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INTERVIEW – Martha Davis, The Motels – August 2013

| 10 January 2014

INTERVIEW – Martha Davis, The Motels – August 2013
By Shane Pinnegar

I was lucky enough to have a long chat with the legendary Martha Davis of The Motels back in August 2013 to promote her November/December Australian tour. Unfortunately that tour was ‘postponed’ for unspecified reasons


Australian March 2014 Tour Dates – Tickets available from

Wednesday March 12 – Astor Theatre, Perth
Friday March 14 – Chelsea Heights Hotel
Saturday March 15 – Thornbury Theatre, Thornbury
Sunday March 16 – Flying Saucer Club, Elsternwick
Monday March 17 The Basement, Sydney
Wednesday March 19 – New Globe, Brisbane

100% ROCK: Hi Martha, how’re you doing today?

Martha: Hi Shane, I’m fine, how are you?

100% ROCK: I am awesome – thankyou so much for your time, it’s much appreciated

Martha: Oh, it’s my pleasure!

100% ROCK: Where are you calling from, today?

Martha: I am calling from beautiful, overcast Oregon – I am just outside of Portland, Oregon, on my farm, and yeah, it’s a gorgeous day, it’s not cold but I’m starting to feel summer slip away

100% ROCK: Ah well, we have the rain here at the moment but it should be nice and sunny by the time you get here

Martha: I know – it’s going to be gorgeous, I can’t wait!

100% ROCK: So, how are The Motels, 2013?

Martha: The Motels 2013 are better than ever – I hate to say it, but it’s true. The band that I’ve been working with for the past ten years – which makes them actually having been together longer than the original Motels, which stayed together eight years! We discovered that the other day – ‘Oh god, it’s been ten years’! They’re lovely, talented guys, and it’s also kind of a mix and match band – I have satellite Motels that I sometimes use. My guys are very talented and get invited on great gigs, like, a couple of them went out with Gnarls Barkley, and one of them flew over to France to play with Johnny Halliday… when they get those opportunities I’m like, ‘go – do it!’. It’s good for all of us, you know. Then I have auxiliary members who come in and play – I’ll be bringing Adam Zimmerman down to Australia, who is the guitar player that I work with when I’m not working with Clint. And he is also tremendous, and he worked with Shakira for a long time, and he’s just great. I’m just really lucky [laughs]

100% ROCK: That’s great! Your Australian tour looks like a pretty gruelling schedule – you’ve got 5 nights in a row, then a few off, then four in a row and a few days off and so on. How does your voice hold up to that sort of punishment?

Martha: Well, we’ll see, won’t we! I think it’ll be fun. I don’t know. If I’m not out singing, I’m at home screaming at the animals [laughs] four dogs barking at once, that keeps my voice very supple, I guess – I don’t know! I haven’t had an actual real tour – we’ve been doing… so much of the situation in The States is, you’ve got your Weekend Warrior sort of thing. People – I don’t know if it’s the same in Australia, I hope not ‘cos I’ll probably be playing on week nights, but a lot of people don’t go out on weeknights here. So I pretty much go out and play Thursday – Friday – Saturday. We had a wonderful gig in San Francisco, sold out show – it was really great. But I think I’ll be fine! I’m Welsh!! That’s what we do – we sing!

100% ROCK: Over here the locals usually only play on weekends but an International touring band can still fill a room on a weeknight, so I’m sure you’ll get a good crowd in regardless.

Martha: Yay – I just can’t wait!

100% ROCK: You’ve been a pretty regular visitor Down Under since the 80’s. I remember seeing you, it must have been ’85 or ’88 or something around that time in Perth. Is it all work when you come out on tour?

Martha: [Incredulous voice} Is it all work when we come to Australia?!?! Come on [laughs] – you know the answer to that one!!! Well, even when I go to work I go to play – so I’m very lucky in that respect. What I do is not like work at all – it’s like, the most fun a person can have, you know. But we will have fun, we’ll get up to some shenanigans, we’ll probably have a beer or two, maybe some of that fine Australian wine! It’s going to be great.

100% ROCK: It doesn’t sound bad at all.

Martha: The last time I was there was 2007, a long time ago.

100% ROCK: On that note – you say you’re going out having fun, and this is a Greatest Hits tour. You’ve played some of these songs for close to 40 years. How do you keep it exciting, not only for the audiences, but also for yourself and the band?

Martha: Well this is a big misnomer – people say, ‘wow it’s gotta be boring to play the same song every night.’ But you don’t! There’s no way physically that you can play the same song, because it’s a different venue, it’s new people – every gig is completely different from the last gig you played. At least it is the way I do it [laughs]. Because you know it’s reconnecting, it’s connecting sometimes for the first time – every song, no matter how many times you’ve played it, has a new purpose to it. Every time you play, so it never gets old. And I swear to God, the other night it was so funny. First of all the mic stand fell apart on me – so I was just holding the top part of the microphone stand, and everyone in the band was just going ‘that’s right, go for the Freddie Mercury look!’ [laughs] and then that fell off so I was stuck with the mic but it was a really short cord, so I couldn’t really go anywhere, and I couldn’t put the mic down else it would have fed back… so I just sort of sat on the edge of the stage and went into the encore without even leaving the stage. And the encore was Total Control, and I literally forgot the words to the song!

100% ROCK: There you go – you were not in total control AT ALL!

Martha: [laughs] No control there! But it was fun – I spent the rest of the evening in the audience!

100% ROCK: That does sound like fun! Back in the first flush of success from the band, you were touring with the likes of J Geils Band, Missing Persons, The Cars – you even did some shows with Van Halen. Did the band defy pigeon holing at the time?

Martha: Umm… you know the thing about the 80’s, it’s funny, because I hear bands now that sound EXACTLY like certain bands from the 80s. I heard a band the other day who sounded exactly like Blondie. I hear these 80’s emulators, and the thing about 80’s bands is that no two of us ever wanted to sound alike, you know? Aside from maybe the hair bands, the big rock guys. But in terms of the pop bands, nobody was the same – you had Devo and Chrissie Hynde and Blondie, and Oingo Boingo – and everybody was completely different to each other. Cyndi Lauper was different to everyone. So I don’t know if there was a lot of pigeon holing other than [to call us all] New Wave. And that was a lot of different kinds of music. So, I don’t know… we had problems with our sound, ‘cos when we first tried to get signed, we sent our demo to Warners and they passed on it ‘cos we were too melodic – No! We were too weird. At that time it was kind’ve, the West Coast sound was in – Linda Rondstadt, The Eagles. So we were too dark & quirky for that, but then when punk came along we were too melodic [laughs], and it wasn’t until the New Wave where everybody kind of had their purpose for a minute. But I’m an old fashioned songwriter – I like songs, I like stories, I really love songs that can create a mood that transports you, that makes you feel something bigger than a pop tune, if that’s possible, That’s what I try to do.

100% ROCK: Well that’s why these songs are still loved 35 – 40 years later!

Martha: It’s pretty crazy isn’t it! Knock on wood!!

100% ROCK: I mean, when you were starting to write songs aged 15, I bet you weren’t thinking ‘when I’m in my 50s I’ll be touring Australia playing these songs’!

Martha: [laughs] Let’s try my SIXTIES, and no, I had no idea!

100% ROCK: The early days do seem quite traumatic – Warners passed on that demo, Capitol passed on your third album and made you go and re-record it. There were management and bandmate hassles – how did you stay sane with all that damage going on around you?

Martha: Ahhh, I don;t think I was sane! That whole era of my life was pretty insane, actually. And it wasn’t just the madness in the business – my parents had died when I was in my early Twenties, and I hadn’t dealt with that the way that I needed to. Not that there is a true way to deal with it – time is probably the best way. But there was a lot of emotional kind of damage going on through that whole time. And it’s partly why when I decided to get back into it again I started over completely. I started with a bunch of guys in Ventura, California that were really young, that had never even been close to a record deal. I started with a garage band, like I was 15 again, you know. And that was when I was forty-something. I basically went through all the steps all over again – I really started at the beginning. I think I just wanted to be present, in a way that I wasn’t present during the whole hoopla. Because when it does happen, when you do finally get signed, it’s not something that just happens overnight – it took years of crazy, slugging around putting up flyers on telephone poles and we put in a lot of hard work, a lot of practice sessions, a lot of refining. And then finally you get signed – and in our case, the A&R guy that signed us, Carter – may he rest in peace, he died a couple of years ago – he was so sure that we were going to sign with Capitol, he booked the studio time months in advance, while we were still talking to different labels, ‘cos there was kind of a feeding frenzy going on. So we signed the record deal on May 9th, I think it was – Mothers Day, which was a nice Mothers Day present. Then the next day we went into the studio! That’s how it worked out. And that NEVER happens, usually you sign with a record label, lawyers go back and forth – but we went in to the studio the next day, and the way he recorded, he wanted to record it like it was the set we played at Madam Wong’s the night before! So we did it pretty much live, and it was a pretty quick album, then we were out on the road – the BIG road, we were doing international touring that year. So you don’t really get the time to catch your breath and gauge what’s going on. Naive was very much an understatement in my department – I was the first one to go to Europe and invited all the guys to my room to drink the mini bar up ‘cos I thought it was a present from Capitol!!

100% ROCK: [laughs] We live and learn!

Martha: [laughs] to the tune of hundreds of dollars!

100% ROCK: Not to be superficial, but the photos I’ve seen, you look amazing – you certainly don’t look your age at all!

Martha: Oh thankyou!

100% ROCK: You certainly don’t look like someone who did the whole rock n’ roll booze & drugs treadmill thing for years

Martha: Uh huh…

100% ROCK: Was it crazy back in those days, for the band?

Martha: You know, it was… everybody was pretty much on the same page for that craziness back in the day. I took 13 or 14 years off of everything… I mostly enjoy red wine now, and I still smoke a cigarette – but don’t tell anybody!

100% ROCK: We won’t mention that [sarcastically] – it can be our secret! You released a children’s album a few years ago – how different is it to write a song for kids versus adults?

Martha: It’s hilariously fun. You can deal with – the sky’s the limit. I’ve actually done two kids records, it started back when my Grandkids were little – my daughter said ‘please Mom, I’m going insane with this stupid music they have for kids, you should write something.’ At that time that big purple dinosaur Barney was all the rage here – just this really banal, stupid, annoying music, and she was going nuts. I thought ‘what fun’, and started writing kids songs like crazy – they’re so much fun that I can write, like, ten a day! And I love writing about different animals, and I wanted it to be interactive, and wanted to be able to… the songs are sort of about animals, but I also wanted kids to be able to go online and read about the different animals… so I had this whole plan. My ex-husband, at the time he was managing me and he took it to the record labels who said ‘no way, this is too intelligent for children!’ [laughs exasperatedly] Which is the MOST RIDICULOUS THING IN THE WORLD!

100% ROCK: It says a lot, doesn’t it?

Martha: My favourite record in the world when I was 5 was Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring! Kids have an amazing capacity – much more than we give them credit for. Then when that album didn’t work, I sort of sat for years and years, then I thought I could get geared up and try again, and instead I ended up writing a whole new record. Well, there’s a couple of the old tracks on it but for the most part it’s a whole new record. It’s really so much fun and I would love to – now that I have actual management, just this year I got real management, which is why this year good things are happening… I was managing myself for a couple of years which was good for me, good for my confidence, and we got to the gigs on time and nobody died, as I like to say [both laugh] but it’s a lot of logistics and stuff that my brain isn’t really great at. But the new management is awesome – Greg Simms is the new manager and he’s put a great team around us. Great social media guys, The Scenario digital guys who are handling all the social media, it’s just fabulous. Fran, the Publicist is just amazing, so I couldn’t be happier, and now I would like to do all these things. I have a jazz album that still hasn’t been put out – it is recorded, and it’s just all these songs I’ve written over the years which sound like they were recorded last century, I call it ‘I have my standards’. But that’ll come out one of these days too – but we’re working on a new album now, there’s a new video we’re gonna be shooting in about a month’s time, so there’s a lot going on!

100% ROCK: Sounds like it. I was reading about the standards jazz album, and that sounds really interesting. How are you going with it? I think the last interview with you that mentioned it, that I read, was from the middle of last year and you were hoping to afford to get someone in to arrange strings for it?

Martha: Yeah, that’s basically what has happened now, since Greg has taken over the reins he definitely wants that album to go out, but at this point we’re kind’ve concentrating on the new Motels record. There’s kind’ve a lot of cleanup and organisation… he didn’t realise when he took me on [laughing] that there’s a lot – A LOT – of stuff… There’s tons of songs, there’s all these different things out there, so he’s been basically corralling that! Then we can get moving on all these different projects and getting them out there!

100% ROCK: Excellent. Have you, perchance, been approached by anyone regarding the much-rumoured third Bill & Ted’s movie?

Martha: You know, I have not been. Now, that… I hear about that and then I hear it’s not happening. Then I hear it is again…

100% ROCK: It’s been back and forth for years now

Martha: It has.

100% ROCK: I keep hearing whispers that it’s gonna happen but…

Martha: We’ll have to see. I’m here if they want me!

100% ROCK: It must have been flattering to have been asked to be one of ‘The Three Most Important People In The World’?

Martha: Of course! I think it was very hilarious, especially when the other two were Clarence Clemmons and Fee Waybill!

100% ROCK: I know – jaws hit the ground when we first saw that, legendary!

Martha: I know – I so miss Clarence. That was such a loss… oh boy. But that was hilarious, a very fun shoot. And that was how my daughter met her husband – the writer of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure ended up marrying my daughter!

100% ROCK: WOW!

Martha: I took her down when I went to shoot it, yeah, so they met on the set and the rest is history

100% ROCK: There’s some gossip I did not know, awesome! There you go – you’re going to have to go and have a word with your son in law and say ‘have you written that third movie yet?’

Martha: [laughs] I will…

100% ROCK: Is acting something that you would have liked to pursue, or might like to now?

Martha: Ummm… right now I’m much more open to things that I was then. My confidence level right through the heyday was pretty much nil. It’s taken me a long time to pretty much believe in myself. You know, some people are … they have that natural gift to be confident and feel self assured, but I never had that. In the last five years, probably, I feel good. I know what I’m doing, it’s not just some weird big mistake [laughs], you know? It gives me the confidence to try different things that I wouldn’t have before. And that’s part of having a new manager… so maybe. Back in the day I got offered some interesting, interesting parts. The most interesting thing I ever got offered…

100% ROCK: Blue Velvet wasn’t it?

Martha: Yes! To play Dorothy in Blue Velvet. And that was… I read that script, and that script was so amazingly crazy, and that role, and especially the script that I got, because it wasn’t the final one – in the script I got, you never knew that Dorothy’s child and husband had been kidnapped! So she was just behaving like this crazy person with what seemed like no motivation. And it just seemed like such an incredibly difficult role, and I’m like ‘I’m not an actor – just because I sing some pop songs doesn’t mean that I’m an actor!’ Which I think that happens a lot, and sometimes not to the best effect…

100% ROCK: True dat!

Martha: Yeah – I don’t think that if you can do one you can necessarily do the other. And I never… I don’t wanna be a jerk. If I can’t do something, I’ll be the first to admit it. But now… I might be up for some character roles – I know I’m a character! [laughs]

100% ROCK: Unfortunately I think we’ve run out of time. It’s been an absolute pleasure to speak with you …

Martha: Thankyou so much, and my pleasure!


Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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