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THE ARMADA’S Maiden Voyage

THE ARMADA’S Maiden Voyage
July 1, 2009 | Author: Greg Phillips. Pics by Marty Williams

armadajeffmartin“Daddy was a little pent up for a while,” drawls Jeff Martin. The one time lead singer and main songwriter of revered Canadian three piece band The Tea Party  is referring to his need to revisit the power rock trio format with his new project The Armada. After focussing on acoustic based solo shows, playing intricate music on exotic instruments for three years, Martin craved some high voltage watts. He has just arrived for sound check at the Hi Fi Bar in Melbourne. Adorned in black and white bandana and street chic, he’s obviously ready to rock. For all intents and purposes, this is The Armada’s debut gig. Martin toured a prototype of the project in November 2008, however the self-titled album has since been released and this is the first time Jeff and his co-songwriter and drummer Wayne Sheehy have considered the line-up permanent. The missing link they’d been searching for was former Sleepy Jackson bassist Jay Cortez and tonight is his first official Armada gig. “Pleasantly apprehensive,” is how Martin describes the feeling moments before sound check begins. “This is actually good for you being here,” offers Sheehy. “Good for you, bad for us because it’s warts and all.”

As Martin croons ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ to test the vocal levels, there are no signs of nerves. In fact, he seems supremely confident, not only about the night’s gig, but for the future of the band. “There is a massive, massive audience out there that would love the music that The Armada makes,” Martin claims.”The only thing that is stopping The Armada from being one of the biggest bands in the world, is the music industry itself. Sometimes it can be a brick wall. It’s a bit of an uphill climb at the moment, but it’s one that the three of us we are willing to do because we know that when we break through, we are going to satisfy a hell of a lot of people. It’s a matter of just getting through.”

The kind of music that The Armada plays is big. bold and Zeppelinesque, but rather than hide their heart-laden sleeves, they embrace the fact that they carry the torch for the mighty British rock legends. There’s a track on the album called ‘Morocco’ which offers a nod and a wink to Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’, not in a copy cat fashion, but in that epic spirit featuring a huge drum sound, big vocals and chunky chords. Sheehy is quite open about the connection.
“Yes of course. The captain of my ship, one Jeffrey Scott Martin … it’s his band. He adores them. So yeah. I’m sure in the deep recesses of his mind he was thinking … ‘this rings a bell’. I think if we are perceived as a baby Led Zeppelin band, then let it be.”

Rather than being offended by the constant Zeppelin references, Martin takes great pride in the musical link.  Since supporting Page and Plant with The Tea Party many years ago, Martin has become good friends with Jimmy Page. “The joke between he and I is that he is the sorcerer and I am the apprentice,” says Jeff. ” He’s been a great teacher and great friend and a very kind gentleman and very supportive of what I’m doing.”

The final days of the Tea party were anything but harmonious, and it seems Martin is keen to begin his new project on the right note. It’s one of the reasons he hasn’t rushed into a new band. The association with Irish musician and songwriter Wayne Sheehy has been a gradual and organic one. Sheehy is a multi instrumentalist and composer, known by some for his work in the band Cactus World News. More recently he has recorded with Ronnie Wood, Eric Burden, Christy Moore and on an array of film and television projects. Sheehy had been working with Martin during his solo acoustic phase and the decision to develop into a rock band came about by serendipitous accident rather than any conscious plan.

“We were playing a show in the west of Ireland, a festival,” explains Sheehy. “The band that was bringing our equipment to the show broke down. So Jeff followed the van and got as many of his guitars into the car as he could. I had to leave all my stuff behind. I was coming down from Dublin and arrived with bare basics. There was a kit there but no cymbals. Jeff had never heard me play kit before. I said we’ll have to do a White Stripes tonight. He said … are you serious? I said why not and we both had great fun at this little festival. On the back of that we went into the studio to record, with this blank canvas. I have a few old vintage drum kits and he asked me to put a kit into the studio. We started working on one of our early ideas and Jeff said why don’t you jump on the kit? I thought he was never going to ask! So we put some beautiful old valve mics around it and started recording. The next day Jeff strapped on a Les Paul and from then on, it was a rock album. It was a very natural progression.”

Martin and Sheehy appear to be kindred spirits, both multi instrumentalists, both well travelled and eager to learn about new cultures and traditions. You only have to listen to Martin’s music in particular,  both with the Tea Party and solo to know that travel has been a major influence on his music. “It’s essential because that whole gypsy lifestyle…. If you embrace it … it can only serve to make the music you create more potent,” he says. “Especially if you channel the experiences into your art, obviously it will come through. All the times I spent in places like Egypt and Morocco and Prague, it has all come through the music in various ways. The proof in the pudding.”

Known for his use of exotic eastern instruments, Martin has returned to his collection of Les Pauls for use with The Armada. However it doesn’t mean it will always be that way. “As far as The Armada is concerned, in regard to crowds and economics … to tour with all of the those instruments, we have to do much bigger shows. So for now we are streamlining and getting the rock and roll across. The bigger this band gets, and it will, the more opportunities we will have to make the show more grandiose and use those instruments. With this tour, I’ve got a ’59 Les Paul. A ’68 Black Beauty that has a transperformance tuning system in it and I’ve got a one of the first ever Telecasters with a B Bender and E Bender in it that Clarence White played. I’ve got an old Danelectro as well which is great because with a song like ‘Morocco’ the tuning is so far down that we needed to change all the strings and make up our own gauge.The Danelectro can handle it. And acoustic wise, it’s all Maton.”

armadawayneSheehy has just taken delivery of a new Tama six ply maple Star Classic drum kit. “Tama approached me and asked me if we could do something together,” explained Wayne. “I said I adore your Star Classics. With all respects to Tama and I hope they won’t mind me saying this, it has a great reminiscence of me working with Ron Wood on a Gretsch. Charlie Watts and I have a shared Gretsch an old classic. The Star Classic has a lot of those attributes. With cymbals, I am using Zildjian K’s mainly. I just got a lovely new set of Constantinople hi hats … 13s … picked them up 4 days ago. I use them on my Yamaha remote. Sorry Tama you don’t make remotes! I use an old pair of 10″ recording hi hats. Everything I do apart from The Armada I use them as my main hi hats because they are ten inch, so you have to set them up close. It effects your leg action  a little bit. I use those on a remote and they are stunning. You might imagine with my heritage, I’d be a traditionalist with cymbals, I’m not. I like big ‘K’s. I love that long, low  and explosive decay. I use the ‘A’s for fast hit, just for punctuation, in and out, then just a couple of effect cymbals. Simon and Maddie at the African Drum centre here in St. Kilda have become very good friends. I buy my djembes from them, and they throw stuff at me. So I’ll use a dumbek and a djembe up on the left hand side, up there in the air. I use a 14″ Malian djembe and I have a flat plate mic inside of it so it creates a bit of a nuke. I did really want to have an Olds floating kick drum behind me, 22’ x 12 or 14 old military style with thin heads, just for things like ‘Black Snake Blues’, but it hasn’t panned out. We couldn’t get one today.”

Jay Cortez is using  a ’73 Fender Precision through a Ampeg SVT classic, a Blueline Silverface. He’ll be running a Sans Amp some of the time at tonight’s gig but mainly just through the amp. Jay is also responsible for much of the additional sounds created by the band. Jeff Martin  explains Jay’s role. “A lot of the keyboard stuff I did on the album, Jay does using foot pedals. But we don’t play to click tracks and nothing is pre-programmed, so everything has to be done manually. So basically, every night we approach that stage it is like walking to the precipice and not being afraid to fall over. There’s a lot going on I don’t know another rock band especially a 3 piece, that has so much going on. It’s not prog rock or anything but it’s good old Led Zeppelin fashion.”

While the Armada is a new band for Martin, the themes and sounds will be familiar to long time fans, particularly his interest and references to the dark arts. “I have been a student of esoteric philosophy since my late teens. Through my music and travels I have pursued that. People talk about a dark side or whatever. All occult means is hidden knowledge. I’m just searching like everyone else and we all search in different ways. I’ve been interested in the work of Mr Crowley and Miss Blavatsky, the Golden Dawn and all that . It plays a big part of my psychological make up.”

During the day both Martin and Sheehy had talked up big The Armada’s future. Gauging by the show they performed that night and the audience’s reaction, they have nothing to fear. Dramatic album tracks such ‘Going Down Blues’, ‘Broken’ and ‘Black Snake’ were executed with precision and power, with debutante Jay Cortez slotting into his role seamlessly. “It’s really about making great rock and roll nights for people,” says Martin at the birth of his new band. “I go out and see bands desperately looking for that band. I was way too young to see Zeppelin live, but desperate to see a band like that. Not around … but here it is.”

KEN ‘KILLER’ WATT-Guitar tech

Some would say you have one of the hardest gigs in rock music being Jeff’s guitar tech. How do you see it?
I’d have to agree with that. It’s just 100 percent concentration all the day. I find the hardest gig to be the acoustic shows. I like the rock shows, just tuning the acoustics and electrics. With the acoustic gigs Jeff is so loud. The foldback is loud and he sings so loud. When I am trying to tune the guitars while he’s singing on stage, I have to wait until he’s playing something a bit more chilled or talking to the crowd, so it is a bit hairy.

What does he run his guitars through?
Amp wise he has his Matchless from Tea Party days, a Superchief Matchless.  Then he’s got a Fender Twin on the side, which is a cleaner amp. The other amp he uses is a Marshall 100 watt JMT but its mastered. Both the Matchless and the Marshall are mastered so they are gained amps for that dirty gain sound. We use a Morley tripler amp selector so he can select whichever amp he wants, or whatever combination of those amps he wants. It could be the Matchless and Marshall or Matchless and Fender. Other times he could be playing all three. He also uses a lot of the TC Electronics gear, especially on the front of house in rack format. With Jeff’s set up we use the TC Electronics G Natural. It’s a pedal where he stores all his sounds, flanger, chorusy sounds. Each song has a different bank. We also use a TC delay pedal for the Theramin. It’s a really complicated pedal board.

Tell me about the robot guitar he is using.
It’s called a Trans Performer. It’s a vintage 70’s Les Paul that Jeff gave to this guy Neil at Trans Performer in America. Neil put in the Trans Performer system which is purely mechanical but has a computer running. At the bridge end the arms move back and forth creating different tension. For instance the song ‘Cathartic’, has a sequence of tunings for that one song. There is a foot switch on his pedal board which will go through sequence of that song. So I have to select ‘Cathartic’ before I get up there, do a touch tuning on the Trans Performer itself, then give Jeff the guitar in the first tuning of the song. Then he’ll get to the chorus where the tuning changes, he’ll hit a switch and that will change the tuning. It takes like 1.5 seconds to change into the next tuning, and on it goes with the sequence of the song. So he’ll mainly use that guitar for when there are different tunings in the one song. It’s a nightmare of a guitar to use. The guy who invented it is an absolute genius. But you have to make sure you have the exact right gauge on the guitar because the tension arms are set up for that gauge string. If you accidentally put a different gauge string on the guitar, the tension is all out and tuning will be out.

Sounds like you’d have a big sigh of relief after every gig?
I do absolutely. I’m pretty proud of myself if it comes off.

DOM MONTELEONE-Front of House sound

How are finding things with a brand new project?
I did the tour in November and some of the solo tour. There’s a lot to remember. I’m travelling with quite a bit outboard gear.

I believe the TC Electronics gear plays a crucial role?
In the front of house I use a GT a voice processor, a single rack space I use on his vocal for distortion and modulated effect. I also have a foot pedal that I patch in called a G. I use that for doing harmonies on his voice. There are also effects patches in there that I use, delays and stuff. I’m also travelling with a Lexicon 480L and Eventide H3500 and a Manley stereo tube compressor that I stick across front of house.  Just on the output to warm things up a bit.

Because it is a new band, are you finding that you are tweaking things along the way?
I’ve been using a bit of stereo bus compression on the drums and bass that I didn’t on the last tour, so yes I have added a few things in the way of compression. Effects wise, I have just added the Lexicon, otherwise it’s the same as the last tour. I’m approaching the bass differently because Jay is now in the band. Jay is awesome, a fantastic musician, a natural. He’s triggering sounds from a Roland pedal board, looks like an organ pedal board.

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