Martin Sexton is a folk-rock gem that sprang onto the music scene in 1996.
Since then, he’s created over eight albums, including some of his infamous live performances which consistently overflow with genuine authenticity.
Here, we discuss cover songs, Peter Frampton, the changing music industry and Martin’s latest album, Sugarcoating.
What inspired you to first become involved with music? Was it your dream as a kid? What bands first turned you on to rock/folk music?
I was about eight years old, and my big brother had a record called Frampton Comes Alive!. I put the headphones on and the needle down…I heard the crowd and the guitar licks, and I knew….. It lit my fire.
I got a guitar as a teenager and started to learn. By 14 I was in a rock band, and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do…I’ve been blessed with a fruitful and rewarding career.
That is a stellar record to discover. Were there any memorable or ground-breaking gigs for you as an up-and-coming artist?
In 1997 I opened up for Ray Charles, and it was a dream come true. I also signed on to his label at the time, Atlantic Records.
What made you decide to depart from Atlantic Records and form your own label- Kitchen Table Records?
I didn’t need the big corporate guns behind me. I knew I could reach my audience and reach future audiences just by showing up, touring and relying on traditional resources of support, such as college/NPR radio or supportive press outlets on the internet.
I decided to go indie in 2002, not really knowing that the whole record industry would be going down the drain in the next five years. Although Atlantic was fine to work with, it’s good to be my own boss; nobody tells me when or how to make a record.
Does your newest album, Sugarcoating, differ from any of your previous albums?
Yes and no. There is a bit more social consciousness on this record than other records. I’ve always tried to inspire people to chase their dreams; to do what they’ve dreamt about since they were twelve. Like the other albums, this was recorded live. What you hear on these tracks is pretty much what went down in that moment; no overdubbed vocals, etc. We did it old-school.
What artists have you enjoyed playing with over the years? Any artists you’d wish to collaborate with in the future?
Again, Peter Frampton at Madison Square Garden. I had the opportunity to play the song with him there…
And that would be?
“Do You Feel Like We Do?”…
Of course! A classic…
Many of your songs tell a story…Where do you get inspiration for these songs?
A large percentage of my work is directly out of a journal, even songs on Sugarcoating; a song for my son, a song for how I met my wife, a song about mending fences with my older son (“Friends Again”)… Everything is out of real life, although sometimes I throw in tunes simply crafted or made up.
How do you select your cover songs? Were these songs you’ve loved growing up or did you pick up a guitar and decide that these songs fit perfectly with your sound?
I do love the songs that I cover, but I don’t have a huge collection of covers. I never delved too much into interpreting other songs… I would like to do more in the future though. A cover record, with wacky versions of other people’s tunes.
I know you’re a supporter of independent music… Do you have any advice for up-and-coming artists who are trying to break through on the music scene and get their own label?… At the end of the day, do creativity and originality have to be sacrificed in order to get signed, or do the days of being a “starving artist” truly pay off?
Both. Some artists do fine with deals- I took a major label deal, and they didn’t tell me how or what to sing. I produced my own record, wrote my own songs, got to choose my own producer… If it’s the right deal, take it. It’s tough these days. They can’t make money on record sales so they’re going to take a piece of everything else.
All I can say is play, play, play… write, write, write… gig, gig, gig. Play to five people, lose money maybe… just keep doing it. And if you’re worth your salt, you’ll make it. Just persevere.
What’s in the future for Martin Sexton? Any new music or side projects you’re working on?
I have some songs that I didn’t put on Sugarcoating; they weren’t B-sides but were extras… I’m thinking of releasing an EP maybe sometime in the next year…
I’m starting to think differently of how music is released. The traditional record cycle is changing… You release a record, promote it, tour behind it, do the interviews…And that seems to be changing a bit. I might try a totally different approach. Maybe do it all digital as opposed to hard records.
I used to walk into Borders books in middle America, and here would be the book section, and upstairs would be an entire second and third floor of records. Now there’s still books, but only an isle of records; they’ve condensed two floors of music into an isle! Fifteen bucks used to get you a CD; now $9.99 will get you a record with a bonus disc, video footage, download material… everything but the kitchen sink. It’s like the opposite of inflation, and that really says something. But it’s truly getting harder to sell physical records…
Agreed. It really sucks to see so many independent record stores failing. Music has definitely changed…
Twenty years ago, would you have envisioned that you’d be where you are now in terms of fame and success? Would you change anything?
Well, I certainly hoped I would be successful, and I certainly dreamt of calling my own shots… But if I’m visualizing twenty years ago, what I wanted to do was be the lead singer of a funk band. I also owned an electric, not an acoustic, and I didn’t envision being a solo artist. (The Solo record is me in a nutshell…)
It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t have things the way I wanted them, cause half the time it wasn’t good for me or the people around me… But I would have envisioned making records, like Beatles records; really rangy, from folk to hard rock to jazz…
… The only difference now is the audiences are bigger. I show up, I play, I have fun and I try to express joy when I sing.
To check out more from Martin, check out his website, and definitely catch a live show!