The music industry is obsessed with youth.
So many bands sing about it well into adulthood. They’re in their 40s or 50s, but they still write songs about finding a girl, summer nights and rebelling against authority as if they were right back at 16. Stillness — those moments, frozen in time — is valued more than growth.
This mindset doesn’t work for Starflyer 59’s Jason Martin, an artist who always looks ahead to tomorrow. He allows his sound to play off nostalgia; his band’s new album, Slow, has songs that would musically fit on his first two albums. I spoke with Martin about the new album, a work that features the band’s return to longtime home Tooth and Nail Records after self-releasing IAMACEO in 2013. What sets Martin of today apart, though, from his contemporaries and in lyrical landscape is that his lyrics are actually fit for the Martin of today. At 43-years-old, he doesn’t pretend to be an 18-year-old trying to woo a woman. He sings as a married, middle-aged man whose life is moving faster than he could imagine. It’s this lyrical realism that keeps Starflyer 59 relevant today.
This is what, your twentieth interview with HM? It’s good to have you back.
(Laughs) Yeah, totally. Heaven’s Metal!
Always (laughs). Let’s get started. I’ve seen the name Starflyer 59 show up at the strangest places recently. Is there anywhere you’ve seen the name appear where you didn’t expect it?
Yeah, a couple times people send me links to some band talking about us. I didn’t know they knew (who we are).
I think I remember hearing that Kat Von D mentions you guys in her autobiography at one point.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure it was in a list of artists she grew up listening to.
Oh that’s weird. Who knew, right?
Well, I hope I’m right. Otherwise, I’ll feel pretty awkward (laughs). Before moving on, I want you to think back at the beginning of Starflyer and share some of your firsts. What was the first song you remember writing as Starflyer?
Aw, man… (Pause) I don’t know if it made it on anything. I started (writing as Starflyer 59) when I was maybe 18 or 19. It didn’t make much sense. A couple of those tunes probably wound up on our first album, but I don’t know (which ones). I remember it not making sense to me. It was just riffs with talking over top. I don’t know, man. I don’t remember that well, to be honest.
That’s fair. It was what, 23 some years ago?
Yeah, man. I’m 43 now, so I think I started writing songs about 25 years ago.
Crazy. Do you remember what the first tour was?
Yeah! We went out with a bunch of Tooth and Nail bands. Plankeye, for sure. I think a band called Unashamed was on there (and) Focused.
The hardcore bands?
Yeah. Back in those days man, you mixed (tours) up. There weren’t many tours, so everybody played together. Our first tour was like a month (long).
I can’t say seeing Plankeye, Starflyer and Unshamed on the same bill would happen today.
Nah, it wouldn’t be the usual bill. But that was a lot of fun. You got to know all those guys; they were cool dudes.
I know this is way back, but do you remember how people who were there to see Focused and Unashamed reacted to Starflyer?
You know, it was always kind of a mixed brew. I think kids were just glad there (were) bands from California playing Iowa. I don’t think anybody really cared too much; they were just happy something was going on.
First festival appearance?
That would have been Cornerstone.
I loved that place so much. What was the first interview?
Oh, man… Me and my brother had a band going when I was 14; he was 16. Some zine (interviewed us). I was thinking it was insane how successful I was in ninth grade that somebody wanted to interview me.
Big time, man. Big time.
Let’s move onto the new album. Can you start by giving a brief overview of Slow?
I think I said it somewhere else, (but) Slow kind of feels like a “best of” version of a lot of Starflyer albums. There are styles of songs from every era that we’ve done. Obviously it doesn’t sound the same as when I was 18 doing them, but there’s some fuzzy ones, some slow ones, some post-wave ones. It feels like a proper Starflyer album to me.
Was it intentional to represent several eras of Starflyer on the new album?
Yeah, kind of. It flows. It’s (about) how time moves by really fast. I can’t believe it’s been 20 something years, you know? It’s kind of my life with Starflyer through the years, almost reflecting back at some of the lyrics, reflecting back on some of the music I’ve done.
It’s not like it’s any different than all the other records (I’ve done). I hate it when bands talk about their new record like, “Oh, man, this thing is really going to blow you away.” I don’t know if it’s going to blow anyone away.
You gotta explain how it’s going to be your heaviest album yet!
(Laughs) It’s not the best album ever; there’s been a lot of better albums. I think there are some good songs on it. It’s just a timeline of what we’ve done.
It’s also back on Tooth & Nail. Was there any specific reason you went back with them?
Yeah, we had the record done, and we put out the last one ourselves. Brandon has been a good buddy of mine for a long time. He asked if we wanted him to put it out, and I said, “Absolutely.” That was it. We’re back in, and I’m happy (Tooth & Nail) is putting it out, happy they’re dealing with stuff I don’t want to deal with, like printing and selling it. I’m stoked; it’s a good deal.
How does working with Tooth & Nail today compare to your last album on Kickstarter?
(Kickstarter) was a lot of work that I hadn’t done before. It takes a long time writing the (album), (then) you got to record the whole thing. After that, I had to line up artwork, manufacture, master, (find out) who’s going to buy it, get it onsite… Undertow was nice to help us with shipping and printing shirts, but that’s a lot of stuff.
It’s a lot of effort.
Yeah, selling my stuff isn’t my favorite thing to do. I just like making the music. I don’t want to deal with the other stuff. Not that I wouldn’t do it again if I had to, but it’s not my favorite part.
Because you’re back on a label, do you think you’ll ever do the occasional show?
I think that ship has sailed, to be honest with you. We occasionally get the idea to play some shows, but, to be honest, I lost my nerve with that a little. I don’t feel like getting that stuff together, but you never say never. Maybe in a few years, we’ll be like, “Oh, cool, there’s a week’s worth of shows. That sounds like fun.” But at this point, I would say no.
Luckily it’s 2016 where artists can afford to keep putting music out without touring. It’s not exactly the ’90s anymore.
(Laughs) Totally. No, it’s not.
Moving onto the album. You’ve mentioned that the album reflects back on aspects of your life. To what degree are the songs autobiographical?
The song “Slow” is very much a two-minute autobiography of my life from 1994 to 2015.
What about the other ones?
Most songs have to do with me. They’re snapshots of something I’m thinking about. You put some chords into it and it makes sense. Not every song is personal, but for most of them, yeah. I’m not singing about some other guy; I’m not telling a story about Billie Joe. It has something to do with me or someone I know most the time.
Which is consistent with most of Starflyer’s catalogue.
Do you have any favorites from the new album?
I like “Slow.” I think it’s a neat song. I didn’t intend for that to be the first song on the record, but it turned out kind of neat.
I was surprised to hear it as the first track. It doesn’t jam, but works as a kind of a crescendo for the rest of the album.
It doesn’t really get the kids excited, but it felt right. I wanted to start it off (slow) and have it twist around from there.
There are a few good songs on there, you know. All things being relative to our back catalogue — not lining it up with the Beatles or something — I think there’s some good songs. I like “Told Me So.” I like “Retired.”
“Retired” is an interesting one too. You mentioned that to a degree the songs are autobiographical, but somehow I don’t think you’re set to retire at 43.
No, it’s about watching my dad when he retired. It’s real reflective, but not about me. It’s about the idea of what it’s going to feel like when it happens. If the next 25 years goes as fast as the last 25 years, it’ll feel like in ten minutes I’ll be grabbing my teeth out of a cup (laughs).
Beyond this album, what other side-projects are you working on?
I’m messing with Dave Bazan and T.W. Walsh. We have eight or nine songs of that stuff that will hopefully come out next year.
That’s awesome, man. I love Bazan.
It’s some good stuff. It should be pretty cool.
What are you playing with them?
I’m left-guitar, T.W. Walsh is right-guitar. Dave is (on) vocals. And there’s drums. That’s all there is. We’re making stuff really stripped-down and cool like that.
What do you find yourself listening to get you in the mood to create something?
Man, I don’t know. I go all over the place. A lot of the same stuff I’ve always liked. I’ve always loved New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode…
Sure. ’80s post-punk, electronic.
Yeah, ’80s, ’90s. Then I like old blues stuff like Howling Wolf — not that I do that stuff at all. I’ll listen to anything, but I’m not really a huge fan of modern music, which just makes me sound my age.
I have a teenage daughter who is almost 17. Whenever she’s playing something, man, it all sounds the same to me. That’s just me being old.
Dude, that’s the key phrase of old-age.
Oh yeah, totally! As far as newer bands, I really like Beach House a lot. They’re a great band.
Beach House rules. To an extent, they remind me of bands like New Order rehashed for this generation.
Yeah, like I hear newer stuff I like, but I don’t go out searching for it like I used to. When I’m doing a record, I might be basing the sound off of some ’60s pop stuff or something I didn’t listen to when I was younger. It’s stuff that I didn’t listen to before. There are influences here or there of stuff that interests me.
I’m really into the Zombies right now. I’m trying to think of other names… Other artists I’m into now? The Sonics. Not even so much their songs, just their sound. I like instrumental surf music a lot.
That’s cool. I’m sure a Starflyer surf record would rule.
I’ve wanted to do that for years. I would really like to do an instrumental record. I don’t know how commercially viable it would be, but that’s my favorite kind of music to play, my favorite guitar sound. I love all that stuff a lot.
How often do you find yourself writing songs you love but realize they aren’t fit for Starflyer or any other side-projects?
Oh, I’ve got a hard drive full of stuff that I don’t know will ever be released. When I’m doing a new record, I’ll go through a batch of 50 ideas that are laying on the drive and go, “Oh, that’s actually pretty cool. I could turn this into something.” I don’t think I ever have to write a new song in my life; I could just go back and find something I’ve already written (laughs).
Sure, which is kind of cool. I’m sure there are some songs that you’ve worked on for years and years that suddenly fall in place at a certain point in your life.
Yeah, sometimes you work really hard on a song and it just doesn’t work at the time. I don’t know what it is — just the tempo or chords don’t feel right. There’s a lot of stuff that gets scrapped, but you listen to it a few years later and go, “Actually, it’s better than I thought it was. If I change a couple things, I could make it work.”
Last of all, can you think of some career highlights from the last 20 years of Starflyer 59?
I should have more, but I don’t. I was always concentrating on what was next; I was never an in-the-moment guy. That’s not a good thing. But I look back on going on tour with buddies. Being 25-years-old and hopping in a van, playing shows every night — that ain’t gonna happen to me again. It was tiring at the time, but looking back, it was actually pretty fun. Stuff like that would be a highlight. Just the process of going to the studio, recording the record, putting it out, touring with it. It was pretty neat.
Starflyer 59 was posted on June 16, 2016 for HM Magazine and authored by Sean Huncherick.