Barrett Martin is planning to release his third solo album, Zenga, this summer; just one of several albums to be released through his independent label Fast Horse Recordings in 2008.
The former Screaming Trees/Mad Season drummer joined me on the B-Sides Concept Album Program, a weekly look at the world of music that is part of the BC Radio channel on Blog Talk Radio and he talked about his upcoming album as well as some others he'll release this year.
"I'm working on a new solo record right now that's actually turning into a double album," Martin said. "Rahim Al Haj is playing on a couple songs and I'm working with a lot of jazz musicians. Some of them are old friends of mine and some of them are new people that I'm working with. I'm noticing that as the songs are coming to me and as we're recording them, they're coming from all over the world as far as influences go and it's just because of those past travels and those experiences that just sort of build up in your being and then they come out as this form of expression."
The double album, Zenga, is set for a late summer/early fall release. Martin, ordained in the practice of Soto Zen, drew his inspiration for the album title from those studies.
"Zenga is actually a painting tradition in Zen that I've studied," he said. "The funny this is I actually painted my own album cover and I painted the album cover before we started recording the album.
"Zenga is a spontaneous expression of shape and color, often times it 's depicted with a circle, the Zen circle which is called an enzo. That's one of the main themes of that style of painting but really you can paint anything."
The album is likely to feature roughly 20 compositions, many of which stretch beyond six and seven minutes. In addition to playing several instruments himself – Martin has played upwards of a dozen instruments on his previous studio records The Painted Desert and Earthspeaker – he has assembled a quintet of jazz musicians and guest musicians to contribute to the record.
"I'm working with the best musicians I've ever been fortunate enough to work with," he said. "They're a series of jazz musicians and a handful of world music experts. We're just having a blast in the studio."
Martin hopes some of the musicians who have helped him create the record will be able to go out on the road in support of it, a first for him as a solo artist.
While some labels would balk at releasing a double album in this age of digital downloads and declining music sales, Martin had no trouble convincing his boss to release Zenga as a double because he is his own boss at the label he founded, Fast Horse Recordings. He said he didn't have a horrible experience as an artist on major labels during his years with Screaming Trees and Mad Season, but he doesn't miss them, either.
"It's a big corporation and you're dealing with people that work in cubicles and their minds are cubicle. That's how they think," said Martin. "It's very hard to get original, different ideas through the corporate gauntlet. At a certain point you realize I've kind of grown beyond what I can do here. I had the money and I had the will power- actually, sometimes it's not the will power, it's the stubbornness. I was like, 'The hell with this,' I'm just going to start my own company."
Martin has been busy with more than just finishing his own album. He's also been recording and producing for other Fast Horse albums slated for release this year.
"I actually just did four records back to back that I produced," he said. "One of them is another Tuatara record but it's really, it's Coleman Barks, the famed Sufi poet. He wrote The Essential Rumi and he's sort of the world's foremost translator of Rumi's poetry."
Tuatara, which includes Martin and R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, released two albums last year, East of the Sun and West of the Moon which had 30 songs between them. They've now recorded music for another 30 songs that blend Barks' poetry with Tuatara music, but Martin said the final album will probably be pared back to the best 14 or 15.
Another Tuatara alum will be releasing an album this year. Trumpet player Dave Carter will be releasing his debut solo album.
"He's been around for years and he's played on everybody else's record but we finally did his own record," said Martin. "It's just beautiful. It straddles the line between Chet Baker and the second era of Miles Davis Quintet. Beautiful melodies, great textures and rhythms. It's actually the record I'm most excited about right now."
The fourth album Martin helped craft that will be released this year is a record he did with an old friend of his, DJ Meg Man. As you might expect, this one will have an electronic vibe to it unlike his own solo record and those he's done with Barks/Tuatara and Clark.
"He does these electronic compositions and his albums really kind of sounds like a slice of New York," said Martin. "There's Puerto Rican rhythms, there's Cuban rhythms, and there's even some 'gangster' rhythms; the stuff you hear on a lot of hip hop records. He just has this way of composing and sculpting the music into being these sort of visual tapestries of life in New York."
As interesting as an album that sounds like New York might be, that's only part of the story with DJ Meg Man.
"He's a music teacher," Martin explained. "He works in the New York public schools with kids that are on the edge. He does some amazing work teaching music to these kids."
In addition to the four albums Martin produced and/or played on, he'll also be releasing some jazz records produced by others on Fast Horse in 2008. He'll also be releasing an album from the Latvian band, Igli. Igli has apparently done attracted a fair amount of attention throughout Eastern Europe but none of their records have been released in the United States. Fast Horse will release a compilation of the band's past work to try and expose American audiences to their work.
"I started it (Fast Horse) kind of selfishly to put out my own records and then over the last five years I've just had one artist after another; some of them tried the major label thing and others were smart enough to never do it in the first place and they just asked me to put their records out," Martin said. "That's how the label just started to snowball from there, it's just people with a like mind of independence and wanting to express their creativity in a non-corporate format and that's pretty much what the label has become."
All of these Fast Horse records will be available for purchase on CD as well as digitally through the label's web site. In addition to offering both physical and digital distribution of the music, Martin and Fast Horse are also allowing full streaming of every song of every Fast Horse album.
"You can essentially listen to every song and every album on the label from beginning to end for free, then you can decide if you want to buy it or not," he said.
Release dates have not been finalized in all cases, but are expected to go on sale this year.
Note: To hear more of what Martin had to say about his world travels, academic pursuits, direction of the music industry, and his time with Screaming Trees, Mad Season, and the whole Seattle/'90s scene, stream or download the BSCA interview. More articles from that interview will appear in the coming days at Confessions of a Fanboy as well as BC Magazine.