Emerging in the Seattle scene of the 1990s, alt-rockers Candlebox have maintained a steady career, one that has seen the band just release their seventh album, Wolves, on September 17th, via Pavement Entertainment.
Following the release of the album, we caught up with frontman Kevin Martin to chat about the set of songs, the future of the band, his ambitions, and how he avoided the pitfalls that caught so many of his peers and friends during the height of the grunge era.
Hi, Kevin, how are you?
Kevin Martin: “Yeah, I’m good. How are you?”
Very good thanks. Ok, so the record is finally out. How challenging has it been to get to that point with what has been going on over the last two years?
“The record was done in January of last year. So we’ve been on this for a little while. We discussed whether we were going to release it last summer just to kind of get it out there. I think, in all these conversations, we realized that the most important thing for us was to wait to take a tour because that’s what we have to do. We don’t have the major label dollars behind us that are pumping the radio stations full of gas and shit. It’s really just about us getting out there and playing. So we had to wait.
“I think what we got out of that was, you know, obviously, there’s some great patience that we’ve learned by allowing a record to kind of sit. I’ve never sat on a record this long but being able to listen to it and pick it apart and decide that, you know, I didn’t need to go back in and fix anything, that was odd because, on any other record, I would have probably decided that I needed to change something.”
We’ve talked to a lot of bands over the last few months who said that they appreciated the break and chance to sit down and get out of that cycle of touring, recording, writing, writing, recording, touring. Did that give you a chance to concentrate on the record by being out of that cycle?
“I’ve been on tour for so long, almost 30 years of touring, but I don’t think I was ready for that type of a break. The beauty of it was it allowed me to be a better father and a husband. I guess, for me, making records, you know, I’ve never made a record until I was ready to make a record, that’s why there are only seven Candlebox albums. I feel like it’s just best to, you know, not try and force something. So, in that process of being able to stay home and not tour for 20 months, I realized how much I enjoy what I do. Then, when I don’t have to do it, I do it because I want to, and that’s a good feeling.
“I think, for years, and years, and years, I always felt like I had to tour because it’s kind of built-in you. When you actually sit back and think about it, it’s just nice to not have to but to want to you know? I guess because it’s so different to a day-to-day job. If I was working at, you know, a record store or something, and that would be my day-to-day job it would be what I was so used to. Then, all of a sudden, to be able to take a 20-month long break and realize that I actually liked working that record store, it’s a pretty great feeling.”
Absolutely, and you’re back out on tour again now…
“Yeah, we’re out on tour now currently in Savannah, Georgia. We’ll be out here until I think October 24th is our last show on this run.”
What has it been like getting back into it? I know a lot of bands have said it’s been quite emotional getting back on stage…
“It’s a little strange. I’m not going to lie. I think in the back of everyone’s minds, even the audience, is ‘is this person next to me going to give me COVID?’ You can’t go to the show and just get lost in the music. I think in the back of your mind, you’re just thinking, is this safe for me? Of course, there are those people over here that don’t give a fuck, but for the band, the guys with us, we’re on a strict process.
“The regulations that we put on ourselves to be out here to do this are like no one’s on the bus. There are no guests in the dressing room. We don’t do meet and greets. We don’t go out and say hi to anybody, there’s no handshaking. It’s a very strange thing for me because I’m a very personable person. I love our audience and I love getting down there and shaking hands, and saying hi to people, and not being able to do that, it’s been very difficult for me emotionally and it’s playing with my ego a little bit.”
That leads me onto something I was going to ask about later. On the subject of the album, you’ve talked about being inspired by a pack mentality/lone wolf mentality as human beings. Has that come from events of the last 18 months?
“No, I honestly think that’s actually for the last five years. I came up with this title for this record prior to the pandemic. Watching the previous (presidential) administration, for somebody like myself, was very disturbing. The amount of dissociative behaviour that seems to be taking hold in the world, is kind of where I kind of came up with the concept. Then, when you have somebody like Donald Trump in office, who is constantly stirring up shit, how the fuck can you allow this person to separate? In an entire group of people, I mean, like, 300 million people, and it literally was just drawing a line in the sand and saying that if you cross this line, you’re the worst person ever. It’s just a very strange emotion for me.
“I constantly think back to what happened in 2001, September 11th, where, that year, afterwards, this country of ours was united in ways I’d never seen and never experienced, and of course, it made me very proud to be an American. We could take that time with one another and say, you know, I feel for you, let’s make things different. Let’s change. We’ve lost that. We’ve lost that again. We can say it will come back soon and, yeah, I hope it does but I don’t think it will. We’re all staring at our phones 24 hours a fucking day.”
What do you think, as a human race, not just Americans, what do you think we’ve learned from the last 18 months? What changes would you like to see going forward?
“I think we’ve learned that people genuinely don’t give a shit about anybody but themselves, which is sad. I’m being generous because there are moments of brilliance that we’re seeing around the world, and people coming together and trying to fix the wrongs that have been done, but I just don’t know. It’s a very scary moment in time for everybody and I would love to see us all take this big step back and ask what we are all here for. Are we just here for ourselves or can we actually turn this planet around? Can we turn these living conditions around in third world countries?
“I don’t know how many billionaires the United States has, but there’s too many. I would hope that somehow they would figure out that they all need to be a little bit more generous in helping people. I’m married to an Australian. Universal healthcare. I understand the importance of countries looking out for their people so I have a little bit of a skewed view because, in going to Australia and watching my wife go to get her teeth cleaned for 20 bucks, I know that doesn’t happen in the fuckin’ States. I would like to see us as a society worldwide just come to some sort of agreement that we need to take care of each other but I just don’t see that happening.”
Going back to the album title, which side of the fence do you sit on? Do you prefer being in a pack or are you a lone wolf kind of person?
“No, I’m a pack mentality. What I love about wolves is when they work towards the betterment of the pack. Of course, they’re violent animals, but they’re also very caring and gentle at the same time. I mean, the alpha male doesn’t lead the pack, he follows the pack to make sure that the pack is doing what it needs to do. I think that there’s beauty in that. So I guess, for me, I’m a liberal. I believe that everybody deserves the best of everything and that it’s unfortunate that there are situations, like welfare and all that stuff, that we have to deal with over here. We are a very wealthy country, but can’t change the mentality that says no, to hell with you. That’s the downside of it. But, I do believe that people can change. I think that they can find greatness in anything, you just want people to look for it sometimes in themselves.”
The first single off the album was “All Downhill From Here.” You’ve maintained a level, you’ve carried ongoing. What’s driven you and what are your ambitions?
“Music is just the greatest gift. For me, when I was a kid, it’s all I ever wanted was to be a rock star and travel the world and the accolades and the audience, and stuff. What keeps me going now is that I enjoy this. I love playing music. We’ll never be a band that sells millions of records, again. We’ll never play three nights at the Paramount in Seattle again, but I’m very, very happy where I am and I love this opportunity.
“I will be packing it in in a few years because I’m 52 now, and I just don’t want to be a 60-year-old guy running around in skinny jeans and a t-shirt, screaming at the top of his lungs. I think that has everything to do with being able to stay home for the past 20 months being a husband and a father. That was very refreshing for me and I had forgotten how much I love my family. I love that private time that we have.”
That’s quite a fortunate position to be in whereas a lot of younger bands, with the way the industry is, have got to go out and do it. Does that change the way you approach the band?
“I pinch myself every day. I’m so fucking lucky. My peers, and the bands that we were playing back with in Seattle back in the late, late ‘80s, early ‘90s, they’re all working at Microsoft and shit. These are bands that we were opening for and I’m great friends with these guys. Somehow, Candlebox was able to survive it and every day I wake up, and as much as I want to complain about shit, we all do, but that’s just dumb shit.
“I love this life and I’m so lucky. Even when we tour Europe, we were over there a couple of years ago, we’re playing to 20 people, you know, 100 people, and I love that. It doesn’t matter, because I’m in a different place. These are faces I haven’t seen. These are people that want to see my band. Who gets to fucking do that? There’s so few of us to get to do that and I love it.”
Candlebox came up through the Seattle scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s which was a pretty turbulent era. What was your memory of being immersed in the city during that period?
“The magic of Seattle was, I moved there in 1984, my father took a job in Texas, and my dad took a job with an old boss. I remember we landed, it was raining. I’m just a skateboard kid and I had my skateboard in my hand and walked off that plane with my backpack and just one buck. I had never seen that much rain and it rained for literally three months from January until April. The crazy thing was when I got to this little island, we were living between the east side of Seattle and Seattle provinces in a place called Mercer Island. I met these two kids, John and Sarah, that looked like they were in The Cure. Sarah’s hair was bigger than she was.
“This is like the first week of school. They’re going downtown, see a show and asked if I wanted to come with them. I didn’t know that Seattle even had a music scene, right? I knew the punk rock scene in Texas was something that I was very fond of but I knew nothing about what was going on up there. We went to see Soundgarden when Chris (Cornell) was playing the drums and they were a three-piece and I was fucking blown away. This is insane and all the bands are playing so it was a really magical city, in the sense of the amount of music that was happening in bands. It was a town called a city but wasn’t very big.
“There were three venues downtown that you would go into but the energy of the music was so amazing. Then there was that dark side of drugs and everything. So, me being 14-years-old, I could have easily fallen into the trap of that and tried to fit into that kind of community, but I was playing drums in a punk band, and I was a little more focused on that. So I was pretty lucky to avoid that dark side. As I got older and became friends with guys like Layne (Staley) and Chris and musicians who’ve been playing around the city at the time, I started to understand why they lived their lives the way they did. Why the music was their escape.
“They were older than me, five or six years older than me so I didn’t really come from their background. I moved there from a sunny, crazy, punk rock state to the city that’s, you know, constantly raining and there’s nothing to do but drugs and drink beer in your rehearsal studio. I loved it. It scared the shit out of me. It was very, you know, super impressionable and inspiring. So, to cut a long story short, it was the best move that my father made for my family and for me, and it gave me my career. I love that city as much as I can’t stand living there. I live in Los Angeles but I still love what that city gave me and all the inspiration and all the growth that I was able to have there.”
What was one of the biggest lessons you took away from it?
“Trust your gut. You know, if you feel like it’s not the right thing for you to do, just don’t do it. There were moments where I could have become a heroin addict. There were those parties but I was able to avoid it. I did a lot of drugs and I certainly enjoyed taking acid with the best of them, but by staying away from heroin, I was very lucky. I’m so grateful that I actually had a really good friend there that was able to keep me away from it. I’m grateful for her friendship. I’m still best friends. Like I said, it could have very easily been me. You’re a 16-year-old kid, fucking partying, everybody’s doing heroin in that environment but I didn’t.”
Thirty years later you’re here talking about your new record and another world tour so life’s obviously gone down a good path for you. Just in terms of the future then, to finish off, what does it hold for you and Candlebox?
“I don’t know. We’re working on new songs right now and during soundcheck. We’re talking about recording a record in January to release late next summer. I can tell you this, the only thing I do see, which I had mentioned before, is that there will come a point where I will be packing this up. I’m 52 now, I think that’s probably going to be in a couple of years when I hit 55-years-old and I’ve had my fun. As much as I love all you Candlebox fans, it’s time for me to put things away. I guess maybe one more record? I don’t know. The new record is out and we’re looking forward to coming over to the UK and touring it. I love being over there playing and I can’t wait to see all the different faces and people.”
Perfect, thanks for your time Kevin…
“Appreciate it. Have a great day.”