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Boss Martians | Set Up | interview | Evan Foster| punk | Lollipop
The Set-Up (Musick)
by Craig Regala
An Interview with singer/guitarist Evan Foster
Boss Martians are a rock and roll band. I asked'm. I like big fat hooks, sly vocal melodies, round-ass classicist arena guitar hum, and snappy tunes, so I like the Boss Martians, OK?
Do you see yourself as part of a continuum, or is the Boss Martians' music "what comes out"?
Excellent question. The Boss Martians are a rock and roll band with some history, for sure, but we're always looking for growth and improvement. As we learn, acquire new tastes, become better musicians, songwriters, showmen, and find new, fresh inspiration, the songs more or less reflect that. There's a goal for me personally with the songwriting, and that is as the fuel we need in order to allow the band to get better, to grow, to learn to make better music together. We're inspired these days more by where we want to take this. Everyday - literally - I try to force myself further out of my comfort zone as a songwriter, guitar player, and singer. It's a humbling experience. I constantly face the truth that there are so many genius rock and roll motherfuckers out there, that there is so much to learn from. Yeah, it's humbling, but even moreso, it's inspiring.
Are you part of a scene? If so, are those bands dictated by style, ethic, or approach?
At one point, we very much were part of a scene, and I've got no misgivings about it. When the Martians were born in the early '90s, we idolized bands like The Untamed Youth, The Mummies, The Phantom Surfers, Girl Trouble, etc. - bands considered "garage rock," bands we considered ROCK AND ROLL, by all accounts. When we started playing out, we played with these bands and more or less became part of this particular "garage rock" scene. At some point, a songwriter decides that they "stay in the box," or, in order to make the most honest music possible, do one of the most difficult things, which is to change it up in the name of honesty. And when you do that, you're going to seriously piss some people off. But that's OK. In the name of playing inspired, honest rock and roll, it must be done. For me personally, the only way I can get in front of people and play songs is if it feels RIGHT and INSPIRED. Otherwise, it's more of a "going through the motions" kind of thing, which is something I can't do. So, here's the CRAZIEST part... we've been touring like crazy over the last 18 months supporting Making the Rounds and our brand new MuSick disc, The Set-Up, and we've found that for the most part, MOST of our garage-based fans have more or less made the transition with us from surf/garage to whatever the hell you'd wanna call us now: Garage/pop, power-pop, rock & roll, whatever. I love that, and to our long-time fans that've stuck by us: THANK YOU! In many ways, we're very much a garage rock band, but it's nice to have the flexibility to play whatever kind of rock and roll is most inspiring to us.
Press kit etc. mentions Elvis Costello; I hear the tonal similarity, but the themes and feel seem much closer to Material Issue or Marshall Crenshaw.
I agree with you, 100%. I get the E.C. and Joe Jackson thing a lot - don't get me wrong, it's a complete honor seeing as I love both artists and their bands more than any normal person should - but it's more TONALLY: Clean, edgy Fender guitar and lots of keys. But the other thing is, they were both very English, and they lyrically addressed central themes and ideas in a very English way, which is a life experience I don't have. I write about lives and things I see going on around me, the little things that scrape away at me internally and push me to document them. The details that are part of my songs lyrically are typically quite American. It's only natural. It's not American-centric, it's simply from an American experience, being that that's all I really have. I think this was very much the case with Marshall Crenshaw, lyrically and thematically. What an incredible tunesmith. "Whenever You're on My Mind" is a classic, American pop song.
You have a nice, big, fat, hooky guitar thing goin' there. Like it's no problem for you guys to rip a big chunk from Def Leppard's haunch and run it through a whole different genre/marketing tag. Kinda like Dirt Bike Annie.
(laughs) Funny you mention Def Leppard... I'm not a big fan, but our organ player loves those guys. I know it's different for every band, but regarding the Martians, rock and roll guitar is a big fucking deal. We've been reading and hearing about the Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson comparisons, but I get frustrated with that... One listen through The Set-Up makes it obvious that ROCK AND ROLL guitar is at the core of what we're about. Every song on the album. I mean, we're inspired as much by Thin Lizzy and the MC5 as we are the clean-guitar-ish power pop bands/artists (E.C., J.J., etc.). Our guitar tones and sounds on average are way more "rock," way "heavier" than anything you'll find on an Elvis or Joe record. The challenge, for us, is to bring it all full-circle, bring the heavier, dirtier guitar into the structured, pop song context.
Are you a big record collector? If so, what are some favorites you'd like to tell the world about? If not, lie...
I'm not really a big-time collector, but what usually happens is I'll get turned onto something I really like, obsess over it, and try to gather as much recorded material as possible by the band or artist. Sure, I've got some favorites... There was an English pub rock band called Dr. Feelgood that featured one of the coolest guitar players I've ever heard or seen - Wilko Johnson - hear this band. It's white-knuckle, teeth-gritting, coked-up, English mid-'70s, bluesy pub rock, and it's fucking killer. I highly recommend the BBC Sessions album 1973-1978. Another record that rules is an Eddie & The Hot Rods re-issue that came out in 2000 on Get Back. The live cuts on side two alone make it worth the price. OK, and I'd say the first two Joe Jackson A&M releases, Look Sharp! and I'm the Man, are a fucking must hear as well. Both done with the original Joe Jackson Band: All the nervous intensity of punk rock, but delivered and recorded more with a "pop" presentation. Crisp recordings, but very intense and in-your-face. I can't recommend these releases enough!
The Jam or The Sweet? The Cars or The Cure?
I'll put it like this: God bless Paul Weller as he walks down Desolation Blvd. with Candy-O thinking to himself that this is "Just Like Heaven." ALL OF THE ABOVE, I'd say. Period.
You've got a great guitar sound: Give a little to the geeks and tell us what your gear and recording set-up is.
I recorded The Set-Up with: Guitars: '80 Les Paul Custom and my L-series '64 Fender Jaguar. I also used Johnny Sangster's early '60s Les Paul Jr. on a few tracks. Amps: '63 Fender Bandmaster head into a '62 Fender Bassman with JBL D-120F speakers. I also used Johnny Sangster's authentic early '60s AC-30 on several tracks. Pedals: Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive and an old Boss CH-1 Super- Chorus [I fuckin' love analog Chorus... I know, I'm sick]. That's pretty much it. Actually, we used a POD for a solo on the power pop-type tune "Never Let it Happen Again," but that was it. While we're on the guitar geek topic, I'd like to take this opportunity to say that Sangster's Jr and his AC-30 are amazing sounding. Plus, that guy is an insane lead player, so he's got his rock and roll tone-dialing down.
Is the music you play more like a) cooking, or b) philosophy?
I think of it like this: The Boss Martians are a rock & roll band that incorporate elements of power pop, punk, "garage," New Wave, hard rock, and Motown soul, with the goal being to create new, vital, fresh, original rock and roll music. We're an amalgamation, a rock & roll stew - if you will - of various genres, decades, and influences. You'll hear this in our songs and in our overall sound live. So I guess the music's more like cooking, to answer your question: Several ingredients combined to create the final dish. Plus, it's fucking rock & roll, which in my opinion, shouldn't be approached too "philosophically." That can spoil the broth. You don't want to make music that's too sterile when the recipe really calls for blood, sweat, alcohol, and sex. Salt to taste with other vices of choice: Hormones, angst, cross-dressing, whatever.
Is being in a live, playing band a "retro" activity? Meaning, since recording and production can be done electronically? (Hell, is playing a retro activity?)
Even though it's occurred for decades, I don't see playing in a live band as a "retro" activity in the least. Bands are still making records, record companies are still releasing records, and those same bands are still touring and supporting those records. It's a business cycle critical to the survival of this industry we love so much. When a band is on tour supporting a new album, there's an entirely new element, or dynamic, present in the songs vs. what usually shows up on an album.
The live show tests a band's worth in many regards. There's potential for gear failure, mistakes, string-breakage, band tension/member fights, audience hostility: These factors all add up to create the "live rock show" experience. How does a touring band deal with it all and still entertain and sell you a record? In my opinion, these are all pretty germane, modern issues that contemporary touring bands face. So, like I said, even though bands have been touring for fifty years, playing in a contemporary live band is really not a retro activity. For that matter, everything from drug-abuse to sex could be considered "retro" really...
Is the act of playing live inherently useful to creation?
For us it is. The live show environment can do a lot for a song. Playing live can take a song into a different space - whether good or bad - and it's important to try and actually listen to what you're playing, to try to notice what different things are brought out in each tune when played live. A song may develop a compelling nuance during a live performance, something to incorporate when it comes time to roll tape. I love playing live for that reason. It really puts a tune in the hot-seat. I learn more about our songs when we play them on tour than at any other time.
I have a pair of 9.5 black Chucks. Whatcha wanna trade for'm? They're too small for me. The answer to this question may be the only Real One for the MTV Generation consumer, so answer carefully...
Exactly my size and I need a new pair! How about a six pack of Schmidt or Black Label, maybe a couple of 40s, your choice. I'll even throw in a Seattle Seahawks refrigerator magnet. That was a strange question...
No it's not... I've been to Seattle. We're almost cousins.
Boss Martians need to cover a song from each rock decade genre that represents what you deem to be valuable to the growth of your particularly identifiable "slice" of rock and roll reality. Those versions will be beamed into every 15 year old's noggin as representational history. Don't fuck this up, it's real important. You also need to play one of your own to prove this lineage isn't sterile.
This is insane. Here goes:
1945-1950 - "Rock The Joint" - Jimmy Preston
1951-1955 - "Blue Moon of Kentucky" - Elvis Presley's version
1955-1960 - "C'Mon Everybody" - Eddie Cochran, or "Rumble" - Link Wray
1960-1965 - "I Get Around" - Beach Boys, or "All or Nothing" - Small Faces
1965-1970 - "The Witch" - The Sonics
1970-1975 - "Search & Destroy" - The Stooges
1975-1980 - "Pretty Vacant" - The Sex Pistols, or "Pump it Up" - E.C.
1980-1985 - "Start!" - The Jam, or "Loose Nut" - Black Flag
1985-1990 - "Don't Want to Know if You Are Lonely" - Hüsker Dü
1990-1995 - "Food, Cycles, Girls" - The Mummies, or "Come as You Are" - Nirvana
1995-2000 - "Fifteen" - You Am I
2000-2005 - "(I Wanna Be Your) Addiction" - Boss Martians
"I could sit and watch you read your mail for hours" - as good a line as Chuck Berry ever tossed off.
Honestly, that lyric is from one of the new songs, "Oh, Angela." That line was written within a 10-20 minute time-frame, basically while Johnny Sangster (producer) was cued up to the song, waiting on me to start cutting the vocal. Poor Johnny! What an amazingly patient man. I was sitting on the hardwood floor at Soundhouse Studios (Seattle, WA), frantically scribbling everything that came to mind, trying to shape it all into an intelligible tune (I'll be able to stand behind and feel good about playing night after night for months on end). I think I got lucky with that one.
Lyrically. I'll usually have an idea, then I'll dump it onto paper, stare at it for a bit, and start cutting and pasting. I'll usually have a song's lyrics done mostly within an hour, because I'm generally pretty hard on myself. I like to sort them out as quickly as possible.
Reputedly, it took Paul Weller 15 minutes to write "That's Entertainment." (Yeah, I know the act of creation is fueled by years of whatnot, but still...)
Indeed, that's what I've read many times... And I deeply love The Jam as well as "That's Entertainment," both the demo version and the album version. Fantastic structure and a great document of Paul's age and time. "Opening the window and breathing in petrol" is my favorite line. Great lyric.
Ever see the video for "Milk and Alcohol" by Dr. Feelgood? My friend, Don Howland (Great Plains, Gibsons Bros., Bassholes), actually saw the Good Dr. live in Col., Ahia. He was floored.
No, I haven't seen it but would love to see or own it. I can't get enough of that band. Surprisingly enough, I think that tune was actually written by Gypie Mayo (Wilko's first replacement) and Nick Lowe (I dig Nick Lowe!) and was one of the first big hits of their most commercially successful album, right? Either way, great song, and I'd love to see the video.
Name three bands from any era you'd take out for a free worldwide whirlwind tour.
ONLY 3 ??? This is ballbusting...
2. Dr. Feelgood (anywhere from '73-'78 with Wilko or Gypie)
3. Tie between Rockpile, The Mummies, E.C. & The Attractions ('77-'80), Joe Jackson, The Sonics, Joe Jackson Band, Rose Tattoo, Descendents, Black Flag, and The Mentors. HA!!!
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