months ago, ‘We want you over in Portugal in the fall, we’re determined to make this happen…’ And we’ve gotten literally six different promoters in the matter of the past two months, writing.
And that spawned this whole idea, ‘Well, we haven’t gone over there, things weren’t set up with the previous people we were working with – let’s try to figure this out.’ We have some people that we trust; we’re trying to work out all the details right now
But I think the goal is to hit a lot of major cities. Portugal isn’t a ‘main spot’, a ‘main routing’ over in Europe, when you’re starting out, but we’re certainly going to get there. Paris, London, Germany… Hopefully, we’ll be over there for at least two weeks. I think we’re probably looking at mid-October, mid-November, when we’re doing that.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story? I guess I already heard about what happened in Chicago, what happened in Denver…
NM: God, there’s a lot of them…
I don’t know what city it was, but somebody came up to Billy – and he did the artwork for Anytown Graffiti, and he’s most likely going to do the artwork for this next album – somebody got a tattoo of some of his artwork on their body. That brought a whole new level of intensity to the situation. That was pretty crazy.
There’s a lot of great stories. One of our greatest shows on this past tour was in Seattle. The night before Sasquatch!, the promoter, Zack, who promotes Sasquatch!, was really cool, understood that we had to cancel the last time we were there, and basically said, ‘Alright, you’re supposed to have a blackout period, but go – don’t announce it until a couple of weeks before Sasquatch!, but you can totally do a show.’
We played a much smaller venue than we normally would, so it was really intimate.