Kevin Martin of Candlebox: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Kevin Martin of Candlebox Interview

Feature Photo: J.A. Dunbar / Shutterstock.com

Kevin Martin of Candlebox

Interview by Andrew Daly

The summer of 1993 was one accented by songs such as “Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows, “Daughter” by Pearl Jam, and “All Apologies” by Nirvana.

Of course, classic bands made their way into the mix, with Aerosmith dropping “Livin’ on the Edge” and Def Leppard unleashing “Stand Up (Kick Love into Motion).” But make no mistake—alt-rock was king. And to that end, in July of ’93, a band out of Seattle dropped their debut album for the ages. That band was Candlebox.

We’ve heard it before: grunge killed glam. And if you were to ask Candlebox’s frontman, and primary songwriter, Kevin Martin, he’d agree with you.

“Do I feel like Candlebox specifically caused the cancellation of 80s rock? No, absolutely not,” Martin tells ClassicRockHistory.com. “It wasn’t like we specifically did that. But there’s no denying that overall; the ’90s Seattle rock scene led to that. I can still remember hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and going, ‘That’s it. this is the change.’ It’s like when Kiss released Alive! or when Led Zeppelin came along; the whole fu*king world was turned on its end.”

He continues, “But I love it when that happens because that’s what needs to happen. Sometimes art needs to be destroyed for a new form to emerge. It’s like cutting flowers down to allow for fresh flowers to grow. So, to me, that’s what happened. I’ve always accepted that Soundgarden led to Nirvana, which led to Alice in Chains, and all of that opened the door for Candlebox. And I will never look that gift horse in the mouth.”

Judging by hit songs like “Far Behind” and “You,” which are decidedly alt-leaning, it should go without saying that Candlebox was the furthest thing possible from the high-flying ’80s, not that Martin cares.

“I think that every genre of music has its day and, eventually, loses its footing,” he says. “I felt like the hair metal thing was probably too long-lived, to be perfectly honest with you. The whole glamourous teasing of the hair and all that kind of shit was really silly. You’d never find any of those records in my collection. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that style of music; it’s just not something I found interesting.”

But that doesn’t mean Martin feels ’80s rockers are lesser for it, either: “Over the years, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the guys from those bands; they’re lovely and very talented,” he insists. “They probably don’t deserve any of the shit they got, but everybody falls into a mold of some kind, and you do what you have to do to get people to pay attention to you. That’s just the human species. That’s what we do. There are few leaders in the world we live in. Sometimes, being a sheep is the easiest thing to do.”

As he prepares to hit the road for Candlebox’s final run, Kevin Martin dialed in with Classic Rock History to talk new music, the success of Candlebox’s 1993 debut, and the decision to retire after 30 hard-fought years.

What led to closing the book on Candlebox?

Kevin Martin: It was mainly COVID. Being home with my family made me realize how much of a reluctant rock star I’ve always been. I loved being home, and I had missed a lot of things over the years. My son just turned 13 and is experiencing so much, and I didn’t want to miss any more of it. I had already missed so much of his life by being away from him and my wife, so I began to contemplate the end of my career with Candlebox.

It doesn’t sound like it was too difficult to decide.

Martin: No, I feel good about it. And after speaking with my manager about what was coming up regarding the 30th anniversary of the debut album [Candlebox] and those types of things, we agreed that 2023 was the year. So, it’s the end of a somewhat illustrious career, if you will, and it seemed like the perfect time to do it.

Tell me about Candlebox’s final record, The Long Goodbye.

Martin: As far as the record goes, I wanted the final tour to reflect the album and the album to reflect the tour. And the name of the album came with the help of a writer friend. I asked him, “What do you think about The Long Goodbye?” And he said, “I couldn’t have come up with anything better. It’s a great title.” But now the Eagles are using it, so I’m gonna have to do a cease and desist with them, but I’ll probably lose that battle.

It’s about taking that concept of this being it and making a record the way I wanted to make it with the people that I love and a producer that I wanted to work with. We did it in Nashville with songwriters I’ve always wanted to work with, primarily young songwriters that many people don’t even know yet. The Long Goodbye is a great extension of the last few Candlebox records. It’s a great way to say goodbye after 30 incredible years.

Given your status as an unwilling rock star, was Candlebox’s explosive success in the grunge era difficult?

Martin: To this day, I still get nervous before I go on stage. Honestly, I’d much rather be the drummer in the band [laughs]. That’s how I started; I played drums in a couple of punk bands when I was a kid, and I loved it. I thought that would be my career path, so when I got stuck singing, that nervous feeling when I stepped on stage never left me. I still worry that I won’t remember the words, or if my voice will work, and all that crap.

Not wanting to be the frontman is strange at 54 years old after having done this for 30 years. It’s like, “I’m not supposed to be up here singing these songs to you, but okay, I guess I’ll have to get comfortable with it.” I guess it’s easier now, but back in the day, when Candlebox was like the red-headed stepchild of the Seattle scene, it was a lot harder.

When you first listened back to Candlebox in the studio, did you imagine you were sitting on an album that would eventually go 4x platinum?

Martin: It’s hard to say. But I think all of us knew that “Far Behind” was a special song. We were part of a scene of bands that came up simultaneously in Seattle. We had a leg up due to the history of the city and the bands that came before us, too. But I don’t think anyone expected four guys who didn’t really know one another all that well to go and make a record that sold 4 million copies. People were looking at us like, “How the fuck did you do that?” So, listening back to it, I think we knew we had at least a couple of special songs. But I certainly didn’t think we had just made a record that would give us a 30-year career.

Do you remember writing “Far Behind?”

Martin: I do. Andrew Wood from Mother Love Bone had just passed, and Bardi [Martin] had just come in because our other bass player had left the band. I had gone to high school with Bardi but didn’t know him well because he went to Europe for a foreign exchange program. Anyway, Bardi brought his part in, and I thought, “This feels like I need to write a song about Andrew [Wood].”

We did the demo around East of ’92; initially, the song directly referenced Andrew. But our producer, Kelly Gray, said, “I don’t think you should be that clear about it. You should try and be a little vaguer and let people decide what the song is about themselves.” So, that’s how the version you hear today happened.

Candlebox is often lumped in with grunge, but that wasn’t entirely accurate. Did that frustrate you?

Martin: Well, being lumped in with grunge allowed people to pay attention to who we were. Everybody was constantly looking to Seattle for the next big thing, so hindrance or not, it didn’t matter. What we were more concerned about was that our label, Maverick Records, was very focused on trying to turn us into a straight-up “alternative band.”

They felt that doing that was the cooler thing to do. But we were like, “Listen, we’re just a rock band from Seattle. You need to stop trying to force this square peg into a round hole. Just let the band be whatever it is.” So, the frustration was more with the record label than with titles that the industry was trying to pin on us. We didn’t care about being called a “grunge band.” We just wanted to make music that we wanted to make.

As Candlebox’s primary songwriter, I imagine that must have been difficult.

Martin: It was a nightmare, man. That’s why with the new record, I was just like, “Can I please work with some people that I really want to work with?” The concept was to go into the sessions with nothing and let things go wherever they were going to go. At one point, we had over 20 songs, and I said, “Okay, well, I don’t have 20 songs worth of shit to talk about,” and cut it down from there.

And that might be another reason I’m retiring from Candlebox: I honestly feel like I’ve said everything I have to say. I have no desire to go out and try to reproduce the first record. Each Candlebox record has been an evolution, with songs that set up the next. I reluctantly took this job 30 years ago, and I’m just tired of pulling from the library of influences I’ve been forever pulling from.

Is there anything that you would change about the last 30 years?

Martin: I don’t have any musical regrets. But some decisions were made that could have been different. I’ve always felt that my first gut instinct was the right instinct, but there were times when we chose to go in a direction that management or the record label felt was right. Some very idiotic shit was done on our behalf by our label, and decisions were made over the years that never should have been made. They’re not worth getting into now as it’s done and over with. So, I’d change some of the business side of it, but not the music.

How do you hope Candlebox is remembered?

Martin: Our legacy is that maybe we’re a sweet spot in a pot of sour cherries. Our journey has always been tied to the Seattle music scene. When you think about all the different musicians that came from that, I really do feel we were different from everyone else. Candlebox is a band that didn’t sound like anyone else from that era. I’ll always be grateful for that.

Could we have continued to write songs like “Far Behind” and “You?” Absolutely. That’s our wheelhouse, but we consciously pushed ourselves away from that regardless of whether anyone agreed. And maybe people will think that’s a bullshit statement, and that’s their opinion. So, if our legacy is that we constantly pushed the envelope, made some shitty records, and made some great records, so be it; that’s our legacy.

Kevin Martin of Candlebox Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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