When you find a band whose musical output you very much enjoy, you can find yourself wondering what tuneful stars aligned in order for them to think up such melodies. Well, if you enjoy the chirp and charm of Durham’s punk popsters Martha, then read on, as we found out from Nathan and Jc where they turn to for inspiration, how they would describe the music they make and who the big country music fans in the band are.
credit – James Birtwhistle
When you started up the band, did you have a specific sound that you were aiming for?
Nathan: When we started there used to be a night on in Durham called Schizophonica that played a lot of motown, 60s pop and like garage punk stuff, and that was kind of where we started. There were a few bands in the beginning who we were (and still are) all really into, like the Exploding Hearts, the Housemartins, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Weezer, Nana Grizol. Lots of stuff, but all with a pop sensibility and some kind of vague connection to punk.
Jc: Yeah, we were like “let’s start a pop group. With brass and soul bass lines and all of that stuff.” I think we’ve achieved that in a roundabout way maybe.
Have you found that your influences have changed throughout your releases?
Nathan: Probably yes. I think we all listen to lots of different stuff, and constantly try and find stuff we’ve not heard before. Having said that, it’s not always necessarily going to have a direct influence on our music. There’s a bit of a Big Star obsession within the band of late, as well as power pop stuff, and Stiff Records stuff like Elvis Costello and Any Trouble. But I dunno if that is impacting on our songs or not. I think we’re also influenced by our friends’ bands, and hopefully we influence them too.
Do you find that the four of you have a similar set of influences? Or four very different sets which all go towards your sound?
Nathan: I think we all have quite similar tastes, but with subtle differences. Daniel listens to quite a lot of heavier metal/hardcore stuff, I’ve found myself listening to less heavy stuff as the years have gone on, and more and more just looking for melodic poppy stuff. We’re all pretty open to stuff, and if one of us gets really into something, it’ll go on in the van and before long we’re all into it. It’s a bit of a melting pot I guess.
Jc: Pop is important. We love it. Those summer bangers you get, you know the ones I’m talking about “I DON’T CARE! I LOVE IT”. Incredible. Daniel is so metal though. Nathan is the most punk still. Me and Naomi are country as fuck. Neither of us own cowboy boots (yet) but yeah, Dixie Chicks, Kacey Musgraves, bit of Gram Parsons. Fuckn love it. I think you can hear it all in our songs too. A melting pot exactly.
Do you find that as a band you have a very wide set of influences or a small and specific set?
Nathan: Everyone thinks they’ve got eclectic taste, but from the outside that’s often not the case. I don’t know. I’d say in terms of direct influences, we draw upon pop music. Pop is a broad church, but at the end of the day, we’re not incorporating jazz time signatures or death metal growls, or like samplers and rapping. It’s a power pop band essentially, and whilst our tastes are broader than that, it wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing if started going all over the place.
Jc: Virgin Prunes meets the Undertones meets the Indigo Girls…
Would you say you’re a band that is influenced by non-music based artists and projects as much as musicians and, if so, what kind of these artists/projects are you influenced by?
Nathan: I think so. I think we’re influenced by storytelling, and that’s something that’s always been a part of our music. I feel like I’m always trying to craft a song into a narrative, something with layers and complexity and depth, rather than just a surface meaning. Something that can transport you somewhere else, not just through the music but through the lyrics, even if that somewhere else is just your own awkward teenage years. Dunno if that’s something that we’re successful at, but that’s an aim I think. And in that sense, films, TV, books, poems etc. influence us. We have direct references to Audre Lorde and Frank O’Hara, as well as more oblique references to Lovecraftian fiction and Noir detective stories. Outside of the band, I make films, and one day I’d love to make a feature film.
If you could pick an album each that was your main influence, purely for Martha, what would it be and why?
Nathan: I don’t know if it’s an influence on Martha, but I’d probably pick Rumours by Fleetwood Mac because it’s basically a perfect pop album, and I’d love it if one day we could produce a perfect pop album. It’s the ultimate benchmark.
Jc: Rumours is so good. It’s like a fucking greatest hits or something. For me, “The Body, The Blood, The Machine” by the Thermals is probably up there. Or “Shake the Sheets” by Ted Leo.
Is there a specific era in music that you always go back to as a band or as individuals?
Nathan: Motown perhaps. I think those songs perfected something. Like, if music had stopped after motown, we’d be okay. They’re so rich in meaning and pathos, and so good to dance to. Lots of our riffs and bass lines are pure motown.
Jc: Some fucking great powerpop came out of the 1970 and early 80s, like Nathan said before, Big Star are getting a lot of love at the minute. Elvis Costello too. Oh and we’re really into 8675309 by Tommy Tutone in a big way right now.
Is there a specific genre that you feel best represents the music of Martha?
Jc: Good honest rock.
Nathan: ‘Punk Pop’, maybe. I don’t know. I think we’re a punk pop band, not to be confused with pop-punk. We’re a pop band that’s punk. Does that make sense? At the end of the day it doesn’t matter, all that matters is whether we’re any good, and people can and will make up their own minds about that.
When your debut album was released, some reviews linked your sound to bands like Buzzcocks. Would you say this is accurate?
Nathan: I think that was kind of accurate but in a weirdly contradictory way. Buzzcocks are great, and it’s great to be compared to them, but really I think that sometimes more about people who felt the punk-ness of our music but had no frame of reference for contemporary punk trying to find a suitable comparison point. But then, in terms of UK punk bands, maybe it’s hard to find contemporary bands to compare us to. There’s also the fact that after Green Day, Blink 182 etc, British punk became overrun with USA-worshipping stuff, and there was kind of a hierarchy that came into play where US bands were the cream of the crop, with UK bands below them. We love a lot of US bands, but we don’t want to be American. We don’t want to sound like an American punk band. We want to sound like a band from Durham, because that’s what we are. It’s a shame that that’s the way things went.
Jc: Yeah, accurate to an extent, we’re a pop punk band that aren’t from London. And Pete Shelley did write a decent few queer pop songs but I don’t think we’ve ever made a conscious effort to sound like the Buzzcocks (although I fuckn love them). But yeah, its easy to overthink who a band sounds like, I mean, I do it and sometimes it spoils stuff for me because I’m like “this band is a less good that band” or whatever. I don’t want Martha to be a less good Buzzcocks. I think we’re different entirely.
Would you say that you will strive to evolve musically as a band?
Nathan: I don’t think we’ll strive to evolve. I think evolving is something that happens organically and if you spend too much time ‘striving’ towards a new sound you could accidentally disappear up your own arse. We’re never gonna be pioneering a new genre or reinventing the wheel, but we’ll keep progressing hopefully. Who knows. Maybe in two albums time we’ll end up sounding like Belle and Sebastian. Or maybe we’ll say fuck it and go full CRASS. Or more likely everyone will lose interest and we’ll become a bargain Motown covers wedding band.
Jc: I’ve already gone full CRASS. Fight me.
– Andrew Cream
Martha are on tour with Radiator Hospital across the UK from the end of October through to mid-November.
Check out their tour dates here.