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Jason Martin Explains Starflyer 59's 'Slow,' Track By Track

"I like really spooky songs and I like real major [key] songs, so I don't know how that fits in — that's just Starflyer," Jason Martin says. "I like interweaving them both."
Courtesy of the artist
"I like really spooky songs and I like real major [key] songs, so I don't know how that fits in — that's just Starflyer," Jason Martin says. "I like interweaving them both."

In the 23 years that Starflyer 59 has been a band, the only constant has been Jason Martin. But in those same two decades, through many styles — from the heavy shoegaze of Silver and Gold to Americana's classic rock to the poppier run of The Fashion Focus through Leave Here A Stranger, and so on and so forth — you always know a song is a Jason Martin song. His workmanlike approach puts an emphasis on songs that make sense and are built to last. To him, a song is math, not art, so if a Starflyer 59 riff or a tone or a chord progression sounds familiar, it means the song's working. That's not meant to take the magic out of music, just base it on reality. More than ever, Martin is focused what it means to make music now.

"I'm a 43-year-old guy, got three kids, work all of the time and play guitar on the weekends," Martin says with a dry-heave laugh. "That's about it — typical, middle-aged dude, I guess, that does band stuff on the side."

Martin has always been quick to move on musically, as evidenced by a long and sonically diverse discography. That's what makes Slow, the 14th album under the Starflyer 59 moniker, such a curiosity. This is the first time he's really allowed himself to look back, at his personal life as well as his creative life. There are not only hints of Starflyer 59's past — no sickening walls of sad-sack distortion and feedback, it should be noted — but also, in the case of "Runaround," a clue to Martin's original vision for the band.

"I think there's a couple good songs, couple lousy songs, couple whatever songs. I just stopped thinking about it so much on this one," he says. "Most records I do, I'm like, 'Oh, I'm trying to do this on this one,' or I have these rules. It's just tunes I had, and some of them wound up rolling with stuff like, 'Oh, man, this is the kind of stuff I would've done in '96,' or something back when I was younger and not thinking about what I was doing as much. I just wanted to have a more natural-sounding record."

So when the coda of the languorous title track throws back to the lounge-y surf guitar that separated Starflyer 59 from the other shoegaze bands coming on in the mid-'90s, it might remind fans of a time when Martin and his cohorts slicked back their hair and rode Triumph motorcycles. In his now smoothed-over gravel voice, Martin sings the sweetly evocative line, "Played some shows and on the drives, thought of baby names," about two decades with his wife — a far cry from the mopey lyrics of yesteryear. The big, Orange-amp-fueled blues stomp of "Hi / Low" recalls the boot-kicking rock 'n' roll of Americana. The jumpy rhythm section and quickly strummed acoustic guitar behind "Wrongtime" might have shown up on The Fashion Focus, when Martin let his love for The Smiths and New Order shine through.

New to Starflyer 59? Hear a <a href="https://open.spotify.com/user/npr_music/playlist/4R6BkuKa74c8Ji084RXAa6" target="_blank">decades-spanning Spotify playlist</a>.
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New to Starflyer 59? Hear a decades-spanning Spotify playlist.

Martin admits that when it all comes together, it might sound like a "best of Starflyer 59" pastiche, but Slow comes to terms with his long career by having a honest dialogue.

"I'm kind of an oddly nostalgic person," Martin says. "I don't like change. It's looking back, looking at the last 20 years with my wife and the band, my kids, getting old and older. It's hard for me to grapple [with the fact] that I'm closer to 60 than I am 20, you know what I mean?"

Going into Slow without a defined vision makes this the most freewheeling Starflyer 59 record in years. The album features drummer Trey Many and bassist Steve Dail, who have served as Martin's longest-running backing band since 2006's My Island. It's book-ended by quiet reflection, and filled with the kind of songs Jason Martin has always written, just now with far more perspective than the twentysomething who made Silver: "You gotta live it to have it. Whatever that means." With his characteristically dry sense of self and humor, Martin shares his thoughts on each of the eight songs below.

"I'm like a minor-league ball player, man," he says with a laugh. "I'm better than some, but not good enough to get it done. That's not me being humble. That's just me looking at it pretty honestly."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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