September 15, 2020
Tune-In Tuesdays #87: Blue Stragglers Vocalist Lee Martin on Their Self-Titled EP
Alt-rock band Blue Stragglers vocalist and guitarist Lee Martin recording their self-titled EP in the bow of a lightshipSource: Blue Stragglers
Blasting authenticity and expressivity, the “fuzzed up grooved up” Sussex-based alt-rock band Blue Stragglers have rocked listeners with their latest record, a self-titled EP designed to capture how the band performs live.
Recently, we spoke to Blue Stragglers vocalist and guitarist Lee Martin for a casual discussion about their five-track EP. We also bonded over conspiracy theories, gigging, the beauty and universality of musical expression, and much more.
[Context: Martin and I were discussing the “Melissa Vandella theory,” which proposes the idea that Avril Lavigne passed away in the mid-2000’s and was replaced by a look-alike actress, ultimately explaining her drastic stylistic shifts as an artist]
I’m all for the wormhole… Y’know, I so regret not recording the last few minutes ’cause I want to include it in the interivew
Well, you can talk to me anytime you want about [conspiracies]. I’d never heard the Avril Lavigne one. I knew the Paul McCartney one and it was just so ridiculous that I… I think it’s pretty viable that it could happen to anyone.
But Avril Lavigne, I suppose, was The Beatles of that pop-punk era, wasn’t she? Maybe if she did die, it would’ve caused more anarchy.
She was kind of the underdog, to be honest. At least with Paul McCartney, The Beatles had enough success to justify that conspiracy theory. While Avril Lavigne felt really big to anyone growing up in the early ’00s, she was just some angsty Canadian girl to the rest of the world
You kind of think as well, it makes the song “Complicated” even more complicated [laughs].
[Laughs] They went and made things complicated!
[Laughs], but who knows. We’ll never know. That’s the beauty of a conspiracy. If you find out, then you can never wonder again, can you? And I think the beauty is in the wonderment.
Right! I feel like when the pentagon released all that alien footage, they squashed that community of conspiracy theories while simultaneously justifying it
It’s really weird, I’m actually a conspiracy alien nut… But, y’know, you’d think the world is kind of crazy enough as it is that conspiracy theories wouldn’t engulf my entire life — and yet here we are talkin’ about them. It’s crazy.
With aliens, y’know what always really stuck out to me — and I know this is a big one — but THE PYRAMIDS. There’s just no way! There’s no way humans built pyramids by themselves
Completely! I’ve been delivering beer all day today and the weight of what I lifted today, as a 30-year-old healthy guy, I don’t think I could’ve ever lifted anything that even remotely resembled a pyramid.
And also, bear in mind, if it was potentially an army of enslaved people [who built them], they’re gonna be malnourished! If you’re kept captive, you’re ill-looked after. So there’s no way. They’re gonna be weaker than a healthy workforce.
So that, plus like, the viability = aliens. It must.
I feel like aliens came here, saw that humans were so far behind, and plopped down a few pyramids just to clown us like, “Alright. We’ll be back in a couple thousand years.”
“We’ll come back in a while. By the way, there’s this thing called nuclear power. You can use it for good!” Then you can just imagine the countries pointing the missiles at each other and the aliens are like, “No no no, we didn’t mean it like that!”
There’s a great quote, “When is the world gonna stand up and scrape us off it’s back?” Which I think is really bold, but there are points where I go, “Well maybe we’re just like the entertainment for the aliens.”
My biggest theory is they’re the aliens from Omicron Persei 8 in Futurama and they use us for entertainment
Morbo from Futrama says: “TREMBLE PUNY EARTHLINGS”Source: Morbo – Tremble Puny Earthlings [Futurama] | Stormwind Champion
It’s gold, isn’t it? Is that the same human who does “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” with Fry at one point and he’s like, “PUNY HUMANS!”
AH, that guy! It’s such a great show, I could go on about it forever, but before I lose myself… Tell me a little about yourself and your music
Shit, I didn’t tell you who I am! I’m Lee, in case you were wondering if it was Ali or Andy.
I’m 32, lived in South England for pretty much all my life. Kinda moved down from London as soon as I was born.
Pretty much in this band, for as long as I can remember, Blue Stragglers makes me happier than anything.
I live with my two engaged housemates — they’ve moved over from New Zealand — and my other best friend. We’ve got a pub in our house, which I’m currently sat in now.
Which is brilliant, ’cause I’m the only one in this bar. I’m surrounded by guitars, a ping-pong table, and there’s an organ next to me, a barrel of beer.
Been workin’ at the brewery today. That’s been kinda fun. I deliver beers all around South England in a van, but normally just end up having conversations with people like the conspiracy one I just had with you.
I’ve got to ask, with social distancing and everything, do you ever fill the void of performing by putting on shows for yourself in your pub?
That’s exactly what we did! My housemate, he works for ITV as a sound man, he brought loads of equipment back.
As soon as the gigs were canceled, we did a little panel of all of us, sittin’ around drinkin’, played some song, some from the Blue Straggler’s back catalog then some covers.
We basically just sat and got drunk. And at the time, that was just kind of a really cool thing to do. When everyone was locked down and couldn’t go anywhere, it gave them a sense of being back in the pub.
I think a lot of the cliches about England are a little bit true. But the pub mentality of people just sitting around having a beer is what I think people miss the most. And I miss gigging the most, so we did a Facebook Live thing every Friday. That was cool, we managed to do 12 weeks of it.
You can find some of ’em on our Facebook, it’s called “Live at the Denne.”
That sounds like so much fun! I’d love to watch them ’cause I’m one of those people who still hasn’t really left the house since March, so I need that in my life
Oh no, Christ! Well, every band practice we’ve had over the last two months, Andy and I have a variation of this conversation like, “What’s going to happen with gigs? Do you think gigs will go on?”
The other day, Reading Festival announced their headlines for next year. They’re having two main stages now that don’t clash, on top of their other stages.
Over here they’ve said there’s not going to be a vaccine ’till at least winter 2021. So I was saying to [Andy], “How can you start selling tickets to these gigs that were already canceled this year?”
That’s all we’ve been talking about, the viability of being able to do shows and how close can get to what a pub show used to be — and how interested are the crowds and the bands in doing that?
I’m constantly fascinated by it. If they have to be distanced pub gigs and what not, will they have ever really missed live music?
If you go back to it kind of half-baked where there’s less of an atmosphere, are people going to miss what gigs were like before? Will that casual demographic of fans stop going to gigs because they’ll just think that’s always what it was like?
That’s what I’m always scared of. Over here, they’re trying to speed up the starting of gigs and whatnot. But if they’re not going to be the intensity of what they used to be, I’d rather wait a bit longer.
Though I suppose you have to always test the water… So if there’s a distance gig, I’d want people to enjoy it as much as they’d remembered. Maybe it’s the sound of live music that’ll get people, but a lot of people go for that connection with strangers, right?
Whenever I see things booked for next year I think, “Well, remember when we all thought this would be over by April or by May? Or by August?”
I said two-weeks initially. What a dumb prediction that was!
Around here, they’re doing drive-in shows and it seems like they did a pretty good job keeping everything socially-distanced from what I’ve read. When I looked up the line-up for shows near me, they weren’t really bands or comedians that people would know. They were smaller artists, so it brought a lot of joy to me to see smaller artists were pulling in major crowds and drawing in new audiences
That’s great, isn’t it!? There are ways through the maze, and I think it’s keeping an open mind. That’s amazing ’cause it’s given people a platform where, if this had never happened, when are they ever going to play to a stadium full of people?
If it hadn’t happened, and you said to this same band, “Would you fancy playing to this amount of people? But they’re going to be in cars,” they would’ve been like, “Fuck, definitely!”
Looking forward instead of back is just the best way to be in life, I suppose. ‘Cause everyone has 20-20 vision in hindsight, right? If you’re looking at it retrospectively, then the best thing has yet to come.BLUE STRAGGLERS, LEE MARTIN
Going back to our questions a bit, what role has music played in your life from your upbringing ’till now?
From the age of eight to 14, I was a avidly into art — I loved drawing, I loved painting, I loved the history of art, I loved everything about it.
Around college, my dad had started giving me these old CDs. There was a Rolling Stones one and a Jimi Hendrix one. I was really enjoying them, but I’d just encapsulate what I was listening to into what I was drawing.
Then I went to college and this guy looked through all of my stuff and said it wasn’t good enough to get in. I was completely heartbroken; I wasn’t doing it ’cause it was good, it was just an expression of how I was feeling.
It completely turned my world upside down and my mom was really upset ’cause she knew I hadn’t got in. Then she said, “I can buy you a guitar if you want.”
So I got this guitar and then I realized the Hendrix CD my dad had given me had a live album on it. I had gotten so used to the studio recordings that the live ones were just this completely wall of noise, it was marvelous!
It was like if a girl breaks your heart. I just completely turned my back on art and immersed myself in all of these live albums, all of this different music.BLUE STRAGGLERS, LEE MARTIN
Music is the kind of perfect form of expression, really. It can be so abrasive, it can be so beautiful. And it has lyrics, whereas art didn’t, it was just left up to your imagination.
I started studying everything meticulously and turned into this complete music nut. Then that’s when I met Ali and we spent two-weeks of our lives dissecting each other’s musical taste.
We both realized that music has always been there, it’s never let us down. And I love that. I love that songs can change meanings from situations.
I remember a good friend of mine died and they played “In My Life” by The Beatles. It completely broke me.
Then five years later, I was the best man at a wedding to one of my best mates. As they were signing the wedding vows, “In My Life” by The Beatles started playing!
I love the idea that every song that’s ever existed can just turn on a sixpence. It’s just the most amazing thing.
Music has played the most poignant part of my life, it completely changed my life for the last 17-18 years. If I’d never been heartbroken by someone’s form of expression then, I’d have never met my best friends who are in the band I’m in now.
“In My Life” is one of my favorite Beatles’ songs — and for my own reasons, too. I’ve dedicated to people I love and what not. But I can so see how it could go from funeral to wedding and I’m blown away
Y’know the drunk guy at the bar who thinks he’s being really moving? I tried to tell that story [at the wedding] but completely went off on this tangent, I think I started to well up a bit.
Then I was like, “Wait, I’m just talking about myself! This has nothing to do with the wedding at all!”
That’s the thing with music, you can just get completely lost with it. That’s what I love. There’s so few different art forms you can be that vast with.
That “break up” from art is probably the best break up story I’ve ever heard. As one door closes, another one opens. I’m so happy you were able to find a way to express yourself creatively and artistically
I always think at the time it didn’t have that much of an impact, but I remember being terrified ’cause the thing that makes you who you thought you were, for someone to be like, [queue mocking tone] “Oh, well, that’s not very good,” you’re like, “What the hell am I gonna do now?”
But the level of expression you can do in music is two-fold!
I’ve got to ask though — because I love to do art myself — what kind of art did you do? What mediums did you work with?
At the time, I was really into expressionists and cubism. It was mainly line-drawings, paintings, some watercolors, then occasionally chalk, some wax works. But I found it really relaxing.
It was like a creative wormhole because as soon as you start, you’re already in too deep.
I feel like you could so get into that wormhole with music too, though
Yeah! It’s dangerous. The wormhole is definitely there and I can always feel its gravitational pull every time we go to the studio.
Speaking of recording, I read that your EP was recorded in the studio of a boat during a winter storm… I need some details, please [laughs]
Blue Stragglers standing by the entrance of the Lightship95 recording studioSource: Blue Stragglers
Basically, Andy the drummer had been recording with this guy Dave Holmes, who subsequently recorded all of our albums. He works at this place called Soup Studios in London.
Andy had recorded there and said, “Oh, they’ve moved places. It’s kind of in the bow of a lightship now.” And I was like, “Wicked.”
It’s this massive, red lightship called “Lightship 95,” it’s in the Greenwich side of London. I quietly have vertigo and I quietly get seasick but never tell anyone about it.
You can seriously feel it moving and it hits against the side of pier as we’re recording. I was like, “Ah, that sounds good! We should keep that in there.”
The guy’s like, “Ah no, dude, it’s just the boat hitting against there.”
Once you’re in there, you kind of forget you’re on a boat until you step out. I can totally tell how people get cabin fever in them. You go down and record in this little box.
I could only see Ali and Andy through this little porthole, so we were just nodding at each other through there. But it sounded great! If you work with the right people, they can make anything sound great.
So yeah, there was this winter storm. We came in one day, it was pretty cold, then we came out to sideways snow. I was like, “Ah, this is going to be horrible to drive home in, getting this gear over the sketchy bridge.”
But it was great. I think it added this vibe of a wall of noise that we were looking for even more.
I completely forgot about the storm until you said that, though. It was crazy.
After the EP, we went back and recorded another two songs on the boat. At that point, we’d become sea-hardy so it was a lot more easy.
What was your favorite part of the entire process?
Blue Stragglers in the Lightship 95 recording studioSource: Blue Stragglers
We’d recorded stuff heaps of times that we’d never released. It was great to work with someone who was willing to make it sound as huge as I wanted it to be, really.
It was kind of great surrendering the sonic process and manipulation up to someone else. Beforehand, we’d always recorded with people that I’d considered my closest friends.
Whereas this time, we knew exactly what we wanted to sound like. I didn’t know this dude and neither did Ali, so there was no pre-conceptions of him.
It was so satisfying hearing those moments where the chorus kicked in. I just remember us smiling at each other.
I think it was the realization that we’d finally found a way to nail how we sound live in a studio recording, which I’d always struggled with. It was a reassuring moment that our ears weren’t tricking us, and that we can sound how we do live on record.
What other aspects of the recording process would you say helped you grow as musicians — or even as people?
We had a couple of songs we were convinced would be good, like “Golden Gate.” Then we’d go in like, “Yeah, we’ll nail this one down, it’ll take like two or three minutes.”
And it just felt really thin, kind of lifeless. It was moments like this in the past that have completely winded me. But it was working with a producer that went, “This song isn’t working, let’s do the next one.”
We did a song after [“Golden Gate”] called “Last Call.” It’s the last song on this EP that’s coming out tomorrow and the same thing happened. He was like, “Yeah, it’s just coming out a bit ‘same-y.'”
It was basically just this one chord that builds up into this cacophony of sound then blasts off into a really Fu Manchu outro.
We completely surrendered our inhibitions about the songs to this guy. He completely changed the dynamics to it. I love how the recorded version is completely different from how we’ll ever, ever play it live.
Both things stand up as their flag-bearing “this is exactly what we sound like” in both environments.
It was learning that as the composers we’re not always right. And I think it’s really good to know that ALL. THE. TIME, ’cause it leaves you open to being the best possible version of yourself.
Which tracks mean the most to you and why? What’s the story behind some of them?
The lead single, “All Mine (Sometimes),” I’m really proud of that one.
When we write songs, we’ve got our own studio that’s about 20 minutes from where we live. It’s our go-to base; sometimes we’re there 40 minutes, sometimes we’re there five hours.
I remember me just having the chorus tagline and nothing else. Then as a band, we walked through it together. Andy’s superb at being the guy next to the guy playing the crosswords who goes, “Oh you should do that there or that there.”
“All Mine (Sometimes) kind of fits my moment in time; vague lyrical content but immediate musical impact that I think sums up the Stragglers’ ethos.
I kind of always write the lyrics about a day before I record them, and I always try to keep them vague about a mindset that I could be in, but equally Ali or Andy could be in.
There have been songs in the past I’ve written that have been deeply personal, but I think if you write really personal it can only ever be about that. I’m always afraid that the rhythm section in the band just becomes the backing section for one person to bear their soul.
Whereas, if you’re a little bit more vague, then everyone can pile in on the music, as well, because it means as much as to everyone.
I think it’s important for the songs to resonate for each of the members ’cause you can tell when people care about the music they’re playing on stage. And it’s a good sign, because if the members relate to it unanimously, then your listeners probably do, too. You’re capturing a universal feeling
Exactly! That’s why I’ve always felt the music comes first. Don’t be throw away with the lyrics, but the feeling when the band kicks on — and it could be paired with a tagline or something like that — that’s the moment where you look at your mates like, “Raahhhh!” Like, making that face you make after eating a chili, “Waughhh” [laughs].
Moments where we’ve managed to do it, or moments where I’ve seen other bands pull it off, are the best moments in the world. Sometimes a band’ll ride that wave for like 20 minutes, and sometimes we do that, as well.
That’s the moment I aim for whenever we play gigs now. That immunity, the weird telekinesis where you don’t even have to look at each other to know you’ve reached it.BLUE STRAGGLERS, LEE MARTIN
Throughout all of your music, whether it’s this EP or future releases, how do you hope to impact your listeners?
Basically, the feeling that I got when I first listened to music was like nothing ever before. I’ve just been chasing the dragon with that with everything I’ve been doing with Blue Stragglers.
We’ve been lucky enough that we’re able to give people that feeling more often than not. So to give people that feeling or that want to be able to express it to someone else — or to just feel nothing other than immersement.
Going forward, what’s next for you guys after the EP release? Do you have any music videos or additional music in the works?
“Forever and a Day” by Blue Stragglers music videoSource: Blue Stragglers-Forever and A Day OFFICIAL VIDEO | BlueStragglersUK
We’ve got this EP drop, then I’ve recorded a music video with some footage of Andy surfing, so we’re gonna drop that tomorrow, as well.
Studios aren’t really my forte, but I was really proud of this one. We’ve also got stuff for people who sign up on our website. We’re throwing in a couple B-Sides and some live recordings of tunes we only ever played live.
They’ll be drip-fed things in the future. Hopefully, there’ll be a point where the main news we’re putting out on the list is gigs.
But if things continue as they are, rest assured, we’ve got enough stuff to keep people happy — especially in the fast-beat generation we’re in now.
Congratulations on the EP release, by the way. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you that I’m kind of sad this interview is drawing to a close. But before we wrap things up, do you have any additional comments or final thoughts to share?
Indulge yourself in as much as art as possible all the time and never be content with the amount of art or artists that you listen to. There’s always more great stuff to be found… Including maybe us and our dear musical friends!
Just constantly be on the search ’cause your favorite band is still out there. Even if you already have a favorite band, your favorite band’s still milling around — and it could be ’cause you want to create the band yourself.
Give Blue Stragglers’ self-titled EP a listen on Spotify!
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