With the imminent NZ tour of Martha Davis and The Motels, Gary Steel looks back to the time he interviewed them on their one and only previous trip to NZ, way back in 1980.
Gary Steel checks in to see Martha and the boys, and gets the boys…
“AIRPLAY BEGATS SALES and if you’re selling more you get more airplay.”
So speaks Martin Jourard, The Motels’ keyboardist/saxist supremo. The Motels are searching for that elusive hit single – they have thus far conquered only Australian and New Zealand charts – to bargain their artistic freedom.
“Look at Steely Dan. They had that song ‘Do It Again’ and ‘Reelin’ In The Years’. Now those were commercial, nice songs with good guitar playing and everything. Now they come out with Aja… and that’s weird stuff and what they did is they bought the luxury of what they wanted because they got that success. It created a market for what they wanted to do.”
A garrulous closet-actor, Martin and drummer Brian Glascock spoke with In Touch at the Motels’ Wellington Press luncheon, which signaled the beginning of their first worldwide tour.
Martin and Brian were rushed, affable but basically disinterested in thinking about more than the routine questions. One felt they preferred to leave that to leader Martha Davis, who was present but her time hogged by more pushy journalists.
The Motels try for good Press, because in the States they’re still small. Their first album sold less than 100,000, the second slightly more, and they’re basically still a club band. Their biggest coup to date has been their recent support on an arena tour with The Cars, which they thoroughly enjoyed.
“Playing to between 15,000 and 20,000. It’s a lot of people! It’s great though. What a feeling! I think they’re (arena gigs) too big meself,” adds Brian in his still broad British brogue. “I think two or three thousand people is about right.”
Brian, brother of the late Jethro Tull bassist John Glascock, has a background in the ‘60s British blues circuit. In those days, he backed the likes of Cliff Bennett (remember? neither do I) and played within the ranks of successful blues band Toe Fat. That lasted until Toe Fat toured the States in ’71 with Derek And The Dominoes after which they proceeded to break up, at which point Brian emigrated to LA.
He says he found it easier to live there, but tells of time spent on “food slips and welfare. That’s what I did when I first came out to America. Only way to get by.” Both it seems have shared hard times: “Nothing like waiting five hours in that food store place with all the screaming Mexican children. Dregs of the earth. It’s all sunshine and light in LA! Don’t take no notice! [He’s] the real lowlife!” proclaims Martin.
Efforts at gathering authoritative bio details are inevitably doomed to fail, as it eventuates that the members have all quite extensive backgrounds; including amongst them stints with people like The Bee Gees, and even the legendary Spirit. They’re no novices.
The whole operation hinges very much on Martha – a simultaneously vulnerable and businesslike 28-year-old – who led a very different line-up of The Motels in the early ‘70s. They broke up and Martha auditioned the present line-up in ’78, except for her beau, guitarist Tim McGovern, who replaced Jeff Jourard late last year after Jourard lost a leadership battle.
“Martha called me. ‘Would you like to come down and audition for us?’ I said ‘what now?’. ‘Yeah’. ‘Alright!’” says Brian.
Martin: “I’d given up. I was auditioning for The Babies at the time. They’d auditioned 85 drummers, and at that point I decided it wasn’t going to work.”
Brian: “I knew as soon as I started playing. It sounded great. And just the songs. I thought ‘wow’, it’s not your usual bullshit, Hollywood you know?”
I ask the twosome why The Motels stand out like a sore thumb in comparison to all those other terminally numbing LA sunshine merchants.
“Part of it could be that none of us are from LA, and that we didn’t grow up on that kind of music.”
Brian says that mistakes contribute greatly to the music. He admits “I’m not that great a drummer…” and says that good things often come out of the fact that they have to try. Martin elaborates: “… The songs evolve in a very rapid way when we’re rehearsing them because we’re not sure what we’re playing…” He says that they do “try and divide things, sort of like a jigsaw puzzle so that when you put all the parts together it’s got an interesting texture instead of everybody playing 8th notes – nenenenenenenene – all that sort of crap…”
The Motels seem to stand somewhere between US standard blandness and whatever it is that makes rock music still such a powerful force.
British music has a fixation for progression and experimentation, and American radio music on the whole is so bland and unchanging. Do you think British music “progresses” while American music slowly evolves?
A moment of perplexed silence. “It’s true that England has a much more rapid pace of evolvement,” says Martin. “There are such slow trends in America because it’s such a big place. It’s such a big country and there’s all kinds of different music.”
He shrugs my question off with: “It’s funny going to Texas and there’ll be a guy called Johnny Problem and he’s got his hair all fucked-up like Johnny Rotten. Like this is 1980 folks, and the fucker’s just caught on!”
“England’s about the size of Florida and you can tell what’s going on. I mean every week you know just what’s going on that week because of NME and Melody Maker. Rolling Stone comes out about month after it’s written – it does! People are living in different years in some States!”
Our conversation is interrupted by management ultimatum that the interview be over in five minutes.
“GO! My-favourite-colours-are-clear-and-black-I-like-zero-as-a-number-and-I-always-use-Gibson-or-Fender-reeds-on-my-sax. My-hobbies-include-taking-quaaludes-and-laughing-at-homosexuals, shaving-my-neck…” races Martin. This is an opportunity for the two to joke, make smart comments about one another’s noses and sing “Englund ees a beech, try to geet a job”, from Reggie Kweskie Johnson (actually Linton Kwesi).
Excuuse me, but isn’t this an interview? When I tackle them with further questions, they excuse themselves from thinking too much by the “we’re just musicians, we just play that’s all” attitude. They stress that, to them, the important thing is to keep a sense of humour and not take the rock role too seriously.
Later in casual conversation, all The Motels prove to be unaffected, approachable and interested people. They’re not used to all the attention – even being recognized in the street!
Are you 50 percent performance band? “Both really. We enjoy playing live. Some people say we sound better live than on album. Sometimes I agree. I think our third album is going to be the exceptional one.
Why does so much other American radio music merge into one sameness?
“It has a lot to do with a few key people with a lot of power and money, that write these tick sheets that radio listen to.”
Just how far are The Motels up the road to success? “We’re amazingly successful for a band that hasn’t had a hit single. We haven’t had any serious AM radio airplay which is – you can only go so far. You can have an album that’s top 20 but you’re not likely to go past 18 unless you’ve got a hit single, because every album that is top 10 has a hit single.”
And that’s where we came in.
Martin: “I’ve gotta get those maracas!”
Note: This article originally appeared in the December 1980 edition of In Touch magazine, a free newsprint magazine. My buddy Charles Jameson took the interview and concert photos of the group, unfortunately long lost. It’s clear that the author of the story – me – was somewhat infatuated at the time with English “new wave” and was rather too dismissive of American music. I cringed when I re-read my questions to these guys after all these years: why would they have given a rat ass about English music being more “progressive”? Apparently Marty Jourard and Brian Glascock remained in The Motels until Martha dissolved the original band in 1987. These days, Marty lives in Seattle and has a bossa nova band, called Nova Bossa, and Brian Glascock lives in Minneapolis, where he is a photo technician. Neither of them is in the current incarnation. GARY STEEL
Martha Davis and The Motels
Friday March 21 – The Studio, Auckland?Saturday March 22 – Bodega, Wellington?Sunday March 23 – Dux Live, Christchurch