We featuring New York singer-songwriter Martin Rivas before his BUNCEAROO show at Foundation Gallery & Liveroom on March 30th. Martin has six records under his belt as he recently released his latest full-length Reliquary back in July to great reception. We spoke to Marvin about his creative process, influential musicians, and more!
What moment sparked your decision to become a singer-songwriter?
I can always remember music really mattering around our house when I was a kid. There was always a radio on, and my mom had records by Jackie Wilson, The Supremes, Dinah Washington, Tito Rodriguez, The Beatles, and many others that my little brother and I would put on, as much to watch the label spin around as anything else. I bought my first 45 when I was in kindergarten: “Soul Makossa” by Manu Dibango… and I put it up on a sunlit windowsill for safe-keeping. The next day, it was completely warped. It looked like a sinewave! Lesson learned. I probably started taking notice of the workings of a song a few years later, when I found that little “FM” switch on the transistor radio and flicked it. It was Andy Summers of The Police and Steve Cropper of Booker T & the MGs who made me want to pick up a guitar. It was Joe Strummer of The Clash who made me want to start a band, and much like nearly everybody else, it was The Beatles who made me want to try to write my own songs. Them and Stevie Wonder, I’d say.
What musicians have influenced you and the music you make?
I imagine that I’m influenced by everything that I hear. Songbirds and distant trains and wind-whooshed trees and chaotic traffic and laughter and a crackling campfire have as much to sonically say as most songs, and I often find myself running to a guitar or piano after experiences like those more often than when I hear a song or artist. But the artists that keep me inspired are mostly way-back artists like Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, The Beatles, Todd Rundgren, Can, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Neu, Talking Heads, XTC, Nick Lowe, Stereolab, The Beach Boys, Aretha Franklin, Bill Doggett, Big Star… I’m sorry, it sounds like I’m naming everyone who’s ever written a song. I could go on…
You released your latest record, Reliquary back in July. How has the reception been so far?
It’s been wonderful. I’m so happy that folks seem to be really getting something from these songs, and I just found out that “You’re Heart Will Be Broken Again” was nominated for Best Adult-Contemporary Song for this year’s Independent Music Awards. That came out of nowhere and I’m very smiley as a result. Smiley and honored.
You have five other records in addition to this one. How has the creative process, either recording or songwriting, differed at all going into this sixth effort?
Getting to record these songs with Alex Wong as producer was very different, and exciting. We had talked about working together for a few years leading up to the recording of Reliquary, and to finally do it was quite exhilarating, watching and learning from him and how he goes about things in the studio. What was also different for me was that nearly all of the songs on the album were written very shortly before recording them. For all of my previous output, I would be slowly and steadily writing songs over time, and choosing my favorites of the bunch to record. With Reliquary, I had a bit of a revelation while I was on tour in England the summer before recording, and nearly all of the songs came as a result between July and October of 2011. We started tracking in late October, with many of the lyrics not yet completed, which was also a first for me. But as a result of all this, I feel as though this album captures the state of myself at the time more closely than anything I’ve ever done.
Why “Reliquary” as the album title?
It speaks to the revelation I had while I was touring in England. On a day off, I visited the British Museum in London, and they were showing a collection of relics pertaining to Christianity over the years. A reliquary is a depository for a relic, which might be a bone fragment from the arm of a saint, or a chip of wood from the crucifix that Christ died on, or a thorn from the Crown of Thorns. I came away from the exhibit thinking about how we are all reliquaries of each other, that with every interaction we leave a little bit of ourselves with each other, and when we’re gone, there’s an awful lot of ourselves left with an awful lot of people. It seems as though a sonic spigot was opened with that notion, and sounds and sentiments poured from it.
You’ve toured in many places. Where has been your favorite spot to perform?
I definitely have many favorite locations where I love to perform, but I think that, more than a specific location, I love playing for a very attentive audience, and most often you’ll find those nowadays at house concerts. Folks are there specifically to listen, and the silence can be very inspiring. You can pull everything down to a whisper and let the silence be part of the song when you wish to. It allows for a performance that runs a wider emotional gamut. You don’t just have to pound songs into the side of people’s heads, and you don’t feel as though you need to compete for their attention. It’s wonderful.
What can your fans expect from you in the rest of 2013?
Well, I’ve released 3 albums over the past 3 years or so, and I’ve done a lot of performing to support those albums, but I’m about to become a father for the first time, and I have the overwhelming urge to just let life guide me around for awhile in that role. Writing never stops; it’s really just a by-product of existing, like breathing or going to the bathroom. So songs will continue to come. But I don’t think I’ll be playing any shows for awhile, except for a StageIt show where folks can watch a show on their computer screen. I’ll definitely be doing a couple of those later this year.
Current guilty pleasure musician?
I think that most of the music I listen to qualifies as someone’s guilty pleasure. I obsessively listen to a lot of numbers station transmissions on shortwave radio! The CIA or the Mossad might find me guilty for that!
Thanks for talking to us at Pick-Up! Any last words for the readers out there?
Thanks for reading this far, dear reader, and I hope to see you at The Foundation Gallery & Liveroom on March 30th. If not, I hope you’ll have a listen to my music on iTunes or at martinrivas.net!
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