Tony Martin - Interview
A heavy storm is raging over Europe, so what is the best one can do? If you guessed, "having a Skype chat with British vocal legend Tony Martin" you are correct. He just released his first solo album "Thorns" (read review here) so this was a very good opportunity to ask some questions. We focused on the new album of course but his past as a long-time member of Black Sabbath couldn't be neglected here either. Enjoy the read and I hope it will be as much fun for you as it was (conducting it) for me!
Hey Tony, how are you doing? Is the storm already over in England? Hope nothing bad happened…
Yeah we got the big wind. We've already lost a few fences, panels and we had to take down all of the canopies but we're okay at the moment. It's just half-right through the day so we got another six hours of it to go yet. We'll wait and see. It's the worst storm we've had for a long time. The last really big one was 1987 when I first joined Black Sabbath and we were rehearsing for "The Eternal Idol" album back then.
You've just released your new album "Thorns". Why did it take such a long time to do so? I mean, "Scream" is 17 years old now….
Lots of reasons. Basically I work in the studio and I've been here for the past 25 years. That's just the way my career took me and it's not a bad thing. That's what I do – I'm a singer, songwriter and so most of my time I spend in the studio. Therefore when work comes in, the solo album gets put to one side and you do your work and then the solo album comes back out and you do a little bit. So it was stretched out because of that. Also because working with Scott (McClellan; M.), the new guitar player that I've got now – he is amazing to work with. He is very very easy to work with but he sends so much stuff (laughs) that it's hard to concentrate. Last week he just sent me 39 new tracks. The time that you spend to go through them and find out which one shall I use, that's slightly confusing. Covid as well slowed things down in a lot of parts of it but lots and lots of reasons why it took so long. All in all it turned out good. I'm very happy with it and it turned out really excellent. And even though they started off these demos like ten years ago the songs still work. To me that's a good sign because if I can still listen to them after ten years I'm sure you will.
You have quite a cool bunch of well-known musicians in the line-up. How did you come to this?
Well, they're kind of all friends really. It wasn't like I had to force anybody to do it (laughs). It was just a quick question to them if they wanted to participate and they agreed. It was that easy. Also I got some of my family on it. My daughter and my son are on there and I play some stuff on there as well, it's just a combination of everything. I like that – that's really cool for me. One downside is that I don't have a band but some people to work with. That's another thing we have to think about when we're going on the road – what do I do then but that's another question.
Musically the album reminds me in some parts quite a lot of the old Black Sabbath albums you did. Was that intentional?
No, it's just the way I sound. It's me on Black Sabbath and it's me on this. My mind works in a very similar way and actually working with Scott reminds me a lot of working with Tony Iommi. He was very prolific with riffs and tracks and he would just jam away and Scott does the same thing. That reminded me of it and also with Sabbath I was allowed to cut up the song so I could put it where I needed it like a verse or a chorus there, a bridge maybe and Scott does the same thing. I'm not surprised that it could remind you of Sabbath stuff but it wasn't intentional, it's really the way I work.
Nevertheless there are some cool acoustic tracks like 'Crying Wolf' or 'This Is Your Damnation'. I find them quite unusual for you. Somehow they sound like they came out of a fun jam session or something.
You know what? This is what it's like inside my head. It's a curse. If you could climb inside my head, there's all that crazy shit going on all the time. Acoustic stuff, different instruments, this electric violin on there, there are different kinds of songs…it really has been a curse in years gone by because record labels don't like unknown music and sounds and ideas. They like to be out to sell a product that sounds very similar. But this time I think it's intelligent and it's good enough to be there. So I'm pleased that I allowed myself to put all of that together. But in a kind of twist the acoustic stuff was written before this album was this album, it was going to be called "Book of Shadows" twelve or thirteen years ago. I didn't already sort of imagine this like unplugging heavy acoustic stuff with choirs back then but a few years after that, I met Scott and he started loading me up with this heavy stuff and then I had to decide which way I wanted to go. Somebody else used the name "Book of Souls" so that had to go and then it was called something and again and in the end I arrived with this collection of music. When I look at it now, I think it's actually a really good thing. I remember back in the old days you had an album, a collection of songs and sometimes there was a track on it you wasn't sure about but the only way to skip it back in the old days was to lift the needle off the record, move it and put it back down somewhere else or you just had to play through and just wait (laughs). It reminds me of those days where you had a collection of songs and some were really great and then others you begin to learn and sort of say: "Yeah, you know what, that song isn't that bad after all" and so you learn with the album. Each time you listen to it it's like something else and that's what this does. Thorns is like that and so I'm really pleased with the way it presents and the way it's laid out. And the layout by the way was an accident. Did you notice that's in an alphabetical order? That was a complete accident because we work on computers now. When you save your file the computer puts it into alphabetical order. It took me about five years before I noticed and I thought: "Oh, I better put these songs in some particular order" and I looked to it and they are in order! It's ridiculous! It used to be a skill somebody at the record label used to do a track list like do a heavy metal track first, then maybe do a Rock 'n' Roll one and then a slow one. It was already done. I was blown away completely – what the fuck?? How did that happen? So I did keep it, the chance of me doing that again is 1000000:1 but it just worked and the way the songs appear on the album, even to 'My Damnation' at the end, it's a long track which sets up Thorns at the very last song. Anyway, happy accident and lots of work.
So it seems that you are not the biggest streaming service supporter?
I'm not a massive fan of it but these days you have to get your music out to the people. We have to oblige to these new things. In the old days it was different. I am a child of the 60s and 70s and it was a different industry back then. People my age we're learning all the time. Obviously we want people to buy it because then they own it and are a part of the story. It's important for us as musicians and as artists. Vinyl is making a little bit of a comeback. Just last week I was given the opportunity to have a run of audio cassettes (laughs). Who the fuck uses audio cassettes? But apparently there is a small group of people that just love them. Okay, let's do audio cassettes (laughs). Later in the year we're doing a vinyl and we'll do the cassettes at the same time so we have this old analog thing, too. But the cassettes and the vinyl will have extra tracks on them so there'll be another story to tell later on in the year. We were thinking about doing the vinyl sooner but there were too many tracks on the digital thing and the label said that we need to take them off the CD which we refused. So they said the only possibility is to write some more and then we're do a double vinyl later on. We're in the process of writing new tracks now and then we'll get them all together and put them on that double vinyl.
What are the lyrics on the album about? I guess for example 'As The World Burns' doesn't really deal with the Devil as we can see in the video, does it?
No, I actually had no control of that. It is an opinion. Everybody has their own opinion of what songs mean real doing, everybody does- until you find out what the actual lyrics are really about. Actually 'As The World Burns' is the Devil being bored like "I told you I was here, I told you was gonna die, I told you you'd go to hell but I don't need any more whores, I don't need any more souls but they keep coming. And as souls come down to him and have them all on fire so it looks like the world is burning. It's just a song about Satan that is bored about all that and the humans still keep doing all this stupid shit and keep falling to hell. They thought it has obviously something to do with destruction, the plague and everything that's going wrong. Okay. Whatever. It's not what the song is about but if that's how you wanna portrait…well, the video was well-made and they did a good job of the lyric video and I'm not angry.
Do you also have any songs about real life, social issues for example?
'This Is My Damnation' is actually about Covid and all that stuff but that's just a weird song (laughs). I did actually try to take that one off the album but everybody said to leave it on. And also the track 'Thorns', the title track at the very end, was about a girl who has abuse at home and she runs away. So she's on the street and she hides and doesn't want to speak to anybody. She can't bear people talking to because when they speak kindly to her, the words feel like thorns sticking in her skin. Well, Covid came along and I guess you guys hear the same as we do that. Actually Covid made domestic abuse worse because now they're stuck at home and cannot escape. I started to get messages from abuse counselors and they told me that the song was fantastic because it was exactly the kind of story they get told by a lot of victims. It explains the hell the people go through and the feeling they do have like to hide or self-harm by cutting themselves. Now I'm like an ambassador of a song which didn't start out that way. It's been a song but now it's carrying the weight of this subject which I have not intended it to do. I think I'm happy to be an ambassador for that subject. That's a sort of modern lyric of today's strife and troubles, there's a few there but also some old school God and Devil stuff as well.
Hey, that's pretty cool – it reminds me of a pupil I had at school. She never talked to me in all these years she was in my class but after she graduated, she started writing me messages about how she started listening to heavy metal and she read some of my reviews and liked Black Sabbath and stuff like that. It's really crazy what music can make with people.
Yes, that's true. Music does reach people inside. If it touches you, it never leaves you. It becomes your friend. That's why I kind of like people who own the music. When they buy it, it becomes their property and they can relate to it closer than just a download or streaming thing but it is becoming more familiar to me as years go by how much people relate to the music. But then in Black Sabbath, the other way people believed all the satanic stuff that we were singing about. You told the people that it is theater and the people said "no, no it's true!!" and you say "no, it's not!!" (laughs).
Haha, yeah! I am just reading the biography by Tony Iommi that I gifted to myself at Christmas and it is really fun reading it.
The interesting thing about Tony Iommi is, we used to do interviews like this with Black Sabbath and they would say: "Are you a Satanist?" and I would go: "No!" and he would say "Alright, I'm gonna go in and say yes!" so that would confuse them completely (laughs). I have to say there are a few bands out there that do follow the thing but with Black Sabbath it was theatrical. We all have children and we don't eat them. We all have wives and houses and stuff like that. Necessarily we don't really have altars where we kill people but some people believe all that stuff.
You were also involved in Arjen Lucassen's Star One again. What is the movie that you're singing about called "Lost Children Of The Universe"?
It's basically a very small guest appearance. I did sing the whole song but they sort of cut it out and put other singers in with me which I didn't know they were gonna do. So, it's really just a small appearance. Everybody sounds great and it is well recorded and best wishes to him for that. It was just one of those jobs that are part of the work that I was telling you about. I appear on 75 or 76 albums and projects now.
Are there any more projects that are getting involved in this year?
Right now it's me concentrating on Thorns. I can't tour this year, it's just been too difficult to plan anything. As I said to you earlier, I don't have a band so I have to hire musicians to do the touring thing. Then you have to wait and see if they're available, so that creates a problem and then you need to work like six months in advance and then my country might say "you can go" and your country might say "no, fuck off, you're not coming here!". So it's not gonna be this year but possibly next year but you know what? I was talking to Scott about this and we're already talking about the next album! So hey! What if we record another album and then later on we tour two albums together. I would love to get back on the road, I do miss it! But if you do so, I have to start from the beginning.
I've read that the Black Sabbath records with you as vocalist are going to be re-released. How did this happen?
Yeah! That was a surprise! They called me up and said they got a deal for it. They haven't had a deal for it since I finished with Black Sabbath. I don't know when but it's supposed to be this year. What I do know is that it'll be a boxed set, not individual albums but apart from that, I don't know. Tony Iommi did mention once that it might be possible to write some new material. But he also said that we can't do it under the black Sabbath name. If we can find something from the past that we can record back then maybe we can use that but then I don't understand that. If we find something that wasn't released before and we release it now that's new, isn't it? I don't understand what the criteria is. I spoke to him last week and he wants to get together and we still talk about that. But at the moment I don't know. It would never be a reunion. It could never be a Sabbath album, that's out but who knows!
You are often mentioned as the most underrated BS vocalist. What do you think when you hear such things? I mean I love all the albums with you except "Forbidden"…
Yeah, Forbidden was a different thing. It was more political really that it didn't work. I mean they were trying to do the rap with Ice-T which I didn't think would work. I mean there are fans that love Forbidden but for me it didn't work and also it was at the point where I was hearing rumors of Ozzy coming back into the band but I kept asking Tony (Iommi; M.) if this was true but he said that it all were rumors and no truth in it. It didn't bother me as long as I knew because then I could plan and decide what I was gonna do next. I kept asking and they said that Ice-T was coming into the band and said that he's gonna sing on the album. So I wanted to know what he was going to sing and they said that they hadn't decided yet. They didn't know if he was singing one, two, three or maybe all of them. So I asked again what I was singing on the album and they told me not to worry and keep going. They would make a decision later. When I got into the studio I still didn't know if I was on the album or not. So I couldn't concentrate, I couldn't sing – Forbidden for me didn't work for lots of reasons but it was more political. When we first started writing in the rehearsals, it was actually sounding quite good. And when Ice-T and the guys came along, they're actually really nice and cool guys, but when the music came up, Ernie C was telling Cozy Powell how to play drums (laughs). He was looking up and said "You do know who I am, right?" and he said "Yeah, I do but can you play like this?". Well, it was just a mish-mash of stuff and that's the reason it didn't work for me. But as I said, there are fans out there that love it and they write to me quite often telling me how much they love Forbidden.
Just to come back to the question: to be the most underrated singer in Sabbath…?
Yes, I do hear that and I do appreciate that. I know what they're saying because I do think that we made some success with the Tony Martin-era in Black Sabbath. It was an important era and bridged the eras from that Dio thing right up to the reunion with Ozzy. We lifted and lifted the band and we were doing alright but my version of Sabbath was different. I think a lot of people really didn't hook onto it but people are finding it now. More people start appreciating it, I think, than what we were doing back then. All I can say is when you're in the job, you just do the best you can, right? It's similar to you or anybody else – when you're in the job you do the best you can at the time depending what job you're in. Same with me – I did what I could, I used my voice to the best ability I could and they seemed to like it because I ended up being the second longest serving Black Sabbath singer in the end. You know, there was always going to be a reunion I think and my theory is that it could still be with Bill (Ward; M.) if they get that together. They're all still alive and if you look at a band like Def Leppard – they had a one-arm drummer and they waited to make a drum kit so that he could play with one arm! I mean if they can do that with a one-arm drummer, I am sure that could do Bill! And he's got both arms! But I understand the underrated singer thing and I do appreciate this. It means that people are listening and they're appreciating what I was doing.
There are quite a lot of bands that copy the Black Sabbath style you did. Have you for example heard the new Sorcerer EP with the cover version of "When Death Calls" yet?
Yeah! You see, I don't mind that people want to cover the songs. It keeps the music alive. That's always good. It's cool. It means that people want to play your music and they become part of the story as well. I don't mind people doing cover versions and there are some great versions out there. So good luck to them and thank you!
I am pretty much of a CD collector – can you tell me where I can get your first solo album from 1992, "Back Where I Belong"?
It's not on sale, you can't really get it. I have spoken to the label Battlegod Productions who is the lead label for Thorns. They would be interested in re-releasing it and also Scream they would be interested in re-releasing that. For now the thing is really Thorns and I don't wanna distract from that just at the moment. We just keep going for a while and then later on we consider re-releasing them. I'd like to remaster them.
And finally my last question, what are the records that are spinning in Mr. Martin's home?
You wouldn't believe me if I told you! Do you wanna know what the last record I bought was?
Elvis Presley, haha! They did a re-release of Elvis Presley stuff with an orchestra and they did the whole big band thing. That was really awesome. Again, this is what it's like inside my head. I listen to everything – all kinds of stuff: from Reggae to Rock, Opera, Big Band, Blues – it's all in my head and it creates a problem inside of it because you can't settle into one direction. That's why I became a singer and songwriter in the studio because I can work with lots of different people. I love Dream Theater and Foo Fighters, they're really cool. Green Day!! "American Idiot" is fantastic!
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