And Maybe,you wanna know what is going on with Candlebox.
We speak candidly
with Kevin Martin, lead singer
"There is no 'Classic Rock formula'....We have lost individuality in music, cause bands are afraid they won’t have a hit. Led Zeppelin, those classic bands were great because they didn’t care about all of that."
Imagine you are a kid, your father is a traveling salesman for a big company, and you move around a lot. You're living in San Antonio, Texas, and suddenly, your family moves to Elgin, Illinois. Music is your constant, you love the blues, and you are into Punk Rock music.
Flash to a few years later, you are now a teenager and you find some guys around your age who can jam on tunes with you. You rehearse together, and you and the guys like to go hear other bands, and hang out in Seattle.
In town there is that wild band, Nirvana. The lead singer, Kurt Cobain, is out of control on stage. His lyrics are anti-establishment, teen angst and he is a skinny, shaggy-haired surfer- looking dude, who rebels against societal norms. Kurt unleashes dazed, raw emotion, and screams out his rock tunes-while slamming things around on stage. People are shocked. Punk rockers love it! You love the meaning and the feel, too.
"When I began I was just a kid. I didn’t know much of anything other than what I’d experienced up to 19 and 20. I don’t know where it comes from. It is from my mind and my heart."
"Green River, Mother Love Bone. I saw Nirvana when they made a record. Everybody was playing in the city all over.... There was always some place to see them play. "
You love the scene in Seattle. (You just can’t wait until your own band gets to rock in these clubs, too).Your band is called Uncle Duke, and you guys quickly change it to Candlebox. That’s cooler. You get Peter Klett on lead guitar. He is into Iron Maiden; a Metal head. Your bass player, Bardi Martin, likes Classic Rock, Led Zeppelin, you name it. Then there is your drummer, Scott Mercado, who is into Jazz music.
You guys need a demo tape, or you can’t play at Off Ramp or RKCNDY. Bands from those venues make it. You want that. Your band puts its money together to make a demo tape. Your band is five to six years younger than most of the rock bands in town, and you can’t get into the 21 and over bars - which just sucks. You grow out your hair, yet, you still have a puppy face, let’s face it. You guys look innocent and are not rugged, really.
The big day is when, Damon Stewart from KISW lets you guys do a “Locals Only” show one night. People like it! Yet…you guys are still outcasts completely. At least you get a manager who manages the top bands in town, Susan Silver.
Bands are nice enough to you guys, it’s just, well, you’re not exactly accepted with open arms when audiences hear you. Your band is not Grunge, it’s more like a napkin for tears in rock music at that time. You guys write a more classic/ blues, glam type of rock. Remember now, there are so many great bands in one place in this town. You see them making a difference, changing music itself. There is Mudhoney, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, to name a few on the scene.
Some of the greats you get to see live at these clubs are, Mother Love Bone, Nirvana and Soundgarden.
You’re standing someplace one day, and you are 16. There’s this guy you see doing shows a lot in town, and he is perfection, and puts on one hell of a show. A singer/songwriter with mass appeal. He is phenomenal. His name is Andy Wood, and his band is called Mother Love Bone. You are blown away, that at age sixteen, you get to meet him. This guy is a genius. Andy takes you under his wing, and he tells you to do your own sound, and to just go for it in music. He is that kind of supportive, soulful guy with people.
Andy oozes confidence, yet he also cares about musicians, and he IS the Seattle scene of music. Malfunkshun, is his experimental band, and he also has a Grunge band, Mother Love Bone. Both bands are amazing to you. People know him, bands are inspired by his shows. His songs tell a story, and he is a genius on stage. Off stage, Andy goes to the shows of other bands in town, lends support, and it's his altruistic vibe that causes a strong ripple effect. Andy actually inspires the Grunge scene and massive energy in Seattle.
Andy’s roommate is an intense, yet very nice, serious guy. He writes music, and he and Andy are very into talking about and comparing songwriting. When you go hear his band, Soundgarden, you are blown away by Chris Cornel's vocals and cool songs, too. He’s playing drums, singing like that, and is shirtless. Chris is a badass.
Somehow, and to this day you aren’t really sure how it happened, your demo finds its way to Madonna’s new label, Maverick Records, and you get a record deal in 1992. Your self-titled album in 1993 is put out. The first single, Change, builds your band a big following, and then the hit single You, has you guys locked into success. The stage is set. Yet the biggest song for you comes out of tragedy that strikes while you are climbing to the top.
Your best buddy and mentor, Andy Wood, dies of a drug overdose. You sit down and you are angry. Addiction got him. You quickly write a tune to him, “Oh, Andy...” Wait, no. “Well, maybe…” Yes, that’s it. You want the drug to speak to Andy, wherever his spirit is now. The song will be called Far Behind. This power ballad (that people think is some break-up love song), hits big in Alternative and mainstream radio. Far Behind climbs to the Top 20, and the album climbs to the Top 10. By 1994 Far Behind and You are certified platinum by the RIAA four times. So, your self-titled debut album sells more than 4 million copies, and peaks at No. 7 on Billboard album charts. Far Behind peaks at no. 18, and stays on the charts for a year.
You guys are a hit and you get to be at Woodstock in 1994. Candlebox is put on the map as the forerunners of a “Post Grunge” movement. You also win Metal Edge magazine’s 1994 Readers Choice Award for Best New Band.
Meantime, rock names like Alanis Morissette, Deftones and The Prodigy are making it big on the same Maverick Record label. However, Candlebox doesn’t stop. You go on to have six more albums that get multi-platinum and gold certification.
Let’s jump into lately, and maybe, Kevin Martin has not left anything much far behind. After Candlebox came out with the album, “Lucy,” Scott left the band as drummer, and by 1997 Pearl Jam’s drummer, Dave Krusen, joined up. In 1998 the album, Happy Pills was not a major hit. By 1999, Candlebox was disheartened with Maverick Records- and tried to get out of their contract. Then there were amicable band member changes, and by 2000 Candlebox disbanded. Everyone went off to do their own respective projects in music and in life.
By 2006, the guys all got back together to release Into the Sun, and tour again. Adam Kury was on bass. Candlebox signed with Silent Majority/ILG records and that album was produced by Ron Aniello (Lifehouse, Barenaked Ladies) with some tunes featuring Scott Mercado and Dave Krusen on drums.
By 2012 Candlebox released their 5th studio album, Love Stories & Other Music, produced by Ken Andres. Former drummer, Dave Krusen, rejoined the band, as well as new members, Mike Leslie (lead guitar) and Brian Quinn (rhythm guitar). Following this, in 2016 their album, Disappearing in Airports, climbed on the Billboard charts. Sweet success again. Soon, the focus was more about intimate performances, and the stories behind the songs. By 2017 Kevin Martin and guitarist, Brian Quinn performed Candlebox hits as an acoustic duo.
Just last year, the original Candlebox lineup had a reunion for the two live shows in Seattle, performing their debut album in its entirety to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its release. Old and new fans are loving these shows. Candlebox is now on their 25 years of Rock & Still Rolling Tour, throughout the U.S. The show is a great time.
In February Candlebox will stop by Fort Lauderdale for a show. I caught up to Kevin while he was running errands between shows. We began to talk about his career. Here is how it went down:
TRR: Thanks for so many great songs, still, that I remember from a long time ago. And now, still, your longevity in rock music.
KM: You’re so very welcome.
TRR: How is it all going with the 25 Years of Still Rock 'N Rolling?
KM: I think that the newness of 25 years has worn off since July, but we still have a few months left until the 25th birthday. We are kind of taking it easy now with dates because we are working on a new record. We go back to Europe in June, and in May we are working on recording before that.
TRR: That’s great. Do you get to see your wife and son?
KM: That’s the hardest thing. If we go three or four weeks I go a little bit nuts, it makes me crazy. I’ve been home lately so it’s been nice. I do ten days, and then I come home cause that is easier on me and them, as well.
TRR: That’s a good way to balance it. Let’s go back, cause you lived in many places as a kid, right?
KM: (Laughing) I was born in Elgin, IL. 6 months later I lived in Aurora, IL, and a year after that I lived in Barrington, IL, and a year after that I was in Indianapolis in Vienna. Then, 2 years after that I was back in IL in Naperville. A year after that I lived in Missouri, then Kansas City, KS, a year after that, it was Hutchinson, KS for four years, and then at 12 years old I was in San Antonio, TX.
TRR: Why all the moving around?
KM: My dad was a the district manager for a regional salt company, and that company was trying to take over the salt market. The Midwest has a lot of salt mining in the Kansas area. So, my dad had to train all of the sales managers as a district manager. They were a fast-growing company, so we all moved a lot. I attribute it to who I am as a person now, and in how easy it is now, for me to make conversation. I draw on that experience for my songwriting. I’ve had a great life. There was one point where my family was on govt cheese.
TRR: What age was that?
KM: That was at age 7, but then things got better when we went to San Antonio, TX.
TRR: Ah, ok, glad it got better. As for your music, in the 80's, you were into Punk Rock, right? What kinds of bands did you listen to?
KM: Yes, I was. I Listened to English bands, new wave, that movement, like Depeche Mode, Bubble Surfers, things like that. My first concert was Dead Kennedys, and Bubble Surfers. It was quite a moment for me. I always wanted to be in a band. I started playing when I was 8 years old. My father was musical, my sister, my brothers. Music was always in my family. I think I was the only one that thought it would be a good career choice. (laughing)
TRR: Ha. When did you first know you could sing? You were young and it sounded so good back then, too.
KM: I started off in choir in school, but at age 12 I wanted to play drums. That was my focus. But Vaughan wanted me to sing in my teenage years, and well, I did it. I don’t really enjoy singing as much.
TRR: What don’t you enjoy about it?
KM: The pressures of being a singer. There’s enormous strain on your voice. It can play tricks on your minds. I’ve lost my voice 3 times in 26 years. I had a hemorrhage in 1998 - which cancelled dates we were to do with Black Crowes. That’s the kind of shit that weighs on you. I'd rather have blisters on my hands, instead of on my vocal chords. That’s the stress of being a singer. And I’m not a big fan of the pressure that it takes being a songwriter; to have melody and lyric be the perfect match for a song. That is something I still struggle with mentally and emotionally.
TRR: How do you get past that? What is your process, and what helps you to get into "the zone?"
KM: It’s really when I’m in the studio. I let the music speak to me while we are recording. It opens itself up to me when I am recording. I have books and books of bits of ideas - verses that I like. But I don’t sit around and just write lyrics. I’m not that kind of a musician. I really let the studio and the song dictate to me what I’m supposed to be singing.
TRR: Interesting. It sounds like you come at it more from a feel thing and more from the music first, would you say?
TRR: You started so young in that Seattle scene. How old were you as Candlebox when you did your first gig there?
KM: I would have been about 21 back then.
TRR: Were you just the drinking age then?
KM: I Had been singing in the band since I was 20. 21 was the first time I sang as Candlebox. We couldn’t play in bars until the summer of '92 - since our bass player was only 20. We had done some shows before that, though.
TRR: You got to hear the legendary bands of that time?
KM: I had been seeing them all from 1985, when I first moved there. Green River, Mother Love Bone. I saw Nirvana when they made a record. Everybody was playing in the city all over. There was always some place to see them play. I saw Nirvana in 1987 in Olympia, right after they finished recording Bleach.
TRR: Wow, who made an impression to you?
KM: At age 16, Andy Wood. Watching him perform on so many levels, and so many ways. Mother Love Bone. Larger-than-life, and just the biggest thing out there.
TRR: Is it his showmanship, songwriting ability? Why?
KM: Everything. He was like a Freddie Mercury. He walked round the city that way. He lived and breathed Rock 'n Roll music. He was at every show of every other band. And he’d ask people in the balcony, “Can you feel me in the balcony?!” We won’t see that for a very long time. I don’t think there is a performer out there now that has that much freedom and power.
TRR: Is it the audience?
KM: The audience doesn’t affect that, you have to be who you are regardless.
TRR: What about how busy things are? The culture, fast and furious, do audiences listen as well? From the 90’s to now, nothing has changed with receptive audiences? I’m trying to understand how you feel, socially about it. So, you feel it’s the same in how you make an impact?
KM: There are tons of distractions now, not just for audiences, but for bands, with social media. What I’m saying with Andy, there were no distractions. They are destined to be who they are. I don’t think kids nowadays have the abandon or desire to be that big of a rock star. Even on the Voice, X Factor, any of that. The kids have the freedom, but they don’t ever take it further on the shows. They cut loose, but the show doesn’t let the artist do it. It is more about image. There are kids out there who don’t get the chance. Even the ones who are that talented, may not have the opportunity.
TRR: But again, there is just so much out there now. As for Andy Wood, he took you under his wing, supporting other musicians and captivating, too. Was success tough on him, or would he have done himself in anyway. That time with him, what happened?
KM: He was an addict, that’s it. If he would have stayed clean, he would have gone on to been fully successful.
TRR: had you seen him around that time before the suicide?
KM: I saw him 2 months before he passed, right before he was going into rehab.
TRR: Addiction is fierce, that's true. And Far Behind is the drug speaking to him. If you could talk to Andy now, what would you say to him if you had a minute with him?
KM: Just "Tthanks for everything, thanks for being that artist."
TRR: How were audiences to you when you were out on that scene?
KM: We were young and not accepted right away. Our music was different.
TRR: Yes. How did your song, Mother’s Dream come about? It has strong lyrics.
KM: (He orders a scone in some coffee shop) (whispers) It was about my grandmother.
(Ah, Kevin, not easy to do an interview in a coffee shop, eh? Ha) She lived with us a long time, and she was an awful person, not a genuine, or kind bone in this person's body. My father’s mother, very manipulative, angry and frustrated. She came down on everyone in the family, so that is what it was about.
TRR: Do you stay in touch with any of the guys from Seattle now?
KM: From Sweetwater, yes. I see Reese when I go home to Seattle. I don’t keep in touch a lot. I’ve done some shows with Alice, which was nice. We were younger, too. We got more respect when we got on the road. We were the red-headed stepchild before that.
TRR: On the new album you're about to record, will you be doing any collaborations with others, or is it Candlebox, your own new material?
KM: Just us, all brand new songs.
TRR: Any new styles or pushing it with what you're doing now?
KM: We are pushing it a little bit further like the last album. Further each time.
TRR: You’ve said of Chris' suicide, that you would have thought Chris Cornell would live much longer. What do you think he would want people to remember him by now?
KM: Just his music.
TRR: He was a humble dude, huh?
KM: Very, very humble.
TRR: How did your demo get into the hands of Maverick Records back then?
KM: I am not sure. We played a showcase for BMI, and I think that one of the agents from BMI A&R turned our demo over to Maverick’s attorney. I think that’s how they found out about us.
TRR: Your fan base is so supportive, do you ever want to go back and do a very similar style like on your first album?
KM: I don’t really feel I want to go backwards. A lot of time it just depends. This kid from the islands sent me a song, not something I’d ever be drawn to, but it pricked up my ears. So, I figured, "How can we work this into our sound?" I don’t really think ahead about what I would write, I let the music expose itself to me.
TRR: I hear you clearly. How do you work Europe into the tour now, how does it go?
KM: We were there in 2017 for 12 days, and it went very well. They have brought us back for now. It is about making the trip and the expense of it. You really have to make sure you can schedule it when you can afford to do it. So, in June, we go for 12 days and that opens it up for next year, for shows, too.
TRR: They are very receptive to rock bands over there.
TRR: Do you feel your lyrics have matured? They seem more advanced. What do you feel has developed for you?
KM: I think the older you get, the more you learn, yes. That growth, and about my audience and my own family. When I began, I was just a kid. I didn’t know much of anything - other than what I’d experienced up to 19 and 20. I don’t know where my music comes from. It is from my mind and my heart.
TRR: What are some causes for you, for your son, close to your heart right now?
KM: Just to be a good human being, getting involved and saying no to politics that damage us as people. Taking a stand. This is one of the last countries in the world where our voice matters to our government. Also, health care. I don’t want my son to be a musician at all. I want him to do something that is greater.
TRR: Yet, if he says to you, “Dad this is my passion,” what can you do? How old is your son?
KM: 10 years old
TRR: Yep, you know how that is. They can be obstinate, so if he wants it, what could you do?
KM: If he lives and breathes it, which right now he is not. Already by that age I was. If he wants it, I would be more like “I’m not sure it’s a good idea, but if it is what you want to do, do it 100%.” I don’t think it’s a good career choice for anybody, I mean, it is next to impossible to be successful.
TRR: The flip side of the coin is, would you have listened to anyone say that back when you wanted it?
KM: Well, I had parents who were very supportive, and like I said, I started when I was 8 years old. I knew that it was something that I wanted. I would sit down to play every night. I wanted to be first chair. I had that drive, and my son doesn’t have that. That’s not to say that he doesn’t in 2 years from now, or that he won’t be some savant, but it's not likely. If he does, that’s great, I’m happy for him. I think people right now aren’t realistic about life. They have a sense of entitlement. I don’t want that for him. I want my son to learn lessons the hard way. I want him to learn about life the real way. Not to make life easier just because I can afford it now. Part of what made me who I am is the fact that we were on government cheese. And I wore generic sneakers, we had generic cola, generic chips.
TRR: Things are so branded now. And things are shoved in our faces now, do you agree?
TRR: How much of the business side, these days, are you doing? What is the skeleton of what a band needs to do? Your band has evolved, kept its fan base. What 3 things does a band need?
KM: Commitment, unbridled passion, and a sense of who they are. Don’t try to be someone else, branding is next to impossible for a band now. All you can do is play, play, play, and let people experience what it is you bring to the table. If you’re that good, it will happen. It is 100% of your being, that has to be put into your thing. If you try to be someone else, people can smell shit a mile away. Right now, there is so much of the same thing out there.
TRR: There is Greta Van Fleet, but that is his voice, and we hope they write their style more ahead. Yet nowadays, there are tons of tribute bands, many people are going back to Classic Rock now. How do you keep it fresh in music?
KM: It is difficult to say. Is Greta Van Fleet saving rock? I don’t think so, they sound so much like Led Zeppelin and that is their choice.
TRR: Maybe they will evolve into their own sound. I guess what I’m trying to ask, is, are people listening more to Classic Rock, because there is so much of the same sound out there? Maybe people seek it out more because of that fact?
KM: There is no Classic Rock formula. Music we made, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Candlebox, there was no formula for what we turned out. Pop music has a formula. 3 Days Grace, for example, just beat out some other band of top 10 on mainstream charts - not that the charts matter. Yet, every song they write is a formula. It may have a different singer, but it is the same formula. As much as Shinedown, 3 Days Grace, these rock bands have now, they can try to be original, but I don’t think they are. And I love Zack, and I love those guys from Shinedown, but I don’t listen to it. We got really into the nitty gritty lately - about his songwriting, but ya know….We have lost individuality in music, cause bands are afraid they won’t have a hit. Led Zeppelin, those classic bands were great because they didn’t care about all of that.
TRR: Yes, an authenticity is what made their strong thumbprints in music. You guys dared to be a softer version of what was out there in Grunge at the time. Bands have phases, and hopefully they stay the course. It is awesome that Candlebox is still out there, and that you’ve kept your edge. Tell me, what's the best thing a fan has ever said to you at a Meet 'N Greet?
KM: Some 18 year old girl said she grew up listening to us from from age 1, and how her mom never used swear words, unless she was singing at the top of her lungs to Candlebox, and how she swore then, too.
TRR: (laughing) That's great. The weirdest thing a fan has ever said to you? Strange things?
KM: Ah, Jesus, everything from "My wife and I divorced cause she wasn’t a fan," to "I lost my virginity to you, we conceived our son to your song."
TRR: (laughing) Wow! I’m sure Natalie loves that one.
TRR: Congratulations on your anniversary and please, in March, send us tickets, we want to see your show in Ft Lauderdale.
KM: I will do that!
TRR: Excellent! Can’t wait to hear you guys live. Thanks so much for your music, and congratulations on everything. We can’t wait to hear the new album!
KM: Thank you, see you.
Abbe Davis, Music Journalist
Tru Rock Revival Magazine
Abbe has written for Fortune 500 companies. She is the lead singer/songwriter for her own rock band, Sordid Fable. Abbe's goal is to support original music and rock n' roll.