Monday, May 17, 2010

Interview: Martha and the Muffins

I grew up listening to “Echo Beach” on mainstream radio. They were a band that I had claimed as part of the punk scene back then because I knew enough from shows like the New Music that they were from this scene. But they wrote songs catchy enough to break out of the underground. With the release of their new album “Delicate” I have been hearing Martha Johnson and Mark Gane back on the radio again. The CBC had been giving them some short stints on the radio. It always bothered me that the CBC never went and covered the OCA or punk roots of the band. So I wrote the band and asked them if they would mind doing an interview that would look at their roots and they agreed. Henry Martinuk is a punk archivist who happened to go to the same high school as the band. In fact, he started a band with Mark’s younger brother and used an old Martha and the Muffins name for his band’s name. Who better to talk about the origins of the band than Henry. Here is a transcript from a conversation that took place on Equalizing-X-Distort between Henry and Martha and Mark on May 16th, 2010.

Before we go into the deep dark distant past I should mention that you really do have a new album out that was just released in February.
Mark: We do. It is called “Delicate”.
Martha: It took about four years to make. We are quite happy with it. We did a couple of live shows in Feburary when it was released and it went very well at the Music Gallery.
Are there any more plans for touring or playing live?
Martha: We have a couple of things up our sleeve but nothing definite. We are taking it slow getting back into the groove of playing.
Great. Well I know a lot of people who would like to see you. It is kind of a bizarre time now because there are a lot of older groups …. groups that were your contemporaries in ’77 – ’78 and they are touring again. For example next Saturday the VIBRATORS are playing. They have most of the original members playing. And in June we are going to be lucky enough to get the DIODES again. And opening up for the DIODES are going to be JOHNNY AND THE G-RAYS. Another great Toronto band. And one of the bands that I know John MacLeod, the main vocalist for the G RAYS has always told me that he is one of the people of the Thornhill sound.
Martha: John and I go way back.
Very exciting. As much as there was substantial punk bands in Toronto there was a lot of diversity in the scene as well. That was certainly reflected in your band, MARTHA AND THE MUFFINS, as well as JOHNNY AND THE G-RAYS, the CAD, and a lot of bands like the DISHES that preceeded us. They were there in ’75. There was a lot of interesting music being made at that time. Mark you are actually from Etobicoke not Thornhill. As great as Thornhill is there is a lot of great musicians from all over the place including a little high school that I went to coincidentally called Etobicoke Collegiate Institute.
Mark: And of course we have a secret handshake that only Etobicokians know. Obviously we can’t show that on the air, but we are doing it right now.
Martha: I will turn away.
Mark: You can’t look Martha because you are from Thornhill. I have seen you and John MacLeod do it actually. It’s a whole different thing. I was sneaking a look.
Martha: We just do it mentally.
Mark: So you were faking it were you then?
Martha: John and I are having mental communication right now and all the other OH THOSE PANTS people.
OH THOSE PANTS. That is a really important reference. So lets talk about OH THOSE PANTS and the wonderful stage theatrics of OH THOSE PANTS.
Martha: Well I was the only girl in the band and I played my acetone organ. That was one of the only reasons why I was asked to be in the band because I had an acetone organ, which Steven Davey convinced me to play. He is another Thornhill person. OH THOSE PANTS used to get paid in beer. Most of the people in that band went to OCA before there was a D on the end of it. It was just a party band really. We would have a theme every night like wrestling or the beach.
Mark: I remember seeing them at OCA when they opened with “I’m in with the In Crowd” and Eddie McGlauglin and Robert Lusk came out in tennis shorts bouncing tennis balls. I thought this is totally cool and totally weird. I want to be in a band like that.
Martha: It was really fun to be in that band. They had a lot of stage presence those two, who were the lead singers.
A lot of those songs that OH THOSE PANTS do are available on youtube. Owen Burgess, guitarist for the CADS and OH THOSE PANTS let me know that there was links there. So if people want to check out the mayhem that was going on at OCA, which was a pretty wild place in the 70’s as opposed to know which seems more staid and boring.
Mark: I have to agree and because I am an alumni. The biggest mistake they made was to become a university. We have a lot of universities. What we need and continue to need is an art college. But that could be a whole other discussion.
Well there has to be a place for experimentation especially in art. It is an absolute must.
Martha: One of the drummers in OH THOSE PANTS, his name was Experi Mental.
That was Chris Gerry. Right.
Martha: I am digressing I’m sure but I wanted to tell you some of their names. Lord Lusk was another. I was Cerri Soulage. I got it off of a Jell-o package. Wild Cherry for those who don’t speak French.
Let’s talk about the early 70’s. I remember it quite well unfortunately and the awful dinosaur bands that were stomping around. The situation was pretty dire here in Toronto. It had stagnated a lot. There were numerous bar bands and numerous bars to go into and no all ages shows that’s for sure. I got most of my music fixes through high school dances and that sort of stuff. The fortunate thing is we did have a lot of good local bands come through my high school and that gave me an opportunity because I couldn’t get into the clubs to. The music was pretty formulaic.
Martha: There was still some okay stuff like MCKENNA MENDELSON MAINLINE. I saw them at the Masonic Temple.
Mark: I saw them at Etobicoke Collegiate. They were a blues band, but they had this weird edge.
Martha: And they had a fifty foot penis. That was one of their songs.
Mark: But Mike McKenna played a Les Paul and when I saw it I thought that is the kind of guitar I want.
Martha: And you did.
Mark: I finally found one. It was left handed but it had what Frank Zappa called that sweathog sound. I thought it looked really cool because it didn’t look like a Stratocaster.
Martha: There were a lot of 60’s bands in the Yorkville scene that were quite interesting.
There were but that was the 60’s and by the 70’s …coincidentally enough Mike McKenna is still playing and he does tiny little clubs here in Toronto. It is kind of disheartening but that is the life of a musician. No matter how good you are you are still going to be winding up playing a club later. He is an amazing musician. He plays with great musicians including Luke Gibson. He also played with people like Keith MacKaye who was in Kensington Market. If anyone would like to see a really great blues band. Solid musicianship. Just terrific. There are a lot of great Toronto musicians still making a career out of it.
Martha: ROUGH TRADE came out around that time. John MacLeod introduced me to their music. It was pretty out there for that time.
Mark: They were pioneers that way.
So besides Toronto bands what kind of bands were you listening to back in the 70’s before you started a band?
Martha: After the Beatles there was the Beach Boys. I had an older sister so I started out with all the Bobby stuff when I was really young. The Beatles formulated my whole interest in music. And Motown. Wilson Pickett.
I do remember you doing a wonderful version of “Day Tripper”.
Martha: The Beatles had a big influence on me. In the 70’s I was listening to Roxy Music and David Bowie.
Mark: For me it was all those influences as well. I was and still am a huge King Krimson fan. Bowie and Roxy Music were huge influences. In the early days of the band we saw a want ad for a Wurlitzer electric piano and of course that was their sound so I bought it for $400 and between the acetone organ and the Wurly that was our sound. I loved the sound of the Wurly.
Martha: We did a rendition of “Additions of You”.
Mark: Well you had to. You had the Wurly. You had to do that.
Martha: Then we ended up opening for them on a tour that we did in 1980. We didn’t get to meet Bryan Ferry unfortunately. He was ill.
How was doing the vocals then?
Martha: He managed to do it but he had kidney stones.
Mark: They had to cut that tour short.
Martha: We only did London and Glasgow.
Mark: He was lurking around. You got glimpses of him. You know how he has that characteristic bent when his is singing. I always think he had kidney stones because he is always bent over when he is singing.
Mystery solved.
Mark: It is part of his sound.
Martha: It is funny because recently I sent him a song from our new album because I heard he was looking for songs and I was a bit late because he had finished making the album, but maybe he will remember it for the future.
You played “Daytripper” at the Beverley Tavern. Can you tell us about that recording?
Mark: It was in 1978. We were a bit rough there, but we scarcely knew what we were doing. I think at that time we didn’t have enough songs of our own, so we used to do “Daytripper”.
Martha: “My Day is Empty without You”.
Mark: A great Supremes song.
Martha: “Additions of You”.
Mark: A Roxy Music cover.
Martha: “Motor Bikin”.
“Cartoon Party”.
Mark: You would be the only person who …that was an original. That was David Miller’s song.
I barely remember that, but I do remember you announcing that.
Mark: I think you are the only person in the world that would mention that song.
Well I went to the Beverley a lot. The Beverley was a great place to go because it was at the end of my high school days and it was ideal. There was no cover. There was always great bands playing. Very cheap beer and just a great atmosphere.
Martha: Nice waiters too.
The waiters were unique. They had a bleak view of life.
Martha: You must have known them better than I did. I remember when we used to play there we would always have a backdrop. There was posters we would put up and then our two M’s. Martha Ladly and I used to get into the same sweater with a big M on it to do that song “My World is empty without you Chuck”. “Daytripper” was the song that we would invite somebody from the audience to come up and play the tambourine.
Mark: I think it was more like Steven Davey insisted he come up and play tambourine. I think we were forced to invite him.
Martha: I remember the entrance to the Beverley, when we weren’t playing and we would go see somebody like the DISHES or the CADS, you would come up the stairs and there was this doorway and everyone would turn to see who was coming in. There would be the crowd from OCA who had been there all day long including the teachers and actors. They would be there the whole day and the whole evening.
Mark: The entrance was such that you couldn’t really escape entering or leaving without being noticed.
I have a fond memory of going up to the Beverley and walking in and I knew every person there. It was bizarre.
Martha: It was like a club, but not an exclusive club.
But a great place to see bands and bands would have two or three dates in a row. It was a relaxed place to play. It was a good atmosphere all the way around.
Martha: But the stairs were hell to get your equipment up there. I remember lugging stuff up there.
Mark: Of course you didn’t carry the acetone up there, did you?
Martha: No. But I did carry things up.
Mark: But you’re right. It was like a living room. It was almost like the OCA living room plus everybody else that was attracted to it.
Martha: It was like Carl Finkle’s basement, where we had weekend bands. The first weekend band I was in was called Marzipan. It was an extension of all that for me.
I moved out to Etobicoke in ’75. There was one thing that was a culture shock for me. There was nobody on the streets and everybody was in their basements. That’s what I find out hanging out with people from high school. There was always a basement party going on. Almost everyday we would gather in people’s basements. It became a natural sort of thing. Going to the Beverley tavern felt comfortable because it was somebody’s basement transported up to the second floor on Queen Street West.
Mark: It was very basement like.
It was. The paneling had the cheap Canadiana.
Martha: It was musty smelling. Always a hockey game on in the back.
True Canadiana. One of the bands that were influential was the DISHES. The DISHES had an incredible sense of style. Very new wave. Very arts oriented. I think they were influenced by Roxy Music and the bands that came out of England. The DISHES were wonderful to see live and it amazes me that they didn’t become something more famous.
Martha: Yeah. They had some good songs. I went to high school with many of these folks.
I was hoping to get the DISHES to reform for a one off gig for the second year of Illuminato. I was doing associate producing with Martin Robertson, who by the way just passed away. A really great producer. Martin will be sadly missed. Martin worked with Kate Bush and David Bowie in England.
Martha: That is where we first met him.
He had a vision at the first Illuminato. He ran a coffee house that Kensington Market played at. A lot of the bands that were playing the coffee houses in Yorkville and I wanted to get the DISHES because so many people hadn’t seen them and I thought we could entice them to play but they absolutely were not interested. The singer, Murray, had no interest in playing music which is a shame. But there is a broadcast of the DISHES at the time recorded by TVO and one of these days maybe TVO will have the sense to play it again because it was a good half hour of the DISHES at their best. An intriguing band with lots of influences all over the place. Interesting subject material. Because they were from Toronto they had songs like “Fred Victor Mission” and a lot of references to Toronto. That was one of the most substantial things that came out of the song writing in the 70’s. I remember not being able to relate to the bands that I was listening to and that might have been part of the problem. I was listening to bands like Yes and had such hyperbole. Totally unrelatable to a teenager who was not interested in metaphysics in their lyrics. It never made any sense.
Martha: Well song writing can be tricky. I think in the early days of the song writing in the band Mark wrote more songs than I did. A lot of that was due to the fact that he had a tape recorder before I did. And neither of us read or wrote music. I am not putting your writing down. You wrote wonderful songs. I just couldn’t remember what I had written. I would just play it on the organ and then it was gone and I had a young healthy memory then.
Let’s talk about one of the songs that actually started the evening’s night “Suburban Dream”. Do you want to talk about the imagery there because I thought that was very evocative.
Mark: I think that might have been the second song I ever wrote for the band. Basically it was a recollection of every time my friend Chris Linky and I would go for long walks after dinner through the streets of the suburbs. We would often smoke dope and walk around and basically it is a recollection of all those things that were going on. I will probably get murdered for this, but I was never a hockey fan. It was about being a disaffected teenager walking around. You grew up in the suburbs and it acknowledged that you were a white kid in the middle class suburbs, but you were an outsider because you didn’t like hockey. “Hockey night is such a bore since the old man bought a brand new car” and all that stuff. It was about swimming pools and the problems that the parents were having with their kids. Even though it wasn’t necessarily real in terms of real life experience, it was a snapshot of what it was like to be a teenager in the suburbs and not buying into the mid-70’s lifestyle. You were in it but you weren’t buying into it.
Martha: I remember “Paint By Number Heart” was one of the first songs I wrote. I was hanging around with all these OCA people because I didn’t go to OCA. I went to York University and took theatre and psychology at Centennial College. It is funny because all the men in my life thought I had written a song about them, but the one person I did write the song about didn’t get it. I am not naming any names now either.
Mark: Who would that be? What band was that person in?
“Paint by Number Heart” was certainly a great track. Really lively. You guys really did kick ass. Live it was just terrific.
Martha: It is quite punky. I think somebody could cover that song now. I think it is still relevant. It is about artistic moods and temperament.
Mark: We have a recording of it from the Electric Ballroom in London in 1980 and is indicative of the early band. It is very out of control or scarcely in control. They were recorded live on the Virgin Mobile.
Martha: The thing I remember about that place was they had a light meter on the side and if it got too loud the power would cut out.
Mark: And why that was is because it was a Victorian era movie theatre, hence the name. Electricity was just coming in and they had a Ballroom and it was in a neighbourhood. They have very strict laws in London about noise levels. There was a big thermometer looking thing on the wall with all these calibrations. When the band was playing you would see the light going up. And they said if you play too loud it will go over the top and then all the power is off.
Martha: So we had to watch Andy.
Mark: Andy was always the loudest thing. Our sax player.
Martha: When he did his solos the whole band would retreat to the other side of the room.
Mark: You would hear your ear drums fluttering in their sockets. It was weird and squeaky. It was a great show and it was also taped on an early video camera by a young Tim Pope who wound up being a well known video director for DURAN DURAN and huge bands like that. But at the time he was this shy guy who was hired by Virgin to hang around and tape their bands.
Martha: It was an interesting time for us. We were touring and making albums. We made two albums in the same year. Richard Branson was around doing his practical jokes. He had a party for us and the success of “Echo Beach” on his barge, which he repeatedly banged into the sides of the canal.
Mark: Everyone was down below and Richard is up there steering going “hee hee hee” and then going “bang”. Nobody really knew what was going on.
Martha: There were drinks flying in the air.
Mark: As it would happen, one of the radio pluggers, the guys that were hired to promote songs with BBC and Capitol Radio, he was a great guy but as I recall he was suffering form some major brain tumour. So he is on the upper deck half drunk reeling around and just as Richard hit the wall again I remember turning around just to see him go head first through the hatch of the barge. And everybody knew he had this thing. And you know how you see things half way so its hallucinogenic. You don’t see him coming down he is halfway through the hatch. Hits his head on the deck below and he gets up and goes “Woah” and everybody thought that was going to kill him. But he got up continued on for the duration of the evening.
Martha: He didn’t inspire “Walking into Walls”.
Mark: You know what, now that you mention it it might have. That was another song we wrote.
Martha: You never know. Subliminally.
I do want to talk about some of the other clubs here in Toronto. During your early days before you were whisked off to England. You did play a lot. The Horseshoe Tavern and the Edge. That was through the Garys. The Garys were instrumental in promoting bands in Toronto. They did bring in the best bands and they did support a lot of great bands here in Toronto. The scene wouldn’t have been as interesting or as exciting or as accessible if it weren’t for Gary Topp and Gary Cormier.
Martha: They were great guys.
How did the Garys support you guys?
Mark: They were very supportive of us as they were for all sorts of bands. The Toronto scene would have been much the poorer without them. And on a long term basis they introduced all these interesting artists to people who might not have ever seen them under other circumstances. I remember seeing SUN RA at the Horseshoe and all these interesting bands at the Edge. It was the diversity that they promoted. It wasn’t just one kind of music. They had all sorts of people come in.
That’s what I do remember about them. The Garys brought in tons of great groups but they also brought in the early punk and new wave scene here. They were responsible for bringing in the RAMONES to the New Yorker. The TALKING HEADS who played OCA and the DIODES opened that show which was an interesting story in it’s own right.
Martha: Do you remember the DISHES, DIODES, and the DONCASTERS show at OCA? I was in the DONCASTERS. The POLICE came in and the B52’s. We played with the B-52’s at the Music Hall.
Mark: And they were really nice, too. It is always neat when you have a headliner that are a nice band.
Martha: They are not always.
So lets talk about the not so nice people.
Martha: To be fair sometimes it is the crew but the band should have a handle on their crew. I remember a double bill we did in Washington with SIMPLE MINDS. They gave us two feet on the stage to play on.
Mark: Their drummer had some stadium sized drum riser. The interesting thing about that show was that we had a huge fan base in Washington and back then it was a matter of whether College radio played you. A lot of it wasn’t getting on the mainstream radio. We used to tour on both coasts of the States. You would play certain places and generally speaking in America you would get great audiences even if they didn’t know you that well. Then you would hit these pockets where they must have been promoting and we were late getting to Washington. The local promoter organized a signing at a local record store. We were two or three hours late and there was a line up around the block. We were stunned. With SIMPLE MINDS whether it was them or their crew and this was during the “Dance Park” era so we had our forth album out and they were going on like they were a big band and I remember Jocelyne, our bass player, was in tears and I said we are just going to go out there and blow them away and we did. It was one of those shows where half the audience was there to see us and they left after us. They are a great band and they sound great but that was not a good experience. It could go both ways. The B-52s were great. We recently played with a French band called NOUVELLE VAGUE. We played “Echo Beach” with them in February.
Bands should realize that when you are going up in your career, eventually you will go down. You should always be nice to your opening groups.
Mark: You should for all the right reasons and you are right Henry that the music days is a very up and down thing. You can be playing some huge venue one year and a few years later nobody cares.
Martha: I remember some of the double bills that I saw. I saw GENESIS open for LOU REED. The opening band wound up being a bigger band later on. You never know where you are going to be.
Let’s talk about the new recording “Delicate”. It is an interesting return to form. It’s a very solid album. And it’s available where?
Mark: We have an on-line store. You can get it on I-tunes. Outside Music distributes it in Canada. You should be able to get it at HMV or CD Baby. I think has it. You can download it or buy it from a number of places either physically or virtually. We started working on a bunch of websites. It is real hard work because you have to maintain them all.
Martha: We never do music anymore.
Mark: We don’t write songs anymore. We just maintain our websites.
Martha: We should be like housewives in the 50’s. You have a baking day, you have an ironing day. We should have a writing day.
Mark: It makes a lot of sense.
Martha: And the computer just takes us so much amount of time. Nobody is actually living. Everyone is just watching.
Let’s talk about one particular track on “Delicate”. Your choice on any particular track. Let’s talk about the creation on that track or some insights. I can think of one track. Well actually one of the songs is “Love began with Eve”.
Martha: I came up with the title. Our daughter’s name is “Eve”. She is 17 she was very young when I came up with that title. Mark ended up writing the lyrics to the whole thing. I think it is a lovely gift for a father to give to his daughter.
Mark: The lyrics were written shortly after she was born. They were written more as a poem. She is 17 and for years, the bulk of that time, I kept trying to find….well first of all it stayed in a folder with other poems for years, but then after when we were looking for things for the new album I got out all my lyrics and I thought this could be a good song, but for years I kept trying to find the right music and nothing would work. Once we did this thing at the Drake and we tried this spoken word thing with a back drop and it was sort of okay and one day I was just playing around with these guitar pedals and did this choppy kind of sound and out of nowhere these chords came and I thought wow, finally, this is it. But it took literally a decade and a half before the words got together with the music.
Mark: You and Leo did a great job with this song and Eve sings on it as well.
Martha: There is a song that used to be called “Call of the Wild” that is now called “Mess”, that is one of my favourites. When we played live at the Music Gallery we had a new version of it that was heavy and sexy. I love it a lot.
The video is great and that is on your website as well.
Martha: We plan on doing some more viral videos and putting them up on our website now that I have my flip camera.
Mark: We have a myspace page and a facebook page and an official website and a youtube channel.
Martha: And we never write songs anymore. No we do.
Mark: You do.
Mark: I have been writing with some other people. With Hill who has been playing in our band and Owen Burgess and a couple of other people. Mark and I have been pretty exclusive all these years with the writing.
Mark: You are just sick of me now.
Martha: I thought it would be interesting and I wanted to write songs for other people. I want to write hit pop songs and make a lot of money. I don’t want to be old and poor.
Mark: Well good luck.
Well I’m glad to hear you have a retirement plan.
Mark: Well it is a plan anyway.
Martha: That’s the thing about this business. There is no pension.
Well folks capitalism is dying quickly so start writing songs and then you will have …
Mark: … a socialist utopia.
Martha: We will have songs, our fans and a pension. We have some really loyal fans. People who have stuck with us over all these years. People have been asking when this new record will be out so we hope we have made some people happy.
I know you are well remembered all over the world. There is still people covering your stuff, which is intriguing to see pop up on youtube and see someone’s interpretation of you.
Martha: Well the “Echo Beach” thing has been what has kept us going over all these years. There has been so many covers of it and it has been used in films. It is just really a song that never dies. It is really in the hearts of many people.
“Echo Bleach”. I don’t seem to recall it. (jokingly).
Mark: It’s because you are too young Henry.
Martha: It’s funny when I think back to when Mark wrote the song it was the third song you wrote.
Mark: Yeah, there was “Insect Love”, “Suburban Dream” and “Echo Beach”.
Martha: My first song was called “Baby, please come home”. It wasn’t very good. I won’t sing it.
Well you did have a lot of great songs and one of the interesting things I have found especially in the media that was prevalent in the late 70’s was their ignorance and hostility to new music that was coming out at the time. It wasn’t only to hardcore bands like the VILETONES or more straight ahead rock ‘n roll bands like TEENAGE HEAD or the CURSE and it is interesting to see these bands reforming. There is a second life to all this stuff. I wanted to talk about your experiences with the early albums as well. You did have experience with Daniel Lanois who was pretty unknown at the time.
Mark: Yeah he had quite a good reputation around Hamilton and he had done lots of local bands and he did the first Rafi kids album.
Martha: He had worked with a lot of the big singers too like Sylvia Tyson and Ian Thomas.
Mark: We met him through his younger sister Jocelyne, which was when our original bass player Carl Finkle was in the band, was waitressing with this young woman and thought this was intriguing. Lets try her out. And apparently Jocelyne was so nervous coming over for her first tryout that she never showed up. She phoned later saying “I don’t know what got into me. I was scared.” I think she went back to Dan or her other brother and they said you really should go because this band is reasonably well known and it could be a big opportunity. She did eventually try out and she did become our bass player. She said I have these older brothers that run a studio in Hamilton. Bob and Dan. At this time we were writing the music for “This is the Ice Age”, our third album and Virgin wanted us to do our demo. We thought lets try this guy out. We went and did this demo with Dan and we really liked working with him and we asked him to co-produce the third album.
Martha: Virgin wanted to reduce our budget for the third album because they didn’t know who this guy was.
Mark: They said if you are going to use an unknown person you are going to get 10,000 pounds less and we said “Does that mean you will leave us alone?” We took it. We said “Great. We are going to do it in Hamilton. You won’t be able to come down to the studio everyday and say, “Mark we want to hear another “Echo Beach””. So they left us alone and that was a major breakthrough for us because having taken experimental music at OCA through my friend Chris Lenky, I had a thorough knowledge and people like Steve Reich and I had done a lot of music like that at OCA so I think “Ice Age” was the first album where I could take all that stuff and apply those principles to an album.
Martha: Dan was very open to it all.
Mark: Without having the engineer go “Oh my God, Mark wants to do another weird noise.” Dan was totally cool with that. I think it was a new thing working in that kind of music, but he was totally open to it. He wasn’t rolling his eyes or anything.
Martha: It was pre-Brian Eno.
Mark: He came into the studio one day and said “Mark, we got this guy named Eno coming into the studio and Bob wants to know whether we should cash the cheque first because we don’t know anything about the guy.” My jaw just dropped. “You mean Brain Eno from Roxy Music. He’s coming to Hamilton. This is incredible.” He said” so it’s okay?’ And I said “Yeah, I think you’ll be okay.”
Martha: And he was okay. He did pretty well.
Mark: We used to go in there and they would be working together. Eno is a really funny guy. He has a great sense of humour.
Martha: He always had a theme.
Mark: …when they were doing those ambient records.
Martha: They would be into pipe smoking or they would be into the stock market or wearing military shirts.
Mark: Often I think, because they did “On Land” at Grand Avenue, but you would walk in there and they would be sitting there with these epilep shirts or reading the stock market smoking pipes and I would go “so what do they do that is so ambient.” That’s what goes into making the record.
Martha: His brother Roger was in on a lot of this too. Roger Eno.
I did want to talk about your third album because I think that was a maturing of the band in a lot of ways. The instrumentation was solid throughout the whole album. Not that the first two weren’t really solid as well, but I thin the third one was really intriguing in a lot of ways. The dimensions that you had in song writing on “This is the Ice Age” really showed the development of you as song writers.
Martha: Some of people’s favourite songs are on that album like “Swimming”.
“Swimming” is a great song and a fantastic metaphor, but the song “One Day in Paris” has a lovely vocal. It demonstrates the scope of the band at the time and I think it’s a delicate song. Back in the bad old days before the internet and being able to record yourself at home due to lack of technology a lot of people in the record business were subject to some pretty questionable practices. A lot of people were not lawyers per se and so they had bad experiences. You had some trying times in your career. Do you want to talk a little about that without getting sued?
Mark: You touched on the contractual arrangements back then. Basically it was pretty exploitive. When we signed our contract with Virgin we were very young and in our twenties. We didn’t have a very experienced lawyer. He was based here in Toronto and we should have got a UK lawyer.
Martha: We had no manager either.
Mark: We signed a typical contract where the record company goes we are going to do this, this and this for you and in return we are going to take about 92% of the profits and we are going to give you 8%, but you are never going to get the 8% until you pay off all your recording costs, your touring costs, and your video costs with that 8%. They are getting their 92% and they are going to get your 8% until you pay off your debt, which is never because you are constantly making records and you are constantly going on tour and making videos. For a lot of bands and ones that you perceive to be very successful a lot of them have never paid off their debts at all so they never make any money. We didn’t realize the consequences of that until we started getting our royalty cheques. All this money came in but it has wings.
Martha: That was the cross-collateralization.
Mark: That is where they took your publishing royalties, which by law you are supposed to get, but they had this clause that said “if you are signed to the same company as a publisher we will take those publishing royalties as well and apply them to your debts. It is now considered thoroughly and morally unethical. Nobody in their right mind would sign a cross-collateralization deal now, but it wasn’t that unusual back then.
Martha: Or giveaway their copyright on songs forever. Virgin or EMI now own the copyright to “Echo Beach” now and all the other songs but “Echo Beach” is the one that makes them money. We did eventually pay off the debt and we do get royalties now.
Mark: Richard Branson made his millions off the backs off those sorts of contracts. If you talk to anyone who signed to Virgin during that era they will all say the same thing.
Mark: There is not a lot of love there.
Martha: It seems so cruel to me that the people who actually create this music, I mean there is nothing without the people who write the music and they are so poorly treated and undervalued.
This was typical of the time. A lot of the early Black artists who were making the music back in the 50s were ripped off tremendously.
Martha: They were given a Cadillac.
Mark: It was even worse. I don’t think they saw any accounting. If you read the biographies of some of those artists they didn’t even get accounting sheets. They said we are going to get you some money to buy a car. “Hey isn’t that great?” I think one of the most shocking things I discovered when we entered into the “Music Biz” was that it was a business. When you started meeting all the people in the record companies higher up, I’m not talking about the people you work with everyday because lot of them did love what they were doing, but the higher up people it was just a business. They might as well have been selling pantyhose or something. That was what shocked me. I was naïve. I thought they were in the music business they must really like this and you get into these conversations and all they cared about was whether they were going to make enough money and whether they were going to write another “Echo Beach” so that they could continue to make money.
Martha: The music was referred to as product. You sold units.
Mark: We love your new product. We have sold so many units. What is this boxes of Kleenex?
It was essential for a band who wanted any kind of recognition or a hit single there was no other way to do it. This is eons before the internet, before technology allowed you to record at home. Al this stuff was necessary. There was no studios where you could go in as a young band and record with just a couple of thousand dollars. It was all big money. There was no other way to get your music out there. If you wanted to continue on and grow as a band this is what you had to do.
Mark: Thank God for the internet. I guess younger bands don’t realize just how much things have changed.
You kids today.
Mark: Now you listen to me. But really you have completely connected with your audience in the most direct way. There is nobody telling you what to say or what not to say. It is just you and them. That is an extremely valuable thing. Like cell phones and all that stuff I think it is completely taken for granted. It wasn’t that long ago that it wasn’t like that at all.
Well speaking of not that long ago one of the things that was really disturbing to me was that the media had a real latch on women and rock. I remember an article in the Toronto Star with incredibly sexist attitudes taking the examples of the two Marthas in MARTHA AND THE MUFFINS and maybe some other bands like the CURSE and the B-GIRLS and trying to develop this story based on this tenuous idea.
Mark: Isn’t that whacky? Women and rock.
Martha: It was a new era for women in the music industry. They were no longer the pretty person up front.
There was enough of that still going on though.
Martha: There was lots but there was room for other things. There was room for the B-52s and CAROL POPE and myself.
Mark: And also in visual art. There was the whole immersion of video art. People like Lisa Steele and New York people like Laurie Anderson and Colin Campbell were doing gender bending things and through that exploring what it was like to be a women at that time. When you think about the kind of comments that were being made about women at that time it was this condescending attitude and insulting.
Martha: I compared it to dogs in show business.
Mark: How novel. They were more intent on the novelty of it then looking at the ideas behind what everyone was saying.
Martha: I am going to take the conversation into a very strange turn here. I heard something on the radio this morning. It does tie in. Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson are doing a concert and they played a little excerpt on the radio and it was silence because only dogs can hear it. It was high frequencies for dogs.
Mark: So it is all about dogs and show business.
I wanted to talk about the absolute strength of women in the music business. One of the great bands in Toronto was the CURSE. Such an intriguing mixture of women. Such strong women and always a good show to see. One of the horrible things to happen to Toronto was the murder of a shoe shine boy named Emmanuel Jacques. It was quite disturbing. The immediacy of punk was to write a song about it. Their first single was on an independent label was “Shoeshine Boy” ….. Definitions of punk and new wave were media initiated and a lot of bands at the time were just playing their music without worrying about the label. One of the bands at the time was the GOVERNMENT. A disperate band with a great sound. Not really punk or new wave but they had their own sound. The great thing about the movement or what was happening at the time was that there was an extreme tolerance for all kinds of music so you could listen to the DISHES, you could listen to the VILETONES, you could listen to the POLES, you could listen to the CURSE or the B-GIRLS and enjoy the music without any kind of categorization.
Mark: Well that is the interesting things about the early days of any musical thing is that it gets codified after a while. But when the music is being made initially the people don’t really know what they are doing. It was like that when country music started, when the blues started. You know you read accounts of what white people thought when they first heard blues music and they talk of this unearthly sound that was coming from these string instruments with broken bottles and stuff. And you can only imagine what it would be like to have heard that stuff first time around because it wasn’t like classical music at all, but it had no name. Now you go and learn how to play the blues or rock school. There are rock schools. But in the early days of a musical movement there are no names and you are right that it was a very diverse scene in Toronto and how would you classify the GOVERNMENT?
How can people get in touch with you guys? How can people find out about shows you are doing or any background on what you on any back story on Martha and the Muffins?
Mark: and we have a myspace site too which is or and we have a youtube channel as well.
Martha: We did some things for Ox TV recently as well. You might find something on their website.

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