THE SINGING EARTH
A Q&A CONVERSATION WITH BARRETT MARTIN
Hi Barrett thanks for agreeing to do this-apologies that we couldn’t do it personally.
SPILL: Currently enjoying the book that you have written. I appreciate that the whole experience was personally satisfying, enriching and rewarding but what for you was the one point that will live long in your memory..more than the others.
BARRETT MARTIN: I think you mean what was my most memorable experience from the book? I would say it was with the Shipibo in the Peruvian Amazon, back in 2004. That was a magical experience and it really made me want to write a book about these kinds of musical systems that are so different from what we think of as “music” in the Western, capitalist world. My 3 trips to the Amazon really opened my mind to the connection between music as a spiritual vehicle and its connection to the natural environment. It took me several more years to complete the book, including more experiences around the world in order to have enough stories to write a book, but I would say that it all started with the Shipibo in the Upper Peruvian Amazon.
S: How did creating a book and writing a book-differ personally from writing and creating music? Or was it a similar evolutionary process?
BM:. There are a lot of similarities between creating an album of music, versus writing a book of stories. Both require a great deal of alone time to compose the music and write the stories. And most of the time it starts with one little idea, a small musical idea, a melody or riff, or in the case of a book, a short story that begins to unfold into more stories. Then when the structure is there, and like all great pieces of art, the real work comes in the editing and refinement of the ideas. This is where a good song or composition is transformed into a great piece of music, or a good story becomes a great piece of literature. In both cases, you are creating stories (both musical and written) for the mind of the listener/reader, and hopefully those stories will do two important things, educate the person on your theme(s) and entertain them in an elevated, high-minded way. Maybe if you’re lucky, your art also opens a spiritual doorway for the person to explore beyond what you have showed them. And then they can start their own journey.
S: Did you film your trip? As I would love to view those experiences visually /sonically in that format?
BM: I didn’t film anything, because I never owned a video camera and I was too busy doing whatever I was doing, to be filming what I was doing. Although there is a DVD documentary about the Shipibo people, which was directed by Anna Stevens of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was her personal film project and I supplied the soundtrack from my field recordings in the Amazon. Her film is called Woven Songs Of The Amazon and its available on the Internet. I do however have several photographs that I took over the years, which are being digitized and organized for a new page on my website: www.BarrettMartin.com/TheSingingEarth
S: Have you any plans to do a promotional book tour perhaps reading extracts/playing some of the music in different towns and countries or does your current musical pursuits not allow you the freedom of time to embark on such a venture?
BM: I will eventually do something like that, and I would love to read from the book and play music and show photos from my travels. But right now I’m just playing shows with my solo band, the Barrett Martin Group, to support our new album. I sell a lot of books at our shows and answer questions from people, so I’m kind of doing a show and book tour combined. There’s also a new Walking Papers album coming out, so I’ll be playing shows with them and continuing to promote the book.
S: I saw you in Belfast a few years ago with Walking Papers,and love the album that the band created. Is that still an ongoing musical project? Five years after that debut release are there any plans to release a second album?
BM: Yes, the new album is mixed and mastered and it comes out in January. Its titled “WP2”, and it has 13 songs total. Its the same quartet – me, Jeff, Duff, and Ben.
S: Are you a person that embraces technology as a tool for further learning and mental progression or a necessary evil?
BM: I was a little kid when people first walked on the moon, we watched it on TV, and I fell in love with all things space and astronomy related. I almost changed my major in college from music to astro-physics. Why are we not going to the moon anymore, or exploring our solar system? We should have colonies out there! I embrace technology in the sense that I see it as a tool for human evolution, but its not a replacement for human interaction. Smart phones and social media often seem to make for dumber people, unfortunately. But I do have two laptops, a computer in my recording studio, a smart phone, and I produce all our albums in the digital format because its faster and more economical. I love watching movies on our flat screen TV, and I occasionally use Skype or Whats App for international calls. I like that I can write these words and these ideas on my laptop, at my kitchen table at 2 am, and then send them to you and its fairly instantaneous. I mostly buy CDs or downloaded music, and I always listen to music in the digital format. I also don’t believe this nonsense that vinyl or tape is better. I can tell you as a producer of dozens of albums, that the digital format can accommodate sound frequencies that vinyl simply cannot achieve. People are nostalgic for the good old days, and sometimes I am too, but that doesn’t mean older is better either. I used to love muscle cars and I even owned a couple, but I can’t wait till they make a universal electric motor that I can put in a Mustang Fastback and be done with gas engines entirely. I also like how technology can help us to communicate across the globe, to teach better, to heal better, to entertain in a multitude of ways, and to raise awareness about our local environments. So why are we still in the dark ages with fossil fuels when there are boundless renewable energy options? In the US, we literally have a village idiot for a president, and he would rather put us back on coal! These old systems and these old men need to be retired and removed from their offices and corporate headquarters, fairly immediately. More women should be leading and we should be using technology to develop clean energy, to restore environments, to take care of our health and education, to evolve our species, and to establish a lunar colony and explore the rest of the solar system and beyond.
S: The book relates many awakening moments during your travels but what actually is your biggest regret?
BM: I have very few regrets in life because I have mostly done exactly what my heart told me to do, and for the most part I followed it. I played rock when rock was cool; I became a Zen monk when I wanted to expand my consciousness, and I went back to school when I wanted to become more educated about the world. I started my record label and book publishing company to release my own ideas, rather than giving my intellectual property to another corporation. I have made a few mistakes with certain people along the way, who I afforded more respect than they were due, or I trusted people I probably shouldn’t have trusted. But I also thinks its better to defer to respect and trust first, and then let the person prove you wrong. Then the Voodoo is on them, not you. And that’s also a piece of advice, if anyone wants to take it. Because bad people do exist, karma comes full circle, and Voodoo is a real thing. Always trust your gut instincts, they are never wrong.
S: What were you like at school? Have you always had a thirst for personal knowledge and education?
BM: I was a fairly quiet kid in school. I loved music, played jazz, read a lot of books, and I actually rode a motorcycle at 16. I worked a full time job at a hotel all through high school, so I wasn’t much of a party person. I didn’t even drink a beer till I was in college. In college I was a good student, and even though I dropped out of college to play rock, I went back many years later and finished my masters degree. I guess I just loved to learn, which I think made me a good professor as well. Because you can’t be a good teacher if you aren’t willing to keep learning.
S: What in your own life are you most proud of,personally?
BM: I am proud of the fact that I have helped other artists realize their dream of being a professional musician, by producing their albums, and giving them the ability to build a career for themselves. So I am proud of the fact that I helped other people, rather than just myself. And most of the time, I did it for free.
S: Over the longevity of your musical career you have worked with many artists and talents-who did you find was the most inspirational and taught you the most?
BM: I was very inspired by, and learned a great deal from the producer Jack Endino, whom I worked with in my early 20s and still work with today. Then Peter Buck of REM gave me great artistic and business advice, which I still follow to this day. A couple of women spiritual teachers, like my Cherokee teacher and my Zen teacher really inspired me to be a better man. And almost every band I’ve played with or produced has given me something inspirational that I just quietly absorbed. I’ve worked with many non-famous musicians who inspired me simply from their sheer talent and musical instincts. Its amazing how music can manifest in people, even when they aren’t professional musicians, yet they can be so gifted with music. Like, my mother- in-law is this incredible Mexican folksinger, she’ll make you cry with the beauty in her voice. But she’s never made an album or sang as a professional musician. She just carries that kind of musical force until she decides to unleash it in the living room or kitchen. Those are my favorite kinds of people.
S: What personal career goals/hopes and dreams do you still hope to achieve?
BM: I’d like to write another book, and in fact, I’ve already started to. Its called “The Roaring Sea” and its about women spiritual teachers around the world, whom I have worked with or received teachings from. I also plan on producing more albums for my various bands, as well producing other artists. I just got my first two Grammy nominations as a producer for a Brazilian album that I produced last year, so obviously I’m still on an upward trajectory at 50 years of age! I seem to be aging more like a jazz musician rather than a pop star (of which I am neither). I suppose when I’m too old to tour anymore, I’ll go back to being a music professor. I’ll be that old guy who shuffles around the conservatory muttering the answers to my own questions, and the students will say, “Can you believe that guy was actually a wild-eyed rock musician once?”
S: For fans music provides a source of solace in times of difficulty and darkness but where do musicians like yourself turn to get through those difficult times?
BM: I do Zen meditation every day with my wife, and I just go inward and listen to my own spirit. I remember that goodness and decency is the natural default setting of a human being and it exists everywhere in the world, even if buffoons, racists, and dictators have taken power in high places. They will soon fall from their pedestals, they always do, and that’s when the good people rise up again.
S: What song always still personally takes you and moves you to a different plane mentally even though you have listened to it maybe hundreds or even thousands of times over the years?
BM: “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane (the entire album). Because its made up of 4 suites of music, yet its like one songline of jubilant spiritual celebration. Coltrane was talking to God when he made that one.
S: Finally you have been interviewed many times over the years, who would you like to personally sit down with face-face and interview. Maybe not even a musician,an inspiration or hero personal to you?
BM: I suppose it has to be a living person, yes? If they are living, I would say Jimmy Carter because he has turned into a very wise man. If they are dead, then I would want to speak to Miyamoto Musashi, the great Japanese sword master of the 16th century. They say he became enlightened through his practice of the sword. I would ask him what is the nature of life and death?
S: Thanks very much for giving me this opportunity.
BM: Thank you, I enjoyed your questions!