Martha Redbone Interview by Tom Paul
Martha Redbone and her writing partner/producer/keyboardist Aaron Whitby has been a fixture on the Indie Soul scene releasing two Indie Award winning albums to date. The first album, "Home of the Brave" released in 2000 followed up by the second release "Skintalk" in 2005 with both albums receiving critical acclaim globally. Martha and her band have toured extensively around the world gathering new fans at every show. Her music is a blend of her Native American and African American roots bringing old school R&B, Rock, Funk and some serious storytelling that has audiences asking for more at the end of every show. I can tell you I've enjoyed both of her albums and all the shows I've been to in the NYC area. Her band is something to behold stocked with top-notch session players along with Martha's artistry is something we should all strive for as Indie artists.
Martha Redone will be performing at Joe's Pub in NYC on February 13th at 7pm, $15. Believe me when I tell you this is a show you don't want to miss if you are in NYC. The show will be a pre-Valentine's Day show and believe me there's gonna be a lot of love up in the room at this show.
Please visit these links to read quotes from reviewers that we all wish were in our own press clippings.
TP: You have a show coming up at Joe's Pub on Feb 13th and you will be filming the performance, will this be for a Live DVD? I hear a full band will be on stage as well?
MR: We decided to videotape our upcoming show at Joe's Pub because we wanted to capture the energy of the magical nights we've had there over the past few years. With indie budgets being so tight we haven't had the opportunity to do so earlier. Joe's Pub and former Music Director Bill Bragin have been very supportive to us and made Joe's our favorite home stomping ground. This must be our 11th show there and we will have a seven-piece band. We haven't decided if we will consider it a live DVD for sale to the public, but we will definitely have some of it available for people to enjoy on YouTube and our website.
TP: Your bands always consist of an All-Star musicians, can you mention these great musicians that grace the stage with you?
MR: It's funny because I consider these guys an ALL-STARS too. First off is my MD, co-writer and producer, Aaron Whitby on keys and the band from Skintalk and the majority of our live work; Fred Cash Jr on bass, Alan AB Burroughs and Mike "Dino" Campbell on guitar, Toby Williams on drums and helping out many times along the way have been, Rocky Bryant, Kevin Johnson, Abe Fogel, Charles T. Hopkins, Adrian Harpham, Skoota Warner and Rodney Holmes on drums, Daniel Sadownick on percussion, Ron Jenkins, Artie Reynolds and Gary Foote on bass, Teddy Kumpel, Mitch Stein and John Andrews on guitar, trumpeters Eddie Allen, Todd Horton and Richard Boulger and saxophonist Ada Ravotti. The incredible vocalists Keith Fluitt and Karen Bernod have been singing with me for a while now and also Mary Wormworth, Gina Breedlove, Stephanie McKay, Arif St, Michael, Irene Datcher and Audrey Martells. In a nutshell, there is only one word that I feel for having these friends lend their talents to our music...blessed.
TP: You are the busiest Indie artist I know, you perform at Reservations & Major Festivals all around the United States, do you book everything yourself?
MR: Yes, we book everything ourselves, thanks to the success of the internet, the world is a smaller place, indie artists are now able to find our audiences, embrace our niches :-) and more importantly, people are now not only able but willing to discover new artists online. I think the road would be a lot tougher and longer if we were back in the 70s & 80s when bands just got in the van and drove and played anywhere without knowing what to expect, with the internet we can do a lot of preparation ahead and save time, no need to drive all the way to a venue in an area that plays strictly country & western when you have a soul band.
TP: Can you talk about all the time you spend helping out on Reservations around the country and when you started taking on this role in the American Indian Community? To me this sets you apart from any other artist out there because you are one of the few Indie artists that is heavily involved in Community service on such a grand scale.
MR: Actually I think most indie artists are politically involved, or at least everyone I know is. It would almost seem to go with the territory. Over history artists, of all disciplines, music, art, film, literature, dance have been activists... somehow we seem to be a little more connected with what's going on in our communities, we all seem to have an ear to the street and the beautiful thing is, we all want to get involved and do our part. Not to say that there aren't talented people whose main concern is "getting paid" but they may not always be artists and usually aren't interested in the indie lifestyle. In Indian Country there has always been a strong sense of community activism, our culture, like most cultures, revolves around family, honoring our elders and nurturing our youth. It's incumbent upon one. I feel the same community energy right here in Brooklyn. I don't really feel like I've taken on "a role" so to speak, it's more like a responsibility, a natural progression of my life as a musician representing my Native and African American culture, honoring my roots. It isn't only the Native American community that we give our time to, we also participate in world causes like Amnesty International, local Brooklyn fundraisers, African-American women's and children's causes right here on our own doorstep.
TP: How much time each day do you spend on the phone and emailing promoters in regards to setting up and advancing shows? Alot of people need to know how much work goes into being an Indie artist.
MR: I manage myself, so anything that happens is because of the work we put into it. If we don't work, we don't eat! I don't have a set routine for promo, but I know some people do. We work with the promoter or venue in each city to make sure they have promo material ahead of time, to give them time to get enough exposure, some are better than others, but we try to do what we can to make it easy for them to do their job. There are also lots of online gig listings and webzines, blogs etc where you can advertise your gigs free of charge. And there is some radio still, public and college radio stations in particular love to discover new music and there are some great DJ's out there who champion new music and some cool people at XM and Sirius. We've been very fortunate with my two albums to have had play on nearly 200 radio stations worldwide so far. Much thanks to the people who take the time to listen and request repeat plays and email me after hearing us. And that brings us back to people, because it's the people who come out to shows and bring their friends and buy CD's as gifts and spread the word that are the most important.
TP: I read that you've opened for many National Artists like Bonnie Raitt and the Beach Boys, do you get opening slots often for artists of this magnitude?
MR: We've had a few opening slots for big names, and we were well received. Most recently Taj Mahal who was mind-blowing, the venerable Kris Kristofferson, being the Beach Boys' opener was a blast. When we opened for Bonnie Raitt it was a private concert for charity to raise scholarship funds for Native American students to go to college full-time. We raised over $130,000. Bonnie invited me on stage to sing with her, I'm still pinching myself today over that!
TP: How do you get a crowd that large interested in you "the opening act"?
MR: As we know opening act performances can be when most of the audience is just coming in and getting their refreshments in the foyer! In my experience as an opening act it isn't about the number of heads in the audience that is listening, because whether it's 100 people or 50,000 you can make new fans everywhere if you give the best performance you can give. I try to give it like it might be my last performance, simply because it just might be! Music is our gift and we are the messenger, yes, that old cliche, but there is truth in it. Making music for a living is a privilege to me, there aren't many people who can say that they earn a decent living from a music career, there are a lot of people out there in jobs they dislike, but people have to pay rent & bills. I have been lucky so far to have a job doing something I love, and because of this I respect it and am always happy to share the gift.
TP: Can you tell me what influence George Clinton had on you at an early age?
MR: I was about 8 years old when I first heard and saw George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, my teenage uncle brought an album home from high school and the cover was the most outrageous looking dude I've ever seen. Some kids thought he looked scary, but I thought he was the coolest cat on the planet. The first song I ever heard was Flashlight and I was hooked! It had the funk, the rock, the hump...nuff said. To be able to say years later that I am now one of the voices on the Mothership reunion album is a dream come true.
TP: I've hear influences in your music, part Chaka Khan, Neville Brothers, Earth, Wind & Fire. I hear all of those influences, yet this is your own sound and it feels original from the melodies to the songs themselves, what other musical influences do feel seeps into your sound?
MR: I am the biggest fan of a strong melody, period. It's one thing to enjoy the quality and skill of a beautiful voice, but if I can't sing the melody back, it's not going to stay with me. There are some artists who are blessed with songbird voices, they can sing the phonebook and convince me, but when that beautiful voice is paired with a strong melody, WATCH OUT! That's the magic. The old masters of soul music have been an inspiration since I was a kid, and now I try to honor them by respecting the craft of songwriting and story-telling, I want to continue to pay homage to the music they have given and continue to give us. But between Aaron and myself we've listened and love a helluvalottamusic from every age and every continent so hopefully all sorts of things will slip in.
TP: I feel old school R&B, Rock and some serious story telling(witty lyrics) yet the hooks are catchy, everything one could ask for in a song, when sitting down to work on songs do you and your partner in crime Aaron Whitby start with a specific writing process? Or do songs just come out of nowhere and you work until you have a building block to create off of?
MR: Songs come from everywhere, there is no set structure for inspiration, only a discipline at honing the idea. Some ideas come easy, others take a bit longer and need a little more nourishment. We also often re-work and re-structure songs, we're not precious to re-developing an idea. We often write at the piano but certainly not always. Aaron's is an excellent arranger, he has the ears of the old school master arrangers like Quincy Jones, Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin, most of the music I love. I think Aaron's arrangement skills are what makes our songs feel timeless.
TP: What other artists have you performed with Live or on CD that you've enjoyed?
MR: I appreciate so many artists and their music, there are too many to mention, but I have to say that singing with my good friends, Karen Bernod and Keith Fluitt is probably what I enjoy the most. To be able to sing with such incredible voices is one of the many blessings that making music for a living brings me. I have always admired musicians who are masters of their instrument, whether it's a piano or violin or guitar, but to have your voice as an instrument, the same instrument that one uses to speak and in the next instant you make the sounds of birds, to me this is a wonderful gift. Some other amazing treats include scatting back and forth with Randy Brecker's amazing trumpet playing at the Bottom Line's "Downtown Messiah", recording background vocals with Raul Midon on my 'Skintalk' album, singing "Kokopelli Blues" with Keith Secola at the opening of the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in DC...getting down with James D Train Williams in England or my first real 'jazz gig' singing standards with the legendary Onaje Allan Gumbs a couple of weeks ago in NYC...most poignantly, right now my numerous times on stage at benefits around the country with the great elder Floyd Red Crow Westerman (Dances with Wolves, Johnny Cash tribute) who passed away so recently.
TP: Currently you are working on material for your 3rd Independently released CD, how is that coming along? Do you have a projected time frame on completion?
MR: We have been traveling quite a bit, and have a body of songs that we will record, we have introduced quite a few to our audience, as we did with the "Skintalk" album, we feel that our audience played such an important role in helping us decide the bulk of the tracks chosen, that we will continue with the same method, no one better to decide than one's own loyal audience who supports what we do. The release date is TBA, but guesstimation is spring/summer 2008.
TP: How long have you and Aaron been working together? How did you begin working together?
MR: Aaron & I have been a writing/production team since 1996, we met through a vampire (long story) but it was very easy and natural, we met and worked for 'Junie' Morrison and the P-Funk camp and then we were signed to Warner Chappell Music Publishing and wrote songs for many international acts, including British Grammy winner Shola Ama (WEA). We wrote and produced songs for my solo project and formed our label Blackfeet Productions in 2001, releasing our first CD, "Home of the Brave" in 2002 and our sophomore CD, "Skintalk" in 2005, so we are looking forward to our third baby!
TP: Your material sounds like it is recorded live in the studio, where do you record and are you producing/co-writing with other artists at the moment?
MR: Our music was recorded live in the studio, and we recorded the vocals and overdubbed a few guitars in a separate session, but our band was in the room together and laid down live takes, old school style, like jazz bands still do. We had been on the road quite a bit prior to this, performing the new material as fast as we were writing them, so by the time we hit the studio, everyone knew exactly what to do. It was wonderful to see us all in there grinning at each other and playing together, I love my big brothers! In fact there is a photo on my website that I love of one of the days in the studio where the guys were listening back to their takes. We have a pretty cool home studio, we can make a good sound, so we're pretty much recording from home now.
Recently, we produced an R&B pop artist from Iceland named Kenya, who has a very smoky sexy Lisa Stansfield vibe and did some work - mixing, singing, playing - for excellent R&B newcomer Lenora Jaye, and we're producing a new artist who shares my Native & African American duality and shares a similar passion for being a voice for her community, watch this space....
TP: If anyone has not had a chance to check out Martha Redbone live or on both of her CD's, please go to http://www.martharedbone.com/ or www.myspace.com/martharedbonemusic to check for upcoming dates in your area. I think all up and coming Indie artists can learn a lot just from listening to the professional package Martha Redbone is putting out to the public via their CD's and live show.
By Tom Paul