Latest release: The Ground Cries Out (Riverland/MGM)
“I’ve done some pretty big things in the past with The Tea Party, but I’ve never achieved that pure balance of music on a record like we have with this 777 thing,” singer/guitarist Jeff Martin says about this latest band’s debut album, The Ground Cries Out. Just returned from a short tour of his native Canada with Jeff Martin 777 — that also features former Sleepy Jackson drummer Malcolm Clark and ex-End of Fashion bass player Jay Cortez — Martin is on the phone from his home in Perth preparing for an Australian tour due to begin on May 1 in Brisbane.
Released in March in Canada, The Ground Cries Out fell just short of a Top 50 listing there. Here, it debuted in the Top 10 of the independent charts upon release earlier this month.
“A lot of people are going out and getting it, and that’s just fantastic and I think that once people see the band, and we get a little help from radio that this band is going to be one of the major players in a very, very short time,” he says with his characteristic self-confidence. “It’s a testament to the fanbase and also the new fans that have been coming on since The Tea Party’s demise. It’s a really organic, grassroots movement. It’s really indicative of the way the music industry is now, and indicative of the success that can happen now on the independent scene. Very rewarding.”
As in the past with all his musical output, Jeff Martin was almost completely hands-on in the creation of the new album. He admits that he took a break from it after it was completed because “I was so involved in the sonics of it”.
“When I finally went back to it and listened to it on my hi-fi system,” he goes on, “it was just… you know, I was so proud of what had been accomplished.”
Martin believes that he and the band have exceeded their own expectations of what they set out to achieve with 777 (he refers to the band as “triple seven”). He obviously feels that he has made the album of his career here, and the reaction so far from audiences has been supportive of that view. Critical reception has also been positive, and even mainstream radio may be getting interested.
“There is a good chance that Triple M is going to start playing ‘The Queen of Spades’. And if they do that… if they do that, that’s just going to open up Pandora’s Box. So if people are hearing that on the radio, it’s a great advertisement for going out and getting The Ground Cries Out and that would be something great if that happened.”
The Ground Cries Out has a big sound and a big production, but it has a distinctly old-school feel about it that sets it quite apart from the usual digitised, Protooled and Auto-tuned recordings of the current recording era. It comes across as natural and organic — “rock n roll” as Martin puts it.
“The studio that we’ve made here in Perth is very conducive to making those big rock n roll sounds,”he says. “We’re using a lot of the old analogue gear. The people at RØDE microphones were kind enough to send us pretty much every single microphone they’ve ever made. So we’ve got a rock n roll wonderland of a laboratory here in Perth. This 777 record, The Ground Cries Out, is the tip of the iceberg for what’s going to come from this band.”
One thing that was remarked on in early reviews of the album was the level of emotion that pervades several of the tracks. Martin admits that “She’s Leaving” and the gorgeous “One Star in Sight” are both quite personal; the second was inspired by his son Django. Still others draw from his knowledge of arcane lore — the 777 of the band’s name is taken from the writings of Aleister Crowley.
“[…] Other songs are just great rock n roll music,” he says. “Yes, I’m using experiences I’ve had in my life and things I’ve gone through, what I’ve studied… like for instance ‘The Cobra’ which is based very much on the kundalini, the Tantric sex magic stuff and all that, which always makes for a good rock song! [laughs]. But then there’s also joyous, tongue-in-cheek rock n roll on the record too like ‘Queen of Spades’ and ‘Riverland Rambler’.”
Those two songs will no doubt draw the Led Zeppelin comparisons that Jeff Martin’s music has always attracted from the time he used a violin bow on his guitar during The Tea Party’s early days. It’s an influence he’s never denied, and he says that this time it also has a lot to do with Malcolm Clark’s powerhouse drumming.
“The only instructions I gave Malcolm as a producer was, ‘I don’t care what you play, but whatever you play, you’ve gotta own it’. And he just went to town on this record. For me, Malcolm’s drum style is a combination of Bonham, Keith Moon and Animal from the Muppets!,” Martin says with a hearty laugh. “So he really puts that swing and power into things. When you combine swing and power in a drum kit the size of which Malcolm plays, it’s gonna be close to John Bonham.”
Amongst the rock bombast, there is also some transcendental moments, like the finger-picked instrumental “Blue Mountain Sun”, written on a trip to Katoomba when Cortez challenged him to come up with something to rival Jimmy Page’s “Bron yr Aur”.
“We were driving from Sydney, it was a beautiful sunny day and there was just the three of us — my guitar technician Kenny Watts was driving — and I’m in the passenger seat and Jäy was in the backseat of the Tarago,” he recalls. “So I was in charge of the music on the stereo. It was one of those days we were listening to a lot of Crosby, Stills and Nash, some Neil Young and also acoustic Led Zeppelin stuff. That song off Physical Graffiti, “Bron Yr Aur” that Jimmy Page instrumental, that came on, and I remember Jay was smoking a joint in the back and he leans over and goes, ‘You know Martin, you can do better than that.'”
He laughs at the thought.
It was Cortez who was responsible for “The Meekong”, the ethereal Asian-flavoured piece in the middle of the album. While Martin says that the Middle East and North Africa is “where my heart is” when it comes to cultural influences in his music, for Cortez it lies in the jungles of South East Asia.
“Jay Cortez,” he says, “as much as I know about the Middle Eastern culture and the music, is what he knows of South East Asia. He’ll go to parts of Vietnam and Laos that you’re not supposed to go to. So he came back with a couple instruments from his last time in Vietnam. And one of them was this coconut violin type of thing… it’s got two strings but just a really ancient sound. He started playing this melody for me on this thing in the studio. I was like, ‘Jay, come on. We’ve gotta record this.’ So he composed that whole song and his girlfriend did the backing vocals on it and we put it all together. It’s a musical influence on this album that, while brief, on subsequent records I’m going to try, with Jay’s help, to bring more of that South East Asian influence into rock n roll. Because I haven’t really heard much of that.”
His attitude makes it abundantly clear that Jeff Martin 777 is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. So what about the announcement since he returned to Australia of a reunion with The Tea Party? While he was in Canada, he reconnected with former bandmates Stuart Chatwood and Jeff Burrows, who raised the possibility of the band’s reunion. Martin says Cortez and Clark were “both really supportive” of the idea, and The Tea Party will play some shows in their homeland in July.
“All that will really stand to do, besides making the fans happy, […] is it’s going to help and raise the profile of 777. So it’s a win-win situation,” he says. “As far as the future goes with Tea Party reunions, we have to see how it goes in July and if it works out, once in a while we’ll pull it out like a Rolls Royce. Keep it well-oiled. But my future and present priority is 777.”
“There’s great things to come from this band,” Jeff Martin promises. “We’re just getting started.”