With his release of his first label-backed album in his discography, Dogs in the Daylight, hammer swinger Jeffrey Martin taps into a timeless and aching sound. It could easily have been recorded with a pop and a hiss in the one-take era of quintessential blues and songwriting with the likes of Son House and Mississippi Slim.
Though scattered with accompaniment from the likes of local fiddler Anna Tivel and Portland’s Sam Howard, the album, despite being heavy at times, is carried from good to great by lyrics and a voice for which Martin will be known from this point forward. We spoke with Jeffrey about his journey, the low points, and how he’s measuring success to this point in his career.
Here’s is an excerpt from our interview with Jeffrey about his new album. For the entire interview, check out our Aug/Sept digital edition of Poppycock Magazine here (use coupon code NKTX62CT1OOL for a 50% discount on the 1-year subscription), also available in print at Reading Frenzy in Portland.
P: You’re releasing Dogs in the daylight in partnership with Fluff and Gravy Records, a label here in Portland. You’ve self-released a couple of albums before this one, so how did your partnership with Fluff and Gravy come about?
JM: A few years ago I played a local festival, and John and Chad just happened to be there. We became friends after that. Actually, I didn’t even know that they ran a label until a while after that, so I just started hanging out with them and playing music with those guys. We were friends for a while before we really talked.
P: So, this is your first record label partnership release. When did those first two albums come out in relation to Dogs in the Daylight? What kind of measurable or relative success did those first two albums enjoy?
JM: That first album, Gold in the Water, I put out in 2009. Then the following EP I put out in 2011. Both of them sold well at shows. I have a pretty solid fan base here in the NW, but out in the world and the press, nobody really heard them. This is really the first album with a bigger push, I’d say.
P: With your first two albums, were you just your own PR department? Just you hustling for gigs and press?
JM: Totally. I was sending albums out to radio stations, magazines, folks I’d met on the road, promoters, and whatnot. Trying to do it that way, and I was entering a lot of contests in search of finding my way in. That was pretty tiring.
P: What has gone into this album which gives it something special for you?
JM: It just feels like it’s from me more so than the others. Gold in the Water was my first attempt at recording anything. Those songs on that album were pretty freshly written. It was one of those deals where I wanted to record, but I needed to write more songs so I could make a full album. I was trying to find my voice, both vocally and in my writing for those first two, actually. When I go back and listen to them now, or someone tells me they really like something from those, it’s kind of odd because that’s not at all what I sound like live anymore. This one is the first album I have that I can listen to that still feels like that’s how I still play those songs and sing those songs.
P: You’ve got some great accompaniment in this album; beautiful fiddle and other instrumentation and vocals. Who were you able to bring on with this album that really fills out the sound you’ve captured?
JM: I was really slow to collaborate with people. I’ve never done that before, actually. It’s really hard for me to do. I find a lot of people who want to play with me, but more often than not they detract from the feeling I want to have when I’m playing. So, Anna Tivel played fiddle on the album. We’ve been playing together for years and we just hit it off right away. We met at a show and then ended up jamming together later that night. She is just the most intuitive player that I know. Then there’s Sam Howard, met him through the Portland music scene, and it’s the same with him: He only adds things. He never takes away. So, all those guys, they were people I very carefully picked because I’d jammed with them before and I knew that they had the touch. I wanted a fuller sounding album, but I didn’t want it to sound complicated or overproduced. It still sounds pretty simple and I really like that.
P: You had mentioned that you got to where you are with assemblage photography after the OKC bombing, and had lost a love or desire for editorial photography. Can we talk a bit about that?
MC: I was an assistant picture editor, and I was looking at the wire pictures as they came across with all of that. It just devastated me. I was appalled at that and got fed up with journalism and humanity at the time, frankly. It made me not want to look at news pictures anymore.
P: How long had you been working in journalism up to that point?
MC: I started doing photojournalistic work in the army. I did a lot of work for public affairs offices. That would have been early 80’s, I guess. When I got out of the army I went to school and got my journalism degree; graduated in ‘88. Got my first gig in Maryland that same year. I was working as a newspaper photographer for six to seven years. Then I got a job at Army Times as a picture editor and had been doing that for a few years.
Ya know, I used to be a real news junkie. CNN was on all the time, read a few papers a day, but I just got overloaded with the Oklahoma bombing.
P: So, how did you stumble upon this type of assemblage art that you do now? Was this a past hobby, an interest, or something you just happened upon?
MC: While I was kind of getting away from the actual taking of pictures and the editing, I was also getting more involved with assemblage art from found materials. My dad had done that for years, he was a big fan of Cornell. I had been around it for many years, and I loved my dad’s work, but I always looked at it and thought about doing something different, ya know? “Hey, that’d be really cool if that had a lightbulb in it.”
I started doing the same kind of work with found materials, but more technological thing; circuit boards, hard drive platters, etc. I did that as a creative outlet for about ten years or so. I would find and collect these things that were intrinsically interesting to look at, but I never really figured out a way to put them into an assemblage piece at the time. Then the little people came along when I got my first model railroad people for some other thing I was constructing that I can’t think of now.
I pulled them out and put them on a circuit board and was like, “Wow, these fit perfectly. This is no longer a circuit board. It’s an industrial installation!” I started taking pictures of these little guys on the circuit boards because I loved what it did to the scale of everything.
See more of Mark’s work at markcrummett.net
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