Interview with Alexei Martov: A spicy sound

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This weekend I had the chance to interview members Martin (lead vocals, piano, and guitar) and Matt (bass) from ‘Alexei Martov’, an up and coming 3 piece band based in Montreal. They already have an EP out, called ‘Scent of a Wolf’. They plan on releasing a new full length album some time this year,  which they just partly recorded with Steve Albini in Chicago, and partly here at Hotel2Tango.

  Way of The Crow is from their forthcoming album

M: Tell me a little bit about the band’s background

Martin: We got started in early 2011. I was living in Australia before, and was looking for people to play with there but didn’t find any situation where I could get my feet wet. Then I moved to Vancouver and wasn’t really looking for music there and was enjoying life, but I got tired of the routine. Eventually I ended up here in Montreal and started jamming around. I had some songs brewing and started playing, and asked if anyone wanted to play drums – Jonah came in on the drums and Matt came in on the bass and it sounded good. We started playing music a lot together after that. 

Where does the name ‘Alexei Martov’ come from?

Martin: I started playing classical piano when I was very young, and got really into the heavy Russian classical music like Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. My parents were teachers at my high school so I would go in early with them and play the piano every morning. At that point I started playing stuff that wasn’t written on the page, that wasn’t in the same structured form, and was playing that over and over again, so I guess it was kind of an organic form of composing. My mom asked me at one point, “Who are you playing?” I felt it was too revealing and didn’t want to say it was me, so I made up a name on the spot and said ‘Alexei Martov’.

Once things started falling into place with the band here in Montreal, we realized we needed a name and I told the guys this story and well, we could either come up with a name that was just random or find something that had meaning, so we picked ‘Alexei Martov’ – I always like it when you can bring a little piece of home with you. 

How would you describe your sound?

Matt: We have been branching out in some different directions recently. Our first EP is more blues-rock, psychedelic stuff – using guitar pedals, distortions, White Stripes kind of stuff.

Martin: The vocals on the EP are good, but I think a lot of what makes them sound good is not so much me being good at singing, it’s not like I had a polished vocal tone. It’s a really about the energy in that album, which is why there aren’t so many slow songs.

Matt: We are moving into incorporating more classical stuff now, bringing in Martin’s piano playing. He has been doing some classical voice training recently, I’ve been playing the double-bass. 

Martin: For me, when writing a song, it has to be kind of epic. It can be epic in different ways, like an epic ballad or an epic rock song. Coming from the background of heavily orchestrated classical music or high intensity improvisation, and then listening to everything from Hendrix to Rackmananov to punk-rock music – you find this sharply drawn intensity, which is what I get out of it. I want a song to make it such that when I’m performing it, I can’t be thinking about dumb shit. 

Matt: Muse is an example of the sort of direction we are going into, trying to incorporate classical and jazz music into the psychedelic rock stuff. 

Martin: I don’t think we have written a song that isn’t a rock song. There is other stuff going on, but it’s still rock. For us, it’s really how much shit can we put in there and make it not rock, but still have it be a rock song. Going to rock shows is so much fun.

Do you like it when people dance at your shows?

Martin: Yeah, it’s really awesome! Any sort of feedback is good. You can do it without the feedback but you kind of have to disassociate if you’re not getting it. If the audience isn’t giving you anything you can kind of do the material, and you’re rocking out to it because you know it – you have to acknowledge that people aren’t into it. When people go crazy, you really feed off the energy, and it becomes easier to perform. The border between the stage and the crowd begins to disintegrate. 

We played a show in Greenwich village, and these two African ladies were just going at it! It was awesome. If they hadn’t been into it at that level, I kind of would have been behind a screen. That’s what it comes down to – you have to be tight if people aren’t so into it, but when they are, you don’t care so much about how well you sound anymore, it’s about this whole other thing going on, about having fun with the audience. 

You guys mentioned  Jimi Hendrix, White Stripes, Muse.. any other significant influences?

Martin: Yeah.. Jeff Buckley, Rob Plant. We love playing music, so most of us have a very sponge-like quality with new music. John Scofield’s guitar playing, the Esbjorn Svensson Trio – a lot of bands in jazz doing this progressive epic jazz, rock influenced stuff. Like taking a Nirvana song and putting jazz chords to it in a 3 piece setting. When we see people doing stuff like that, it’s very influential – we might not go all the way into the jazz, but seeing other bands do the 3 piece thing is awesome. 

What have you been listening to recently? 

Matt: We listen to music together as a band in the van, going or coming back from shows. We like listening to the music for hours at a time and then really discussing it together afterwards. On our way back from Chicago recently, we listened to all of Radiohead’s music chronologically. It was cool to hear how their sound evolved. In the beginning you can really hear the influences from other bands but later on you can hear their unique sound start to develop.

Martin: Yeah it’s crazy when you don’t know how a band gets from A to B, how it got the buildup, and all you hear is B – like these Japanese bands we saw at the Next Tokyo, we were like did you just come out of the jungle, how did you get to that sound, does everyone make that music there? I like that, when you see it’s a very original band, and you can’t necessarily figure out how they got there.

 That kind of sounds like the direction you’re going into. So I have a funny question, I like to interchange the senses and think of things that way – if you could put a meal, or type of food, or taste, to your sound, what would it be?

Martin: Definitely Spicy . Good, but hard to relax during. 

Matt: Yeah, like some sort of meaty, heavily spiced dish.. Like a Tajine..

Martin:Yeah, a tajine! With maybe one cup of mint tea during the meal somewhere, like a slow song in the middle of the set.

 Yeah cool! That reminds me of the new version of Night Drive you just released. (Just above here)

Matt: Yeah That was from our first EP, the way we originally did it was way more fast paced, psychedelic rock. Here, we tried to integrate the piano, and I had just gotten the double bass.

Martin: I try to learn our songs on both instruments, guitar and piano. I don’t want the instrument to dictate my choice of notes and harmony. 

Matt:  The way he learned to play guitar was like the blues Hendrix type of stuff, the way he learned to play piano was through Chopin and Rachmaninoff, and it’s such different stuff. Being able to play both teaches you the musical concepts across the instruments.

Martin: On the piano it’s easier to do heavy chord, arpeggio kind of stuff – you wouldn’t do that on the guitar just because that’s not the nature of learning on it. But that’s a silly reason not to be able to play some of the piano songs on the guitar and vice versa.

For Night Drive, I toyed around with the lines I had on the piano and it had the Moonlight Sonata thing going, and it sounded good. I had originally written it on the guitar but this sounded right. So maybe this approach is working, because now looking back at it, that part does sound like it was meant to be a piano part. 

Are your lyrics more experience-based or abstract?

Martin: Probably more experience based. It’s mostly been therapeutic. A lot of the things we write is just what comes up in life, but I think once you go to those places enough times it’s sort of like – I’ve done the whole personal emotions in my life and maybe go outside of that more – but a lot of it is personal.

 I’ve written the lyrics to be able to get to a place where you can express yourself; it’s a context for self-expression you might not have without the song, like an outlet. The act of creating and performing the songs acts as a therapy where you’re dealing with what you’re singing about, to the point that after a while you stop thinking about it. You no longer feel that way but you still want to be genuine, so you kind of have to find yourself in those lyrics and in that song in a new way.

Interesting. Where do you guys see yourself in a year from now?

Matt: Touring North America in May, June, July, and hopefully Europe later!   

Martin: Yeah, and recording and releasing more albums. We just recorded an album but are waiting for the right time to release it. There’s a lot of work to be done, especially with touring – but you kind of need to set that pressure on yourself to be able to get things done. 

For sure, and especially these days as an independent artist it’s not as easy to make a name for yourself.

Martin: I think that it’s not so easy – but on the flip side, it’s possible. 

Whereas in the past, you needed someone on board to make a name for you or you wouldn’t get there. You would either be signed by now or you just wouldn’t do it. Now there’s this third option where you can make it happen for yourself but it’s going to be difficult. The music becomes more accessible with the internet, there is cheap recording material – so there is this kind of middle class place, where there are a lot of really hard working musicians.

I think the model has changed so much from rock star times, people think rock stars are lazy – but of everyone I know who is in a serious band – no one goes out anymore, except to see their friend’s shows.  Everyone is going from work, to rehearsing, to recording. There is a lot of work to get something like this off the ground, but you play something on stage and you get the pay off immediately. I haven’t yet found something as satisfying as playing music!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Indeed, these guys seem very passionate about their music and we wish them the best for their future releases and tour endeavours! 

Alexei Martov will be playing at a show with The Pack AD this Wednesday at Casa del Popolo in Montreal, so all of you Montrealers looking for a break from your week, don’t miss out!

Here is a link for tickets:

 http://blueskiesturnblack.com/show/680

Hope you all enjoyed getting to know this band as much as me!

Cheers and have a good week,

– Mathilde B. 

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