B&L: What animal do you associate yourself with (given ourties to oxen)?
Martin England: I really love bears. I kinda look like a bear. Hairy and hungry with surprising speed for a big bruin.
B&L: Why music? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it? How’d it come calling to you?
England: I’ve loved music since I can remember having actual thoughts. I had my first turntable when I was five (it was blue). I seek music because it literally soothes the savage bear in me, and turns me into a honey-loving, daffy, deeply-blissful cartoon bear.
To me, there’s a running medium in my head which contains a bunch of melodies and words. Every once in a while, when I hear/see something I like (I tend to hear and see these things when my eyes are closed – like right before I’m about to get a good night’s sleep), there’s a little hook that slides into that medium and pulls the song out. I just have to try to get the presentation right, because I generally think they’re good ideas when I see/hear them.
Music calls to me the way lilac rouses bees. And bees like honey. As do bears. Bringing it back around.
B&L: What’s the making of a great show?
England: Music is a communication between the performer and the audience. I don’t think it really has anything to do with crowd size, I think it has everything to do with whether or not the audience is tapping into whatever the performer is putting out, and that includes between-song banter. There’s nothing better than performing in front of an audience, even if it’s only comprised of a few people, and knowing you’ve somehow created some undefined, mutual understanding.
B&L: Is it weird to step foot onstage and play to a room full of (mostly) strangers?
England: There are moments when I feel like a complete alien when I step offstage, and people start talking to me right away. Reentry is hard. You go from having all of this mental imagery flooding your brain to suddenly having to speak like a human being. I completely understand when I see someone live and then try to engage them right after they play, and they’re less-than their best selves. It’s not always because they’re not nice people, it’s just because you’ve been on this mental rocket ride and then suddenly you have to return to earth.
B&L: Let’s talk about your new record, “Great North Wind.” What sort of goals you had for yourself when you set out to make this record? Did you pull in any lessons from past recording experiences?
England: For me, recording should be more about discovery than documentation. The process should reveal something about a song you didn’t know about it going in. One of our goals for GNW was to learn things about these songs we didn’t necessarily know before we started recording. It was all a goal of mine to record some of this record in my own space (affectionately known as Lu), our barn/rehearsal space/fundraising headquarters for Continuum Arts Collective. Our guitarist/producer Jesse Dold recently obtained a bunch of state-of-the-art gear, all of which is extremely mobile. It’s amazing to me that we were able to move this gear around easily to record in spaces we’d never recorded in before (the Lu and Jesse’s basement). It was a very non-traditional, non-studio environment. One of the lessons I learned is that it’s cool to record in the spaces in which you are most comfortable, and I think for all of us, that place is home.
B&L: Is songwriting an easy or arduous process for you? Are you an “in the moment” kind of writer, or do you have to actively schedule “office hours” to get words on paper?
England: There are only a few examples in my life I can point to where I purposely sat down to write and it worked. I’m way more of an in-the-moment kinda fella. Songs come to me at weird times, most of which are inconvenient, like that moment just when your mind starts collecting thoughts on the edge of sleep, thoughts which usually are the seeds of dreams.
I read last year that Ben Franklin used to put coins in his hand whenever he napped. He’d sit in a chair, and just when he started to fall asleep, the coins would fall out of his hand as a natural consequence, and he’d jot down whatever was in his head at the time. Supposedly, he thought of the kite experiment while doing this exercise. I’ve always wanted to try this, because I can totally relate. I’m kinda tortured by the thought that, What if the best thing I ever wrote never came to fruition because I fell asleep instead of waking up and writing it down.
B&L: Let’s talk about how you literally “reconstructed” yourself going from Pondering Judd, to a “solo” act (releasing the acclaimed “Razed and Reconstructed” back in 2010), to forming a band whose name riffs on that first solo venture… How has The Reconstructed revitalized your musical life (if at all)?
England: After I signed with Lost Sailor Records, they paid for my studio time, an all-star cast to play on my record, and for the record to be replicated. This opportunity pulled me out of a comfort zone. To hold up my end of the bargain, I cut my teeth doing close to a hundred solo shows a year, and that helped tremendously with my rebirth as a songwriter and as a musician. I felt at the end of my time with PJudd like I might have used up all of my good song ideas, and I’d also stagnated as a musician. I had stopped playing electric guitar from the mid-90’s though the late aughts. As someone who started out as a guitarist, that severely limited my scope when it came to creating melodies.
The Reconstructed started out as a pickup band. Some of our members had played on my first solo record (“Razed and Reconstructed”), but the mainstays were Courtney Brocks and Jesse Dold. I’ve been playing music with these fine folks for a decade now in various incarnations, and we’ve grown to know each other extremely well both artistically and as people. Sean and Andrew were both originally fill-in players. I cannot imagine this band without any of its currently members. I picked up electric guitar again in 2012 and started writing songs on the electric for the first time since ’94. It’s been completely revitalizing. It took us a while to gel as a unit, but now we’re in a period, at least in my opinion, where we’re producing the best stuff with which I’ve ever been involved.
B&L: You’ve also, as of late, formed a non-profit with your wife called Continuum Arts Collective. Why? Tell us all about it…
England: Continuum Arts Collective helps out underserved, school-aged artists and musicians in Maine and New Hampshire. We provide these students musical instruments, art supplies, art and music lessons, and also experiential opportunities to perform music, read poetry, and display their artwork in public forums. It started out with us helping a single student obtain an acoustic guitar (one of mine, as it turned out), and we’re now heading into our fourth year of existence. During this time, we’ve helped over 200 students and provided musical instruction for nearly 150. It’s incredibly rewarding to help out students with whom I have much in common, at least when I was their age. I can empathize with these students, and I think that helps us serve them on a higher level.
Arts and music help students make connections within themselves and with others. And if you are an artist or musician who doesn’t have the tools or instruction to pursue your passion, you can never be your best self. I like to think CAC helps people become their best selves, no matter if you are on the receiving or giving end of the equation.
B&L: Okay, now let’s get heady… What’s the importance of observation and honing in on the peripheries of everyday life?
England: Observation is everything. And this comes from a guy who talks WAAAAAAY too much. But I think part of that is because I grew up with a speech impediment, so I didn’t talk a lot when I was a kid. Now, with the luxury of having defeated that impediment, I like to talk. But let’s start over. I believe the truest form of art is nature. Everything we produce as artists is really a direct reflection of what we see, smell, touch, feel, hear, and taste. So much of observation goes into what we create as artists. I’m a strong believer in “you can’t report on what you haven’t experienced,” so if our observations are always second-hand, I think our art becomes diluted. My songs are a direct relation to what I’ve observed, either directly or indirectly. I’m a pretty good listener, but a better storyteller. Observation fuels our imagination. And if our senses are heightened somehow, either through ignoring the perils of every life or immersing ourselves through empathy, I think the outcomes are always more authentic. I also think observation feeds empathy, so it helps if we’re aware of our surroundings. Does that make sense? Because I just reread this, and it made zero sense to me.
B&L: What’s one tune (or, heck, a couple) that exists out there in the ether that blows you away that you kind of wish you had written yourself?
England: I know this is probably cliché, but I’m gonna say “Tangled Up in Blue” tops that list. It is such an amazing narrative and evokes so much imagery and feeling. I’ve always been a huge fan of great lyrics, and this is one of Dylan’s opus songs.
B&L: What can folks expect when they come out to see you perform at the Word Barn on October 18th?
England: It’s gonna be just like the moment Goldilocks discovered the “just right” porridge. You’re gonna hear two super-fun folk-rock bands perform in a magical setting while you’re sipping on an IPA, hard cider, or glass of wine. The Word Barn is a place that instantly makes you feel warm and welcome, and every time I’ve seen music here, I always walk away feeling like I just witnessed something special. For the band, there’s no place to hide. It’s very intimate, and I’ve always favored venues where you can interact directly with the crowd. But more importantly, all of the proceeds from this show will benefit Continuum Arts Collective, so while you might wake up with a mild headache on Saturday from imbibing in too much of the aforementioned spirits, you’ll know you helped out some kids who need it the most.
B&L: Question number 12. If you could have a dozen of anything, what would that dozen of something be?
England: I’m gonna go with a dozen million dollars here, Bright. I know money can’t buy you love, but it could certainly help me quit my day job and pursue the things I love most: writing songs and helping young artists and musicians.
The Reconstructed along with Young Frontier will both make their debut appearance at the Word Barn on Friday, October 18th. Proceeds from the show benefit Continuum Arts Collective. Visit www.continuumarts.com for more information on that very worthy cause. Tickets to the show are available here.