Interview – Martha Davis Talks The Return of The Motels

With roots that go as far back as the 1970s, The Motels have always been a band that could never be tucked in a box. Uniquely their own, their sound and style found them commercial success with memorable hits such as “Only the Lonely” and “Suddenly Last Summer,” but truthfully, there is so much more to this band.

Led by one of the more distinctive vocalists in Rock music, Martha Davis, The Motels have kept moving forward through the decades, and returned on March 28th with their brand new album, The Last Few Beautiful Days. Their first studio album of new material in a decade, this is no nostalgic trip down memory lane, The Motels are back with some of the best music of their career. Eager to bring it to the people, Vocalist/Lyricist Martha Davis took the time to chat about the past few years of the band, the story behind The Last Few Beautiful Days, the chaos that is the world today, plus more. – Last we spoke, in 2015, you were just wrapping up a US tour. Actively touring in recent years, you now have a brand new album out, The Last Few Beautiful Days. Before going any further, briefly tell us, what has the past few years been like for you?

Martha Davis – Well, we have been working on this album for a few years now. That is mostly because I live up in Oregon and the boys live in LA. We get together usually when we are about to go out and play, and if I added a few days on either side of my trip, we will get to write or record. It was an elongated process, but it kind of helped the album find its legs and mature nicely. We have been hanging in doing Motels things, doing shows, working, and loving each other as we do! – Excellent, and the end result of The Last Few Beautiful Days makes the wait worthwhile. In our previous conversation, you had mentioned that a lot of times the record labels would steer you in directions you did not necessarily want to go. They wanted you to be more Pop friendly, when truthfully you are a much edgier performer. At this stage in the game, do you feel completely artistically free?

Martha Davis – I do feel artistically free. The band, is the best Motels that has ever been, it really is The Motels. It’s interesting, the guys are younger than I am, so the ’80s music means a lot to them, in some ways more than to me. The ’80s music is what they came into, so they really love it. They have a really great ’80s sense of Pop. I think that is what makes this album interesting, you get the fact that it’s ‘a Motels’ album, but it doesn’t sound dated. They like Pop music and they are good at it, they probably like Pop music a little more than I do, but I love the way it turns out. I am very happy with this record, I think it’s great! It’s an interesting combination, and from most of the comments I have gotten, this album sounds like a Motels album, very distinctly, and yet it sounds contemporary. I think that is a great achievement.

Capitol Records
Capitol Records – Agreed completely. Your latest album is actually The Motels’ first album of new material in a decade. This new album is really wonderful. A hybrid of classical styling of the ’80s with a modern flair, you really hit the nail on the head. What was the writing and recording like for this album?

Martha Davis – The very first recording for this record started after I just made a studio in my house in Oregon. We had some shows up in Seattle and Portland, so the guys crashed at my house, and I just had redone this studio in the basement, so we started jamming. It started from some crazy little music – I had a project I wanted to do called Casiology where I wanted to do a whole album on little battery operated Casios. They were just little musical noodle-y ideas. We took those, gave them to the band, we just started jamming, and songs started forming. It is like the way a solar system forms – it starts out as a bunch of gas, then it forms into little rock particles, and they turn into songs.

When it started, I was very much into making it, lyrically, my version of what I was seeing in the absurd world we live in. It was going to be a sort of commentary on the things I believe to be crazy – whether it be gun violences, greed, and the criminality of a lot of behavior, the lack of conscience. I realize, one thing I know for sure, if you write political statements such as “I’m right and you’re wrong,” then people tend to just argue with you and don’t actually take it to heart and listen. I wanted every song to be personal and from my point of view. Instead of saying, “You’re doing this,” it is, “I’m doing this, and this is what happened to me.” It’s a lot harder to argue with someone telling a story about what happened to themselves, so that is how I approached it.

As I was going, building the stories about everything, from “The Machine” to “Criminal,” some of these songs stayed pretty true, but at some point when I was sequencing them, I was thinking about it. They are all first person in terms of how they are written, but I realized you didn’t hear me. Even though I was singing them, I didn’t hear my voice. It was weird, I felt like I had written first person, but often times would hear, a man being the part… it is very hard to describe. At that point I added the song “Light Me Up,” and for some reason putting it in the mix, it changed the whole thing. The sequence became very clear to me and the story became not even a story about what is going on the world, but what happened to me. It became very much my voice.

There is a strange progression to this album that led it to where it is today. It represents to me a lot of what I went through to be in this business and a lot of my life, yet I think it can also reflect on what is going on in the world as well. Which goes to say… we all go through the same shit. (Laughs)

Sunset Blvd Records – Absolutely, it does have a personal vibe. It is very fascinating, it sounds as if the album morphed into you. That in mind, songs like “The Last Few Beautiful Days” have been around for some time. Are some of the other tracks ones which have been tucked away for a little?

Martha Davis – Oh yea. Actually, “The Last Few Beautiful Days” was recorded for the Jazz album, and it just wanted to come on over to the other side. (Laughs) We were already working on this album and, to me, it’s a very classic beware of what is going on in the environment kind of song, it made sense to have it on this album.

Other songs like “Punchline,” that chorus, I have had for years. I have always thought there was something about that chorus I loved, and I tried to make verses for it a bunch of times, but then it would go back into the recycling bin. This time it stuck and it came together. If you look on the credits, the stuff where the whole band is on the credits, that is the stuff that we got in the room and made together. I generally handling the lyric duties, because I think that’s my job.

If you look at the credits on the album, and you see everyone on the credits, that is something that was completely made for this album and it is new. “Light Me Up” is an older song from the early ’90s that I accidently stumbled upon when I was looking for something else. I had an old live version of it, we took it out and re-recorded it. I love that song, it sort of made everything come together in a weird way. – Excellent, and the album is out now. You continue to tour live and the lineup you have been working with is really fantastic. That in mind, can we expect live performances to include more of the new songs?

Martha Davis – Absolutely, we are already playing a lot of them. At some point we hope to have the whole thing – my dream is to play the entire album in its entirety. Like anything else, you have to take into consideration all the constraints that surround everything – I get hired because I’m The Motels from 1983 or whatever. We’re in a really strange sort of predicament, we are kind of a new band and an old band at the same time. It’s a strange place to be, because part of us want to go out, get in the van, go to small clubs, and just play the album – you can’t really do that as a legacy act. It’s an interesting situation, so we are trying to figure out solutions.

The Motels are strange, we are a different kind of band. We are definitely not a new band, but we are definitely contemporary. Young people who hear this music definitely dig it. There is a whole ’80s craving that goes on, or as we like to refer to it, “the won’t go-away-ties.” People are very interested in the ’80s, this is definitely ’80s music, but it is brand new music. I don’t know, it’s confusing.

Independent release
Omnivore – Perhaps when you do the mainstream shows with a large group of other acts performing, stick to the older material. Then, for the more dedicated fans, do independent, headlining gigs in between?

Martha Davis – Yes, we are going to try and do that as much as possible. Everyone in the band are very proud of this album and we love it very much. We all think it is a good album that deserves a chance. The marketplace nowadays is very different than the one I got into. To be perfectly frank, I think it’s very confusing for a lot of artists, because it’s based so much on social media. You are not actually selling an actual physical product anymore, it’s a lot of streaming. Even though albums are beautiful, it’s a costly thing to do. It’s interesting, you really have to put your thinking cap on. For me, I like that, I like problems because I am one of those people where there are no problems, just solutions. It demands creativity, it demands you think outside the box, it demands you do something special and creative.

The video for “Lucky Stars,” I made in my living room. I know we needed a video, but sometimes expensive accounts are not there for it, so I thought, “Hell, I will do it myself!” (Laughs) I like that challenge, I really enjoy it. It’s trying to find ways in, everyone is clamoring. There is that song on that album, “Look at Me,” and everybody wants to be seen. We are at a point where saturation of the masses is so great – to be identified and seen as someone who stands out – is difficult.  It’s a problem, but individuals want to be individuals. It presents a problem of how do you stand out – what am I going to do for Instagram or Facebook that is different, it’s hilarious. We will figure out a way, we will keep making music, and we will keep being Motels the best we can be. The Motels has always been an interesting band, but like I said, I think this is the best Motels that has ever been. I guarantee if you come to a Motels show, you will be entertained and you will leave very happy. – Agreed completely. As more people discover this album, they are going to love it. In the past, we had spoken about your influences and artists you have a great deal of respect for. One of them was David Bowie, and sadly he passed away in 2016. Have you considered doing a tribute to David in the form of a cover or something?

Martha Davis – You know, I haven’t. It might be an interesting thing to think about. I was so shell-shocked in 2016, we started by losing David the first day off in January, then Prince, then my daughter died of a drug overdose – the same shit that killed Prince, fentanyl. The darkness that took over 2016 was pretty astounding. It’s kind of looking at life a completely different way, things have been so re-organized in my life, tragically. I am trying to go forward, I always like to make lemonade somehow, it’s difficult.

There is the song “Criminal” on this album, and you can apply it to whoever is criminal at the time – we look around and we can see many recipients of that award. At this point, I only attribute that song to the pharmaceutical companies, I believe they are literally homicidal maniacs. I will talk to people at signings after shows, and there is not one person that I talk to that has not been affected by this opioid problem that we have. It is a problem that was completely man-made, it was a whole ruse to get this addictive substance on the market. As far as I am concerned, they are completely responbile for killing thousands of people, if not millions. Then they charge people for the narcan, suboxone, methadone, to help you with this disease that they created! It’s bizarre to me, once again, in this absurd world we live in, it’s insanity.

This is how your life gets formed, this is how it gets created, this is how your creative process is instructed. It’s life, and sometimes it will kick you in the teeth, but hopefully something always comes from it.

Martha Davis and The Motels live at YMCA Boulton Center for the Performing Arts in Bay Shore, NY 4-25-2015. – It is really a major problem. It does affect all of us, everyone has been affected, some more than others. It is truly terrible.

Martha Davis – Yes, and this is a part of a giant picture that I look at with the world. I think mostly people are scared, we have been told to be scared since the new millenium. When people are scared, they act out very badly. We are animals after all, and when we feel cornered and threatened, we bite. I think that is what has happened to us. I think our self-preservation has overrun our compassion and our actual desire to be human. There is a lack of conscience and a lack of empathy.

We are living in a very absurd time. You look around and it’s not just our president, but around there are these crazy separatists, “Your tribe, my tribe.” Come on people, we’re all from the same stardust, get a helmet. (Laughs) – That is very true. Hence why many people are decided to personally tap out of the social media world.

Martha Davis – That is probably a very good thing to do. The social media thing…I realized when we were doing a lot of things that were creating social media content, all of a sudden the numbers were soaring. You start becoming obsessed, it like watching the stock market. You look at it and the numbers are going up and up, but if you don’t feed that beast every 5 seconds, the numbers plummet, it’s such a crazy thing. You realize it’s not just one person doing it all the time, it’s millions of people keeping each person occupied. It’s very bizarre to me and one more chip in the absurdity stack. (Laughs) – No question, that is a whole other topic. (Laughs)

Martha Davis – It is. I think it has to do with that “Look at me, look at me” thing again. We are at a point right now where I think we sort of missed the point. We obviously need each other, we obviously are beings that need to be with each other, we are social beings. We have found a way to isolate ourselves while apparently being together. Although, we are not together, we are further apart than we ever were, but we are apparently together. (Laughs) We are emptier than we ever have been while feeling totally socially faded in a way that is completely false.

I think that could be part of the reason for the insanity. There is a lot of reason for the insanity. I think it stems from part that, part pharmaceuticals, part the fear we live in. I think in general we all feel, whether it’s conscious or subconscious, the planet is in trouble. The planet is how we exist, so if the planet is in trouble, we are in trouble. Obviously it’s becoming more prevalent, but I think on a very underlined level, there is a lot of nervous people, even those who are deniers. We all know it’s happening, we are scared, and we should be. Once again, fear, in my mind, causes all your diseases, it is a very deadly force.

Tour Dates:
Fri Jun 22, 2018 Boardwalk Free Friday Night Bands On the Beach – Santa Cruz Beach CA
Fri Jun 29, 2018 Rock of the 80s Roanoke, VA
Thu Jul 26, 2018 Dakota Jazz Club Minneapolis, MN
Fri July 27, 2018 The Wildey Theatre Edwardsville, Illinois
Sun Sep 2, 2018 Feather Falls Brewing – Oroville, CA
Sat Jul 28, 2018 Taste Of Lincoln – Chicago, IL
Sat Sept 8, 2018 Downtown Las Vegas Event Center – Las Vegas, NV

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