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Rebecca Martin (and album covers)

A Conversation with Rebecca Martin (continued)

RM: But anyway, Jesse and I were in Once Blue for a couple of years or so. EMI went bankrupt or something. They folded. They had some problems in America, so the label folded in America, and we lost our deal. But we stayed together for about a year then, and it was just a tremendous strain for a lot of reasons, a lot of clichés. And in February of '98, I disbanded the group. It's not a nice memory. It was a really hard time, a really hard time.

PM: Were you able to hold on to your friendship or come back around to it? Are you guys friends today?

RM: I love Jesse, and I will always love Jesse. It was a complicated relationship. It was an important relationship, I think, for us both.

And we talk, and we exchange records, and it's still very amicable and friendly. I think we're far along on our own paths, and on our own journeys. We were both very important parts of one another's development, and sometimes that's all it is. Sometimes a relationship has an expiration--I mean, in that intimate way.

The Once Blue re-release is a classic story. Our old manager closed down his business in New York. And he'd had the tapes for the second Once Blue record. The tapes were in a closet that wasn't temperature-controlled. And that always made me really nervous. I do have a space in New York City that's designed for people to store their tapes. So I was always trying to get my hands on them to put them in a safe environment. And our manager just wouldn't give them to us, as if we were going to press the album and sell it. It was kind of ridiculous.

PM: No kidding.

RM: But what are you going to do?

PM: Yeah, right. Managers.

RM: At least that one. And so we waited and waited. And a few years later, he was closing. He calls me up and he says, "Come and get them." And I'm like, "Great." So Jesse was in the city and he went and picked them up and dropped them off at the storage space and took a box of cassettes that were there, just forgotten. The whole record had been forgotten, pretty much. So Jesse took the box home and started listening to these tapes and found the original recording of the record prior to the all of the overdubs and all of the stuff that started to diminish the strength of the record. And he and Kurt were listening together, and they just decided, "This has to be available. If for nothing else, just for our fans, the fans of Once Blue, they should hear this record, because it's incredible." The music and the solos, the performances are great.

So it took about a year, but Jesse found a way--of course, throughout this year, his whole life was changing because of Norah Jones' success with his songs. So it became a much easier hurdle to cross with Jesse, because of who he was. It was all perfect timing. And EMI Toshiba decided to re-release the first album, because it went out of print, and Jesse convinced them to include nine songs of the original eleven from the second record. And it was just brilliant to have that record back again.

PM: Wow.

RM: So that happened last fall. And Jesse and I mastered it together, and that was a beautiful experience, to have that come more full circle.

PM: It's beautifully recounted. Thank you for that. [more about Jesse Harris here]

So after Once Blue there were two very good solo records, Thoroughfare and Middlehope.

RM: Yeah. Each one of those has a story. I'm so glad that I have them--they're part of my path here, part of how I got to where I am now. Thoroughfare we did--actually all of these records were made in a day.

PM: You mean they were recorded very jazz style, in real time, in a day or two?

RM: Well, this new one was done in two, besides some overdubs that we did up at the house here, with [keyboardist] Pete Rende, who did all this beautiful--

PM: He's unbelievable!

RM: Isn't he?

PM: My God!

RM: I hope that he is discovered on this record, because the guy is just incredible. He builds instruments, he carves Buddhas out of big chunks of wood, he plays--he's just amazing.

PM: What's the story on Rende? Where does he come from?

RM: Pete is from Missouri, from a farm town in Missouri. He's one of my most favorite all-time musicians. He is one of the most generous--he's all about the music, all about it. He once said to me--and I love this--because he was doing all these different gigs, and some of them were really challenging, I thought, for him. He said, "You know, Rebecca, music isn't bourgeois. Everybody should make music." [laughs]

PM: Wow.

RM: It's true! There shouldn't be any judgment. People should be able to do whatever they want, and you can listen or not, or you can play with them or not. But the point is that it's a beautiful thing, and everybody should do it if they feel it, for however long they do it. That's the kind of guy he is.

PM: "Music isn't bourgeois," what an incredible thing to say.

RM: I know! He's just super-generous. When we recorded this record, he came up to my house for a week, and we just sat in my living room, and we listened to each song and added beautiful elements that we thought it needed. And he did it all himself, single-handedly. I sat with him--because it was piano work, and soundscapes, and he played pedal steel, and he played organ, mandolin. We had my whole living room set up with really kind of crappy mics and--

PM: Sometimes they're the best ones.


RM: True! And the dogs running around and cars honking. It was not a clean recording. And it was just so much fun! I was also working at a job at that moment. So I'd come home and he would have spent the whole day doing stuff, and then we'd spend the whole night doing stuff, and then go find a place to have a beer and talk about it, and come back to it. And it was just a wonderful experience.

PM: So what was the recording format up at the house for the overdubs?

RM: Well, in order to do this, I had to record Pro Tools, which was the very first time I had done that. I have grown up in a recording studio where people are splicing tape, and putting it together to make their edits, and that's just my background. And with Joe Ferla and Thoroughfare it was tape, and Middlehope was taped. But this record was Pro Tools. It let me pull out more of the music that I wanted to pull out with Pete.

PM: This record is every bit as fat as the other records.

RM: Oh, thank you.

PM: I mean, you can't hear that it's digital and the other ones are tape--I can't, anyway.

RM: Well, I think that the very first layer of sound is essential. So I chose Sear Sound to record in. To me, that's the best recording studio in New York, with the most incredible mic selection, an old Neve board, upstairs and downstairs. I believe the owner built it, he built this board. He has all this beautiful vintage equipment that he works at every single day to keep it up and running well. And you go in, it looks like you're seeing the most gorgeous old equipment in its best kept state. I knew that we needed to have the best source in order to go to digital. The beauty of digital is that you can record on great mics and preamps, and the best board that you can find, and you can get a nice sound. And Jay Newland recorded it, which was good, but of course, James Farber, who mixed Middlehope, and mixed People Behave Like Ballads, in my opinion, is pretty much why my records sound as good as they do.

PM: Well, he's going to like reading that.

RM: Well, I say it over and over. Sometimes the engineers, they're so not thought of as an important tool. But James Farber is--oh, man, I just don't--I can't tell you, because of course, my music means so much, and it's very expensive to record. And with James I just know it's going to always be right, and that's an amazing thing. James is one of the top jazz guys out there. And I only say "jazz guy" because more and more these days jazz has started to mean to me somebody who's just really good at what they do.


PM: Well, there's a liberal interpretation.

RM: James has done a few of James Taylor's records, he's done this really big pop artist in France, and he does me, so he's very familiar with singer songwriters and songs and singers. But he knows what instruments sound like. He knows where mics should be placed to get the sound right. He understands. And when he mixes, he mixes based on where things were in the studio to get kind of a true picture of what was happening in the sound.

PM: He just got one of the best upright bass sounds I've ever heard. It's just unbelievable.

RM: [laughs] Thank you. And, well, Matt Penman--listen, I am just blessed with the best musicians. [Matt's playing acoustic bass.]

PM: No kidding.

RM: And they've been with me for a long time.

PM: And Steve Cardenas on guitar, amazing.

RM: I know, I know.

PM: Jeez.

RM: And Ben Monder. I believe Ben is on the right and Steve is on the left--I think that's what it is--so you can really hear who's who. [They're both featured on electric guitar.] But at the same time, it's very orchestral. And I find, even though I've listened to this way too many times, and so closely, when I want to I can just go into it and not really think too much about who's doing what. For me, it just is a good solid sound.

PM: How did the arrangements evolve? Is there someone who's the band leader, or are you doing the arranging, or how does that go down?

RM: The arrangements are a collaboration. And it's all come together because we've played so many live performances. I'll bring a new song in, and over the course of time, things get fleshed out. The musicians have wonderful big ears and are very sensitive, and play together beautifully, and in time these arrangements have kind of been built. And right before we recorded we got together for a couple of days at my house, and we had a huge paella/poker weekend, but it was geared around our practicing, just running through all the songs and making sure we had the right ones. Because at that point, I had--I mean, I have 40 more songs to record right now.

PM: Really?

RM: Yeah, so it was hard to figure out which ones to do. continue

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