Interview — Kevin Martin shares his excitement on the bands Seattle reunion and the resonance of their self-titled debut 25 years later
“I could tear your walls down as I chip at who you are now”
And tear the walls down is exactly what they did.
July 20, 1993. Seattle, WA: Candlebox, consisting of lead singer Kevin Martin, guitarist Peter Klett, bassist Bardi Martin and drummer Scott Mercado, release their self-titled debut. A record that would go 4x platinum and contain a song in “Far Behind” that blossomed like a shooting arrow, never to come down.
But before that, to fully understand the resonance today, it’s fascinating to identify and furthermore appreciate the approach of Candlebox — one that was full of gratitude towards its Seattle community. There was a swagger. There were ballads mixed with get-out-of-my-face fireballs. All of it was Candlebox putting their self-made identity on display.
In the early 90’s, it was all about the music. The catch of the song that you can grab on to, have and hold, celebrate and call your own. Though that remains true today, and arguably is a fact that will always apply to good music, it was easy back then to lose sight of the little things poured into the art, simply because the music was so good.
For Candlebox, they did it their way. They came out of a beautifully ferocious Seattle gate swinging with “Change”, the album’s first single, and for many, the introduction to the band. “Change” was edited down to a four minute and thirty seconds ripper, but in totality and on the record, it’s over six minutes. The band had a lot to say in 11 songs, and this weekend they have the opportunity to say it again in the place where it all began. Twice actually.
For the first time in 12 years, we will see the original Candlebox lineup join forces this Saturday and Sunday, and take the Paramount Theater stage in Seattle before two sold-out (and incredibly enthusiastic) crowds. And now, 25 years later, with the original lineup locked at the arms, we might share in something great, but won’t you look at where we’ve grown. Won’t you look at where we’ve gone.
25 years of anything is commendable. But 25 years of an art that resonates in ways both old and new is remarkable. With that in mind, I had the chance to speak with Kevin Martin this week, the day before he took off for Seattle. We jump right into the rain and discuss how this reunion came to be, what 1993 was like for the band, and the emotion of what’s to come.
Yesterday, I sent Kevin a follow-up note. Here’s a snapshot:
JG: The four of you get in a rehearsal room for the first time in 12 years. You plug in and step to the mic. What’s the first song you play?
KM: “Don’t You”
JG: How did it feel?
This is it, Candlebox 25th anniversary week. How are you doing?
I’m a little nervous, but certainly excited. There’s more of an expectation now that the record has been around for so long. At the beginning, we didn’t know what to expect and we weren’t concerned about anything. Now, you have to think about if it’s going to be worth it for everybody. I’m more nervous than I should be, but that’s a good thing.
The last time we spoke, you mentioned the 25th anniversary was on the horizon, but you weren’t sure if it would be celebrated or if you would wait until the 30th. How did this all come together?
Everyone kept bringing it up to me — promoters, managers, agents and other bands. I realized we have to do something for the 25th. It came together quickly — a lot easier than I would have expected. Not only were the guys in the band ready to do it, but the promoters in Seattle immediately said, “Absolutely, we want to do something with you.” It took just a couple phone calls. I expected it to take a few months to organize and it all happened in about a week. Everyone was very excited from the start.
How about amongst just the four of you in the band. How did you arrange the logistics between you, Peter, Bardi and Scott joining forces after 12 years apart?
The funny thing is, I called the opening bands first. I wanted it to be something traditional — how we started in Seattle, and people we played shows with. So, I called each band and said, “If we do something, would you be interested in being on the bill?” Both said yes right away. Then I called Scott and kicked around the idea. He said, “absolutely.” Then I called Bardi and Pete and all three of them had the same response. Right away it was, “Are you kidding me? Yes, where do you want to do it? Just tell us where to be.”
It then became a conversation about us doing the album in sequence, song one through 11, or do we bounce around? We knew we wanted to play the entire record, but we weren’t positive if we’d play it in the exact tracklist order. Collectively, we determined we’d start at song one and end on 11 — how we did it back in the day. The reason the arrangement of the album is in that order is because that’s how we wanted it to flow. Doing it live that way is what we all really wanted. There was not a single argument about it. I thought for sure there would be four different opinions, but we all agreed that’s how it should be done.
Rehearsing for these shows, we’ll practice the set as it is going to be. We’ll have to do a few of them numerous times. None of us have played “No Sense” or “Rain” in a few years, but all the others I have been playing. The guys have gotten on stage with me and jammed in recent years, so they know those songs, but there are songs you have to run through to get a feel for it and make sure you have it right. You have to determine which songs to drag out and which will have extended solos, but the point is to roll through the record front-to-back.
You have the show component this weekend, but then you have the 25th anniversary of the record which is July 20th. Shows aside for a moment, what do you remember about that release day in 1993?
I remember thinking — I wonder how many records we are going to sell? There was a little bit of energy from “Change” being released as the single. There was an excitement building around who we were. We had shot the video for it in May. MTV was playing it so we knew people we’re hearing us. We didn’t know what to expect though. The first day I think we sold ten or twenty records. Knowing those records were being sold in different cities was most exciting for us. It meant people knew who we were. Our expectations were not as high as maybe they should have been.
Getting signed to Maverick records was a big deal. What was the thrill of that like for you?
Oh yeah. I think they were more excited than we were about the potential of the record. When we were approached by Maverick in the fall of 1992, it was one of the labels we had discussed. It was an independent through Warner Brothers and we liked the fact that Freddy DeMann was the president of the company. We knew his history — not only through managing Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, but also Madonna and his background managing promotions. We knew we had a great opportunity.
I remember the day we were going to sign the contract. Our attorney called us and told us we had been approached by four other labels that basically tripled the number that Maverick was offering. We sat at a table and looked at our options. We thought if we went to Geffen we were just another Seattle band. If we go to Atlantic, it might have been a better opportunity because it was heavy on Rock n’ Roll in the 90’s, as was Sony, but ultimately, we liked the fact that we would be the only band that Maverick was paying attention to. That’s what we wanted. We knew with Warner Brothers behind it, there was a lot available to us and we were able to make sure it was marketed and distributed the right way.
And obviously, Seattle at that time was a surreal place musically.
Well, I think it was a huge opportunity for every band that was coming out of Seattle. With the attention that was drawn from the late 80’s, every band had someone come take a look at them. It was easy for us to draw the attention of some of these majors because we were playing shows with some big bands that were being looked at — like Sweetwater, My Sister’s Machine, Green Apple Quickstep, the list goes on-and-on. But we were also the redheaded stepchild. We were much younger than much of those bands. I was about five years younger than many of the Seattle artists and Bardi didn’t turn 21 until the summer of ’92. It made it difficult because you couldn’t play many of the shows unless you were 21. That’s part of the reason why we didn’t have that history. We had also only been playing for a year-and-a-half. We hadn’t really worked as hard. People looked at us the wrong way sometimes. They thought we hadn’t paid our dues. It really had to do with the fact that our sound was so much different. We had that blues-based rock thing that worked for us. I often called us the Journey of the Seattle scene. We had love songs, we had different time signatures, and we went for something that was a little more arena rock as opposed to the dirtier underground sound.
So, you will be in Seattle on what would be Chris Cornell’s 54th birthday. It’s on the 25th anniversary of your debut, July 20th.
I think we might do something to pay our respects. Chris gave so much to that scene. He was one of my friends. I met him when I was really young, and he was always so kind and generous to me. He gave me a little bit of advice as a young singer. It’s going to be pretty deep being in Seattle on his birthday and playing a show on his birthday. It’s still a shock to a lot of people. My manager now was his old manager.
What I always appreciated about your debut record was there was a subtle confidence to it. It starts off with a chuckle and then kicks into “Don’t You.” There’s a courageous and ballsy punch to that. It really makes a statement of who you are.
I think you’re right. I remember Kelly Gray, when he finished mixing the album and we were getting ready to sequence it, he said to us, “You guys, had a lot of fun making this record. I have this thing that I think should start it off.” He played it for me and it was that laugh, and Kelly then wanted it to go right into “Don’t You” as a — kick em’ right in the teeth. I thought if he felt that strongly about it then OK, we should do it. Kelly knew what we were trying to say by us doing that. I also remember Andy Wood saying to me one day when I was working at a shoe store with Susan Silver, Soundgarden’s manager, that we should really do it our way and don’t let anyone direct us. He told us there were going to be a ton of naysayers and not to pay attention to any of them.
Do you remember where you were when you wrote “Far Behind”?
I know exactly where I was when it was written. It was the first day Bardi came to join the band. We needed a bass player. A friend of mine who I went to school with told me about our classmate Bardi. I didn’t know who he was. I knew his sister, Laura, but Bardi was in Ireland on an exchange program. I had never met him. So, I ended up getting his number and I called him and asked if he would come down to the studio to play bass. He said sure. Pete asked him if he had any music. He had this bassline. It was what became the guitar part for “Far Behind”. Pete took it home that night and came back the next day and said he took Bardi’s riff and turned into a guitar part, is that OK? We thought it was rad and started jamming on it. At the time, we were in Mother Love Bone’s old rehearsal studio. I immediately started thinking about Andy. The first words out of my mouth were, “Now Andy, I didn’t mean to treat you bad, but I did it anyway.” The concept of the song and what came to me was his struggle with drug addiction and success. I wanted to tell his story from the perspective of the drug. That’s really what it is. This life that was leading him and saying, “I’m sorry, but you chose me, and this is what I do, this is how destructive I am.” The more I sang it, the more it lent itself to being about him and what he meant to many musicians at the time. He had inspired so many. It has just continued to be that story for me. I still love playing it.
Did you know after you recorded it that you had something special?
I think we did, but we weren’t really concerned with what would become of a song we were able to write. It was the third single, after “Change” and “You”, so we held onto it for a bit. It was just one of those songs that we knew some people would like and the rest of Seattle was going to hate.
What does 25 yeas of your debut record mean to you now?
What a great gift this record was for us. What great fans we have as well. If I could go back and redo it, there’s nothing I would do differently. It means the world to me. It has given me my career. It has given me life. It has given me meaning. It has given me great satisfaction and I’m very grateful for it. I’m very grateful for what it taught me about myself. In terms of music, it showed me what we four friends were capable of.
What does being able to do these shows in Seattle with the original lineup mean to you?
I’m playing these shows in Seattle with my buddies. The guys I wrote the record with so long ago. They mean so much to each and every ounce of this record. It’s not one guy. It’s the whole. It’s so special to me to go back to that city where we started and play the Paramount with my friends — and that’s not just the band, it’s also all the people who bought tickets to come see us. It’s the greatest gift.
“And I’ll take everything as it comes my way. Feel in my heart it’s for you”