Martin’s Folly – Do re mi, blah blah blah
Chris Gray, the prolific co-leader of Martin’s Folly, would like to see the music industry return to a simpler, more artistically creative period of musicmaking that allowed artists to release a album of newly recorded material every year. In fact, that would be just a starting point.
“I’d like to do two a year, or at least one-and-a-half, the half being an EP,” he muses. “That’s what keeps it fresh, what keeps it going. I get frustrated when I can’t record, because when I get the songs done, I need to get them [recorded] so I can clear my brain and write new songs. We’re making a bunch of music right now….I knew we we’re gonna get a little clogged up.”
Tar Hut Records released the band’s sophomore offering Man, It’s Cold in February, but Gray’s already thinking about the two additional albums’ worth of songs the band has already written, and has his sights set on a summer return to the studio. Of course, by that time, there might be enough new stuff for a couple more records.
Existing in the same musical space as, say, The Band (“we’re an American Pop band,” says Gray), Martin’s Folly came up with its guitar/organ/electric piano pastiche as a result of Gray’s disenchantment with basic rock formulas. First he had to convince business partner/bassist Jim Duffy.
“I was bored with the whole two-guitar full-out kinda thing, but I wanted something that would fill in the big gaps, and piano and organ just seemed like the right thing — just classic, traditional great sounds,” Gray explains. “I kept trying to convince Jim to play organ and piano — he had a Wurlitzer at home — but he didn’t want to do it. He fought it, but we finally got him to bring down the organ.”
Duffy’s keyboard work has become an indelible signature for Martin’s Folly. It’s almost nostalgic to hear electric pianos and organs employed as primary instrumentation in rock music these days; the warmth is radiantly refreshing. Nods to rock classicism do not end there, as Gray litters the landscape with shards of Neil Young-inspired guitar skronk.
Then there’s the songs — endless stacks of songs. So many that Gray and Duffy decided that, despite not having a record deal, they had to make a record. With the seemingly omnipresent Eric “Roscoe” Ambel behind the board, the band cut its self-titled, self-released 1997 debut over three sessions. It’s a raw, freewheeling blueprint of a sound they would further define.
It was also expensive, but Gray wouldn’t have it any other way. “What I like about owning the record is that, uh, it’s mine,” he laughs. “To me, that’s a good thing, it’s paying yourself. I can do whatever the hell I want with it, and nobody can say anything about it.”
With Man, It’s Cold (again produced by Ambel), the band chose to license the album to Tar Hut. The label has an option to buy Man, It’s Cold, as well as the band’s first, and next, release. At the rate that Gray cranks out new songs, he may soon have the need for the additional funding.
“A lot of the songs come out very, very quickly; most of them within the hour,” says Gray, adding that he often composes in the light of dawn. “Somebody once said it was really just a matter of catching what’s in the wind — it’s as if these songs already exist and you just pull them in. Sometimes it really feels like that.”
Gray swears the brilliantly creepy “New Friend” came to him in a dream; “I liked it when I heard it, but it didn’t actually exist,” he says, cryptically. He refers to “Giant On The Beach” as “another one of your 5 a.m. songs,” adding that “when you just wake up is the closest that you could ever get to having kid brain; things are abstract, but they mean something.” He reflects on the revelatory moment when he and Duffy realized that “Here Lies A Fool” was a lo-fi Burt Bacharach gem: “We’re both huge fans, you can’t deny the melody.”
As for reports that much of his musical channeling occurs while sitting in front of the television, “it’s absolutely true,” Gray confesses. “It’s a big white noise machine; it relaxes me. If I’m sitting in my house by myself, I start thinking about stuff I’m not supposed to think about. I’d rather have the blah blah blah.”