Josh Martier is one of the finest, most versatile, young drummers in the country. And he’s recently gone global. But that’s not surprising given his genetics. The son of working musicians, Josh has made his biggest mark behind the kit, but he’s much more than a dude pounding the skins. An excellent vocalist, songwriter and most importantly…band member. It takes a special kind of musician to play well with others and Mr. Martier, from what I have witnessed personally and via recordings and video, knows what he’s doing.
From the country-tinged and '60s soul music-inspired Yacht Dogs, to the thunderous modernity of Zack Mexico (with whom he recently completed a tour of Europe opening for the internationally admired Future Islands…playing the tour with a broken leg!), Josh can display a feathery touch during quiet passages or the power of a freight train, as the situation may require, all without sacrificing his solid tempo.
Oh, besides just beating things, did I mention he also plays guitar?
I recently caught up with him through the magic of fake teleportation.
Q: If you’re not a native, what brought you to the Outer Banks?
A: I was born in Atlanta but moved to the beach at 5. It’s pretty much all I can remember, so I consider myself local.
Q: How would you describe your music?
A: Hard to describe my music. I dig everything so I have originals in every genre. Many projects. Even an alter ego: “Ichy Mane” who’s a rapping alien from another galaxy.
Q: Who is your greatest musical influence?
A: I really don’t know.
Q: What is it about music that touched you ?
A: Music is a universal language that can bring people from vastly different worlds together. Realizing that touched me the most.
Q: You play with some incredible musicians, like Harry Harrison and the cats of Zack Mexico and seem to have no problem meshing, despite the stylistic differences. Is there a different mindset you have when you approach a gig with either band? Or any other band you gig with?
A: Harry Harrison is my creative partner. We write songs together, especially in our project, The Tills. I’m singing a lot when I play with Harry, which changes my drum style. So with him, it’s definitely a different approach then with Zack Mexico. I am more of a role player in ZM. I’m also playing with another drummer, Joey, and our goal is to sound like one drum. It’s more meditative and all my focus is on syncopated rhythm, almost orchestrated parts, whereas with Harry, there’s more improvisation and freedom. But the key is to know your role. I play with a lot of different people and projects; I try to find where I can fit in to each one. If you love to play as much as I do, you need to be able to wear many hats.
Q: Musicians usually play for those “moments” when everything clicks to the point where you sometimes play above and beyond what your normal capabilities are. Do you have a favorite moment?
A: I recently broke my left knee when I was on tour with Zack Mexico in Europe. It was in Lithuania one of our first nights, so I had to play the whole tour with my left leg in a cast. It was really a challenge to get comfortable and find that feeling you’re talking about. But, I remember playing in Copenhagen to one of our biggest crowds and everyone was having so much fun that night, and after the first song I totally forgot about my injury and had one of those out of body experiences. Felt no pain. The music felt effortless and powerful. But, yeah, you kind of chase that feeling every gig you play.
Q: What was the first concert you attended? Did it light a fire under you to be a musician yourself and get up on stage?
A: I saw the Foo Fighters when I was like 12, and it was a game changer. It was in support of their first record, so everything was super fresh and really loud. I’d never seen that kind of raw energy up close like that before, and it definitely had a huge impact on me.
Q: What's your favorite venue to play on the Outer Banks? To listen?
A: Well, I think we are devoid of a good venue down here. There’s really no place that exists solely for live music and the few spots that have the infrastructure for it rarely bring anything around that excites me. I like sitting out back at Roadside and having a few libations when it’s not too crowded with families. Mark is continuously tinkering around back there, so it’s fun to stop in and see what he’s up to. I’ve definitely had some crazy times playing at the Brewing Station, but if I’m not playing, I try to avoid the crowds. Matt Joyner has booked some amazing shows at Bonzer Shack over the last couple years. Future Islands, 2 Slices, ET Anderson, Secret Guests and Melk, to name a few. It’s really the only spot bringing down young independent talent, but it’s a small restaurant, so it’s kind of a nightmare, if you’re not playing.
Q: What do you do in the off-season? Do you have a day job?
A: Ha-ha! Yeah, I definitely have a day job. Hard making a living singing songs these days. My buddy has a cannabis farm in California, so I usually go out there and help out a few months out of the year. I split my time down here and in NYC, so I’ve done tons of odd jobs to stay afloat. Worked for a production company building sets and drove a cargo van around the city delivering electrical supplies to job sites, to name a few. Musicians are a nomadic breed, so you try to pick up work where you can. Playing music has been my constant, but I’ve always had to pick up side jobs to support the dream.
Q: Was there a person in your life that motivated you to pursue music?
A: I guess subconsciously, my parents. I grew up around music and watching them make a living at it. It’s kind of all I knew growing up, so it just came naturally for me to pursue it. I was in bands at a very young age and I still am today. I like to think I don’t have much choice in the matter. It’s what I love to do, so I try to do it. I guess that’s pursuing it; it feels more like a need to me than a pursuit.
Q: If you could perform with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
A: Damn, that’s a hard question. The Stooges when they put out “Fun House.” Or Miles Davis during his psychedelic phase. Or Frank Zappa’s “Baby Snakes” era. I’d love to sing a duet with Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton or Frank Sinatra. I’d love to be in the James Brown band and get fined for missing a note. Or do a drum solo like Tommy Lee strapped into some mechanical contraption. It would be amazing to play one of those prison gigs with Johnny Cash. Hard to pick one.
Q: What one song have you heard that you wish you'd written?
A: Another impossible question. I don’t know…anything by George Jones or Waylon Jennings. I’d like to feel what it’s like to piece together a symphony like Mozart. “Pretty Things” by David Bowie gives me chills every time the chorus drops. If I really let it in, “I Threw It All Away” by Bob Dylan makes me cry every time. Anything by Gram Parsons. There are so many songs that make me say, ‘Damn, I’ll never be that good.’ So hard to pick one.
Q: If you could choose a time period in which to perform music, what would it be and why?
A: I remember watching some Werner Herzog documentary about an ancient cave discovery in France where they found some of the oldest cave paintings ever discovered. They also found a clay flute, and it was tuned to the pentatonic scale. Fascinating to me that those notes resonated with mankind even then. I’d love to go back to that time period and see what was happening with music 32,000 years ago. Drums are my primary instrument, and I think the most primal, so I could totally jam out with the cave people. If not that, probably the '70s, but I also think all the hair bands like Van Halen in the '80s had the most fun and got to wear Spandex, so that would be pretty cool, too.
Q: Do you listen to new music, and if so, what are you listening to?
A: Oh, yeah, I’m constantly consuming new music. Gotta keep your ear to the ground. I can appreciate every genre so I’m all over the place with what I have in rotation. Right now, I’m listening to a lot of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard from Australia. They put out like five records last year. Super prolific and super versatile. But, I mean lots of stuff, from Young Thug to Julia Holter. There is so much good music coming out; I could make you a huge list.
Q: The music business can be tough. Did you ever consider quitting and doing something else?
A: I mean, I fantasize about falling in love with a woman whose family owns a vineyard in Tuscany or somewhere exotic…and I spend my days working the land and making babies. Writing songs on the front porch overlooking the vineyards. Ha-ha! But yeah, I don’t really think about it. I think we get one go around with this life, and if you’re not trying to challenge yourself and do what makes you happy, what’s the point ? Like I said, I’ve always had day jobs, but ultimately, you gotta do what you love. Leave this earth without regret.
Q: McCartney or Lennon?
Man! What about George and Ringo?
I’d have to say Lennon. McCartney brought the hits and the enduring melodies, but Lennon brought the soul-wrenching rawness that speaks to my sensibilities. Although Paul did write Helter Skelter... man, can I just say George Martin?
Q: Where were you the first time you performed onstage? How old were you?
A: The Weeping Radish Octoberfest. I was like 10, maybe younger, playing guitar in my first band Psycho Chickens. Pretty radical stuff. Our singer, Seawind Lamberto Egan, was politically charged at a young age. We had songs about eating the president and inner city violence in Chicago. Ha-ha-ha…pretty wild band.
Q: When you write a song, is it positive or negative inspiration that drives you?
A: I rarely set out to write a song with an idea or theme in mind. For me, it starts with a melody, and then I build ideas around that melody. But even lyrically, I usually don’t have a topic I set out to write about. It’s strange, man. Ideas just appear out of thin air like magic. They come to me like a dream. You get one notion and that sort of unravels itself into a song. That being said, I think I write the best stuff when things aren’t going too well. Sadness brings something to the surface that speaks to humanity on a deeper level than joy. It’s a hard life. I like to dance and have a good time, but I think desperation speaks more to the spirit.
Q: Are you self-taught?
I’ve never had proper training or music lessons, but I learned how to play drums from listening to my old man and I learned how to perform from watching my mom. I get most of my craft from just listening. I think music is something you can study and learn, but I also think there’s so much you can’t teach.
Q: Besides drums and guitar, what other instruments do you play?
A: Drums and guitar are my main things, but I like to think I can fake just about anything, if it makes noise.
Q: Your favorite album? Why?
A: Favorite album is always changing, as it should. It’s good to obsess over things in moderation. Right now, it feels like Rupert Holmes’ “Partners in Crime,” because I’m obsessed with this one song “Lunch Hour” and the whole record is great. It has that “Pina Colada” song on it.
Q: Your favorite song? Why?
A: Song, again, always changing. Right now, Lee Hazelwood, “The Night Before.”
Q: Do you have any hobbies that aren’t music-related?
A: I like to grill meat, and surf.
Q: If you were me, what question should I be asking you?
A: Are you a flower or a garden?
Q: Are you a flower or a garden?
A: I think I’m a garden. Who wants to be a flower?