An Interview with Martin Sexton (2012)


As someone whose soul has been infused with music from a tender age, I’d like to think that quality artists will always be discovered.

No matter how diluted the industry becomes, I want to believe that substance will prevail, and that the medium will never stand for anything less than the anti-establishment poignancy cultivated during the 1960s.

I understand the importance of aesthetics when trying to separate from the pack, but at what point did society begin to care more about what someone is wearing than what they are saying?  At what point did society begin to accept mediocrity masquerading as ‘the next big thing?’

In the end, it boils down to the music, and, when you’re alone in your bedroom with the headphones, all the pyrotechnics and platinum blonde wigs aren’t going to matter.

Of course, the major labels aren’t losing any sleep, because listeners in 2012 continue to buy into a system overrun with tedium and uninspiring din.  While there are a handful of artists creating material worthy of being remembered 50 years from now, the majority appear driven by something other than pure invention.

Chuck D was onto something when he asked “Who Stole the Soul?” nearly 22 years ago, because the industry has been lacking it in abundance ever since.

That being said, an expressive musician by the name of Martin Sexton is still on the scene, and his proclivity for mixing buoyant melody with socially aware honesty should give people hope that the soul of music is still very much alive.

I caught up with Martin prior to his show in Buffalo on Friday night, and the no-frills enthusiasm he maintains for his craft endeared me from the beginning.  He’s an iconoclast in a business ripe with sycophants, which, to me, only makes his presence more heartfelt, so here’s how it went down.

Question: How did growing up in Syracuse help to shape your musical personality?

Sexton: It really gave me my meat and potatoes foundation in terms of classic rock.  There wasn’t much going on at the time, so the obscure selections I had access to didn’t really do much for me.  I moved in 1990, but the boiler plate influence of the rock bands of the 60s and 70s really stuck with me.

Question: How do you think you’ve evolved since the release of your last CD “Sugarcoating?”

Sexton: It’s not a real grand departure, actually.  It’s essentially a continuation of the last record with some different songs thrown in.  I had a lot of songs written last time, so there’s social awareness on there, some love songs, and some other stuff I hope people enjoy.  It’s a new day, so I’m really excited about the new EP.

Question: How did the song “Fall Like Rain” come about?

Sexton: Well, that melody had been following me around for a decade, so I wanted to get it on a record.  I spend my summer living in the Adirondacks, where I camp out and try to connect with my surroundings.  Writing songs is often hard for me, because I’m always trying to work out what I want to say.  I try to write without TV, drugs, money, or any of the comforts of existence, because I want to be wide open to life and indulge in the wild.  I strive to disconnect, I guess you could say.

Question: What made you decide to cover Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth?”

Sexton: Well, I think we’re living in the new 60s.  It’s right there in the phrase “There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware.”  With the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act that the last couple administrations have put into effect, my ears really perked up.  People are ceding freedoms with very little resistance, so I feel the need to speak up about that.  I’m sure a lot of artists are afraid to become overtly political given the major corporate interests controlling them, but I can’t help it.  Whether it’s the corporations, war machines, or pharmaceutical companies, a lot of meddling interests prevent artists from speaking their minds.  For me, I’m an independent musician with no pressure to please anyone, and Buffalo’s own Ani Difranco helped me out in that way.

Question: Given the current saturation of pop and hip-hop in today’s market, how do you think your style fits in?

Sexton: I don’t think it fits in at all really.  My audience is more driven my social media, NPR, and college radio stations, so I don’t feel the need to fit into that scene.

Question:  When John Mayer called you the best live performer he had ever seen, how did that make you feel?

Sexton: It made feel good, you know?  When someone like that says something about you, you listen, because he’s knows what he’s talking about.  That was huge for me.

Question: As someone who worked his way up the old-fashioned way by selling CDs out of your guitar case, how do you feel about American Idol or other fast-track talent shows?

Sexton: They’re entertainment, plain and simple.  I’ve never watched the show, so I can’t really comment on it specifically.  People enjoy it, so I’m sure they will always be around.  I spoke to a fan once who told me about their audition experience for American Idol, and they said it was horrible.  Everyone lines up like cattle and waits all day for their chance to shine, which doesn’t sound like much fun at all.

Question: Who were some of your influences growing up?

Sexton: Zeppelin, Hendrix, and The Beatles to name a few.  I had a real appetite for classic rock records when I was young, so I tried to consume as much as I could.  Some of the best moments of my career have been playing with artists I grew up idolizing.  For example, I played “Do You Feel Like We Do” with Peter Frampton at Madison Square Garden, and “Teach Your Children” with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, which were both surreal experiences.  I remember being a 12-year-old in my attic listening to those songs, so those nights were huge for me.

Question: Your lyrics are laced with much more soul and honesty than other artists on the scene today.  What inspires you as a writer?

Sexton: Everything.  My family and my kids, which doesn’t sound that original.  Lately, I’ve been inspired by the Occupy movement as well as the Tea Party, because I’m interested in the idea that we’re one voice together.  Over the years, I’ve lost my sense of left and right, because, in the end, they’re all bowing down to the same political master.








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