CMM- Who is Gavin Mart?
GM- Well without boring you too much, I’m a trained artist living in Leeds, UK. I’m married with no kids. I am lover of the arts and passionate about singer-songwriters who are able to tear themselves away from the mainstream and deliver the goods in an honest and craftsman-like fashion. I choose to live in an area of the city which is unpretentious, warm, poor, and honest; I hope that reflects in my work as a result. I prefer music that is meant to ‘say’ something rather than cream the ears– although a combination of the two will double the delight.
CMM- I noticed Matt Redman was listed among your influences. He’s known here in the States as one of the world’s foremost writer of worship songs. What’s your take on Christianity?
GM- I wouldn’t say Matt Redman was an influence; I’ve worked with him on several occasions, and even played drums for him. He fascinated me when I played with him. He had an intensity, an earnestness, and an honesty that I simply wasn’t expecting. Many of the other people I worked with at the time came across with a professional get-the-job-done attitude– Matt was a breath of fresh air, the real deal; it stuck with me. You don’t have enough web space to hear my take on Christianity. I was raised in the church and was pioneered as a youth leader early in my teens. I was even invited down to Westminster at one point to share my opinions on faith with a load of Ministers of Parliament (government officials). Somehow the bubble burst for me and I found myself desperate to breathe and experience the world in my own fashion. I wanted to know what I really believed for myself. I ultimately found a depth of faith which I don’t think I could have found without going through that process. I thoroughly believe through my own experience that if you spend time with the poor you will get to meet Jesus.
CMM- What would you say are the major themes your music covers?
GM- I sing protest songs and songs about painful or all-consuming experiences that I’ve had or had an understanding of through other people’s works of art. I write to stick in people’s subconscious, to bug them, to make them think about the words, not to deny me a voice or an opinion. I write for those that can’t or won’t write; I try and make a beautiful piece of writing out of a drastic or painful situation. I write when I have to, which is pretty much every time I see or experience some kind of injustice, which is pretty much every day. I try and write hope into people’s lives, where there is no hope– if you met me we wouldn’t talk about such things, but such things are all I think about.
CMM- Seems to me you’d be comfortable performing with just you and your guitar; sometimes, though, you’re backed by a full band– the Saturday Vandals. What are some of the good things and bad things about having a full band with you on stage?
GM- When I was a drummer I learned quickly that it was really important for the drummer to be a leader musically on the stage. The drummer can move thousands of people with a simple groove– that place is a real privileged place to find yourself. I found that whenever I took the lead as a drummer, the other musicians would respond really well and be able to relax with the rhythm section. Now as a lead singer and guitarist I really appreciate drummers who can take that lead. My current drummer, Rob Hall, is a musical prodigy– he placed two years consecutively as runner up in the UK Young Drummer of the Year Awards, and he has this ability. Also, he can improvise and disappear off with Dan Norton, the bass player, into some crazy muso dream of 7/8 or similar without much notice. I love this. Both guys are geniuses in their own right, and Daniel, from the previous band ‘Bodixa,’ has been with me right from the start when I said I had some songs to try out. We started as an acoustic act which has given us the necessary skills to build up into a full band sound and be able to improvise. I think an acoustic grounding is a must for all serious budding musicians. It certainly helps to be able to at least do something decent in any given situation. Realistically, these days most of a band’s first gigs will be in acoustic bars. Well, certainly that’s the case in England, and also it’s much easier to get on the radio and play live if you can play live acoustic sessions. But our love is to improvise and do that ‘live’, which not a lot of bands tend to do anymore.
CMM- Tell us about where you come from, Leeds, UK? How does Leeds influence your music/your life?
GM- Leeds is a large market town born out of the industrial revolution. It profited hugely in those times both as a textile producer and as a hub for surround towns to come to market. The city was also linked to Manchester and Liverpool by a canal system which boosted its trade economy, and boasts some splendid Victorian architecture. Yorkshire people defend a strong local pride for their county; they’re extremely passionate about their cities, communities and surrounding national parks. Leeds has been good to me; I think it rewards the entrepreneur and more recently it feels as though there is a real push to support the Arts. I’m proud of where I live, with all its cultural diversity– its an accepting and tolerant place to be. There’s simply nothing more fulfilling then walking into your local pub and being known on a personal level. I often sing about the communities that I have lived in. I find it easier to write poetically about Leeds and its problems, history and current context. Sometimes there’s too much detail needed to try and squeeze it into a song, although I guess that’s the art of the songwriter ultimately.
CMM- What’s something about you readers of Christian Music Daily might be surprised to find out?
GM- I was a fire-fighter for 4 years.
CMM- Listening to your songs online, I was reminded of the artist Sting…you have a chilled out (that’s an American term I think!) feel to your music. Have others compared your music to Sting’s? How do you feel about that?
GM- When I was younger people always used to say I sounded like Sting, although not so much these days. Maybe that’s due to the broader music knowledge I have these days. When I was a kid in my teens I couldn’t stop listening to The Police. I think I was about 8 when I first heard ‘Can’t stand losing you…’ and I remember thinking that it was the most amazing sound I’d ever heard. I still feel like that about them today. In fact, I went to see Sting in Paris this Christmas which was magical.
CMM- Why should someone buy/download your music?
GM- I think there is a sense of integrity in the music which people seem to grab hold of. It’s challenging music, I hope, and it asks a lot of contemporary questions which I think reflect the way many people feel. There’s a challenge in there to the church, but also to society as a whole, but that’s really up to the listener. This music is for no one group of people– you can’t put it in a box. I make most of my music freely available at www.reverbnation.com/gavinmart but it’s also available to buy on itunes and amazon, etc. I guess nobody really buys music anymore and I’m fine with that– in fact I think the internet has saved the arts completely, but I still think music lovers should commit to paying a decent amount for a live show– this way the artist gets to reap a decent return.
CMM- What are some of your career goals?
GM- I achieved my main goal as a teenager which was to go touring on a real tour bus and play some huge shows. I got to do that in the rock scene, not least as the drummer with ‘Dare’. I got to meet some big players and learned a lot about the music biz very quickly. Musically I’m in a different place now. There’s a desire to be a master songwriter and really learn my art. I love to discover one new artist at a time and pick them apart and try and discover what they were trying to say to the world. I’d like to record one very good album, the one that’s in my head, the one with the symphony orchestra that hangs above me like a cloud. I’d love for the space, time and finances to do that. I co-run a charity which takes young people out to central Africa to help out on our ongoing projects out there. We’re currently building a maternity hospice where women will be able to have some respite out of the inner city slums for a couple of months, while they give birth in a clean environment. I’d love to see our work become well established and sufficiently funded. Check that out at www.link-international.org
CMM- What do you think about God?
GM- The further I travel the less I know for sure; the more I’ve tried to understand God, the deeper I’ve found myself in God’s fathomless mystery. Nevertheless, I feel very fortunate to have been brought up in a family which gave me the opportunity to learn about God. God was on the agenda in our household and was at the center of daily life; all too often these days I find God is simply not on the agenda in the world around me. Occasionally though, I keep finding the same patterns of truth emerging– That God is a God of forgiveness; That God would choose to spend time with the poor; That God is interested in us and is not aloof or distant– and I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around that. Also, that God hears us when we speak to Him; That God is a creative God and would want us to try and live our lives to the fullest and in happiness whenever possible.
CMM- In America, there aren’t too many Gavin’s. I can think of one famous one– Gavin DeGraw. Is Gavin more of a British name?
GM- Gavin comes from the Celtic name which means ‘Celtic War-Hawk!’ Bet you didn’t know that?! My dad always used to tell me I was named after Gawain the knight who sat with King Arthur at his round table in English history, but there you go… all I know is that it’s a Celtic name and I have a Welsh father, an English mother and Irish grandparents, and I’ve lived all over this country which makes me what I like to call a ‘mongrel of the British Isles’. I, unlike most Americans, have no relation to the Royal Family! Ha ha…
CMM- The average American teenager is listening to Akon and Miley Cyrus and all these dance music/hip-hop singers and bands. What does the typical Gavin Mart fan look like? Are they white, 35 years old, and professionally employed with some money in the bank, a spouse and kids…or what?
GM- In Leeds we do gigs most weeks and the folk that come out include those in their early 20’s at Music College or university who want to be around live music bars and venues. Then there is a large contingent of mid to late 20’s folk who really love to get out and catch all the live music acts around the area– this really is a great and vibrant scene at the moment– as you know 30 is the new 21! Surprisingly most of my actual release sales are from folk in their 40’s and upward who just love that singer-songwriter sound and have stayed true to real music for decades. Most of the people who make contact online and want to say hi are in this latter bracket…
CMM- What’s something people ask you that you’re sick of them asking you and why?
GM- How to spell my surname. “M.A.R.T.” “Oh as in exchange and… or Wal-mart…” “Yes–MARTIN?” “No, Mart!”
CMM- Who has more interesting music artists– America or the UK, and why?
GM- You tell me?! I’m biased. We had the Beatles; you had Elvis… what more is there to say? I grew up on a healthy diet of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers while home sounded like Oasis, Stone Roses, Manic Street Preachers… It’s all up there now, somewhere in my head! But really if creativity were a competition, we’d all be doomed– surely that’s what the corporate music scene would have us believe and I’m too much of a hippie to fall for that.
Visit www.reverbnation.com/gavinmart to hear some of this unique artist’s music. –Mark Weber, Christian Music Makers