J- ok.. first of all, you're ronnie martin of joy electric.. that's correct?
RM- that is correct, yes
J- do you like doing interviews?
RM- yeah, i don't mind them at all, i don't mind them at all
J- alright. right now, you're supporting an album you released in
august 2001 called "legacy-volume 1: the white songbook"..
J- and how is the tour going so far?
RM- so far, it's been pretty good.. tonight, it's looking a little
empty and weird...
J- yeah.. the crowd isn't quite.. "jumpin"
RM- yeah i think it's a little bit too big of a capacity for what we
J- we'll crowd up front and make it seem more substantial than it is..
RM- yeah, it'll be ok. thus far, it's been ok.
J- what are the responses to the new material that you're playing
like? .. because.. y'know, you had a lot of fans come on during, like, "robot rock" and "christiansongs" and the
new album is a lot different than that.. how would you say those fans are
responding to the new material that you're playing?
RM- (thoughtful sounding) oh, i don't know.. i think.. y'know.. the
fans sort of grow as we grow, so.. i mean, there are certain people that
would like the albums to keep doing a "robot rock" thing over and over
again... and i don't think we've really strayed far from that, to be honest. i'm
still using the same kind of sounds and doing the same stuff i've always
done. "white songbook" was definitely a little bit longer and a little more
J- yeah.. the songs are about two or three minutes longer a piece...
RM- yeah, they are.. so i just try to do the biggest thing i can do at
the time, and, so far.. to be honest, with "white songbook".. in terms of
like a fan feedback standpoint, i've gotten better feedback and more fan
response on "white songbook" than any other record by a long shot.. i've got more
people saying they like it.. cause, we've gotten a lot of people that weren't
fans before that are fans now because of "white songbook", so it's done some
good.. made some inroads there i think..
J- are you personally satisfied with the recording and the songs and
how it all come out in the end?
RM- yeah... in the end, i probably like half of it really well..
y'know, i had so many problems when i made it.. i had a lot of equipment problems
in the beginning which really made it take a long time.. it was just a
hard record to make..
J- a year and a half in the making, right?
RM- more or less. so that kinda dug me down deep into it so there's
parts that i don't really like because i remember how long it took me to do
it.. it just sounds too labored.. it really helped me grow, though.. it was a
good learning experience..
J- would you say that the songs themselves aren't flawed, it's just
that you have a bad experience coming from the studio?... and.. when you listen
to it, it reminds you...?
RM- y'know... i really do like the album, in spite of the misery and
all that.. it's kind of cliched right now to say "oh , the miserable album
experience", so i don't really like to get all into that either...
y'know, i do these records alone, so every record has kind of not been the
greatest experience because i just am not really a studio.. (trails off for a
moment)... it's ironic i do this kind of music which is all-inclusive
to being in the studio and i don't really like the studio that much... so
there's that real clash there which is kind of a problem.. and the fact
that i have to work entirely alone makes me a little insanity-proned at
times.. sometimes it makes me a little crazy. this record moreso than
others... some of the songs, i'd work them over a hundred times and i just couldn't
get em right, but every album's like that. i think, with this record, i
definitely made stuff a little too complex for myself and you can kinda hear it in
the songs... so, for some of those, i like the way they sounded.. like..
i'm really happy with a song like "shepherds of the northern pasture".. i
really like the way that turned out.. whereas, other ones i actually really
like.. like "the heritage bough".. i like it, i just with i'd done a lot of
different things to it but i just couldn't get my head sorted at the
J- speaking of "the heritage bough"... can you recall where this line
had its origins? .. "favors once sung by ravers reared on newsboys learned in
RM- oh i dunno.. it's kind a mish-mash of lines.. it's sort of really
talking about how it seems like music fans usually grow intellectually as
people and as music fans.. but in the Christian community, that doesn't seem to be
the case. because, if you start out listening to those kind of bands, to
grow more intellectually, you've gotta pull yourself away from those bands..
so, what happens when you're a fan of those bands and you're still a fan
ten years later and you're not really getting fed anything more? .... and
i'm not trying to slight people that listen to those bands.. people can
listen to whatever they want.. i listen to all kinds of different stuff.. so it's
not saying that somebody who listens to newsboys isn't intellectual.. i
don't mean that at all.. but.. those bands are really for people that aren't
necessarily music fans... they just like something on in the
background.. something while they're doing their homework.. something to drive along
to.. they're not really critical music fans.. and unfortunately, joy
electric is a band slash sound that unfortunately, or fortunately, sort of requires
you to be somewhat of a music fan to appreciate some parts of it..
J- (moving along..) does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule
J- ok nevermind.. but you're a big smiths fan?
RM- (smiling) right.. i knew that was from the smiths.. i didn't know
if you were asking that as a question..
J- no, i was just looking for an "i don't know"
RM- (playing along) "i don't know" .. sorry, man.. i blew it..
J- no, it's cool.. it's fine... first of all, is "strangeways here we
come" (the smiths' final album) really underrated or justifiably criticized?
RM- you think it's underrated?
J- a lot of people really pan that album... they say it's
RM- self parody?? (emphatically) i mean, you could say that about every
album after the first one.. and they never really made a different album or
wrote a different song, in my opinion, and that's why i like them. that's why
i like a band like the pet shop boys. if you like this song, you're probably
gonna like the next song because there's not THAT much of a difference.. i
like bands that are like that.. i'm a big fan of bands that lock into a
sound and they don't progress.. they just refine.. so.. i dunno.. i like
"strangeways". it's not my favorite album. obviously, i'm a "queen is
dead" fan, as most people are.
J- i'm a "meat is murder" fan.
RM- i like some of "meat is murder" too..
J- i dig everything but the last two tracks.. but.. i wasn't actually
just aiming to talk about the smiths..
RM- we can talk about anything..
J- is the title track to "five stars for failure" at all influenced by
"last night i dreamt somebody loved me" (which is one the aforementioned
RM- not at all.. although i do love that song... obviously, it has the
same kind of themes.. it's obviously real.. self pity, "i'm the last guy on
earth and nobody cares" teenage angst kind of a song...
J- right.(moving along..) you've got a unique singing style. actually,
i've never heard anyone else sing like you.. and it's very good.. and i was
wondering how you originally stumbled upon that and found your sound
with your voice..
RM- well when we started with dance house (dance house children with
jason martin), it was at the height of all the madchester stuff at the end
of the 80's.. so it was bands like the charlatans and stone roses and candy
flip and the beloved and all these house music groups.. and they all had this
real hushy singing tone.. and we just thought it sounded neat, my brother
and i.. so we just said.. let's just do real hushed singing.. that's just what
i did and it's become sorta less like that as the years have gone by...
J- it's a little more otherworldly or something..
RM- yeah, and i kind of like that it's not really how people think it
would sound if they talked to me... so it's just.. wanting to sing more at
the top of my range, rather than at the low end, cause i find that a lot of
people that have done electronic pop have always done this real depeche modey
style where they sing all "uh" (demonstrating) gutteral and i hate.. i just
never liked that..
J- so you're not a depeche mode fan?
RM- i am but i've never wanted to sound like that.. and i'm really
turned off by all the groups that have mimicked their style throughout the years..
but.. having said that, i think martin gore is one of the greatest
songwriters of all time.. but.. musically, i don't know how much they've influenced
J- what do you think of the resurgence of synthpop in the indie scene
such as the faint and ladytron? do you like that stuff?
RM- yeah.. i mean.. i have all those records.. faint, ladytron, adult,
miss kitten and the hacker, fischer spooner, i am spoonbender, laridmus
digitalis.. there's all these bands like that.. yeah, there's
definitely kind of a resurgence or kraftwerk-style pop, but i don't know how much we're
going to fit in with all that.. we get named alongside some of those bands on
occasion.. but.. i don't know.. what do you think about it?
J- i like it. it's ok. i mean... i guess it's... different than joy
e... it's a little more rock, y'know..
RM- the faint is..
J- ladytron is more like.. i get the feeling i'm going through a "blade
runner" shopping mall when i'm listening to them..
RM- yeah, that's a good point.. yeah.. i like the faint because they
definitely have a songwriting approach that i like. they're definitely
more abrasive than what we do, but i like that they focus more on pop
songs.. and.. some of the other groups like ladytron or adult or miss kitten
are more about real monotone vocals and being really..
RM- detached.. and elusive.. they're taking a certain mystique from
that era with groups like kraftwerk or john foxx or something and they're sort
of running with that.. i mean.. i like the vibe and i like the sounds and
stuff.. but.. i'm definitely way more into classic pop writing... but i
like that there's a scene coming up like that that's getting a little more
respect.. with bands that use analog synths..
J- do you keep up with indie music that's not synthesizer-oriented?
if so, what are some of your favorites out right now?
RM- y'know, i do keep up with it by name.. i don't hear a lot of it.. i
mean.. i'm aware as the next indie guy when the new burning airlines
records come out but i don't buy them.. and i read reviews of montreal and all
that stuff but i don't buy it.. i'm aware by name of lots of bands but i
just know that most of them won't really tickle my interest. i'm trying to think
what i've bought recently...
J- so.. what's in the works for plastiq musiq?
RM- goat explosion full-length coming in june.. september equation
coming in may.. new sampler featuring new tracks coming in may... norway's
starting a new record. so that's about it, really.
J- are you feeling better about plastiq musiq than you did in the
early days of the label?
RM- yeah.. y'know.. we just didn't get the time to really develop
things early on when we were with tooth and nail.. we were just under
pressure.. and i sorta had to fight for my vision.. which.. really never does any good
when you've got clashing opinions about things.. and you're only as good as
the bands you put out.. and we were really limited to who is doing stuff..
and it's a lot different now three or four years later..
J- (at random) soviet is great..
RM- yeah.. that record's really good.. yeah.. just bands like that.. it
takes some time after you start a label, especially when you're doing
something as strange as what we're doing, to get bands that are filtering in and
doing that kind of stuff... so i'm pretty happy with the roster now.
J- you said something to the effect of... you actually started the
label partially so you wouldn't seem like you were doing something so strange
with joy electric.. so maybe you could surround yourself with bands similar
J- so.. is it important for you to.. uh.. do you consider joy electric
part of any scene?
RM- well.. no band really likes to be associated with a particular
scene, but every band is associated with the style they're doing as unto that
scene. and, i think one of our problems is that, when there has been scenes..
such as now, with the electroclash scene and ladytron and all those bands..,
i think it would really help us from like a press standpoint if people
regarded us as something in that scene.
J- so it is important for you to develop a scene with plastiq musiq
that you can be a part of?
RM- well, we definitely have with this market.. the hard part is
getting out of this market.. if you're talking about the christian market,
(emphatically again) this is IT... and i don't think there's any arrogance attached
to that.. it's just fact, y'know. if you wanna get this kind of music,
there is nowhere else to go. and that's not really saying that much.. cause..
y'know.. the Christian industry's kind of in a fishbowl anyway.. so...
it's like.. where are you gonna go? if you want a band that's like joy
electric or sounds like joy electric, you have joy electric and you have plastiq
musiq and that's quite literally it. we have made strides creating a smaller
scene with that, but you can only go so far... and we're trying to go outside
of that market.. and soviet has definitely made inroads, which is cool..
J- yeah! they were in alternative press...
RM- amongst other magazines... so it's been really cool... (pulls box
of candy out of pocket)
J- what is ronnie martin snacking on?
J- i haven't bought (the new joy electric e.p.) "starcadia" or
downloaded any of the songs... how would you describe "starcadia"
J- it's set in the late 70's?
RM- yeah it's really nothing like "white songbook".. it's kind of like
me consciously making a new wave record.. the way a band like soft cell
would have done it back in 1979.. so it was kind of that vibe.. whereas..
people always namecheck our stuff like that, but i'm never purposely trying to
sound like some older band. to me, it's the sound of the future..
(coincidentally, kraftwerk's "computerworld" beings to play over the PA speakers) .. i'm
never trying to do this.. computerworld.. but...("starcadia") was kind of an
attempt to just do that... just give into it and be kind of fun and
fast and quick with it..
J- i read that it's pretty short..
RM- yeah all the songs are very short..
J- in STARK contrast to "the white songbook"
RM- yeah. definitely in stark contrast.
J- can you tell us about (new non-synthesizer side project) shepherd?
RM- what do you want to know?
J- who are some of your influences for the work you did on this
RM- not too many influences... i wanted to make a very 70's-sounding
rock record like fleetwood mac.. where there's no effect, no compression..
everything's really dry.. drums are kinda busy.. bassline's
understated.. guitar is minimal, no chords. so i took a little joy electric
philosophy and added it to my guitar playing.. didn't play hardly any chords..
everything's really all individual notes.. just wanted to make a really melancholy,
J- did you play piano on it at all?
RM- nope.. guitar, bass, and drums. and one vocal. very stripped
down. you probably won't hear anything this minimal on a (modern) guitar
J- that's good.. considering how everybody overloads guitar records..
RM- it's kind of the trend right now, with the exception of all the
garage-ey stuff like strokes.. yeah.. people are trying to do their big
production and i don't really care for that too much with a rock album.
i like everything to be bare-bones..
J- what can we expect from "legacy-volume II"?
RM- well, the key word right now is minimalism... and that's kind of
where i'm gonna be at for the remainder of my life in electronic music.. as
opposed to the first chapter.. all these years when it's been not
minimalistic.. it's been like "let's use these monophonic synths and create this big, crazy
layered sound".. and i'm just sort of done with that now.. and it's
about having a lot of space.. kind of like what kraftwerk did.. making not
too many sounds but making every sound count for a lot.. it's about making
things harder on myself.. i'm only using analog sequencers now so it's even
making things a little more extreme than they were before.. i'm limiting
myself even more.. to make a more interesting sound, really.. we're probably gonna
play a new one off "the legacy" tonite..
J- i'm looking forward to it.
J- where do you see joy electric going? you said the remainder of your
life in electronic music.. how long do you see this lasting? where can joy
RM- i don't know.. it's a good question.. songwriting is just
incredibly easy for me... and i say that out of no ego of my own... everybody has
their certain struggles.. and songwriting has never been a struggle, so i've
chosen, with "legacy VII" and beyond, just to really focus on that... i
always have, but the music has tended to bog me down in the past... so,
i've made a conscious decision to not let that happen anymore and let a
little more enjoyment come into the process. so.. y'know, as long as there is
somebody... (which could actually be myself if it comes down to it in
years to come)... to put out these records, then i'll continue to do them
unless it becomes unfeasible in whatever which way.. y'know... if i feel like God
just doesn't want me to continue with this.. but.. the great thing about
electronic music, i think, is that.. y'know.. kraftwerk was 40 years
old when they made this record but it sounds like it was made by a bunch of
kids.. it's something that always sounds fresh.. what i like about it is that
i'll never resort to being the old guy with the acoustic guitar.. you can be
like 50 years old and you still make something that sounds like this
(indicates the speakers which are now playing "computer love") and you don't sound
like bob dylan.. you don't sound like this creakity-voice, old.. strumming
the guitar.. singing about all of life's disappointments and all that
J- .. will you tour when you're 50 years old?
RM- i dunno.. that's a hard question.. it depends on what kind of
support we would get.. i think if we continue to make record solidly throughout
the years, there will always be a chance to tour.. i mean.. i might feel
silly touring at 50 playing to a lot of 13 year old fans or something.. but..
at LEAST i'll be making the records.. and.. if you're still a fan twenty
years from now, maybe you'll still buy them. you're always depending on
people to continue buying the records, that's the thing. yeah.. i mean.. as
long as there are still people buying them.. i guess it could come to a point
where sales are so low, it might feel like, "why am i doing this if only two
people buy these records?".. right now, we're not platinum sellers, but
there's enough of a fanbase there where it feels pretty good and we get a lot
of support.. obviously, tonight, it wouldn't seem like we do... but you
know what i'm saying..
J- well, we're here (gesturing toward my friend jesse).. and that
counts for something..
RM- yeah it does.. but we need more than two people.
J- yeah i know... finally.. say some guy comes walking down the
sidewalk here, and he's wearing a poison t-shirt.. are you gonna pull him aside
and show him "funny"?
RM- (laughing) noo..... i'd just like to ask him why he wears the
poison t-shirt.. i'd just like to ask him why he pretends like he grew up on
poison when in actuality, probably, he didn't. he probably just bought a
squad 5-0 record and then wanted to wear a poison shirt.
J- i think that's gonna be it. thanks a lot.
RM- it's been good talking to you.
J- good talking to you too.