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joyELECTRIC

interview with Ronnie Martin by James Equator

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"..

RM- yes.

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 
usually get

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 
artistic..

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 
time.
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 
hungarian"..

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 
the body?

RM- (silence)

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 
self-parody...

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 
"strangeways..")?

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 
me..

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..

J- detached.

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 
to yourself.. 

RM- yeah..

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?

RM- grapeheads.

J-  i haven't bought (the new joy electric e.p.) "starcadia" or 
downloaded any of the songs... how would you describe "starcadia"

RM- well...

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 
record?

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, 
beautiful record.

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 
record.

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.

RM- cool..

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 
electric go?

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 
stuff..

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.

 

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