Candlebox, Kevin Martin Interview – Discussing ‘Let Me Down Easy’ and Seattle Grunge

2020-10-12

Interview: Kevin Martin of Candlebox talks about the band's new single, "Let Me Down Easy."

Candlebox – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Cristel Brouwer

Kevin Martin of Candlebox joins Anne Erickson to discuss the band’s new song, “Let Me Down Easy,” and what it was like growing up in Seattle during the birth of grunge in the late ’80s and early ’90s

Like many bands, Candlebox had their 2020 plans solidly set. The Seattle-based rock band wrapped up work on their new album in January and were gearing up to release it, just when coronavirus hit.

With touring and production halted, Candlebox decided to wait until 2021 to release their new album. But, they did get out a new track, “Let Me Down Each,” which features a raw, real, rock-meet-blues vibe that’s garnering rave reviews from fans.

Kevin Martin of Candlebox spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio about the new song, what he’s been doing during this wild year and the history of the Seattle so-called grunge movement. Read the full interview below, listen via the audio player below, and hear it via the Audio Ink podcast on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.

Anne Erickson: Hi, Kevin. It’s good to talk with you. How are you doing amid this crazy year?

Kevin You know, everything’s kind of upside down a little bit. But, I think for the most part, things are okay for us. We’ve been healthy and haven’t had any issues. I’ve lost a couple of friends this year to COVID, which has been a real bummer, but for the most part, we’re healthy, and I guess that’s all you can hope for, that your family and those closest to you are (healthy), so I’m very lucky. But, crazy. We were supposed to have a record out this month, and it’s not coming out until next year. So, that’s been weird.

I’m so sorry to hear that you know people who have passed away. So, my condolences.

Thank you. But, life moves on.

You have this new track out, “Let Me Down Easy,” which is a great rock track. It’s gotten a lot of good response from fans. Are you happy to see that people are enjoying the track?

Yeah, it’s about time somebody likes something I did! (Laughs) The response has been amazing. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised that it’s gone over as well as it has. When I wrote the song with Peter Cornell, I told him I wanted something that was swampy and bluesy and sort of Neil Young, Rust Never Sleeps, sort of a “Crazy Horse” vibe, and he sent me the song on acoustic, and I immediately fell in love with it. I was like, that’s going to be the catalyst of what I do from now on, musically, for this record. So, it really kind of forced me to make this the record that I made, and I’m super happy about it because a lot of times when I want to make an album, I look for one song that kind of sparks the rest of the record, and that hasn’t happened in a while with me. So, I was really, really stoked when, when he sent me the song.

Tell me about the theme of the song, which is about the fact that we’re all sinners.

My outlook is– I was raised Roman Catholic, and I’m not a practicing Catholic anymore, but I do know that there are people that believe in that strongly. One of the things that I wanted to kind of portray with this song is that at some point in your life, when that time comes, and you’re going to have to answer for those types of things, maybe you’ve found a bit of redemption or you’ve repented for what it is that you’ve done to hurt others, to hurt yourself, whatever that may be. If that’s the case, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who falls asleep and doesn’t wake up. Nobody wants to suffer the pains of a terminal disease that eats away at them for 10 years or five years or something like that. It’s an awful way to go. I just feel like, gosh, if I’ve done this and I’ve been this person, I accept the responsibility of it and I own it. Let me go out of this the easy way, not the hard way. And, that’s kind of what it’s about.

Wow, that’s so deep. That’s a little deeper than I expected! (Laughs) But, I think it’s a good message, because I’m Christian, and I do I see other Christians who think that they aren’t sinners, but we all are.

Yup. We’re all going to have something to answer for at some point.

Exactly. So, are you finished with the new Candlebox record?

Yeah, it’s been done since January. I’m not happy to be waiting so long, but I know that’s life. None of us knew that this was going to happen. So, here we are, trying to figure out the next six, seven months of our lives.

How would you describe the musical direction on the new record?

Bipolar. It’s all over the place. We use a lot of the things that we were inspired by musically– bands, songs, influences, to kind of write this record. We wanted to tap into those heroes of ours that influenced or changed our lives somehow, musically. That was the concept behind each song that we approached. If there was a flare of a Led Zeppelin tone or something, we wanted to use that to write the song. Not re-writing a Led Zeppelin song or something, but using that inspiration, that tone, that vibe, and talking about? What is the story that you want to tell? Not only lyrically, but musically, and most importantly musically. So, it’s quite a stretch for Candlebox, and there are some amazing tracks on this album that I think people are going to be really surprised that we did. It’s just a cool record. I say bipolar, just because one minute it’s melancholy, and the next minute, it’s happy, and the next minute, it’s manic. So, we didn’t stick to one direction. I’m a firm believer in not writing 15 of the same songs and putting them on a record and having one great song, and then the rest of them sound the same. I’m just not a fan of that. I’ve never been a fan of that. I’ve always tried to avoid that at all costs, and I think we did.

Would you say it’s more retro-sounding? When you mention Led Zeppelin, I think retro.

Oh, no. It’s very contemporary. I think the only thing that would be retro about it would be maybe the guitar tones and stuff, but the album itself is very contemporary.

Candlebox has been around for a few decades at this point. You’ve seen rock music go from one thing to the next. What are your thoughts on the state of rock today?

It seems very confused and a bit watered down, and maybe a little convenient. What I’m trying to say is the fact that you can find a similar song in every single song, so the convenience is that you don’t have to look too far for something new, or not new, but rather something that’s recognizable, I should say. It’s a little bit harder to find something that kind of stands out. I think bands are really trying to find the footing right now. I think a lot of rock bands are trying to find, what’s the next step? How do we survive the changes that are in front of us, the digital world. MTV is not making rock bands anymore, and they’re not supporting rock bands anymore, so where do you know, where do you find your place in society right now? So, it seems a little confused. There are some great records that are coming out. I’m not a fan of any of the new stuff. It doesn’t really float my boat. It’s not that it’s not any good, it’s just not my cup of tea. I like more of the alternative stuff… So, I admire all the talent that’s out there. Each one of these bands deserves the great success, because it’s no small feat to produce an album and songs and get them out. That’s nothing to laugh at, so I’m certainly not taking , or, and I’m not trying to take anything away from these bands because they do have a place in the world of music. It’s just not my thing.

So, I don’t really have the right words to say about the state of rock, because I don’t really understand that side of it. That seems to be what the world is really– rock radio is kind of molded to. The new Sevendust, the new Seether, the new Papa Roach, there would have been a new Lincoln Park record. That kind of stuff. Bands like Candlebox and Soundgarden or Alice in Chains, we may get a little bit of love at radio, but we’re not going to get the love that those bands are getting, because we’ve outgrown that audience. So, to be a band like Candlebox is a little strange right now. I don’t really know where we kind of fit in that world. But, I know that that rock stations are playing the new song. I guess if you get lightning in a bottle, that’s an amazing thing, but I don’t write songs to really go to radio, if that makes sense.

Candlebox is out of Seattle, and I’m fascinated by the whole ’90s grunge scene and how it came in and kind of took over from the ’80s hard rock and metal. What was it like being part of that scene?

It was magical. There were any number of bands that you could see, and each one of them was their own style, their own sound. I think the name grunge is interesting because there’s so many different styles of music that have come out of Seattle at that time, the only really grungy type of band would, in my opinion, have been like Tad or the Melvins. Soundgarden was progressive rock and very, very talented musicians. Pearl Jam was arena rock. Mother Love Bone was arena rock, Alice in Chains is metal. So, being able to see all those bands, as a 16-year-old kid, was mind-bending. Seeing Nirvana for the for the first time, seeing Mookie Blaylock, before they were Pearl jam, when they first started playing. All those things were amazing.

Seeing Chris Cornell singing and playing drums when Soundgarden first started, before he became the frontman. That’s an amazing moment for me. It’s something that I think about every day. It’s interesting that Candlebox was even looped into that, because the only reason was because we were from Seattle. But, I think about it all the time. How did we fit in that? Because we weren’t really that type of band. We really had none of that kind of vibe. And, we were so much younger, five and six years in age younger than the guys that were in Soundgarden, Pearl jam, Mother Love Bone, the Melvins. I just turned 51. I think Chris would have been 56 this year. So, it was strange, but at the same time, it was magical, and there was always something to see there. There was always a new band. The list goes on and on and on. We were just fortunate enough to play some of the shows with some of those bands who had a lot of attention, and that interested A&R people to take a look at us.

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