Deadheading had the pleasure of picking Stevie Martin’s brain about his current project, “Rainy Boy Sleep” (amongst other matters, such as Dostoevsky, why Marilyn Manson might be the last rock star, and his debut album with Universal, of course).
DH: Why did you pick “Manchester Post” as a single?
SM: I think it connects immediately, it’s pretty hard-hitting, and it’s the most ferocious one. In terms of pace, we did Ambulance first, and it’s almost like a curveball, as it’s so different in direction to Ambulance. So there’s a lot of bases to cover with the whole album, you know, you need to make a big impact early on as well, so to get that out there is good. It’s great live as well, so if people know it, it’s going to be even greater when they turn up to see the show.
DH: Was the censoring your idea?
SM: No, definitely not. It’s just (uncensored), it’s definitely not going to get played on the radio, but that’s cool, it works. Everybody knows what’s going on there, you know, before the blank.
DH: When are you planning to release Waiting Games?
SM: I think it’s around May, it might be coming out. We have been, kind of, in discussion about that whole thing, but hopefully it should be May. There’ s a bit of a concept to the album, so I’m looking forward to getting it out and have people listen the whole way through, and kind of getting to go through the whole story of it.
DH: Will there be any other singles in the meantime?
SM: I just have to wait and see, really; what with marketing strategies and all this crazy business, I’m just playing it by ear.
DH: You picked “Rainy Boy Sleep” in order to maintain a distance between your writing and your personal life. Is it difficult to maintain that distance?
SM: I wouldn’t really say it’s a pseudonym; it’s more like a project name. It’s like, if you’re playing like a huge tour where you’re out there constantly, it’s easier to get into character, so with the shows being kind of intermittent, it’s a bit more difficult to get back into that character, that groove. But yeah, I like the fact that the whole project name, and (because) it’s not going under my name, there’s more room for just having a bit of fun really. I know some of the songs are really, really personal, but there’s a bit of ambiguity with the whole project.
DH: That kind of leads into my next question: do you ever feel like you’re playing up to a construct, or a character? Like there are two separate entities: Stevie and Rainy Boy?
SM: I try to be me, you know, when I’m onstage, but at the same time, like a cooler version of me. Yeah, so I try to be me, but the whole thing is, I just don’t want to go out and depress people for whole evenings. I’m generally a bit eccentric; I don’t want to water that down too much by putting on too much of a character. I mean being onstage; you’re not always going to be a hundred percent you. Like Morrissey says he does, but something changes, you know, it has to.
DH: Do you try to strike a balance between personal experience and fictitious accounts, for the sake of lyricism?
SM: I think a song is always going to be based on some element of personal experience, but the ambiguity, you know setting up a block. It’s like another barrier, kind of. Like I remember the first song I ever wrote, it was the most personal song that I’ve ever wrote, and it was just like, saying all this stuff, and I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. It was called “Never Think Again”, but it was just crazy personal, and you know, you need some form of protection.
DH: Have you ever actively offended anyone (with your lyrics)?
SM: I don’t think so? No, um, maybe people could be touchy about if they’ve ever been in an ambulance or something.
DH: It would seem like you’re prone to spontaneity in terms of writing, for instance, you wrote the song “Your Face” in something like ten minutes at Glastonbury festival one year. Do you actively decide to hone in on something, or is subject matter something that is decided relatively naturally?
SM: As you say, it’s kind of spontaneous; you have to take it as it comes. There are times the spark comes immediately, and you just have to sit down and get it done. A couple of weeks ago, this idea, just, out it came, but then again, a song like “Bottom of the Sea” that’s going to be on the album, it kind of, it was there for a couple of years. I remember the first time I thought of it, I was driving down to a gig in Dublin, just a nice, sunny day and all the rest, but the concept kind of came then, but it was two years until the thing was done. Just have to kind of, go with the flow really, and if the opportunity presents itself, get it done straight away.
DH: Is there ever a disparity between what you intend to write and what you actually come up with?
SM: The whole process is, it would start off, and normally what I start off with isn’t what I end up with. One line would set off another thing, and then singing melody, trying to get melodies and that, you do a lot of scat, so I would record just scatting on my phone and that. The scat is good, because when you listen back you can hear phrasing and it sounds like, “Oh wow, that’s a good word there!”, or you hear what fits in. It’s usually the case that it ends up being something different from what I started with.
DH: Do you ever find the difference between what you’ve envisaged and what you end up with frustrating?
SM: That’s usually the case, but I’m getting better at writing songs, so it’s easier to command directions through the song now. Like I was saying, the song I wrote two weeks ago, I knew exactly what that would be used for: it’s not a song for me, but it’s just going to be kind of published out, so I knew exactly what that song had to be. I guess that’s the whole getting better thing, being able to command it a lot better, whereas I feel looking back, like I know the songs are good, but I realise how I could have went about them differently; I’m a bit pedantic.
DH: You have a fairly distinctive voice: at what point did you discover that you could sing, or was it always something that you knew you could do?
SM: I’ve always been singing- in the shower. Yeah, just from mucking about in school, and getting a band going- “Aw, I wonder who can sing?”, “I’ll give it a go.”- so yeah, I think alright, if you want to go for a certain style like, aye, get trained and all the rest, but for my style it (training) would completely take away from that.
DH: Did it take a while to achieve that style of singing?
SM: I’m pretty sure I’ve got it now. I remember listening to earlier demos and, like, using an American accent where I should’ve been using my own. I think (Americana) sounds a bit false, especially with the stuff I’m doing. Hearing “Frightened Rabbit” sing their whole album through in a Scottish accent, it’s just like, that comes from the heart; if they’d sung that album in an American accent, it would have been crap, like. So I’d be selective, but there are times when a chorus needs a more general accent, but the verse, I mean, I sing the verses of Ambulance in my own accent, but then I adopt a more general accent in the chorus, make it a bit more universal.
DH: At what point did you seriously begin to consider a career in music, or was that always the end goal?
SM:I never even really thought about it, I just knew that going out and playing gigs was the only thing that really made me happy, so I never really thought about it, career-wise. I always dreamed about being able to do it and that, but I just took it as it came really.
DH: Are you self-taught?
I got about two months’ help, this guy Alan Wilders from Strabane, so the first song I learnt was Avril Lavigne, “Complicated”- it’s not too complicated though! So a couple of months, and I was just off to learn on my own, like Josh Ritter covers and Glen Hansard and all them ones.
DH: How old were you when you started playing music?
SM: I got a bass for Christmas when I was sixteen, and I dabbled in that. It wasn’t until I was like seventeen, which is pretty late like, that I got stuck into it.
DH: What made you progress onto (and stick with) guitar?
SM: It was just a technical thing. I’m more like a songwriter, I guess, so that kind of isn’t the most important thing for me to focus on, I need to be able to mix the melody with the rhythm more, so it’s just that the guitar fitted a lot better.
DH: You play a bit of everything. How much, if any, involvement did you have with recording the instruments of the album?
SM: I worked with Niall Dalton, so me and him are of the old guard. He was like the engineer on the album, so we were trying to get that round the campfire vibe; we’re both of the opinion that it’s essential to get the sound (right) before pre-production, and get the most natural sound, and he’s so good at doing that. The recording process was very experimental, in terms of microphone placement and all the rest, trying to get the most natural sound, so we spent a good bit of time at it, but we did work hard on that. For one of the tracks, I plugged the microphone into a guitar amp, put it through weird effects and that, it kind of created this big soundscape-y thing.
DH: How did the collaboration between you and Reuben come about?
SM: Initially, we met like three years before we started working together on the album, so it was a case of I was off on the tour with James Morrison, and was starting work on the album, and I was looking for all these crazy producers- I’ll not name names or anything- but I was going to the ends of the earth, basically, to find a producer for the album, and it’s so weird that, you know, Reuben was the one, and he was there all along, right on my doorstep. So yeah, it was one day, somebody said something, and it just dawned on me, like “Oh my God, Reuben Keeney!”, so that’s pretty cool.
DH: I’ve always maintained that your voice would work perfectly on an electronic track (as is supported by the recent slew of remixes of your songs). Would a standalone electronic/dance track ever be anything you’d consider?
SM: I would love to do something like that. I kind of have a vision, well, I know what the second album’s going to sound like, so it’s kind of time to think about the third. I know what direction it’s going to be, although I’ve only got bits and pieces of songs and that, but I can envisage that it’s going to be a bit different alright. Maybe SOHN-y, Crystal Castles-y direction-y, so yeah.
DH: Reuben has joined you onstage more often than not in the past few months: will he continue to be a part of the live set up?
SM: I’m continually striving to get to a full band set up on stage. I love the dynamic of what we’re doing right now, but I think definitely, that’s what I mean, for us to get three four musicians on stage at once. It’s very, very handy to have a laptop, because I am still poor, but for the gigs that we’re playing right now, it’s very handy. Like being a support act, that’s what they (promoters) want; no fuss, which is what gets us onto these bills, you’re set up in three minutes flat like, but when I’ve got my own headline shows, that’s when it’s going to be time to start thinking of a whole band.
DH: When the band does form, will it be associated with Rainy Boy Sleep, or will it be a separate entity?
SM: I think it’s always going to be, like I’m always going to be me, so this is just a project name, this is maybe my chance to be a bit weird, and you know, I can always use my own name for stuff. I always have that freedom to go on and have another project as well, a collaboration or something, there’s always that opportunity, so it’s just holding onto that freedom.
DH: Will you maintain creative control if you expand this project into a band?
SM: Well, you’ve got the general thing like, you’re playing to the sound of the record, but I mean, every musician is going to put in their own wee touch. It depends, like if you get a rock drummer, it’s going to be a lot more visceral than a jazz drummer, but then a jazz drummer is going to be more stylised, so I guess a happy medium (would be good). I wouldn’t want to be like, I need to stick with the vision, not get too far off it, like there’s room for flourishes and fitting in their own wee touches, but you know, (you have to) stick to the vision at the same time.
DH: You’ve only embraced the idea of being a pop artist relatively recently. Were you somewhat reluctant, for fear of others’ perception of current pop music being applied to your music?
SM: I wouldn’t really say pop. Well, I know the stuff’s pop, but I’m kind of anti-famous, anti-being famous, it’s just within the music, but that’s completely not what I’m about. I’m not after getting my face in the newspapers and that there, which is kind of the idea why the project is called “Rainy Boy Sleep”, you have to make your mind up about that, you need to sit back and go, “Right, OK, let’s figure this out.”, that’s why that’s always the first question asked, “That name, what does that mean?”, you immediately have to think into it, and I think that’s the reason why. But pop, I’ve always listened to pop, and, they’re the songs that I wanted to listen to, like growing up listening to Blondie in the car. Pop means pop you know, at the end of the day. If you can write a poppier song, let’s go.
DH: Your influences are something of a surprise. You’ve previously listed Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, and System of a Down as artists that you like, as well as the more obvious ones like The Cure and Damien Rice. Are you still into that kind of thing?
SM: As I was saying like, it kind of dawns on you, “Here, I’m not listening to heavy or loud enough stuff: cue Deftones.”, and it was such an important part of my life, and it’s definitely going to come through more down the line in the songs.
DH: Yeah, currently, you don’t seem to incorporate too many of the heavier elements into your music: you have dark lyrics, but rather uplifting music. Do you think that contrast works well?
SM: Well, Manchester Post is like the closest so far, so I’ve got bits and pieces and riffs that I know I want to use in the future.
DH: Do you think your current style of music lends itself better than say, metal, to exploring darker lyrical themes?
SM: The juxtaposition of that happy sound, I don’t know, I know it’s a dirty word, but emo, it’s real uplifting music that’s really dark thematically, which is pretty much as dark as you can go. What’s that Fall Out Boy lyric, that first song, “When you wrap your car around the tree, your makeup looks so great next to the sea.”? It’s not an influence, but yeah, that all comes from The Smiths. I had a bit of an emo phase, but all emo comes from The Smiths, Joy Division and that stuff.
DH: I remember that you covered Joy Division one year at Stendhal, but you made it sound so upbeat.
SM: I thought it was funny anyway, it was almost a celebration, you know, “Love’s going to tear us apart, yay!” That’s my idea of humour.
DH: You obviously take a lot of influence from literature. What writers have had the most impact on you?
SM: A few years back, I was into a lot of early American writers, like Kerouac, Fitzgerald. I think life throws signs at you as well, as to what the next book that you should read should be. I don’t know how, but Dostoevsky as well, and Sartre, I started reading Age of Reason, but whatever happened anyway, I kind of put it down again, and Dostoevsky was the next thing. Actually, I put up a picture of “The Count of Monte Cristo” on Facebook, and said “It’s still the best book I’ve ever read.” and it’s a bit more slapstick, but I kind of want to laugh hilariously at it as well, and you don’t really get that with Fyodor, but it sparked a debate in the comment section underneath it, and someone said “Karamazov Brothers”, so I thought OK, that’s the next one. I love that, and I want to keep doing that, because somebody who is interested in getting into reading, and would pass them (books) otherwise, that’s how it happens, word of mouth, and that’s how I got into this book.
DH: It’s very evident that you have a real respect for storytelling. Have you ever directly taken musical influence from a book?
SM: I absorb stuff from books and that, but I love just hanging out with older people and hearing stories. Like sitting on long journeys, my soundman at the minute, Vinny, he’s got so many class stories, and it’s just a pleasure to sit in the car and just listen to these stories, like he’s got a story for everything, and I think that’s more of the stuff that goes into the songs, because it’s all broken down, it’s been filtered, it’s been thought out, and you have to be able to tell it in a way that’s going to make it good. You could tell the best story in the world, and some boring fucker telling it, it’s, “Aye, good one mate.”, so I think that makes its way into the songs. But you know, reading and keeping your mind open is so important, just being more aware.
DH: What else, outside of literature and music, do you take influence from?
SM: I have my favourite film, I like stuff by Danny Boyle, but The Graduate is my favourite film. Like, that’s obviously going to make its way in there as well. Traveling, nature and that as well, I love. As much as I don’t do it enough, going out and being in the fresh air, but I think whenever you’re hidden away in a dark room for so long, it’s all the more wonderful once you do go for a walk.
DH: Can you see music as always being your primary focus?
SM: I started off doing painting and photography and that, although it’s like something that you can’t just jump back into straight away, and go do that. It took me a year and a half to draw a decent portrait, and because I haven’t been drawing and doing that, it would have to be a conscious decision to say, “OK, I’m not going to focus on music as much right now.” when I do get back into that again, but it’s always something that I can do later on. Like music at the minute, I can’t take my hands off the guitar, it’s just immediate and there, you’ve got your catharsis right there.
DH: What’s been the toughest thing for you as a musician so far?
SM: Every musician I think has to go through the soul destroying gigs. I don’t think any musician can be a musician without doing them. I’d just go to this place, and there’s just nothing, no reaction, they’re the toughest, but I was thinking not so long ago; it was a particularly difficult gig I was playing, and halfway through the gig, I just started smiling, thinking “Snow Patrol had to do this shit!”, so aye, that’d be the hardest thing.
DH: How have you found working with Universal? Have there been any compromises?
SM: No, the album was finished and we presented the album and nothing had to be changed, so that was perfect.
DH: Have you written anything and felt that you couldn’t release it?
SM: Aye. Well it’s frustrating, I know, but I understand that the timing is very sensitive as well, but I’ve got songs, I’ve got a great song- well, what I think is a great song- but to release them now would be sheer folly. Two years down the line, aye, there has to be a bit more structure, get people’s idea of the whole thing first of all, before releasing.
DH: What does the next year hold for you?
SM: We’ve got some festivals to do in the summer, then, well the album release and that, so I’m working away, working with what I’ve got. Kind of what I would hope would be about 75 percent of the way through album number two, writing wise. I’m kind of writing on the side as well, songs that I won’t use myself. It keeps the whole artistic flow going as well, you don’t have the pressure of “Oh, I’m going to be singing this song, so it’s ok, I’ll just get this done in any way that I want.”. I’ve been writing with that (other artists) in mind, so there’s my own, there’s that stuff, but aye, just kind of keeping my head into the next album and that, because this one’s done, it’s been done for quite some time.
DH: Are you sick of playing the first album yet?
SM: Um, no.
DH: Are you allowed to say that?
SM: No, there are times I think, “Ah, that song’s grand like.”, and then you know, it’s on my phone or whatever and it would come on shuffle while I’m driving, and I’m like, “That’s pretty good!”, so no, I’m not sick of it, definitely not, but I can’t wait to get stuck into the new stuff as well.
DH: Is control over what you produce something that’s really important to you? Are you willing to let some things slide, or do you meticulously monitor what goes on in mixing?
SM: I am a bit of a control freak like. My bookcase is fucking, I don’t know if I do it on purpose, but it’s kind of intimidatingly neat. It comes and goes in waves, I think the artistic process is messy, it has to be messy, but then there’s this sort of element of control freakishness that takes over when you’re kind of closer to the end product, because you start freaking out. Rihanna has a good thing on Instagram about the creative process “Oh, this is great. Oh, this is maybe not so great. This is shit. I’m shit, and then hold on, maybe this is a wee bit good”, so that’s the way it goes like, the start it’s like “Whoa!” and then you slow down and think, “People are going to have to hear this, it’s not just in my own head,”. But control-wise, with Reuben producing the album, I think if there’d been too much (of my) control, then it would have been a lot different to what he came up with, because that vision that Reuben had, producing what were essentially singer-songwriter songs, and turning them into what they are now, I was overwhelmed at the start.
DH: You’ve been pretty successful in establishing your own style, which has obviously been intentional, but how much experimenting did that take?
SM: As I was saying about the accent and that, it took a while to evolve, and with Frightened Rabbit being such a big influence, it sort of opened my eyes to, “That is so honest.”, hearing these songs being sung in their own voice, and I mean there’s give or take with that as well, some songs don’t need that, if you need to change something and sing it in a more general accent, but stylistically, that’s been important. And then again, with the loop pedal, like I thought that I was just tied into having to be able to play songs that way live and not being able to put anything different on the record, but since working with Reuben, I know that that’s not the case. The most important thing is having a very energetic live show, and being very dynamic as well, so there has been a lot of experimentation. Where I was kind of a wee bit close-minded about the whole thing, working with other people as well really helped.
DH: You’ve gained quite the following in the last few months (as has been reflected in social media). Has the response been anything like you had anticipated?
SM: It’s always surprising me what gets the most likes, what kind of posts get the most likes, but I think I’m kind of getting to grips with that now a lot better, seeing what works and what doesn’t. Like the other night, I was sitting in the house, and just the phone beeped, “BBC Radio 1 are now following you on Twitter.”, I was like, “Oh fuck, that’s kind of a shock.”. It came up on the lock screen, so I took a screenshot, and put it up on Facebook, and three hundred odd likes, which (is mad) compared to not so long ago. It’s very simple things that everyone can kind of relate to, honest things work a lot better, not trying to be too out there, like “Hey, yeah, I’m just a tortured artist man”. I think the rock star is almost dead and gone.
I think Marilyn Manson could be like the last rock star ever, because everything’s changed now. Everybody wants to, everybody’s a celebrity now, because you’ve got your Twitter thing, you’ve got your followers, everybody is a celebrity and everybody’s got that celebrity ego thing in their head, if you have a Twitter, if you have a Facebook, then you’ve got that. There’s no such thing, because everybody’s a rock star now, and because of that like, who would I be to say that I’m any better than anyone at all? People want to know the person, people don’t want to know, because people think that, like I’m running around at the minute with people calling me “Rainy Boy Sleep” or whatever, but it’s not (my name), it’s a title for a project. At the minute, songwriters are such a big thing, because people are tapping into wanting to know the person, and because of that I think that the rock star is dead. I never wanted to be like that, but that’s the whole thing nowadays, I mean, music goes with the times, doesn’t it?
I’m never going to be completely on top of it, because you just don’t have to time to be a musician as well as an expert on how to fucking like, get fire tweets or whatever; there’s never enough time. I mean it’s fascinating, and obviously it’s very important, but it’s not the most important thing.
DH: Have you found anything surreal so far?
SM: I nearly met Alice Glass. We were playing Picnic, my mate was there along with me and we were just walking along backstage, and we seen Alice Glass walking towards her tour bus, and she was just looking round her, and then she kind of did a double take thinking, “Oh, those guys look famous!”, and then she realised, “Aw no, they’re not famous!” and went on the bus, but that was surreal.
DH: Have you been recognised yet?
SM: Aye, going in just to do support slots, and then coming out the back door after the show and thinking, “Nobody even knows my act, let alone my name.” and then they’re all, “Stevie, Stevie, give us an autograph!”, and all this here. Aye, it’s weird, but it’s all part of the fun like. That whole thing, what I’m saying about everbody’s a celebrity, it means so much to fans that they take a selfie with you, and they you know, tag you on Twitter, I think it’s great to be able to retweet that and it’s really special. I try to interact with every single one you know, because that’s what it’s all about these days. It’s so cool that they’re all excited, and then they tweet that on to the world, that’s cool.
DH: What are you currently listening to?
SM: I’m not really listening to anything at the minute. It comes and goes, because I’d kind of discover three or four bands at one time and then be obsessed- ah well, Neutral Milk Hotel, I was obsessed with their album for a while, and I learned a good few of them. I was obsessed with that album there, with King of the Carrot Flowers, Two Headed Boy, all throughout January and February, so that was the last thing I was really hardcore into. Do you ever get that you listen to an album way back, and then, “OK.”, and then it disappears for about a year, and it comes back, something just brings it back to you, and then that’s when you’re obsessed. So yeah I was obsessed like that, I suppose my neighbours were as well, for that matter.
But yeah, locally, Reuben is constantly working on the next thing; he’s a really, really focused artist. I was in Cork there, and just yeah, Reuben’s going to be big. He’s got a lot of things that he’s working with, and he’s always got his head fixed in it, so yeah, he’s going to take off.
DH: If you could transcend time, what artist would you see live?
SM: I really wish that I was old enough to see Slowdive, back then. They’re not the same any more. I know it’s not that long ago, but being around in London to see that kind of shoegaze. And Radiohead’s OK Computer gig in the Mandela- was that 97 or 98?- but that’s not even that long ago. But yeah, shoegaze, like Spiritualized, fuck, you know, I’d have loved to have been there, because I think that (the nineties) has been the most inspiring thing for bands at the minute, because the shoegaze thing is so, so good. Like, bands are taking the eighties as an influence and that, and you think, “OK, is it far enough away now that the nineties is a thing?”. I mean, the eighties thing has already been done a lot, hasn’t it?
DH: Is there anything that you wish I’d asked you?
SM: *fixes fringe* Um, “how do you get your hair like that?”
Check out the video for Rainy Boy Sleep’s latest single, “Manchester Post”, below (now available on iTunes).