Back in 2021, I spoke to Candlebox frontman Kevin Martin about the future of the band. During that conversation, Kevin admitted that it would be couple of years before he would be thinking about bringing this chapter to close.
Fast-forward to March 2023 and the band did indeed reveal details of a new album and farewell tour. In our latest Cover Story, and as we head into the closing couple of months of 2023, we got on the phone to Kevin to chat about the decision, his thoughts on their career, and, ultimately, how he would like Candlebox to be remembered.
Recently there have been some things that you hinted at which lead into this conversation so it’s nice to catch up again. One of the first things you said to me was, when we talked about lockdown, you said you weren’t prepared for that fourth break. Moving forward why is it now the right time to bring this chapter of the story to a close?
“Mainly just because it’s been 30 years since the debut album so I was discussing with my wife over the past couple years about how to put this whole thing away. She was pretty adamant about, you know, telling me, why don’t you wait until you reach the 30 years? I was ready to do it last year, but it’s the stresses and things that come with touring, as you know, even though Candlebox has a history, 30 years, and we’ve sold however many millions of records, there’s still a constant battle of trying to keep the name and the brand afloat, and all the stuff that goes along with it, not to mention the expenses.
It just seemed like the obvious time but, you know, if The Long Goodbye record happens to take off and becomes a hit, then I’ll have to tour on it next year. I’ve discussed that with my wife and the guys in the band as well. That being said it was the realisation that I’m only human, and that I really enjoy being at home which was really just the catalyst for all of it.”
That was one of the things you said that being home for 20 months made you realise about things that you really enjoy doing. I’m assuming that, given your previous answer, this wasn’t a snap decision, and there’s a lot of thought gone into it?
“Yeah, I don’t know what I’m gonna do next year.”
You said that, as a kid, you only ever wanted to be a rock star. Now you’ve achieved that was everything you wanted it to be?
“It’s been more. It’s been, you know, all the good, all the bad. It’s been, to quote Dewey Cox, it’s been a beautiful ride. It’s been heartbreaking and it’s been exciting, and it’s been beautiful, and it’s been damaging. It’s all the things that come along with being a human being. I’ve had those moments of great clarity on the road and I’ve had moments of incredibly clouded vision as to who I am and what I want to do and where I want to be and where my career has led me. Ultimately, it has been everything that I’ve wanted it to be and more and for that I’m truly grateful.
I’m so lucky, man. I pinch myself every single day because, as angry as I am at the hotel that I’m in right now, which is not the hotel I wanted to be in, it’s just stupid stuff. but you know, you get spoiled out here. Being a Rockstar, there’s certain elements of that, that rear their ugly head every now and then and you can become a real diva but, you know, that’s life.”
“It’s all the things that come along with being a human being. I’ve had those moments of great clarity on the road and I’ve had moments of incredibly clouded vision as to who I am and what I want to do…”
Over those 30 years the music industry has changed dramatically. It was a brutal industry back then and it feels worse now? What advice would you give that 19/20 year-old kid who is dreaming of being that Rockstar that you became?
“Be patient. Play live as often as you can. Get out of your own town. Go to other towns and play. Book your own tours. Don’t try and get a booking agent. Don’t try and get a manager. Do it yourself. It’s very easy to do yourself. I mean, right now, not to jump into it, because with AI and the possibilities there for you, you can reach an audience.
With artificial intelligence, why would you sign to a major? I’m working with the band Mona out of Ohio. Nick Brown, the singer, he’s incredibly talented. He toured with Noel Gallagher. He’s played Glastonbury. He’s huge in Europe but he’s not so big here. That’s one of the things I’m doing next year is managing his career but you know, with all of those types of things, it’s easy come easy go.
He’s doing it on his own path and the direction that he wants and I support that and tell him the same thing. Just get out there and play shows. Let’s not wait for an agent. As a manager, I’m the best manager ever because I’m only charging 1% because it doesn’t matter to me. It’s not like I need the money. I just love this kid and I love his talent and I want to see it through for him. I know how to manipulate the system. That’s what I’d say to him is just do this on your own but get out there and play live as often as you can with as many bands as you can and experience different crowds, people that don’t know you, don’t know your music. You have to win them over. That’s the only way you’re going to get a career.”
Totally agree with that. It’s been a great career but you’ve also talked about the challenges. What do you put your longevity down to and what has kept you going?
“Probably just the love of the music. Candlebox has been so fortunate to be able to continually change on every record we’ve made. We’ve grown with every album we’ve made. We’ve pushed ourselves. Not to extreme levels but we’ve pushed ourselves to the point where it’s allowed us to create another style of music for ourselves and to open ourselves up to a different audience. I don’t know how vast that audience is from that but it allowed us to continue to make those records.
I think that’s really what it is, that we never stuck to one style of music. We never tried to rewrite “Far Behind.” We never tried to rewrite “Cover Me.” We never tried to rewrite “You.” We’ve always played the music we played and I think, our live show is pretty, pretty spectacular. I don’t see a lot of bands that put on a performance like we do, certainly not at our age. I’m 54, my bass player is 56 and we run around like a bunch of kids.”
You grew up in the notorious Seattle scene that went through a lot of changes. A lot of those bands disappeared. A lot of your friends just jacked it all in but you kept going through that. What helped you get through that scene when it faded away?
“Gosh, I don’t know? I guess it was exploding and then, in 2000, when the music industry started to change, came the acceptance of Napster and all that sort of thing, people began realising that music was going to be traded virtually, so we had to adjust. Candlebox was going through the breakup of the band to get out of the contract with Maverick Records. I started writing music with other musicians and other artists which made it easy for me to continue to produce. I started producing young bands. I started writing with this kid named Jason Smith, out of Australia, who really took my song writing to another level.
I was just always expanding myself and, having the career I had, I was able to get a new record deal so there was an advance on that meaning I was able to financially stay afloat. But, the actual growth in the 2000s was difficult. We did Into The Sun record and I don’t know if we thought that that record was going to do anything. So, the fact that it sold 75,000 copies was surprising to us. Having that record do as well as it did it continued the path for Candlebox to still be around.”
In terms of the music industry, what have you learned from it? Working with new artists, you’re obviously carrying on in the industry but what’s the most important lesson you’ve taken away from your time so far?
“Well, don’t trust anybody. You’ve got to learn how to manipulate the manipulators. Like, I’m supposed to get my Master’s back in 2028, by contract under law on the contract that we signed with Warner Brothers attorneys. They’re coming to us right now saying, “Well, if you want the record back, you’re going to have to sue us for it.” Okay? Why is this? We wrote a contract with you, you signed it, we signed it, we’re supposed to get the Masters back. Why are you going to make us do this? Because they can, and that’s, you know, that’s the world.
So, you know, you can’t trust anybody in this industry. You’ve got to stick to your guns, you’ve got to listen, you’ve got to pay a lot of attention to what’s going on around you. You’ve got to be connected with a lot of other bands in this industry and you got to ask questions. Got to ask questions all the time.
I’ve said to him numerous times to make sure we’ve got the right business manager to handle these finances for you so that when we send you to Europe next year for six months, we can afford to have you be in Europe for six months. I mean, he got screwed on several contracts in the past. He was signed to Island Def Jam. The famous guy left Island and the minute that he left Nick’s career was over. The label was done with everything that he had signed.”
“You can’t trust anybody in this industry. You’ve got to stick to your guns, you’ve got to listen, you’ve got to pay a lot of attention to what’s going on around you…”
Knowing what you know now about the industry, is there anything you would have done differently?
“Yeah, I would have fired my first manager. I would have fired my band when they said they weren’t going to do the Bon Jovi / Van Halen tour in 1995. I mean, there’s so many things I would have done differently but, you know, all of that has led me to where I’m at now. I’m grateful for the life that I have. I would never have met my wife, Natalie, had the band done things differently. I don’t think I would. I don’t regret anything.”
Do you have regrets? And what are you most proud of?
“My son. Having a child. I mean, music is one thing in my career. I mean, I’ve toured with Metallica but my proudest moment is the way my wife and I have raised our son Jasper and made a beautiful 15 year old boy that’s got his whole life ahead of him. I’m grateful for that.”
Does he plan on following in your footsteps?
“Well, he has a drum set. But you know, I think both his mom and I have said to him, we would prefer you not to be a musician. Whether he follows Dad, we’ll see in a couple of years.”
Looking forward then. You’ve talked about, depending on how successful the record is, maybe carrying on tour it but, as of now, what do you think will go through your mind when you come offstage after that final show?
“What am I going to have to eat? It’s always pizza, you know? I’m done with it. So it’s gonna be where am I gonna go have dinner? I think what it’s going to be, there’s gonna be a heavy realisation of the gravity of the decision that I’ve made. You can’t be a touring musician for 30 years and not be somewhat emotionally attached to this lifestyle. I had a moment the other night when we’re in Louisville, Kentucky, and, it’s one of my favourite cities. We’ve played this room a million times, and the crowd was just so overwhelmingly loud. I just realised that I’m never going to play this little venue anymore. It’s an emotional thing.
I’m sure I’ll get home and, and probably start trying to keep myself busy with maybe some woodworking or something. The bug to do this is gone but I will still be producing bands. I’ve been asked to produce three records next year, I will still do charity events. If somebody asked me to do a charity event, I’ll do that but I won’t be touring and I won’t be making records for myself anymore.”
Do you think, looking back to what we said at the beginning about the 20 month break and you not been prepared for being home for so long, has prepared you for this?
In terms of the future, I believe there’s a documentary in the pipeline?
“Yeah, it’s coming out in the Fall. It’s done. Right now they’re chopping it. It’s being shopped to Netflix, Amazon, all that stuff.”
What was it like looking through all that old footage?
“It was hilarious. There’s so much about this band that people don’t know, besides where we got the band name from, you know? There’s so much history to Candlebox I think people are going to be very surprised as to our story. Certainly there’s gonna be people don’t give a shit but there’s a crowd of, you know, 7 million people that probably wondered where the hell we went.”
“I think what it’s going to be, there’s gonna be a heavy realisation of the gravity of the decision that I’ve made. You can’t be a touring musician for 30 years and not be somewhat emotionally attached to this lifestyle.”
Looking back over the last 30 years, we’ve talked about what advice you’d give somebody being that rock star you want it to be. Given the journey that you went on and the challenges you faced, as well as the good times, what advice would you give a band that is starting out on that journey?
“Same thing. Play as often as you can. Get a good business manager, someone you can trust. Don’t trust your manager. Don’t trust your agent. Don’t trust the label. Believe in yourselves. Be there for one another. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. I just had to talk to my nephew about this actually, which is funny because he’s having some trouble with a bass player. If you’re not on the same page, what are you doing? That bass player doesn’t want to be doing what you’re doing? There are million bass players.
We touched on this in the documentary, when we were asked to do the Van Halen tour with Bon Jovi in Europe, it was sold out, it was 12 weeks. The smallest venue was 70,000 people and my drummer and my guitar player went to my bass player and convinced him not to go. I should have fired him. I don’t know what you want to do. I’m going to Europe as Candlebox. I should have done that. And I didn’t do that.
That’s the interesting thing about Candlebox and that’s why I would say to a young band that, if you’re not on the same page, you’re not going to last. I am the only one still remaining from Candlebox because my vision was my vision and those guys didn’t have the same vision. You have to if you’re going to, in any way, shape or form, be a band that wants to conquer the world, you’ve got to be a band of brothers.”
You’ve talked about a vision, when you walk offstage what legacy do you want Candlebox to leave behind?
“A band that did it the way they wanted to do it, and didn’t listen to anybody. They just chose the path they chose and made the records they made and they had a fucking great time doing it. I think that the records speak for themselves and that the legacy will be that Candlebox released eight pretty brilliant albums and that, while they weren’t the most prolific musicians, what they did deliver was pretty spectacular.”
For more information on Candlebox, visit their Official Website.