MARTIN J. ANDERSEN
Danish Dynamite With A Bluesy Feel
As HeadBangers LifeStyle’s Michel van de Moosdijk was very impressed with the latest Blindstone album ‘Deliverance At The Crossroads’ and his two solo-albums ‘Six String Renegade’ (with a cover version of Frank Marino’s ,,Strange Dreams’’ and a fascinating instrumental version of Iron Maiden’s ,,The Trooper’’) and ‘Victory In Motion’ (his first full instrumental album), he thought it was high time to find out in ten questions who Danish guitarist/singer Martin Jepsen Andersen really is and what makes him tick as a musician and human being.
At what age and basically who made you realise that you wanted to become a musician (a certain artist of maybe a family member inspiring you)? What kind of music were you listening to that made you become a musician?
,,Well, to start at the beginning, I was born into a musical family. My dad plays guitar and sings, and my mom plays the piano and sings too. And so, music was just a natural part of the environment. Someone was always playing or singing, or listening to music. When I was around 7, they asked if I wanted to begin taking lessons for an instrument. I did, and I first started out on drums/percussion.
When I was 9, my parents divorced, and it became difficult to bring the drums back and forth between the houses. Also, my interest in the drums had sort of faded. One day, when I was around 10, my dad came home with a cassette tape of a Jimi Hendrix live album. That music hit me like a lightning bolt and I immediately decided to try and become a guitar player. A little later, I also discovered various players like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Healey, John Norum, Joe Satriani, Eddie Van Halen, Al Di Meola, Robin Trower, and many others. They all influenced me, to varying extents. But Hendrix is my main influence. Always has been, and probably always will be.’’
You have developed yourself through the years as guitarist, singer, keyboardist, song writer, producer, engineer etcetera. Can you elaborate a bit on that whole process….
,,I mainly focused on playing the guitar to begin with. But since singing was a natural thing throughout my childhood, I also did that. It just sort of happened naturally. I started singing in my own bands, mostly because some of my influences both played and sang. In some bands, I am / have been ‘just’ a guitar player, and I’m perfectly cool with that too. The keyboards came along because I also had some piano lessons in school and my mom also taught me some things. Much later, I also had piano lessons in college. I don’t really consider myself a real piano or keyboards player, though. But I can work out the keyboard/piano parts I want to hear in a song and play them, sort of adequately [laughing].
The production/engineering aspect came about gradually. At first through working on 4-track cassette machines, etc, but I was also very observant and curious about the various processes, whenever I would be in a real studio with the bands of my youth.
A major turning point came around the year 2000, when I was going to make an album with my dad, his wife, and my sister. We wrote music for some of my dad’s cousin’s poetry and we decided to make an album out of the songs. For a while, we were deliberating whether to enter a professional studio, or whether to buy some recording equipment for ourselves and learn how to use it, so we could take our time and experiment. We ended up buying the equipment.
I ended up being the guy, who first figured out most about how to use the equipment, and that way I became the technical guy/producer/engineer for that album. That was my first, real production. The next was the first Blindstone album, in 2003. I have never had any formal training or tuition when it comes to audio production. I’m pretty much self-taught (through MUCH trial and error!) in that field. It’s all a constant process. I am always learning new things. That goes for playing the guitar too, actually.’’
On your Facebook profile there are a lot of different bands and projects you have been or are involved with even Blindside Blues Band led by Mike Onesko, how did that happen? And is that going to continue in the near future?
,,I have been aware of Blindside Blues Band since they were on the Shrapnel label and I have always liked the band. They were one of the bands I would see in the guitar magazines, and I would go ‘Wow! I want to do what they do! I want to be like them!’.
So it was a real thrill for me, when Blindstone became label mates on Grooveyard Records. The classic Shrapnel line-up of the band of course had Scott Johnson on second guitar, along with Mike Onesko, but Scott was later replaced by Jay Jesse Johnson. In the meantime, I got to appear as a guest on two songs on an album by Mike’s other project, Mike Onesko’s Guitar Army. By the time BBB were gearing up to record what became the ‘Journey To The Stars’ album, Jay Jesse Johnson had left the band, and Joe from Grooveyard Records suggested me as second guitar player and co-songwriter to Mike. Which Mike obviously accepted, as he asked me to join!. It was a great honour for me to be asked, and I jumped right at the chance, of course. Who wouldn’t jump at being in a band with musicians like Mike Onesko and Jeff Martin???!! I ended up co-writing 4 songs with Mike on ‘Journey To The Stars’, and I also mixed the album, in addition to playing guitar, of course.
Lately, Mike has done a solo album, and is working on a new album by the Guitar Army (where I will be guesting as well), so BBB isn’t doing anything at the moment. However, I’m hearing through the grapevine that we may begin work on a new album in the near future. So yes, it is still going.’’
Other bands that you are involved with like Bad Company Jam DK, Meridian and of course Blindstone plus some solo career material, what project or band is a priority for you?
,,That is a good question. I’m not sure I view it as any band having priority over others. I probably view Blindstone and Meridian as my main bands, as I have been with them for the longest time. We formed Blindstone in 2002, and I’ve been with Meridian since 2012. I sort of divide my time mostly between those two bands, but my role is somewhat bigger in Blindstone, as I’m also the singer, main songwriter and producer of that band. In Meridian, our other guitar player, Marco Angioni, is the designated producer. So with Meridian, I’m wearing fewer hats, so to speak. I’m more of ‘just a guitar player’ and songwriter with Meridian, but that doesn’t mean that that band is less important to me.
Bad Company Jam (DK) is obviously a tribute band to Bad Company, and therefore predominantly a live band. With the current situation, with no live music due to Covid-19, Bad Company Jam is on hold for the time being.
The solo releases are probably a bit more of a side project thing in nature, where I can indulge in some things that might not fit into the other bands, such as an all-instrumental album. But I am deadly serious about any music I am involved with, so I am not really able to make a prioritised list as such, of the bands I am in.’’
You also worked with David Reece on his ‘Resilient Heart’ record and toured with him. How did that come about and what were your experiences working with him and the touring band for that album?
,,That was through Meridian’s label, Mighty Music. David was in the process of signing with them, and Marco Angioni was hired as the producer and as a songwriter for the album. In turn, Marco brought me into the project, as a songwriter too. During the song writing process, David asked both of us to play guitar, first on the ‘Resilient Heart’-album, and then as part of the live band.
In musical terms, it was a great experience, and a great opportunity, which I am thankful for. Along the way, some circumstances arose that led me to realise that I probably wasn’t the right guy for the job in the long run, so I chose to excuse myself from the band, following the tour we did as special guest with U.D.O.
David is obviously a great singer and live performer. The real deal. I always enjoyed the time onstage with him and the rest of the band. They’re all great musicians. I learned a lot from working with him, and I am proud of the record we made.’’
For Blindstone and your solo material you are signed to USA guitar label Grooveyard Records. What can you tell us about the label, how did you got signed to them and do you have full artistic control? With Meridian you are signed to Mighty Music so why not for Blindstone and your own stuff as you are a European artist and it seems to me that your market is first and foremost based in Europe? Or maybe your bluesy based heavy rock might not be something that a European label might be able to handle well.
,,To explain this, I need to go all the way back to 2003 and the first Blindstone album, ‘Manifesto’. We recorded that album for a small, Danish label, named Karma Music. Somehow, Joe Romagnola from Grooveyard Records obtained a copy of that record, and he contacted me. At first to bring the record into his catalogue as an import, but he also offered to release a second Blindstone album, should we ever decide to make one. In the end, he ended up buying the remaining stock of the ‘Manifesto’ album, and so it actually sold out. In the meantime, after a change of drummers, we decided to record another album, and it seemed natural to take Joe up on his offer, also seeing that Grooveyard Records is a dedicated Guitar Rock label, specialised in the blues/rock field.
I was impressed with some of the artists he had on the label, such as Lance Lopez, Chris Poland, Craig Erickson, and of course Blindside Blues Band, so it was really a no-brainer for us. So we released our second album on Grooveyard Records, and at the same time, they re-issued ‘Manifesto’, with new artwork and 3 bonus tracks.
Over the years, I’ve become good friends with Joe, and we feel very much at home with Grooveyard Records. It was also Joe’s suggestion at first that I release my first solo album, in 2015. I hadn’t necessarily thought of doing a solo record, but Joe thought it might be a good idea. And it ended up being a very well-received album. With my new solo album, we both thought that it might be a good time to do a new one, since it had been 5 years since the first one. It’s an ongoing process. We often discuss various ideas and projects, and we usually agree about what to do, and when.
So even though the label is American, and Blindstone and my-self are European, it feels pretty natural. We have a great working relationship, and a good friendship, so I see no reason to change that. Of course, in some ways it might be easier to work with a European label, but the positives outweigh the negatives, in our situation.
And being with Mighty Music is great for Meridian, since Mighty is more of a metal label, well-established, and with their finger on the pulse of the Danish and European metal scenes. So I see no need for change on the label front, for neither Blindstone, myself as a solo artist, nor for Meridian.’’
,,I never stay in speeding-ticket territory for very long.” Martin J. Andersen
Your guitar playing on the new record ‘Victory In Motion’ and also on the last Blindstone record sounds to me that you are in a way an old-school classic rock guitarist with a modern groove. Your guitar playing always seems to be based on a theme and melody and you don’t seem to be out to prove to people that you are the fastest guitar slinger in town. Is that correct or is there a lot more to you that we don’t know yet?
,,Well first off, I simply am not the fastest guitar slinger, neither in the world, nor in town, for that matter [laughing].
You are correct in that that I am of a slightly more old-school approach, than many of the modern shredders out there. It’s not so much that I dislike technical or fast guitar playing, but more that I feel I can’t do enough of it, to keep it interesting for very long. So attempting to come across as something I am really not, would be sort of pathetic. I CAN play some fast stuff, but I don’t do it that often, especially not on record. Only if the party really calls for it. Sometimes, if I get caught up in the moment, I will go ever-so-slightly crazier in concert than on record, but I never stay in speeding-ticket territory for very long.
But for me, speed-for-speed’s-sake tends to get boring anyway, unless it is done in a way that I find VERY interesting and impressive, but I am not able to impress myself THAT much with my own playing, haha! And there are many players who never played a really fast lick in their life, who have influenced and impressed me more, than certain speed demons out there. BB King often gets mentioned in a discussion like this, as someone who could move people to tears with just one or two notes. It’s almost like a cliché to say it, but it’s true. You don’t need a lot of fast notes to potentially move people. Having said that, I DO admire faster, technical players, such as Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai and many others. I am not opposed to technical and fast playing. I just don’t feel it’s what I do best, personally.
And I am a strong believer in keeping things at least somewhat melodic or thematic. It was something I was very conscious about, making my new instrumental record. There should be a melody or a theme, something recognisable for the listener, something for him or her to hang their hats onto, so to speak. A record of just solos would be just that, and probably not something people would want to come back to for repeated listening. My goal was to create something musical that would move people, resonate with the listeners, and make them want to come back and hear it again. Whether I succeeded is up to the listener, of course, but that was a declared goal of mine.’’
,,I am a strong believer in keeping things at least somewhat melodic or thematic.” Martin J. Andersen
Do you get used a lot by other artists as a hired gun or an outside writer like on the wonderful new Black Rose Maze-album. You co-wrote several songs for that album and is that something that you would like to do more in future?
,,I wouldn’t say ‘a lot’, but more and more, fortunately. I enjoy writing songs for – and with – other people, and it is something I would like to do more of. Fortunately, I have established a great working relationship with Alessandro Del Vecchio, whom I have written quite a few songs with at this point. I co-wrote those songs for the Black Rose Maze album with Alessandro and Luna Akire, and I think they turned out great. One of them became a duet between Rosa Laricchiuta and Jeff Scott Soto, and hearing people of that calibre singing a song you helped create, is just an amazing experience, and a tremendous honour!
There are some really exciting things on the horizon on the song writing front, but I can’t talk about them yet, unfortunately.
So yes, it is something I would very much like to do more of, and fortunately it looks like I will, knock on wood.’’
Obviously with COVID-19 pandemic live concerts are not possible at the moment. It is a known fact that the last years CD-sales have collapsed because of down loading and Spotify and that the artists rely more for income from concerts and merchandise. How is that situation for you?
,,It is not as bad for me personally, as I imagine it is for many others. But that is due to the fact that recording and touring is not my only source of income. I work in a part-time position as a music teacher at a local private school, and thus I am not as dependent on income from releases and touring as others might be. If I would rely solely on royalties and income from touring, I would be in extremely dire straits, but that is not the situation for me, fortunately. Having said that, we have indeed had to change or postpone a lot of the plans we had made for 2020. But I would rather stay off the road and not get sick, to tell you the truth. There are members of my family who are in the high-risk group, and who simply MUST NOT get hit by that horrible disease, so anything I can do to make them safer and less at risk, I will do, even if it means not getting to play a lot of shows for a while. The COVID-19 situation will end at some point, and we will be able to get back out there again, but I predict that some artists will probably have to pack it in and maybe retire as a result of the situation. It is not a good time to be a full-time touring musician, that’s for sure, and I deeply sympathise with those whose livelihood is severely compromised as a result of COVID-19.
I am too young to have been a recording artist in ‘the good old days’, when some artists ostensibly made millions on records, but it is true that music sales have dropped A LOT, over the last couple of decades. But at the same time, especially Blindstone’s popularity curve has gone upwards somewhat, so the difference, though definitely real, is not as drastic for us as one might think. But the overall decline in sales is definitely there, and it is only going in one direction. It is impossible to say what the future brings for the recording industry, but things are definitely not going in the right direction, as far as having music as one’s main source of income goes. But it is the same for everybody (except for a privileged few), so who knows what will happen. Something will have to give eventually. I have a feeling that, at some point, the revenue from recorded music will become so small that some kind of reaction will occur, one way or another. That’s my personal prediction. But where and when it would happen is anybody’s guess, of course.
Another sizable problem for us is bootlegging. All of Blindstone’s albums and my solo releases are usually subject to counterfeit pressings. These bootlegs often show up on eBay and the like, and people have no way of distinguishing them from the real thing. I sometimes get asked to sign one or more of our records at shows, and they turn out to be bootlegs. They look just like official releases, and are manufactured professionally, so people don’t know they bought a bootleg. The only way to determine what you have, is that the bootleg will usually be in a jewel case, whereas the official Grooveyard releases will be in some type of cardboard cover, like a digipak, or a miniature gatefold sleeve. Those bootlegs are probably what pisses me off the most. There are considerable costs involved in making these records, both for us and for the label, and we are not exactly millionaires as it were. That money would make a real difference, and it angers me that someone just takes our property and make their own profit of it. On behalf of myself, Blindstone and Grooveyard Records I strongly urge people to buy the official releases. The other ones are stolen property, and we don’t see a single penny from them.’’
Anything else to add that is worth mentioning?
,,Thank you so much for your support, Michel, and for asking me to do this interview! I am honoured!
Also, a big shout-out to all my family and friends, bandmates, and listeners around the world! Love you all!’’
All photos from Martin Jepsen Andersen Facebook page
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