Interview: Candlebox Talk Seeing Nirvana & Soundgarden First Shows, Their New Record & Being Seattle Outcasts

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Photo by Ashley Turner

Sometimes we carry more weight than we own.
Sometimes you brush the leaves aside so you can reach us. Sometimes you live with what you’ve known. Sometimes you feel it blanket your sole.
Sometimes you find a reason to learn and sometimes you find a reason to decide. Sometimes you’ll never know why. Sometimes, drifting into me, I found myself again.
Then, sometimes we change direction and watch the tides. Sometimes we bleed together and that’s how we realize. Sometimes, sometimes goes on and on and on.
Sometimes the vexatious is so blatant. Sometimes you’re so clever with all you precede. Sometimes red dress, skinny mess, lips drawn you go. And sometimes you got me goin’ supernova.
Sometimes you soldier on for 25 years strong.
Sometimes you trip across a song you love from almost 18 years ago and you’re reminded how much the song means to you.
Sometimes you get the chance to tell the person who wrote “Sometimes” how much of an impact that song has had. Sometimes that person’s band, Candlebox, is about to release a new record, sentimentally entitled – Disappearing in Airports, and on April 1st will embark on a 22 date spring tour. Sometimes frontman, Kevin Martin, tells you fascinating stories about making the new record, seeing Chris Cornell simultaneously sing and play drums and about the deep-rooted connection between “Far Behind” and the late Andy Wood.

“In my head I’ve got everything I want”

Candlebox-2016

The new record has an intriguing title – Disappearing in Airports. Where did you come up with that?

It’s the name of the painting that’s on the album cover. I had asked a friend of mine, Scott Rivers Fisher, to paint the album cover a couple of years back when we did Love Stories. He did and it was beautiful. It was a different piece than this, but the rest of the guys in the band didn’t want a painting as the album cover. They had this other image we decided to go with so we put it on hold. I then reached out to him to do this one. He started on it and then in the process he unfortunately died. His sister contacted me and told me of this painting that was his favorite piece that he’d never shown anyone. The title was Disappearing in Airports. I told her we would be honored to use it. He was a great friend and he was also a musician back in the 90’s.

You recorded the album in York, PA correct?

Chad Gracey from the band Live has a studio out there. I know Chad very well from our side project The Gracious Few, and he made it clear to me that I can use the studio whenever I want. It’s a live workspace. There are five apartments in it with a massive kitchen. It’s very productive. There’s so few of these types of places and they really can be the most productive environment. We were also on a very tight schedule. We had to get the drums and bass done in about five days so it seemed smart for us to go to a place where we can start at 10am and go until 10pm if we needed to.

What was it like writing without Peter Klett for the first time in the history of Candlebox?

It was interesting. Pete and I always wrote separate from one another so it wasn’t strange in that sense. It was a lot easier being in the studio without him because Pete is a perfectionist. It’s a constant going over a part to make sure it’s right. I’ve never been that type of musician. I’ve always come from a punk rock ethic of – if it feels good do it, and if it’s saying what you are trying to say then just let it say it rather than beating a dead horse over one progression. That’s not to say that Pete is not capable of that, it’s just different when he and I work together. Probably because we had such different views musically that sometimes they clashed. The process this time was – get in there and knock it out. There was never a moment where we beat up a part because it wasn’t feeling right. If it didn’t feel right we just threw it away and tried approaching it from a different point. Let’s say Mike (Leslie – Guitar) and Adam (Kury – Bass) where working on a part and couldn’t get it right, we’d turn to Brian (Quinn – Guitar) and ask him what he thinks about it

I understand the first single, “Vexatious,” is about society’s obsession with technology. Basically, being buried in our phones, resulting in a lack of human connection.

Absolutely, it’s the world we are living in. It was spurred by something I had seen. Last year, I was sitting on the beach in Bali with my wife and son. It’s such a beautiful place. The sun was going down and there was this maybe 13 year-old girl with her hair all done, make up on and these big fake lashes taking selfie after selfie. Just really not being in the moment of this beauty. Her family was sitting there and she wasn’t even talking to them, she’s just taking all these pictures. It made me realize this is what we’ve become – a society that just doesn’t look around anymore and doesn’t drink in this beauty that we live in. We are more concerned with how we look and how our face looks in these pictures that we post on a day-to-day basis. I feel these smartphone are making us dumber. There’s no interaction with anything, your just there.

I also heard the new song “Supernova.” It has an incredible chorus. Very melodic with a big hook. What can you tell me about that song?

When we wrote it, Adam, Dave Krusen and I, we have this thing where we get together one week a month and we try and knock out some songs. I had been listening to “Emotional Rescue” by the Rolling Stones. I have such an eclectic mix of music and I usually have it on shuffle. That song came on and I realized how much I missed that era of the Stones. They kind of went disco and pushed themselves really far on that album. It’s not considered to be one of their bests, but it’s one of my favorites. Then right after that came, Kiss –“I Was Made For Lovin’ You.” It made me want to write a song that feels like that. A song that’s bass and drum driven and has that groove to it. Then the lyric in “Supernova” describes what women can do to us as men. How when you fall in love, they can make you shake. That’s basically what the song is about. The melody came pretty naturally. I didn’t have any lyrics for the song at first I just had an idea. I started singing the melody and it all came together pretty quick. It’s a song that musically and lyrically was done in about an hour and a half.

I’d love for it to be the next single. It’s not something people would expect of Candlebox. This record though, is really about us reaching a different audience. Getting away from that mainstream rock world that we’ve lived in for the past 20 years. I think there’s more for this band. That’s one of the songs that I think really pushes that.

How would you describe the new direction you have gone in with this record and where you want go?

In a world of rock bands right now, it’s really hard to make a statement. There’s so many bands that try to sound like Stone Sour or Breaking Benjamin or the Shinedown’s of the world. Candlebox has never really fit into a particular mold. We’ve always been the alternative rock band that got mainstream play. I really wanted to go more towards that alternative rock world, you know, like KROQ in Los Angeles or MMR in Philly, the radio stations that push more of an eclectic mix. I’m a huge fan of bands like The War on Drugs, Manchester Orchestra and Arcade Fire. I’d love to play a Bonnaroo or Coachella festival where there’s a different mix of an audience that don’t just listen to one style of music. Silversun Pickups is another one. A great band that always played a different type of music. So that’s where I was trying to go with this album.

With your vocal range, your voice is really an instrument in itself. Do you treat it that way? What do you do to preserve your voice after all these years?

Nothing, I’m really bad at that (laughs). I’ve beat it up so much over the past 46 years. I’ve been singing since the second grade so I think that I’m just aware of how to use it and when things aren’t working the right way so I’ll move around. But overall I’m pretty bad. I drink when I sing, I smoke when I sing and I don’t do warm-ups before shows. I’m not the best example of a singer in a rock band from that sense. I just do what I do and if it feels right, I go with it.

Candlebox had a unique place coming up in Seattle back in the early 90’s. You were basically parallel to the grunge movement, running alongside, doing your own thing. What was that experience like for you?

Of course we wanted to fit in that mold. We wanted to be respected and looked at like a Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nirvana or Mudhoney. Like a band that came from a city that was making a difference musically. One of the things that set us apart was that we were five and six years younger than those guys. That allowed us to basically parallel the scene. Seattle was a tough place in the late 80’s and early 90’s. If you weren’t 21 years old you couldn’t play in the bars. If you didn’t have a demo tape, you couldn’t get a gig at the Off Ramp or RKCNDY. We really had to collectively put our money together to afford to get into the studio and make a demo tape. Luckily, Damon Stewart from KISW decided to play us one night on his locals only show and people started to pay attention. I think the eclectic mix of musicians in the band was also why the record sounded the way it did. Pete came from an Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, metal background. Bardi came from more of a classic – The Who, Beatles and Led Zepplin background. Scott was a jazz influenced drummer and I came from this punk rock world. That combination somehow worked. I often call it the happiest accident we ever had because really we should not have succeeded as a band. We were not friends. None of us really knew each other. We knew of one another, but we did not grow up together. Most of the time that’s a massive train wreck, yet somehow we were able to make it work.

I don’t know why we were always the outcast of Seattle. I think a lot of people thought we moved there to try and make it. Oddly enough, a lot of those musicians who were successful I was friends with. They knew me from working with Susan Silver. She was managing the majority of those bands. I found it strange that nobody said, “Hey they’re OK, they’re from Seattle. I’ve known Kevin since he was 16 years old. It’s not like he moved here from LA.”

You can’t win them all. We’re lucky that we’re from there. We’re lucky we’ve had the success that we’ve had. We’re lucky we were able to play some of those great venues with some of those amazing bands and be respected by our audience rather than the community we grew up in. And that’s ok, it doesn’t affect us now at all. Back in the day it was something that drove us nuts and was emotionally a bit of a headache. It was an amazing scene though. To be able to say I was at a couple of the first Nirvana shows and a couple of the first Alice in Chains shows is pretty cool. I saw Soundgarden when Chris Cornell was playing drums and singing. Those are opportunities that a lot of people don’t have. I’m grateful for all those amazing things that I’m able to hold on to and the people that I met in Seattle. It was a crazy city and an amazing city all at the same time. I wouldn’t change anything for the world.

You have Dave Krusen back on drums for this record. Krusen is another Seattle guy with a lot of hometown history.

It’s funny because Dave played on the recordings of the last four Candlebox records, but now will tour with us too. Scott Mercado is an amazing drummer, but in the studio he started to get an obsessive compulsive disorder. He would play parts over and over. The producers would then come to you and explain how they don’t have time to do 10 or 11 takes of one song. So Scott eventually suggested we write the songs, have Dave record the drum tracks and he would then come play live. Dave Krusen and I have been friends since 1995. The guy is a phenomenal drummer and he brings this from-the-heart looseness to our songs that we always desired after our first album. We needed to feel a little bit freer in our playing and there was a bit of restriction with the way Scott would play drums. As we started to progress as songwriters, it made it difficult for us to flow with the music. Dave allows that with his playing. You just describe a feel to him and then he plays it perfectly. There’s not a lot of thought process in his playing, he just does it and it’s entirely from the heart. That’s where I come from musically. I don’t want to beat myself up over anything, I just want it to feel right. That’s what Dave does and I love that about him.

“Far Behind” is essentially the poster song for Candlebox. I think I heard it on six different platforms this past weekend alone, whether its local radio, SiriusXM, Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, you name it. It’s remarkable. How do you feel about the longevity of that song?

I think it’s great. I had met Andy Wood when I was about 16. He was such an enormous human being. Everything about him was – this guy is a fucking rock star. He was always super cool to me. We became casual friends over the years, between me working with Susan Silver and seeing him play around town with Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone. When he died, it affected me because I was not only a fan of his, but a friend. When we wrote “Far Behind,” I think we knew we had something special. I don’t think we knew it would be that quintessential song, we thought “You” would be. I don’t know if it still shocks me that it’s almost 25 years later and the song is still being played, or if it just thrills me. It confuses me sometimes for sure. I still love playing it live. I love hearing the audience sing it. I think about Andy every time we play the song. It’s one of those things as a musician, you can only hope you write something like that. I’m just so grateful that it is that song for us. It still pays the rent and allows me to go on the road. It allows me to have my career. That’s definitely our giving tree for sure.

What’s something about “Far Behind” most people don’t know? Perhaps it was one of those – almost didn’t make the record or last thing we wrote songs?

One of the things that I think is amazing about it is, initially, the lyrics were – “Andy, I didn’t mean to treat you bad, but I did it anyway.” And –“Andy, some would say your life was sad.” When we went into the studio to track it for the demo tape, and actually the version that made the album is the demo that we recorded on Easter Sunday in 1992, but for some reason during the recording I stopped saying “Andy” and changed it to “Now Maybe.” Subconsciously I thought I needed to make it more vague and more accessible for an audience. I always think about had I not done that, what would have happened? And the fact that the final cut is the actual demo. That was one vocal take and then we just moved on. We only had 12 hours to be in the studio. It’s interesting to me that we were able to capture something in that one and a half hours that we recorded that song. Now here it is all those years later in its infancy still. That song had never been recorded before that one time and that’s what people still hear, simply that initial recording.

Did you personally write all the songs on the new record?

Yes mostly. I do the majority of my writing on acoustic guitar. But I wrote all the lyrics, I wrote all the melodies and I wrote the bulk of the progressions. This album was very collaborative too. It was about bringing Brian and Mike into Adam, Dave and I’s mix. They are all so incredibly talented. It was a really fun record to make. A lot of these songs had sections done, but needed a B part or a C part. That’s what we asked these guys to bring and they brought it.

Part of how you’ve described Disappearing in Airports is that it showcases the band introspective. So it’s going in a new direction while sticking to your artistic foundation and form of expression?

As musicians you can get lost in all the meandering that’s happening. There are so many songs that are floating around in the world. Keith Richard’s described it as – songs are just kind of floating in front of you, if you can grab them, they make themselves known. I try to use that concept when it comes to what I am creating. The five of us are so in tune right now and to bring two new guys in that fit perfectly into that painting, they’re just the right colors. That’s what’s happening here. We all had this vision of the record and I can’t believe we actually made the record that we envisioned.

Candlebox first single off Dissappearing in Airports – “Vexatious”

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