Kevin Martin (Candlebox) – Xperience History
Written by Staff on January 21, 2024
Interview with Kevin Martin of Candlebox – Originally published 04/01/20 – by Liam Sweeny.
RRX: Everyone has strong feelings for the era they cut their teeth in. So, for me, that was grunge, and while I was in New York, my ears were in Seattle. Now, every band I know thinks they are at the center of the creative world at some point, but you actually were. Did you feel the scene’s “gravity” back then, or was it all just a good time?
KM: We certainly felt the gravity of it. I mean, you know, I moved when I was fourteen years old, January 20th, 1985. It was just starting then, and there was a lot of amazing music happening. I had come from a punk rock background in San Antonio to this kind of… dirgy rock scene, which they were giving the name of grunge to. I called it ‘acid rock.’ And it was interesting, because I was just about to turn fifteen years old, so I had gone from a completely different understanding of music. And shortly thereafter, I took a job working in a shoe store with Susan Silver, who was running Soundgarden, and a bunch of bands, so at sixteen, I was immersed in the scene. I think at that point I realized I was going to be singing; I was still playing drums in a punk band; I wasn’t singing in a rock band. I didn’t look at it in any perspective that I do now. Candlebox is the first job I had as a singer where I was stuck with it. So I’m sort of reluctantly the singer of a rock and roll band. Yeah, so I really thing you knew something was happening. And it was still a time when people were still tacking fliers on telephone poles, handing out fliers to shows on First Avenue and Pike Street. It was an exciting period, but the musicians knew, right around 1987 – 1988, that there was something happening with the scene – you know, we were getting A&R guys coming out to see shows, Michael Stone and guys like that who were checking out Mudhoney and stuff like that. So I think everybody knew something was gonna happen, but nobody knew it was going to blow up like it did. And then of course around ’89, everything changes, so ’89 – ’96 really, that city was producing some of the greatest music and having some of the greatest successes in the world. So it was very exciting. But did I think I was going to make it? No. I didn’t.
RRX: For a long time in the nineties, Candlebox was chewing up the Billboard more than it wasn’t. And to me, it was cool recognition for a band that kicked ass, but for you, what was the success like? Was it a source of power? Or was it ever a burden? Can you approach what you do in the same way pre- and post-success?
KM: I would say it’s a burden. I mean, we were kind of the red-headed step child of the scene. We didn’t handle the success very very well. I don’t really know. It was hard for us; we kind of fell into one another’s hands as a band. I went to school with the bass player, but because he was a foreign exchange student from Ireland, I didn’t know him. I knew the drummer kind of. I didn’t know Pete at all. He was introduced to Scott and I by Kelly Gray who produced our first and second records. So it was a very happy accident for us, but it was an enormous insurance policy that got cashed at great damage to each of us individually. Because none of us were prepared for it. When you’re making the kind of money we were making from 1994 to 1998, you do stupid shit, and you think it’s gonna last forever, and it doesn’t, and everybody tells you it doesn’t.
Pre- or post success? Post success is so much easier to look back on it and say ‘those were huge mistakes, don’t ever do them again.’ For me, I do it exactly how I want to do it. I don’t let anybody dictate to me which direction I should be going, what songs I should be writing, who I should be writing for. I don’t let labels dictate to me who I should and should not tour with. It’s mine. Pre-success, you’re following the rules. As much as you’re trying to say you’re not, the battle is that the label has all the money and really, in order to succeed at all, you’ve got to play their game. Unless you were Nirvana, and of course, that was inevitable. Kurt Cobain pushed back at every chance he could get against Geffen Records. Bands like Candlebox, and Presidents of the United States of America and The Sweetwaters and the what-nots that came after Soundgarden Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam, we all cut out to play that, and it was unfortunate
RRX: Candlebox has gone through lineup changes, which is expected for a band that got it’s start in 1990. And you all had disbanded between 2000 and 2006. I used to think that changing band members and taking breaks was tough, but I’ve seen a lot of bands get stronger because of it. What’re the pros and cons of change over the long term?
KM: The great thing about Candlebox is that we were never the sum of our parts. People always look at us and think of us as the whole. People love Candlebox; it’s not ‘I love Kevin Martin, I love Peter —, I love Marty, I love Scott Mercado.’ I don’t think anybody knew who we were as individuals. I don’t think people knew, “Kevin Martin’s the singer for Candlebox” or “Peter is the guitar player for Candlebox.” There’s maybe one percent of our audience; of the 7 million people worldwide that purchased a Candlebox record, I’d say one percent of those people knew who we were individually. I think the nice thing about what has happened over the years is, you know, we got back together in ’06, … early on, touring from 1993-1999, you learn a lot about yourself, you know what you do and don’t like about those people, which can make it difficult to be around them. In 2006, we had a go at it, Bardi (Martin) wanted to be an attorney, and he passed the bar, and he was like ‘I want to make records, but I don’t want to tour.’ And it’s not going to happen, that’s not how it is. And that’s what comes with those types of relationships. The beauty’s in changing up. And a lot of changes is you find those people who want to play and are willing to cut their teeth with you in every way, shape or form. In rebuilding a band, the guys I have now, Dave Krusen’s back now, he was there in ’97 to 200, came back in 2010 or 2012. This is the slickest form of Candlebox I ever had, really a fine-tuned machine. We can not see each other for six months, go play a show and not miss a beat. And I don’t think I could ever do that with Pete, Bardi, and Scott; there just too much history. And it’s not all bad; I mean, there were some amazing times. But there really was a point where we hated one another. And with these guys I play with now, it’s nothing but love. We absolutely fucking love each other.
RRX: You’ve toured extensively, and you tour with very diverse bands and performers, running the gamut from Metallica to Henry Rollins to Our Lady Peace. This is great for people who dig diverse music, maybe less so for purists. From your perspective, how does the crowd response differ when the bands are closer in genre versus farther apart?
KM: It’s fifty-fifty. You know, I remember when we took the Flaming Lips up, Wayne, the singer, came up to me when we were in Rochester, NY and said, ‘Can you please go out and say something to the audience?’ Because every night, in 1994, our fans were such assholes to them. And we had this band Mother Tongue open up on tour, fucking phenomenal… they were visceral punk rock with sick funk grooves; it’s weird, they were kind of like Red Hot Chili Peppers meets Butthole Surfers. Super fucking funky punk rock, and our audience kinda’ didn’t know what to do with them. And then Flaming Lips came out – now I love, and this was shortly after the Jelly song was successful, in ’92 or ’93, and a lot of people didn’t know that they were around since 1985. Marty and I were huge fans of their early stuff. We respected them and really liked them. Our fans didn’t. So I went out and said, ‘You know, we bring these bands that we enjoy, and we want you to experience something different. If you came here to see the same thing over and over, you came for the wrong reason. If you came here to hear the record that you paid for, you came here for the wrong reason. This is a live concert, and we’re bringing things to you that we want you to experience. This is why we do this, it’s what we love.’ So it’s hard for bands to play for us, because we have those purists. But again, it’s fifty-fifty.
RRX: Okay. You have a new record coming out in May. I’m going to shut right up and let you talk about it. What’s the good word?
KM: It’s a dark record for us. It’s different. We really kind of pushed the envelope with this record, just in our approach to songwriting – there’s a song on here that three-and-a-half minutes is an instrumental, bust it’s like a big, epic instrumental. We really used a lot of our influence and inspirations on this record. All five of us were inspired by great artists and great songs and great bands. We wanted to create that influence and that inspiration in the songs. Every song has a hint of or a nod to someone musically that inspired me. It’s not just, you know, homages to the rock artists you know. There’s a lot of history on the record, from bands we all love and artists and musicians we all respect. We wanted to call the record Chaos Men, inspired by a series of drawings by an artist that I love, but that was a little too obvious. He’s a silhouette artist that inspired the shit out of me. I wrote a song around it; I didn’t think I could do that, but I did, and I used some of the Piles Tempest pieces as lyrics in the song. And I had never really done that before. So it’s a record full of inspiration. There’s also some great dark music called ‘Dimlit Blues’ which is basically about how I want to just destroy everything, I don’t like the world that I’m being forced into right now. I really feel; you know, it’s crazy to me to feel this way, but I have no control over my life. People making decisions for millions of people that, I don’t know, I feel like we’re spiraling out of control. I should say that that’s part of why I didn’t want to make this record. It was a real battle for me. We finished the record in August, but I didn’t do the vocals until January because I was just so conflicted, like ‘I don’t want to sing this, to write these words.’ I didn’t want to say what I was feeling. Just feels too final for me. You know it might be the last record I ever make. I mean, I’m really coming to a crossroads in my life where I just want to stop. So maybe this record is the way it is. And I hope people like it as much as we do. I think we all love this record a lot because it’s so different.
RRX: This is where you answer the question I didn’t ask. Any bands/labels you’re interested in, any Albany area stuff you like. Educate, enlighten, emote – the floor is yours.
KM: I’ve got some great friends in the Hudson Valley. Albany’s one of the fond memories we had at the end of the Rush tour. The ‘end of tour’ party was there, which used to be called the Omni Hotel (now the Crowne Plaza.) It has a kind of interesting driveway. I remember the corner of it used to be the bar, I sat there with Alex Lifeson and we drank till one in the morning. Such great memories of that city, just historically touring through there. It’s been going on twenty-seven years now. Touring that area of New York, we’ve done very, very well there. I’ve got a friend who’s a writer, Chris Miller, been friends going on fifteen years, and every time we go to Poughkeepsie we go to a French restaurant there. It holds a warm spot in my heart, that area of New York. I love coming there, and the Egg is one of those places that you play, you never forget it. I’ve played the small room acoustically, and I’ve played the large room electrically. I’m excited to come back, like, parking the bus in that Death Star looking area, the buildings are very Star Wars-esque, with the reflecting pools; it’s interesting. And I always walk down (State) street to that old liquor store at the bottom and get a bottle of something. It’s things that you take with you, and you never forget.