Interview: Martha Davis (The Motels)

 

 

During the 80’s, that unmistakable sound of Martha Davis’s voice could be heard on the airwaves, bringing us such classic Motels’ hits as ‘Total Control’ and ‘Only The Lonely’. Now, fast forward a couple of decades later and it’s a very different Martha Davis we are hearing...

Martha opened up to Rock Club 40  recently about her life, her family, her new children’s album, ‘Red Frog Presents 16 Songs for Parents and Children'  and her plans for The Year of The Tiger...


Rock Club 40:

Recording a children’s album is quite a new direction for you, to say the least. What was your inspiration for creating this album? Where did the idea originally come from?


Martha:

Actually this direction happened some time ago.  It started when my grand kids were little, about twelve years ago. It was in answer to what I believed to be some very banal kids’ music that was permeating the children's market... you may remember a large purple dinosaur... Because I love kids and animals, I launched into a project that would incorporate both, and also hopefully be entertaining for adults; my daughter was evidently being driven insane by the hundreds and hundreds of listens to very "stupid" songs.  The album was taken to children's labels to see if it could find a home. It was rejected because it was too intellectual for children. It was sadly shelved for many years until last year, noticing that a lot of contemporary artists were doing kids’ records (that were actually very clever), I thought I'd give it a go once more.  Like many projects go, I ended up rewriting almost the entire album, only keeping three of the original songs.


Rock Club 40:

Can you tell us a bit about the album? Some insight into the songs and characters and overall concept?


Martha:

The characters in this album are varied. They are all from the animal kingdom, but some are from the imaginary kingdom.  We have the "Dragon in My Soup" as well as "The Chupacabra", you can do "The Orangutango", solve a mystery with "Professor Owl", enjoy singing a round with "The Fireflies", which I know are not animals but insects.  The Master of Ceremonies and closing lullaby is "Red Frog" who actually lives in my basement.... though, to my knowledge, plays no musical instruments.  One of the most fun aspects of the album was the character voices I used. That's right, do not look for the signature "Motel" voice on all the tracks.  From the first track "Finias T. Rabbit" on, many vocal characters appear, including a pig called "Francis Bacon" ( I know two pigs named Francis Bacon in real life) in which I did the best Julia Child I could muster.


Rock Club 40:

There was obviously a great deal of work and creative energy that went into this project on many levels. Now that it’s finished, are you happy with the results? Did it turn out the way you had envisioned it would? Did you enjoy the process of putting this album together? Do you think it is something that you would do again or is this a one-off?


Martha:

I am very pleased with the album, and was delighted when I played it for my niece's son who is two and a half, and he went crazy for it!  Instantly dancing, and pointing at the computer and pouting in between songs, it was his reaction that made me put the musical segues between the songs. 

This album, as you can imagine, has been a process, but a great one.  Many wonderful musicians have worked on it over the years but, in the end, the talents of the very gifted Felix Mercer, musician and engineer, really helped bring it together.  We co-wrote Orangutango.  He also composed the segues between the songs, and did a wonderful job of mixing the album.  I definitely would love to do more of these albums if it seems the kids are into it.


Rock Club 40:

Any chance we will see this album come to life on the big screen in an animated film?


Martha:

That would sure be fun!!


Rock Club 40:

Do your children or grandchildren display any musical talent? Would you encourage them to follow a career in the music industry?


Martha:

My grandson has quite a bit of talent musically, but he is going to art school.  I have a feeling he will find a way to combine the two.  I, of course, would encourage both of my grand kids in what ever they want to do.


Rock Club 40:

On that subject, how did you first get into the music industry?


Martha:

I started playing guitar when I was eight, I was taught my first three chords by my amazing babysitter, Thelton Henderson (Note: At Martha’s request, we did some research on Thelton Henderson and learned that, among his many achievements,  he went on to become a Federal Judge in the Northern District of California; he was involved in the Civil Rights Movements in the USA and was acquainted with Martin Luther King. - RC40).


I taught myself from there on and started writing songs when I was fifteen.  It became very obvious by the time I was around twenty, that music was what I wanted to do, but I was also a single mom, with two young girls.  My father made it very clear that I would be crazy to follow that path with young kids that needed to be supported and looked after.  At about that same time, my mom committed suicide. I found her diary that I didn't even know she kept. She spoke of her love of literature and her longing to be a writer, a dream she left by the wayside in a time when women were supposed to tend the house and kids and not much else.  The timing of this discovery was profound and it was almost as if she was telling me not to turn my back on my dreams.  I then made the decision that I had to try to make a go of it with music.  I had joined a band in
Berkeley called the Warfield Foxes, and within four years we moved ourselves down to LA to "make it overnight".  It would not be until 1979, eight years after the decision to not turn my back on my dreams, and with a completely different lineup from the original Berkeley group, that we were signed to Capitol records.


Rock Club 40:

Did you find that being a single mother created a barrier for you when you were first trying to break into the music industry? It must have been tough, juggling both lives and making it work?


Martha:

It was definitely hard trying to handle being a mom and trying to make it in music.  By 1973 my father had also passed away so there was really no support group for me.  My ex husband was never in the picture or helped with support. My only sister was struggling with her own life. We were just kind of on our own.  Here is where I have to thank my children. It was not an easy time and they put up with a lot. I sometimes don't know how we made it.  Thank you girls, there were times I know it was you who were taking care of me.


Rock Club 40:

We saw you here in Australia for the Countdown Spectacular Tour in 2007. Can you share with us some of your memories of that tour?


Martha:

First off, let me just say I love Molly!  The countdown show had such a big effect on our success in Australia.  The show in 2007 was really filled with great acts, and wonderful people.  I had a blast, great to get to make so many new friends, and actually get to know some old acquaintances.  Sadly, one of the people that I had never gotten to know well before the tour was Doug Fieger. What a sweet and wonderful man. It is so sad that he finally lost his battle with cancer. We will miss him.


Rock Club 40:

According to some of the artists you toured with then, you were considered to be something of a ‘mother figure’ on that tour, always looking out for everyone else. Is that something that you usually do when you’re on the road? Would you say that’s a fair description of Martha Davis? 


Martha:

That's very nice... Well, I've been a mom since I was 15, so maybe I've developed some skills over the years.


Rock Club 40:

Do you have any plans to return to Australia with another tour?


Martha:

I would LOVE to come back!!!  Just need a tour....


Rock Club 40:

You have worked hard over the years, both as a solo artist and as part of a band. Do you have a preference for either one?


Martha:

Even if you're working on a solo project, you're usually not alone.  There are the musicians that contribute, the engineers, mixers etc.  But there is really nothing like a band that's put in some years together. It's very much like a family.


Rock Club 40:

Looking back over your career, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement?


Martha:

Surviving!


Rock Club 40:

What other projects are you working on? What’s next for Martha Davis?


Martha:

The next project is a collection of songs I've written over the years that, well, they sound like standards or old jazz tunes.  Taking this journey with me will be Marty Jourard the original sax/keyboardist of the old Motels.

After that, there is a continuation of one of the projects that came out in 2007.  The album was called "This".  It will be joined with "That" and "The Other". There are some remixes of some old "Motels" tunes in the works.  Another album that came out in 2007 was "Beautiful Life, A Slight Miscalculation", a conceptual album that I wrote about my mom’s life and death. I am trying to put together a live performance of the album in its entirety; there has also been some talk of it becoming a theatrical release.  There is a new "Motels" album that is in the works, the concept of a covers record, a podcast with my friend and manager Gaye Ann Bruno and Terri Nunn of Berlin and a musical called "Smith" about the life of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion, and touring.....

We'll see how much we can get done this year...  but, you know, it is the Year of the Metal Tiger in Chinese Astrology...  Guess what my sign is, yep, Metal Tiger.... love you Australia!

 
 

Last updated by Sharyn Hamey Feb 21, 2010.

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