Your Gateway to Music and More from a Christian Perspective
Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Interviewed by Tony LaFianza at Purple Door Festival, August 18, 2001
The Phantom Tollbooth caught up with Ronnie Martin and Jeff Cloud of Joy Electric in the Pennsylvania mountains during the Purple Door Arts and Music Festival this year.
Ronnie Martin is the stylish singer and songwriter for the band, as well as a record company owner (http://plastiqmusiq.com/), producer, and webmaster. Jeff Cloud is also a busy man. Cloud plays keyboards in Joy Electric, the bass guitar with Jason Martin, Ronnie's brother, in Starflyer 59, and is also a record company owner (http://velvetbluemusic.com/). Todd Gilliland, Joy Electric's drummer for shows, was not able to join us for this interview but is also an accomplished musician: the creative force behind the band The Gold and a singer/songwriter.
Tollbooth: Where has Joy Electric been? How long has it been since your last record of new material?
Ronnie Martin: The last record of all new material was ChristianSongs that came out in April of '99. Then we put out Unelectric in June of 2000. That was older redone stuff so, it's been like two and a half years, almost.
Tollbooth: In that time you also did a Keith Green song for a tribute.
Martin: We actually did the Keith Green song for the ChristianSongs album and they ended up using it on the tribute record.
Tollbooth: Is Keith Green an influence on you?
Martin: He had a big influence on me. He's the first music I'd ever heard, when I was seven years old, with my parents. That's really all it was for me... It could have been anybody, but my parents bought all of his records.
Tollbooth: Why did you pick the song, "Make My Life a Prayer to You"?
Martin: I just liked it. It's a ballad so I thought, "Let's make a disco song out of it. It'll be kind of cool." I don't know if it worked or not. People seem to like it.
Tollbooth: What are the challenges and rewards of using vintage synths in your music?
Martin: The challenge is that the synths we use are monophonic so you can only play one note at a time. There are no chords on it. Every line you hear is like a single line. You have to program every single sound. If you hear a bass drum on the record, if you hear a snare, we had to make it on the synth, and then record it down... so we're basically layering up songs, sound after sound. It's a time consuming thing but it's what gives us that sound. It's more like a craft. That's kind of how we view it. Like somebody that works with wood, or something. It takes them a long time but at the end they have something that's really unique that they do. For us it's worth the effort, because from the start we wanted to be set apart from all the other bands. Not set part like in an egotistical, snobby way, we just wanted to do our own thing. And we've been blessed that we have a label (Tooth and Nail Records) that's been right there and said, "Yeah, do it." ... "we get it, do it."
Tollbooth: Are you after a unique sound?
Martin: It's a classic sound. It's sort of a sound from the 'seventies. These old synths became affordable in the 'seventies so you have a select group of bands that bought these things and started making music on them. But as soon as that happened, the 'eighties hit, and all this other technology came into it, sort of diluted it and it just changed. Then you had records like Madonna and stuff. That's kind of the sound that came out of that. But, [that short time of the 'seventies is] sort of a forgotten sound. A lost era. We're just trying to reproduce that.
Tollbooth: Who is your audience?
Cloud: It's super mixed. Young to old. Mixed with the "I know everything about computers in the world" kids, to the weird looking kids wearing Zao shirts.
Martin: It's because we stick out like a sore thumb on Tooth and Nail [Records]. They have all these alternative [bands], and there's tons of punk bands, tons of hardcore, and then you've got us. I think we've always sort of stuck out ... Tooth and Nail is a label that will attract you just because of the label itself. So eventually, the fans weed through and they get to us, and they can decide whether they like it or not. That's helped, being with Tooth and Nail... Getting to those kids... whereas another kid probably wouldn't have that kind of diversity, not listening to T&N...
Tollbooth: I know you use electronic instruments. Do you use a drum machine?
Martin: On the record we use synthesizers only! But live... we do have a live drummer, and we mix it up a little bit.
Tollbooth: Why do you have a live drummer?
Martin: It gives a little more energy to the show. It makes it feel a little more alive than just all our taped stuff...kind of gives us a different element that we like a little better... but who knows? That could change too. We did a two-man show for years. We've done a four-man show, we've done a three-man show, and it's pretty versatile how we're able to work.
Cloud: The drummer kind of helps us trick people. If there's a drummer they think that [the band is] a little more legitimate. Like when we want to play festivals, just us two, it's really exactly the same but today we can say, "We have a drummer now." "Oh, ok, let's get you guys on." It's a rock and roll weird thing.
Martin: It helps us to compete a little. We've been competing with other rock bands now for six years; a drummer helps.
Tollbooth: Are you recording any live tracks that will use the drummer?
Martin: We'll be putting out a box set, probably next March. Yeah, he'll be on that. We're going to record live songs... so.... he'll actually be on one of the records.
Tollbooth: Why do a box set?
Martin: The box set is something the label's been wanting to do for us for awhile. It will include a sort of "best of" selection of all the albums, as well as some live tracks that we'll be recording very soon. Most importantly, it will contain 10-12 brand new songs, which were written over the span of all of the albums, but didn't make it onto any of them for one reason or another. So half of it will be like getting an entirely new record, which is important to me, because my main interest is always in providing new material for the fans. It's called The Art and Craft of Popular Music and should come out by the beginning of next year sometime.
Tollbooth: It's been a while since Joy Electric released an album of its own. Have you just been busy with your labels?
Martin: Yeah, because when you start working with other people, bands and other stuff, it starts sapping your own creative time to work on your own stuff.
We had a lot of problems with this new record. When I started there was a ton of equipment problems. I kept having stuff break down on me. I'd just get going on it and then I'd have this big setback, three or four of them, so when I finally got down to work, it took about eight or nine months to finish it. It just took too long.
Tollbooth: Are you excited about the new record?
Martin: Yeah, yeah, happy it's done..
Tollbooth: Did you go in with a lot of material? How did you record this time?
Martin: I went in with a few key songs, and [the rest] sort of all came to me as I was starting, which has never happened. I usually have everything done... That's probably a lot of the reason it didn't happen very quickly...
Tollbooth: Where did you get the title The White Songbook for the new release?
Martin: It's the first of this concept series of records we're doing. It's going to be four or five albums. It's called the Legacy Series.
Tollbooth: What's changed on the new record?
Martin: I always tell people we don't change, we just try to refine. What we do is so left field... we could be doing this music twenty years from now and I still don't think it would sound like anybody else... we just do what we do. We try to refine it, have better production and... I think with this record we just tried to make it a little more experimental like the first couple of records were. The last two we were a little more conservative. This one, there's a lot of variety on it. It gets us back to doing more weird sounding stuff, which is what we wanted to do.
Tollbooth: Do you have ideas for the other records in the series?
Martin: Yeah, I actually have most of the songs for the next one already written. Beyond that it will come as it goes...
Tollbooth: It's a four volume set?
Martin: It might be five, it might be three, I don't know...
Tollbooth: But they will all connect?
Martin: Oh yeah, they'll all connect....
Tollbooth: What's part one about?
Martin: Part one is The White Songbook. You have got to get the record, and read it for yourself. It's kind of a confusing mess. It'll get a little clearer as we go along...
Tollbooth: But the first one will just confuse me?
Martin: I don't know, because you can read into it whatever you want. It's really up to you. It tells the story of an old man that came to the end of his life, and he had this weird opportunity to go back and view different parts of his life. In sort of a legacy ... he's able to rewrite parts of his life. It's a universal kind of theme. All the mistakes and the regrets... It's not like some groundbreaking, world changing concept or anything. We just thought it'd be something kids could really get into... because they get this first record and they know it's this whole series so they can anticipate the next one. They can speculate amongst themselves what this means. You know, nobody's doing that right now.
Tollbooth: You mean a series of story records?
Martin: Yeah, just a huge mess of records like that. We were influenced by old Daniel Amos records. It's kind of the same thing.
Tollbooth: Compare yourself to Terry Scott Taylor of Daniel Amos.
Martin: I suppose it's a bit lofty to compare myself directly with Terry Taylor, but I do believe that my music embodies the same level of integrity and non-compromising quality that Daniel Amos records had through the years. I'm really aiming for the stars, so to speak, with this Legacy series, and I believe Terry was doing the same thing throughout the course of the Alarma Chronicles.
Tollbooth: Any singles coming off the new record?
Martin: "We Are Rock" is about the only one on the record that could be a single for the most part. The last two records were singles records. There was a lot to choose from, and they were designed that way. On this one a lot of songs are seven or eight minutes long. It's real progressive in nature.
Tollbooth: Jeff? Anything else?
Cloud: We have this plan.
We want our fans to go buy the record the first week (The White Songbook
hits the shelves on August 28th, 2001). Don't mess us up and buy it three
weeks later. People don't understand how critical your label and everyone
is of your first week of sales. We feel like if only our first week is
fantastic, we'll be stoked! We want everyone to just have a plan to get
the thing the first week. That's awesome. If they get it the second week
that's still cool, but not nearly as cool as the first week. Lots of times
we play shows and the kids will say, "can we help you?" ... you sure can,
buy the record the first week! Don't say, "I've got to save my allowance
and get it the fourth week." We really need it the first week. Save your
allowance now... !