Martyn Joseph’s new studio album is out now to coincide with an extensive UK tour that will see Martyn play over 20 dates throughout the UK, starting in January 2016.
Sanctuary is the Welsh singer-songwriter’s twenty-first studio release in a prolific career spanning three decades, which finds him reunited with Ben Wisch, the three time Grammy Award-winning producer who helmed 1992’s Being There. When the two originally got together, Joseph had signed to Sony Records and Wisch had masterminded Marc Cohn’s smash hit single, Walking In Memphis.
Born in Penarth, Wales, Martyn Joseph has somehow managed to hold on to his lifelong passion (or one of them) since first picking up the guitar as a ten year old. Someone who, some three decades on from his debut studio album I’m Only Beginning released in 1983 and a good thirty albums later – remains with his integrity fully intact.
Growing up listening to the likes of Glen Campbell, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen in rural Wales, it was always the sounds from across the pond to inspire Martyn as a teenager. It was those songs that spoke to a shared sense of humanity, that truly left their indelible mark on this singer songwriter. Whether we are more susceptible to the influences and voices that surround us as impressionable teenagers, it is ultimately our choice as to whether we do something about these moments that could serve to be definitive crossroads in deciding on a path through life:
“It takes you a while to find your voice in life – no matter what you do. It takes you time to find out what you really want and what motivates you.” Martyn says, on finding his own identity via his music.
Martyn has experienced life on both sides of the commercial machine – being signed to Sony Records in his early thirties during which time he released two LPs. Martyn subsequently left Sony Records but didn’t cease making music – in fact, he only grew more motivated to pursue a path that felt more authentic to him. His consistent, self-initiated touring became his lifeline, enabling him to reach a loyal community of listeners across the globe.
“In a very small way, you’re affecting the world, in a very small way.”
Ultimately, it has been his innate drive to add something to the world as opposed to simply adding to the noise that already exists. It is this value system which has influenced his songwriting and lyrical content – rather than writing solely for cathartic or autobiographical means, he seeks to illuminate the invisible stories, the untold narratives, and the greater purpose within his music and songwriting.
“When I write a song, it’s a selfish thing, for the first journey is a selfish one – something has made me angry. But it quickly leads to the communal – otherwise what is the point apart from to edify myself?” Martyn explains the initial songwriting process.
“People feel that they are part of something. I want it to take their minds off what is going on, but at the same time I want to drag them straight back to what’s going on. Let’s look at what is going on in the world, or what’s going on in our lives, and let’s try to find the hook in that. And part of that is facing it head on and trying to make people feel less alone in the world. Maybe that’s one of the jobs of the artist, to remind us that there may be a bigger picture out there.” Martyn adds.
There can be no doubt that Martyn’s music has been influenced by his time spent travelling, as well as the enduring ties that exist between both himself and the loyal listeners he has gained while on the road.
“Because I play live so much, I see those same faces every year. I’d like to think I have always maintained an authentic dialogue with people. There is a sense of a relationship within that.” Martyn says.
Universally, music connects us through truths that appeal to our vulnerabilities – something that, typically, British songwriters are much less likely to reveal than our counterparts across the Atlantic in the USA.
“I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin, also the storytellers like Glen Campbell, John Denver, obviously Springsteen and Dylan. I was heavily influenced by American music and songwriters – we like to be cool in the UK but we don’t like to show as much emotion over here.” Martyn explains.
Yet, it was Welsh songwriter Max Boyce, who initially left his musical mark on Martyn:
“He had these beautiful poignant songs, and as a ten year old I used to listen to them on my Grandad’s stereo. I didn’t really understand them but I loved them. There was a sadness in them, I was drawn to that, I was clueing into something that was about more than just the entertainment. There was a message in it.” He adds.
“If you grab it, and record it and write it down, it will lend itself to you. But if you don’t grab it in the moment, it will go and find someone else.”
Martyn’s latest 11-track LP Sanctuary was recorded in the home studio of long term producer and friend Ben Wisch, in New Jersey, who originally worked with Martyn 25 years ago. The new record took just two days to record nine songs, alongside an enviable line up of contributing musicians including guitarist Kevin Barry (Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ray LaMontagne), bassist Zev Katz (Jeff Beck, James Brown, Bruce Springsteen) and drummer Ben Whittman (Paul Simon, Laurie Anderson, Rosanne Cash.
“I’m very pleased with the Sanctuary record – it has a really earthy feel. I had finished an American tour, and had a week at the end to record, and Sanctuary was the result. With this record I wanted to make a sound that was more embellished by composing with these musicians. They were so down to earth. We just sat down and played these songs live, and we had nine tracks in a couple of days.” Recalls Martyn.
In reconnecting with former Berklee College of Music graduate Ben Wisch, quite some time on from their initial work together on 1992’s Being There, to record the latest album Sanctuary, Martyn has produced a record that rings true to who he is in the present moment. Something which, he admits, is in a constant state of evolution – a works in progress:
“I am still evolving as a writer, to find that voice and be honest with what is in your heart. What I was expressing back in the earlier days was heartfelt, I was trying to say something, to make sense of the world around me through my writing.” He explains.
Preferring not to be seduced by the fickle game of fame and the celebrity culture that exists within the music industry, Martyn has written material with this ethos in mind – drawing on his experience both signed to Sony, as well as touring with the queen of showbiz, Shirley Bassey and an eye-opening visit to Las Vegas. What strikes so poignantly about his music and him as a person, is the fact that he doesn’t try to be somebody other than himself:
“We’re all fairly similar in terms of our experiences. If I have half an ear for my listener as well as my own soul, chances are, there will be a decent connection at the end of it. Once you start trying to write an anthem, you can end up selling your soul to make it happen. You’ve just got to be true to your heart, to yourself.” Martyn says.
It is this honesty, warmth and courage to remain true to himself and to the bigger picture, that has carved Martyn an enduring career spanning more than three decades and earned him a genuine fan base all across the globe. In 2014, he established ‘Let Yourself Trust’, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to make a small difference out of great love and commitment, by challenging injustice wherever it is found. His song The Light of Guatemala was based on a voluntary project aiming to bring music and musical tuition to the people of Guatemala who might otherwise not have access to this essential part of human expression and soulful art:
“Every six months we find a grassroots organisation that we think is worthy – I talk about their issues on stage, we highlight their work. We’ve raised about £16,000 per organisation – about £75,000 in two years or operation.” Says Martyn, of his volunteer-led project.
Martyn and a team of volunteers spent seven days in Guatemala, during which time Martyn performed a small concert for the parents, and their children – many of whom had never heard live music before.
Sometimes, our greatest achievement is simply by being in the world. What we do with that privilege is our unique and precious prerogative.
“That’s all you can do. You can write an article, I can write a song. And we hope for the best.”
Martyn Joseph will play The Lantern at Bristol’s Colston Hall on 27 January before continuing his tour…
- 21 January – The Junction, Cambridge
- 22 January – Beccles Theatre, Beccles
- 23 January – Wyeside Arts Centre, Bulith Wells
- 27 January – The Lantern, Colston Hall, Bristol
- 28 January – Waterside Arts Centre, Sale
- 29 January – Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury
- 30 January – The Stables, Milton Keynes
Martyn then continues on to the Netherlands before heading to Guatemala as part of his ‘Let Yourself Trust’ music room build project. The tour continues on to Canada and the USA in April/May – before returning to the UK and Northern Ireland in June 2016.
For more information: www.martynjoseph.net