Candlebox Frontman Kevin Martin on Keeping the Band Afloat in 2016
By Chris Steffen
May 17, 2016
In April, Seattle hard rock veterans Candlebox released their sixth album, Disappearing in Airports. Frontman Kevin Martin is all that remains of the lineup that delivered hits like "Far Behind," "Cover Me" and "You," although current drummer Dave Krusen, formerly of Pearl Jam, has been in and out of the band since 1996. With the rest of the original lineup departing last year, it's been up to Martin to keep the U.S.S. Candlebox afloat, and he's not backing away from the task.
We called up Martin while he was on the road in Montana to talk about warming an audience up to new material when they may just expect to hear the hits, the metal band he never liked as a kid but has come around on as an adult, and why he sees a kindred spirit in Chris Daughtry.
AllMusic: You were playing a handful of new tracks live before Disappearing in Airports came out. How do you ease an audience into new material?
Kevin Martin: When we first started as a band, no one knew who we were, so we were playing songs nobody knew, and I still approach it the same way, that we’re going to play something you’ve never heard and hopefully you like it. It’s an interesting experience, because you get the looks of, “I like this song,” but you also get, “What’s going on and why am I not hearing the first record in its entirety?” It’s a necessary evil, but I enjoy it a lot, because I’ve been playing those other songs for 20 years, so it’s the most energetic part of the show. The textures in the new songs really lend themselves to our live show now, where with the harmonies and guitar parts in these songs, it makes for more ear candy, whereas a lot of the old Candlebox stuff was so singularly guitar-driven, I think a lot of it is people allowing their ears to hear the songs rather than listening for the old stuff.
AllMusic: Can you recall hearing a new song live and it making you more excited for the album?
Martin: All the time, like the first time I saw Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, and especially recently, I went and saw the War on Drugs in Los Angeles and they played a new song, and when you’re a fan of the band, that’s when you appreciate that they’re giving you something that you haven’t heard. But then there are other people that only want to hear the old stuff. So for me, being a fan of music, it’s what I look forward to, and what I enjoy about going to see live music, is play me something I haven’t heard.
AllMusic: How far back were you seeing those early Soundgarden shows?
Martin: The first time I saw Soundgarden, Chris Cornell was playing drums, they were a three-piece. I was lucky enough to experience that, and that was before, Ultramega OK came out, so when that was released, it was a pleasure to sit down and hear their concept of how it should sound on record.
AllMusic: Grant McFarland and Carson Slovak, the producers of Disappearing in Airports, have a diverse resume, even including some death metal albums. What about them appealed to you?
Martin: I’d worked with Carson and his project, Century. I was working with Chad and Patrick of Live on the Gracious Few, and I sang on a track Carson had produced and said, “This is really contemporary and heavy and loud and clean,” and I enjoyed working with him. When it was time to pick a producer, I’d heard what he’d done with Everclear and August Burns Red, and I like their production techniques, the subtle harmonics they run through their kick drum and the bass, I thought that was something Candlebox always lacked, was that heavier audiophile type of sound.
AllMusic: When you're playing live and look at the setlist and see that one of the old hits is coming up, what goes through your mind?
Martin: Sometimes your headspace is, “I don’t want to play that one right now, why did I put it there in the set,” sometimes you want to switch it out, let’s play it differently, let me sing it differently, maybe I’m feeling some emotional attachment that hasn’t been there in my mind for the last few times I sang it. It depends, really. A lot of it relies on the audience and how their reaction is to the show up to that point. We start our sets most nights with “Don’t You,” the first song from the first record, to spark that energy from the crowd. That’s always fun for me, it allows me to see instantaneously what the audience is going to be like for the rest of the show, and that sets up your mind for when “Change” or “Cover Me” or “You” comes up. I’d say 90 percent of the time it’s based on the audience and how they’re reacting to the show.
AllMusic: As the last remaining original member, are you feeling more pressure than you have before to keep the band running?
Martin: Definitely, it was hard for me to realize that this was going to be a different record for us without Pete and Scott. Even though Dave has played on the last four Candlebox records, I knew I was going to be expected to release something that was better than anything we did. It was a big pressure, but I’ve always worked well under that, and I knew what I wanted and how I was going to get it with Adam and Dave. I didn’t know if Brian and Mike were really going to be able to step up to the way I’m used to working, which is under the pressure of not wanting to spend three weeks in the studio. We did drums and bass in four days, guitar overdubs in two and vocals in six, so I was pretty shocked with what they were able to pull out of themselves in the studio. Knowing that was resting on my shoulders allowed me to push myself that much further and make a record that people didn’t maybe expect from Candlebox.
AllMusic: Were you that efficient in the early days?
Martin: The first record, we were very efficient, but Lucy, we were not efficient at all, Happy Pills, not efficient at all. Into the Sun, the producer sat down and said, “Your drummer is taking too much time,” because Scott’s a perfectionist, and when it came time to be less mind, more heart, he was always so in his head with it. When a producer says, “We don’t have time to work with this drummer and we have 10 days to finish these tracks,” that made it difficult for us. I think with Love Stories, we were, because Ken Andrews is a genius as a producer and was able to keep us focused and do a lot of the guitar and percussion work without us being there, so he did a lot by himself. So we weren’t always the most efficient in the studio. Now because everybody was so hungry to make this record, we all knew what we were going for, and it was the first time I’ve been able to make a record for 12 thousand dollars and have it sound like it cost 200,000 dollars.
AllMusic: Is there a band that you tried to make yourself like but you never really got all the way into?
Martin: Growing up, you have friends that love Iron Maiden and they love Sabbath, and you want to go along with it. I was not a fan of Iron Maiden when I grew up, I just didn’t get it, I didn’t get the whole Eddie thing, the metal element, it was something where I’d hang out with my friends and they’d listen to it and I’d be like, “Oh, cool,” but I didn’t appreciate them until about five years ago when I started really listening to their records, and I understood at that point why there was this fascination with this band. At the time, trying to enjoy it with my friends who were enjoying it and fitting in with that crowd, I gave them every single opportunity and just didn’t get it.
AllMusic: Was there a specific Maiden album that finally brought you in?
Martin: I think it was Killers, because it’s a punk rock record. I grew up on punk rock, which is funny, because the kids in high school weren’t listening to Killers, it was “The Trooper” and stuff like that, so I wasn’t hearing that side of Iron Maiden, I was only hearing the Bruce Dickinson operatic metal kind of thing, and so when I heard Killers, I was like, “How the fuck did I miss this?”
AllMusic: Is there a song that you think is "perfect"?
Martin:Otis Redding, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” is that song for me. And not the album version, but the Monterey Pop version, where he’s so lost in the song, he’s so in love with who he’s singing about, calling out to repeat the part, “Give it to me one more, give it to me one more,” to me, that’s the definition of being a musician, being an artist, where you love something so much that you absolutely have to sing it again. When I got that CD collection, I probably listened to that version 100 times, I said, “This is so passionate,” and to me, it’s the perfect song. Otis Redding is the perfect musician, the perfect songwriter, the perfect artist, the perfect frontman.
I also have that a lot with the Clash, “Lost in the Supermarket” is another song that, to me, I can’t listen to it one time, it has to be repeated two or three times, because there’s so much interesting texture, the voice is so off, the bass part is so random, the drumming is so simple but so instrumental to how that song flows, so that’s another one for me. They’re one of my favorite all-time bands, ever.
AllMusic: Have you made any unexpected friends through music?
Martin: Chris Daughtry, I’ve been friends with him for a long, long time. I never expected to become friends with him, I met him at a party through a friend of mine, and we had an instant conversation about music and life, and I didn’t know his musical history was as vast as it was before American Idol, and we still talk quite a bit. We only talk about family when we’re together, what’s going on there, and if we do talk about music, it’s what we’re listening to and how we feel about our new records, but it’s never the first thing we discuss, which I think is cool. He’s been pretty misunderstood over the years as far as what his musical talents are, and I think maybe I feel like a bit of a kindred spirit with him, because of Candlebox being so disregarded by the Seattle scene for so long, even to this day, maybe I have an understanding of what he’s gone through and what he’s going through as a musician, maybe that’s why we get along so well.