Interview: S.A. Martinez (Los Stellarians, 311)

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Over the years I have been to an obscene amount of concerts. I have been all over the tri-state area, at countless venues and have seen all different performers. I always try to purchase a general admission ticket so that I can try and get as close as possible to my favorite bands. But sometimes the price of a ticket comes to play, so I choose not to break the bank and sit in the nosebleed section. There are some musicians that you need to be in the front row to fully experience. For others you can just get lawn seats and get wasted with your friends. And then there are bands that it doesn’t matter where you sit, how much you paid for a ticket, or how close you are to the stage. When you see 311 live all of that other stuff doesn’t matter because you’re about to experience something pretty special.

Every 311 show is like a nonstop party. Their relentless high energy is embodied in their wickedly talented singer/rapper S.A. Martinez. While he does his job on stage he is also constantly dancing and hyping up the crowd throughout each show. Martinez is the very definition of stage presence. Despite releasing a new album in March and going on seven week tour in the summer, Martinez still found time to work on material for his next Ghostwolf album, and start a completely new solo project inspired by ’70s soul music. I spoke with S.A. about what inspired his new project, finding time to make music, and trying not to collapse while on tour.

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What was the inspiration for the new solo project?

S.A. Martinez: I love records man. I love record stores. They are dwindling. There aren’t a lot of them anymore. I grew up with them. I grew up playing records. In the past twenty something years I’ve just been really collecting all this incredible soul music on 45’s. There is a substantial community that is into that sort of thing. A couple years back I thought wouldn’t it be cool to cover some of these songs that are really unheard of. As far as the popularity, a lot of these songs didn’t make it out of the region that they were produced. There was just a ton of music at a regional level back in the 70’s & 80’s and it’s out there, but a lot of people don’t really know about it.

The debut album, Cholo Soul, is made up of 70’s soul covers. What types of songs were you looking for when putting the album together?

S.A. Martinez: The songs are all feel good songs. That’s the thing. The soul music produced in this country it’s enriching man. It’s transforming music. People come up to me all the time in our band and tell us how much our music has meant to them. Well at the same time, this music has meant as much to me as our music has to them. These are artists you never heard of, that never toured much, and maybe only had enough money to make a 45, a lot of times that was the case. They would get to the studio and may have only had two songs. The 45 medium was perfect for acts like that because it was something they could press up for variety or just so they can have a copy. Getting back to your question, I just had such a big collection and more could have been on it, but I had to narrow it down. We just went with songs that we thought our fans would dig and just music lovers in general. Basically I wanted to make an album that I would buy. That was really kind of the criteria.

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That’s a lot of rare, almost unheard songs because like you said they are regional or the artist or specific track never made it big. You’re actually re-releasing these songs back into the wild so to speak. 

S.A. Martinez: Right. Well you know a couple of tracks are somewhat know. The first track, “Didn’t I,” interesting story about that guy. He was a bay area soul singer and there was even rumors that he was a pimp even at one point in his life. He wrote this song and a few others and then he had a 45 pressed of “Didn’t I” and basically collectors down the line in time got wind of it. Eventually the crème rises to the top. All this music is out there and you got tons of diggers out there looking for new music, by that I mean old music that is new to them. So you hear a song like “Didn’t I” for the first time, can you imagine? Like I have never heard of this guy, but oh my god! This is amazing. I first came across it on a compilation by a UK DJ and here’s the thing, there’s a scene called northern soul and it’s been around for a long time. Basically DJ’s from the northern side of England just coveted this soul music. Long story short, one of these DJ’s unearthed “Didn’t I” and that’s where I first heard it. I didn’t even dig [Laughs]. This was in 2005, it was the first track on that compilation and I don’t think I even listened to the rest of that album. That’s how much I loved “Didn’t I.” I played it over and over.

You just released Stereolithic and are currently on this huge tour with 311, when do you find the time to work on your solo projects?

S.A. Martinez: Ryan [Siegel] and I basically started Los Stellarians right before I went on tour with 311 last summer. We tracked out a couple songs. Then in September of last year we tracked “Didn’t I” and then what happened was Tim moved to the town I live in now, this town called Ojai, and The Hive is like a couple hours away from where Tim and I lived and he didn’t want to go there to track guitars for the new album and he asked if he could do guitars at my studio because I had been building one for the past several years. Anyway, I said yeah. So basically that kind of put the wrench in Los Stellarians because Ryan and I were starting to dig in when Tim came in and wanted to do guitars there. [Laughs] So we gave the studio over to him and began road mapping the record. We used our time wisely so once we were finished tracking at the end of November, we started back up in January and finished this record.

Wow. You guys are all constantly doing something. Working with 311, working on your own stuff, touring, making new music. 

S.A. Martinez: You know what it is Al, it comes down to our time being finite. [Laughs] I just want to get the music out there. I love music so much. I love singing it. I love turning people on to great music. It’s almost like a mission at this point in life. Because for a number of years I think we just kind of went along with 311, but when you think about it and sit with it man there is just so much more I want to do and accomplish. 311 is a huge part of it, but there is so much more to it then that. 311 has given us all of it. It’s kind of a way of giving back to it more.

Will you be touring with this new project or are you going to wait until you release a second album with original material?

S.A. Martinez: I’m hoping we could have that out in sometime around mid-fall. We are going to put a lineup together and it will be a packed lineup for sure. We want to play this music. Just like I want to have more Ghostwolf shows, we have another Ghostwolf album coming out down the line maybe beginning of next year. There is just so much new music coming and like I said you got to embrace the life you were given and make the most of it because it goes by so quickly.

It’s funny that you mentioned that because I I’m a big fan of Ghostwolf and I was going to ask when can fans expect some new material, but you kind of just answered that. 

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S.A. Martinez: He came out in August and we got a lot done. I am so excited for that record. There is a little more of a concept that I don’t want to get into, but it’s really cool and I think fans are going to dig it.

When I spoke with Nick, I asked him this same question – anyone who sees a 311 show knows that you are constantly dancing throughout the whole show.  

S.A. Martinez: [Laughs] Me? Yeah!

Were you able to move or speak after your five-hour set on 311 day?

S.A. Martinez: Pretty much annihilated after that. I mean I cramp up even on stage. My toes will start to curl under if I am not careful. I haven’t had a calf cramp on stage, but it has definitely happened directly after a show. There have been a few occasions this summer that the sweat has just been pouring and you cant replenish it fast enough. I kind of know the tall tale signs of when something might happen or when to prevent it from happening. You just have to be aware and pay attention to your body and what you are doing. You want to get as much fluids in you as possible. 311 days are draining on many levels, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Ever ounce is spent and then some and we are in debt still paying it back [Laughs]. It is just one of those things man that is such a special time and it’s so cool.

I mean you guys have a whole day dedicated to your band. Not a whole lot of bands can say they have that. 

S.A. Martinez: It’s wild. It really, truly is. Honestly it’s because of the fans. They created it. They made the nod to it and we just took the ball and ran with it. That’s kind of how it happened. We have such a unique fan base and the symbiotic relationship that goes on between the band and fan I don’t think there is anything like it. It truly is special. I could never discredit anyone’s fan base; there are a lot of bands out there that have avid followers. Ours are truly something special.

Do you have a favorite track off Stereolithic?

S.A. Martinez: It goes back and forth. They are all really great songs, especially to play live. We covered them all already pretty quickly into the tour. The other night we played “The Great Divide” it was tricky for me to get comfortable with that song, but I think I have found a balance with it now. There have been a few great nights and a few bad nights with that song for me, but that just shows how much goes into performing a song and getting right as much as you can.

Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Deadbolt Photos/Pop-Break.com
Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Deadbolt Photos/Pop-Break.com

You and Nick have been switching the dynamic lately where you have Nick rapping and you singing then another track will have you singing and Nick rapping. There are no two 311 songs sound the same. 

S.A. Martinez: Right. I think the new record goes back to the old styles that we would implement that really sort of planted seeds. That’s why I think the new album really resonates because I think it touches on something that we may not have touched on in a while or on pat records. All records are different and they are what they are. I think we hit a nice stride with this record and I hope we can continue that with the next one, but you never know [Laughs].

It was recently announced that Pepper and Dirty Heads will be joining you on next years 311 cruise. Is there any chance one of you’re solo projects will be making an appearance as well?

S.A. Martinez: I don’t know man. We have done Ghostwolf in the past two cruises. Last cruise we did a full Ghostwolf show. You know it takes a lot of energy. The 311 shows and obligations are taxing. Once this tour ends I have to think about it. It’s possible; I’m not going to rule it out.

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Al Mannarino is the music editor for Pop-Break as well as the host of the News Over Brews Podcast. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History and is currently a Promotions Assistant for Clear Channel Media + Entertainment. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino

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