Interview by Mike Noon.
Martha is a pop-punk band from the village of Pity Me near Durham in England’s North East. Their infectious sounds can be heard on their debut LP, ‘Courting Strong’ on the Fortuna Pop label as well as on a number of shorter releases through Odd Box, Drunken Sailor Records and Tuff Enuff. They play melodic, soul-influenced punk rock music with strength and humour. It really is as simple as that. Nathan kindly answered our questions.
Can you tell me who is in the band and which instruments they play?
Naomi- Bass/Vocals, Nathan- Drums/Vocals, Daniel- Guitar/Vocals, Jc- Guitar/Vocals
How long have you been together? How did you come to form the band?
2012 was our first demo recording. I can’t remember how we formed exactly. I think we just wanted to start a new band and talked about it and then we did it. We were all hanging around a bar called The Fishtank in Durham a lot, and some friends of ours (Paul, Arthur and Tudor) were doing this club night playing lots of motown and pop as well as punk and it was like a great vibe, so we decided it would be cool to start a band that was somewhere in line with that kind of stuff.
I don’t think I’ve seen it explained before, why Martha?
The ever last living Passenger Pigeon was called Martha. She died in 1914, and after her, there were no others. We’re named after her because we like animals, we have a historical angle to a lot of what we do, and in general we try to think critically about the often terrible impact human-animals have on the world.
I’m aware that Martha are something of an Indietracks mainstay, with an official appearance two years ago, an acoustic show in the merch tent last year and now this year’s triumphant return. What is it that you enjoy about Indietracks that draws you back each time?
It’s a lot of things. For one it’s a nice weekend away at a family friendly festival. Also, they let us play, which is undoubtedly a big part of it. I’m quite skint at the minute, so it’s good to get in for free as a band member. Lots of our friends go and we can see other bands that we like. The railway aspect is cool too. The indie-disco is always a laugh. It’s pretty far removed from the corporate nastiness and hegemonic masculinity of Reading/Leeds fest or something. It feels more like our kind of scene. I’m sure the organisers (and punters) will probably be sick of us after this year though. Maybe this will be our last for a while. Give people some breathing room.
You’re also playing Glastonbury this year (in the Billy Bragg programmed Left Field section). What are your expectations of that?
We’re very excited about it! Billy Bragg has been an influence on us since we were little kids. Literally, there’s a picture of me (Nathan) being held by him as a kid when he was playing a benefit up North. I feel like he’s a good person, and that recently he’s resisting the “where have all the political songwriters gone?” narrative that seems to frequently do the rounds in the mainstream culture sections, and he’s started actually looking for them and giving them a platform, which is great. Onsind played with him a couple of years ago and he was lovely and very kind and supportive of our music and message. He put The Tuts on last year, and they ended up doing a full UK tour with The Selecter because of it. I dunno if anything like that will happen to us, but it will be a cool opportunity and something to tell someone else’s grandkids one day. I’m not thinking of it as a means to an end, but as something really special that we’ve been given the opportunity to do. It’s exciting. Just found out Pussy Riot are gonna be there speaking on the day we play. It’s all a bit terrifying. I’ll probably hide in a tent until we play.
What do you all do when you’re not being Martha?
I’m currently unemployed- or between temporary university teaching contracts. Daniel is training to be an Occupational Therapist. Naomi is also half in academia and half working at Beamish museum. Jc is a professional wild card.
I’m aware of your extra-curricular activities in the bands No Ditching and Onsind. Are there any other Martha-related acts we should be aware of? And is it difficult having to keep so many plates spinning? (So to speak).
It’s difficult insofar as now Daniel is doing an Occupational Therapy course we can’t tour as much. So the small amount of non-weekend touring we do has to be earmarked quickly for specific bands. It’s a bummer that comes with being a grown up. I don’t really feel like the plates are spinning. More just they get filled at different times.
The images on the sleeves of all the Martha releases to date appear to be personal snaps dating from the 70s onwards. Can you let us know more about this? Who are the people on the sleeves and whose idea was it to use those images?
The initial idea was when we found the picture on our first EP. It’s very odd and awkward and maybe a bit sinister, depending on how much context you have. It’s mine and Naomi’s mam, brother and grandfather and it’s late 70s. He’s dressed as ‘spiderman’ but the eyeholes are so small it looks like he just has a red sack over his head. The framing is also odd. It just worked in terms of the aesthetic of thinking about the past and a version of imperfection and real life that resonated with us. Then from there we just kept it going. It’s been cool to have a consistent aesthetic, it’s nice to have something like that.
When are you expecting to release your next LP and will you be debuting new material at Indietracks?
We’re gonna record some new stuff over the summer/autumn, then hopefully we’ll release a split 7″ in November (we’ll be saying who that’s with soon probably) and then a new LP in early 2016. But who knows. It’s all subject to change.
Are you staying for more than the day you are playing and is there likely to be a repeat of last year’s epic Indiepop football match on the camp site? (The Spook School’s Niall McCamley having stole the show last year).
Saying Niall stole the show is like saying Gazza was a good footballer. Niall is a professional show-stealer. That’s just what he does. Hopefully I’ll be on his team this year, and can benefit from his box-to-box, better-than-most-even-with-a-stonking-hangover-stinking-of-booze expertise. The football is probably what I’m probably most excited about. Gonna try and start early cause we don’t wanna interfere with any of the acts. 9am warm-ups on the camp site by the dance tent (subject to change – follow @marthadiy on Twitter for details). Then people can play a full game, and go get washed/ready/fed in plenty time for first bands. I don’t wanna hear any moaning about how early it is, or hangovers or anything like that. If SAFC can avoid relegation from the Premier League when half of them are hungover, then I’m expecting the same level of stoicism from the UK indie-pop community.
Have you ever had to get to a gig by train, carrying all your instruments?
Yes, Daniel and I once did 3 days of a 2 week German tour by train. In Germany the rail system is a bit more reliable and affordable than it is here, so it was basically a breeze. Also Onsind is just acoustic so it wasn’t so much gear to carry (although with merch and our own bags, it was plenty). I can’t imagine doing it in the UK. That sounds like it would be a total nightmare.
Do you consider yourselves to be a punk rock band?
Your Twitter name and your e-mail address are MarthaDIY. What non-musical creative activities do you have outside the band? Fanzines? Fine Art? Fell Running?
I’m trying to learn how to be a filmmaker. I’ve made a few music videos (some for Martha, and also for Trust Fund, No Ditching and Spoonboy). I’m enjoying that process. I also make a comic once every 5 years. The others are all creative and resourceful too. Jc recently bought a caravan for 200 quid off a fella in Easington Lane. He’s been doing it up ready so we can sleep in it at Indietracks. If the caravans rockin’ don’t come a knockin’ (I’ll be practicing my keepy ups).
Which bands do you look up to as an example of a good way to conduct the business of being in a band?
Bands like RVIVR and Defiance, Ohio (both from the USA) seem to be able to reach a lot of people, but without having to interact with a lot of the bullshit elements of the music industry. They are popular, reasonably sustainable (I think) bands who are also very much DIY and politically right on. From our point of view, we book our own shows and try to work with DIY promoters, we don’t have ‘management’ or anything like that. We put shows on for other bands in Durham and we try and treat bands the way we’d like to be treated. We pay for our own recordings and then we work with people we like on a case by case basis. But I think it’s tricky for a UK band to base its practice on a US band, because it’s such a radically different context. For one thing, you do a two week tour of the UK and you’ve played everywhere. You could barely do the East Coast of the US in two weeks. But those are bands who manage to reach lots of people whilst staying really DIY. Really we just take every decision as it comes and try and retain as much autonomy as possible.
If you could leave people with just one feeling after you leave the stage at Indietracks what would it be?