Joy Electric’s musical creativity and unwillingness to deny their faith sets them apart in the music scene today. Ever since the early days of Tooth and Nail Records, Ronnie Martin has been working hard to create music that is beyond comparison. Joy Electric currently has 11 recordings and will soon release a “greatest hits” two-disc set entitled “The Art and Craft of Popular Music”. I recently interviewed Ronnie via electronic mail. If you like Joy Electric or just enjoy intelligent music, then you need to read Ronnie’s thoughts on his music and his band.
Matt M: You used to be in a band called Morellas Forest and there is band from Ohio that also goes by that name. Did they steal the name and if they did what’s the story behind that?
Ronnie Martin: They took the name after they found out that we were no longer a band. We recorded an album for a label called Narrowpath Records back in 1989/90, but the record was shelved due to financial problems within the label. The (current) band somehow knew about all this and decided to take the name some years later. I actually love all the Mofo guys, having spent time with them on tour over the years, but my brother and I were a little upset over it at the time.
MM: You said you had some other names before deciding on Joy Electric. What were some of those names?
Martin: I’m not really sure, but I remember that I liked them all better than the name Joy Electric. Brandon Ebel (Tooth and Nail records founder) didn’t even let me tell him the other names after he heard Joy Electric (that was the first name I gave him) because he really liked that particular one.
MM: Musically after Dance House Children, you and your brother Jason had a parting of sorts, each of you choosing to pursue a different musical direction. Why did the two of you decide to go your own ways artistically?
Martin: Jason had started learning guitar and writing songs, so I just encouraged him to start his own thing so we could both do exactly what we wanted to do rather than compromise by being in the same band. I suppose we don’t collaborate well with other people because we’re very sure about our songwriting. It’s something that’s not up for discussion, once a song has been written. A lot of bands are a democracy, but we don’t operate like that. I wish we could’ve worked together, though, because it would have built some fond memories through the years, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
MM: Is it strange having Jeff Cloud in Joy Electric and Starflyer 59 at the same time? Does that ever present a problem?
Martin: In the past, since Jeff books for the bands, he could set the schedules so they don’t conflict. Recently, he has stopped touring with JE so there are no problems, except loneliness…
MM: Have you ever thought about playing the Love Festival in Germany or touring a place like Europe where electronic music is more prevalent?
Martin: We have had opportunities for festivals, but they have always fallen through for some reason. This year we are finally playing a festival in Norway, so it will be our first. Why don’t we tour Europe? It’s simply a lack of connections. You can’t just decide one day to tour Europe and then get on a plane…we haven’t had anybody offer us the opportunity up to this point, but I would love to do it if it ever presented itself.
MM: What type of bands do you generally tour with? Stylistically how do they compare with Joy Electric?
Martin: In the past we’ve toured with The Echoing Green, Velour 100, Pedro the Lion, Prodigal Sons, Morellas Forest, Viva Voce, Bleach, Miss Angie, etc. So stylistically it’s all over the board, which is how it should be. We’ve avoided doing “electronic” style tours because that gives you a stigma that I’ve tried to stay away from throughout the years. Since the band is based around songwriting, I’ve tried to tour with bands who prioritize the same things, and that’s mainly indie groups.
MM: How do you perform your music live? What instruments do you use and is any of it pre-recorded?
Martin: We use pre-recorded tracks because 90 percent of my sounds are physically unplayable. I play all of the main lead lines and solos, and do all the vocals. It changes every time because some shows are just myself performing, while other times I have a drummer, synthesizer player, etc.
MM: How do your live performances compare to your studio recordings? Are you satisfied with how the songs are performed life as compared to the CDs?
Martin: Live shows definitely have an energy level that is not present on the records, even given the nature of the music I make. From the sounds played live, to the vocals and the overall presence on stage, live JE is still the more preferable format for the music, in my opinion. I don’t know if I’ve ever been completely satisfied with the live shows in general, but I think I’ve improved as a performer over the years, even if it’s been a small improvement.
MM: You’ve recorded a lot of albums, at least one per year. How many albums are in your discography and are there more songs that you do not release?
Martin: There are 12 records in the discography and plenty of songs that have never been released; too many to count.
MM: What’s the status on the box set, what will be on it and when will it be out?
Martin: The box set is due out on June 18th. It’s a 2-disc set featuring a “greatest hits” on one disc, and 12 new songs and remixes on the other.
MM: What can you tell me about the Legacy story? How many more albums after “The White Song Book” will be part of the series and when will the next one be released?
Martin: The Legacy series has been cut short to the one volume, but I will be continuing with the series under a different name for the next album and beyond. There are some changes coming with the band, and I wanted to start fresh with new ideas and concepts. The next album is close to being finished and should be out in February 2003.
MM: You seem to generally be open about your faith and you say that you want to be part of the Christian market. Have you ever thought about becoming part of the general market and if so what would you hope to accomplish?
Martin: Well, we have fans on both sides of the market. I just think it’s disingenuous when a band claims to not be a part of this Christian scene but continues to play churches and festivals that help the scene grow larger. I don’t really get involved in the politics of this “scene” or that “scene”. A fan is a fan, and I’m thankful for everyone who supports.
MM: Do you think your desire for musical perfection is misinterpreted?
Martin: Possibly, but I haven’t had a lot people press me on the idea of it. It’s obviously a subjective idea because everyone would have his/her own opinion on the definition of it. It’s just the philosophy that drives what I do, because I treat music like a craft, rather than something that’s completely emotionally driven. I don’t equate what I do to art, but more of science, or more simply put…baking. My music is simply a recipe, but it also gets refined with time.
MM: How many more albums and how many more years will you plan to do with Joy Electric before the end?
Martin: I never plan on stopping unless something forces me to. It’s hard to predict the future, but I don’t foresee myself ever stopping writing songs because it’s as natural as walking for me.
MM: Any last words, thoughts, comments or suggestions?
Martin: Thanks so much for the questions…
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