"Doing a photo shoot was a lot easier when you’re 20. Making music is a lot easier now that I'm 58." Martha Davis on fame over 50
Martha Davis hit the height of success in the 1980’s when – as the singer/songwriter for LA band The Motels – her smoky, passionate voice drove a slew of hits including “Only The Lonely”, “Take The L”, “Shame”, “Mission of Mercy” and “Suddenly Last Summer” to the top of the charts.
Not content to simply tour as a nostalgia act, she continues to record new vital music. Hell, she released three CDs in the last two years! We caught up with Martha recently and heard her reflections on fame and fortune over fifty.
ROCKER: You told our photographer that this used to be easier when you were twenty years old.
MARTHA: Doing a photo shoot was a lot easier when you’re twenty. Making music is a lot easier now that I am fifty-eight.
ROCKER: What inspires you to keep making new music?
MARTHA: I could never not make music. It’s what I’ve done since I was eight years old and is probably what I will do even after they seal the casket. There might be songs coming forth!
Actually it’s not going to be a casket. Too many bodies in the ground. I’m going to donate my body to medicine. They might find something interesting in there. Maybe the effects of red wine on songwriting?
ROCKER: Is it easier now that the music business machine has died?
MARTHA: I think it’ s a double-edged sword because you can put your music out there, which I did in recently when I threw 3 albums out there in the big mix, but it’ s very hard to get anyone to notice without that big record company machine that we used to have. So, that kind of sucks. But on the other hand nobody is telling me what songs I should do and how I “should be a little more pop.”
ROCKER: You mentioned the 3 CDs, tell us about them.
MARTHA: Clean, Modern & Reasonable is new versions of Motels songs. Beautiful Life: A Slight Miscalculation is a Martha Davis album. It’s a dark concept album about my mom’s suicide. It is suggested that you get a bottle of your favorite booze, I prefer wine but you can use whiskey, then start the CD and see which you finish first, the CD or the bottle. My dream with the album is to have a tour where we play the album as a concept theater piece.
ROCKER: Is this the first time you’ve addressed your mom’s death creatively?
MARTHA: She’s come up in songs off and on. She pops up in songs once a year. There was a song called “Where Are You Now?” which is about when I went to her apartment after she died and found this note. It just said “ Where are you now?” written perfectly in her handwriting. And then she wrote again and again down the page, and you could tell it was written while she was dying. By the end it was just this scrawl.
ROCKER: There is so much sadness in your music but you’re not sad. How do you turn sadness into art?
MARTHA: I think it’s just the way I’m built. I’m a complete optimist. The glass is always so full it’s overflowing. There are no problem just solutions. Whatever the problem is we’ll get through it. That’s how I approach life. The bad stuff that has happened to me – I’ve obviously reacted to it in my music.
During the 1980’s, when I was having my success, I was very much on autopilot. I was raising two kids. My parents had both died. I was completely on my own. It was terrifying. But I just kept moving forward. The songs and performances are my ways of acting out all these emotions.
“Celia” from the first Motels album features the line “ He isn’ t going to kill you, he’s just gonna fuck up your pretty face.” Which is what my husband told me when I was fifteen. You take it and put it in a song and you can purge yourself of it and get rid of the evil of it. By acting it out on stage it becomes cathartic.
ROCKER: Is there anything in your life that is off limits?
MARTHA: I don’t think so. I’m pretty open. I’m a little too open actually! My daughter tells me I have no mystique. That I tell everybody everything and will never be alluring if everybody knows every little detail. I don’t care! (Laughs)
ROCKER: How important is it for you to keep making new music?
MARTHA: Writing is my thing. The voice came along accidentally. I was never going to be a singer. I never studied voice. Songwriting is what I do. Ever since the demise of the old Motels line up… when I re-upped it it’ s about moving forward. I’ ve been writing jazz songs, kids songs, and country music material. That’ s what really keeps me going.
ROCKER: Do you write everyday?
MARTHA: I pick a genre of music and that inspires me. I don’t sit down and try to write a song a day. I can go weeks without writing a song. But then a herd of songs, sometimes ten songs in one day will come to me. It’ s crazy. But that’s how it works so I don’t try to fix it. Because it doesn’t seem to be broken.
ROCKER: Are there jazz, kids and country albums in the works?
MARTHA:The kid’ s album has been in the works for 8 to 10 years. I did it at first as a reaction to Barney. It drives me insane that they make kids listen to crap and treat them like they are stupid. My favorite album when I was a kid was Igor Stravinsky’ s “ Rites Of Spring”. I was five years old and I loved that record. I think kids and heir parents deserve something better than Barney. At the time the labels thought it was too intellectual for children. Now all the rock bands have kids records so I’ ve re-written most of the album and hope to get it out there. I just did a re-record of “ Total Control” with Marty Gerard, the original Motels sax player. He put the sax on it. He’ s been doing a lot of jazz. We’ ve been talking about doing a little jazz duo or trio around where we live in Washington State. I write a lot of things that sound like jazz standard and have always loved that style.
ROCKER: Will The Motels catalog CDs ever be reissued?
MARTHA:I would love more than anything to reissue the Capitol Catalog. Anytime I deal with a company about a deal I bring up licensing the stuff from Capitol and putting it out again. Cause it’ s stupid not to be out there. What I’ ve heard back is that Capitol makes it so difficult and expensive to do that that most companies can’t afford to do it. Once I get famous again that will be a lot easier. (Laughs)
ROCKER: The goal isn’t really to get famous again is it?
MARTHA:No. The goal is to keep doing what I’ m doing. The songwriting and performing are the things I love. I love creating. A lot of the other parts like the fame part? That’ s not so great. You got to have it to do what you want to do to get the money to continue creating. You have to work that angle. That part is the most curious of the whole thing. The creating, writing songs combined with the rehearsing and playing live is fun. The fame? It’ s just kind of weird.