In the ever-evolving landscape of 90’s rock music, few bands left an indelible mark quite like Candlebox. As they prepare to bid farewell with their final album, The Long Goodbye, we had the privilege of sitting down with the band’s charismatic frontman, Kevin Martin.
Through a candid conversation, Kevin took us on a nostalgic journey, reminiscing about the early days of Candlebox, his fondest memories with the band, and the profound influence music has had on his life.
As we delve into Kevin’s personal experiences, we explore his first-ever concert, the artists who shaped his musical sensibilities, and the importance of finding your footing and caring for your mental health. From the band’s heyday to the present day, Kevin’s insights provide a window into the band’s resilience, adaptability, and unwavering dedication to their craft. Join us as we turn back the pages of time and celebrate the music that has soundtracked countless lives.
Stay tuned for the video version of this interview, which will be posted in this space within the coming weeks.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: How does it feel knowing that The Long Goodbye is Candlebox’s final album? Is there a sense of relief, or is it bittersweet?
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: I think it’s bittersweet. I’ve always had a sense of relief after I’ve made a record just because it’s done. But I think that for me, the beauty of it is that it’s the last record that I’m going to make with Candlebox.
So we made the record we wanted to make. And that’s always, in any artist’s career, whether it’s, painting,inting or film, You want to go out with something that people remember you by. And I think that’s what The Long Goodbye is.
It’s really a story of the 30 years of my life in this industry and the people I’ve seen, the world I’ve seen, the life I’ve lived, and the songs and stuff that have been inspirational to me growing up. So I guess it is bittersweet because I’m realizing, you know, in this process of touring on it right now, that this is kind of the last real music that I’ll ever make. I’ve got gigs producing artists and stuf like, I’m not going to make any more records. It’s been a long and arduous trip to get to where I’m at if you will. So I guess it is bittersweet.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: All those years of Candlebox must be a whirlwind to look back at. Can you talk about your beginnings and how you guys got your start? What did that look like?
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: Well, it’s actually pretty funny. We’re kind of a boy band. We didn’t really know one another. I only knew Scott [Mercado], the drummer, but Pete [Klett], Bardi [Martin], and myself had never had any interaction at all. So when we were introduced to one another via Kelly Gray, our producer for the first and second records, it was, you know, an odd thing to be writing songs with people that you didn’t know. And to have those songs be really…great.
It was a very happy accident, I think, for the four of us that we were able to capture something like that in such a short period. We were really only a band for about six months, with Bardi being the last member to join when we did the demo tape, which is what “Far Behind” and “You” from the debut album are from. They’re from those original recordings for demos. So, you know, I mean, I think we were doing something right. But you know, it was an interesting period for us because no one knew who we were. We came out of nowhere in a city full of incredibly famous musicians.
And mostly, that’s because we were about three to five years and age younger than most of those guys. So, I mean, Chris Cornell would have been 59 last week, and I’m only 54. We were playing in friends’ basements and garage parties and all ages venues and stuff, because in Seattle, you couldn’t play a bar until you were 21 years of age, and Bardi, our bass player, didn’t turn 21 until 1992.
So, you know, here comes this record and this band out of nowhere that sells 4 million copies within a year of its release. It was a very, very strange experience for us. And I think it was a very strange experience for the city of Seattle and the musicians in Seattle to be like, you know, who is Candlebox? Never heard of them. It was an odd period for us as a band [with] a lot of growing pains in that as well as human beings.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: When you first came out, it felt like everybody was trying to be the next Nirvana clone or the next Pearl Jam. Your sound already back then felt so different in contrast to those bands. Back then, did you realize that you were coming up with something different?
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: Yeah, I think we did. But the beauty of the Seattle music scene was that every single band was just so different. I mean, you know, Sunny Day Real Estate, Sweetwater, Green Apple Quick Step, Fire Ants, Skin Yard, Gruntruck, Blood Circus, I mean, there was just so much great music. And for us, I think, it really had everything to do with the influence and the inspiration that the four of us had from the music we grew up with. You know, we combined so many different styles in our songwriting. And we had a brilliant guitar player, Peter Klett. He grew up listening to David Gilmour. And I think his favorite guitar player of all time is Michael Schenker.
So we had this kind of bluesy rock and roll influence that was countered by a progressive drummer whose favorite drummer was Steve Gadd. So we had, you know, all that kind of influence. And then there was my influence and inspiration from The Clash and Blondie and, you know, that kind of punk rock movement. And then Bardi, he loved Jaco Pastorius and, you know, real bass players. He loved Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy. So we combined all these to create this sound.
And I think that we definitely knew that we were onto something when we wrote the song “You” and, certainly, “Far Behind,” you know, that was the first thing that Bardi brought to the band when he came to try out. He brought it as a bass line, and we turned it into the guitar part. So there was certainly something special there.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: So you’re getting to know each other as a band. And then all of a sudden, at almost breakneck speed, Far Behind absolutely explodes on the radio. And your band is dealing with having a song literally, after a year of being on the charts, being in the Billboard top 20. Thinking back to those very early days, what was going through your mind back then as you were seeing the music that you were creating taking off like that?
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: It scared the shit out of me. But at the same time, it was incredibly rewarding. I think he thought across the four of our minds was: how are we even remotely going to be able to recreate something like this at some stage for a second record? It was more of a well, now we’ve done it, and what does this mean for our futures? There’s so much that goes through your mind. And at the same time, the excitement of it overwhelms you, and you get wrapped up in the world of buying cars and buying houses and all that kind of bullshit that comes along with money. So, with the fear came great excitement and great joy.
So, for us, it was really conscious when we went in to make the Lucy record that we did something that was different so that we didn’t fall into the trap of being a band that was chasing what we had already created.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: Candlebox has now existed for close to 30 years. How has the dynamic of the band changed over those decades? What are some things that you were able to do on your final album that you wouldn’t have been able to do when you first started?
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: Well, it’s just whatever we want. When you first start out as a band, and you’re signed to a major label, you’re restricted into the world of music that you’re creating. If you succeed at one level, then they want you to continue on that path because it’s a major label, and you’re using their money to do it.
Nowadays, being independent, I get to make the music I want. I don’t have to concern myself with the audience that’s going to listen to it because I know what the built-in audience is. Of course, you know, fingers crossed that the lightning strikes twice, and somehow this record blows up, and I have to continue touring. But the odds of that are, you know, one in a million.
So making this record, there was great freedom in it, as opposed to, you know, the dynamic in the band back in the days was, you know, Pete and Bardi were the main songwriters, and I wrote all the melodies and all the lyrics. And we tried to make what we had fit onto a record in the hopes that when that record was released, people were interested in it.
Now it’s, you know, I’m the last remaining member of Candlebox. I collaborate with Island [Styles], BJ [Kerwin], Adam [Kury], and Brian [Quinn] when we write these songs. When it comes to the lyrics on this record, I wrote with new young artists out of Nashville because I wanted something that I had never experienced before, which was incredibly exciting. I really, really loved doing that. And I kind of wished I’d been doing it all along.
It’s very interesting to give a young songwriter your perspective on what it is that you’re lyrically writing about musically writing about and having them expand upon it is a very gratifying thing. And it’s very exciting to watch the minds of Nashville writers. They are a certain kind of musician.
And so that dynamic with the guys in the band is great because everybody was just like, man, I love what these lyrics are. I love where you’re going with this. I love where your heads at, you know, and who wrote this line and I’ll go, that was Ryan and who wrote this line or that was Chief, you know, and/or this was Claire. She came up with this. It was really, really very exciting. And I think the guys in the band love it as much as I do. So that’s the biggest difference as well. The dynamic is that it’s so much more collaboration now than it ever really was back in the day.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: Earlier, you made a definitive statement that this was the last record you’re ever going to make. To clarify that…if inspiration strikes, do you feel like you might in the future make a one-off song here and there for Candlebox? Or are you done with making music from here on out?
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: No, I think music is always going to be a part of my life. It’s always going to be something that I’m doing. I just won’t make records anymore, and I won’t make any more Candlebox records. You know, I have a side project with my buddy, Don, who actually produced this record, Don Miggs. We have a side project called Future Trash, which we’re planning on releasing that record at some point.
I think we’ll write singles, and then if all of a sudden, we’re like, oh, we’ve got ten singles, we’ll release an album. That’s something that, you know, might happen independently. But I think, most likely, we’ll keep putting the singles out and see if anybody pays attention. It’s a difficult life to lead when you have to focus on producing music for the masses if you will, which is what’s expected of me. So I think now that there’s this freedom of me deciding to really end my career as a singer for Candlebox, I’m finding great freedom in that. And so, who knows? I mean, it’s not out of the question, but most likely, I won’t produce any more real albums, or I won’t go into the studio and lock myself in there for two weeks. It’s just that I don’t mentally enjoy that anymore.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: It’s very difficult to juggle your personal life with life on the road. And a lot of times, especially when I’m speaking to younger bands, they’re having a hard time getting used to that. So, given that you’ve experienced that very thing for so long, what are some suggestions you’d make to young musicians about handling the pressures and the challenges of making music and having life on the road?
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: The most difficult thing is, you know, keeping your mental health. You have to be stable. You have to find something in the process of what you’re doing on the road that keeps you grounded. If you don’t have grounds, you’re going to burn out. I mean, I’ve told the story before when Candlebox was first touring. There were eight of us in a van, and we were driving through Montana, and it was like 530 in the morning or something. And I happened to wake up, and the sun was coming up, and it was emotionally overwhelming.
And I had realized at that point, as I was listening to “Space Boy” by The Smashing Pumpkins, that I was incredibly lonely. Even being surrounded by the guys that I loved and the crew that I was working with and the instant gratification of the audience screaming for us every night when we went on stage, I was incredibly lonely. And that’s a very odd feeling to have when you’re surrounded by great love. I had to find my sanity in that.
And so when we pulled over, I got out, and I just took a nice walk, and I told myself that you can survive this, but you have to lean on those people who are there with you to help you survive. I think that, you know, certainly, we’re seeing the great issue with mental health right now, and people are losing their marbles because they’re trying to keep up with this networking or the social life they feel they have.
You know, these things that we’re talking on right now – I’m on my cell phone. This is the most dangerous object in my life because it can suck every ounce of my being out of me. And so, by being grounded as a young musician, go out there and take long walks. If you’ve got a chance, go to museums. Distract your mind from the craziness of life on the road. You just have to. And lean on those people that you’re close to. Be honest with them about your feelings. And don’t trust your audience [laughs]. ‘Cause they’ll lie to you every time,’ cause they just want from you what you can’t give them. And you really have to be true to yourself.
Everyone that’s out there to see you they do love you, and they love your music, but they want something from you that you may not be able to give them. And that’s okay. It’s a difficult thing, and it’s part of the reason why I’m putting this away. My wife experienced it the other day.
She came down to the San Diego show we had, and she had to deal with a bunch of friends that were coming to the show. And she’s like, “I don’t know how you do this every day.” And I said, “It’s very difficult. I’ve been doing it for 30 years. It’s a hard balance.”
Because I just want to perform, but I also have to be responsible for not only the guys in my band, not only the crew, but the audience that’s coming to see me or the friends that are coming to visit while we’re playing a show. That’s a lot of weight on my shoulders, and it’s a lot of weight on anybody’s shoulders. And if you’re out there and you’re struggling mentally as a musician, take a break. It’s really important. Your audience will be there. They will always be there. Just take that break and be there for yourself.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: It’s so important that you’ve said that because we have lost so many important musicians in the scene. Chester Bennington, Scott Weiland, Chris Cornell, hell, even “Far Behind” was written in part about Andy Wood. Growing up in this scene and experiencing those losses, how did that impact your perspective, seeing that going on?
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: Well, it made me realize how short we’re here and how important it is to find your footing. I did a lot of drugs, and I drink alcohol. But I was very fortunate to grow up in a house full of love. My parents are married for 42 years. I have an older sister and two older brothers who are very caring and generous and loving and my best friends in the entire world. So I’m very lucky.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t lose my way sometimes. I mean, I’ve sung about it in my songs about the difficulties of being a rock star or a musician or an artist or whatever it is. When Andy passed, heroin was rampant in Seattle. It took Layne Staley’s life as well. It was part of the reason that Kurt Cobain took his own life. He could not shake the habit. And I was fortunate enough to stay as far away from that as I could. It scared me, but other drugs didn’t.
It was my 18th birthday, I went to see Midnight Oil play at the Moore Theater, and I was such a huge fan of theirs. And I was high. And Peter Garrett scared the living shit out of me. He was so commanding on stage that I went home, and I said I’m not doing drugs anymore. I won’t do any synthetic drugs. If it’s anything, I’ll smoke weed, and I might take mushrooms, but I can’t live this life. If I wanna focus on this and I wanna be the musician that I wanna be, I need to be a stronger soul. And so that was really what it was for me. But unfortunately, some artists, they can’t shake that.
Chester [Bennington], that was heartbreaking, but he lost his best friend. It’s life.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: How do you believe that the friendships we make and the art we create and share in our lives shape who we are, and how do you feel like these experiences carry over into the future?
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: I mean, that’s all they do. Every day-to-day meeting with a new human being or contact with another human being will shape your future if you allow it to, and you have to let the universe talk to you, you know? Sometimes, it will open up and show you exactly where you’re headed. And other times, it will hide behind every single door that you’re opening, and you’re not finding it.
I believe my life over the past, you know, 30-32 years of Candlebox and 30 years of the debut album, that every single experience I’ve had has shaped me into the person that I am, into the life I live, and the music I make. It’s all parts of my memory. My wife hates the fact that I have the memory of an elephant because I can walk into a venue and say, oh, I played here with so-and-so, and Mark was here, and he was the old manager. But that’s how my life has been, and I love it. It has shaped every part of me.
I think if you allow yourself to be that way, you can take something from every single experience you have and turn it into a positive in your life. You know, I don’t wanna come across as some sort of, “Hey, I’m a positive speaker, and this is the way life is,” because sometimes we have to experience pain.
But that pain also brings you joy in something that you experience, [because] maybe you find a little bit of yourself or maybe you find a little bit of somebody else in your life that you can help. You know, it’s all part of being a human being. We’re here for such a brief period, and the best thing to do is be the best human being you can possibly be.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: And that actually jives with something that someone said to me, and it was actually during a podcast episode. I was speaking to an artist called Kailee Morgue, and she said that one of the best things that her father taught her was to treat everything like an experience and to live in the moment.
For example, you’re checking out at a grocery store, and the line might be a mile long. And you have two choices. You can be irritated and frustrated by how long everything is taking, or you can choose to have everything, even the mundane, like going to the store, work as an experience, and learn to enjoy the time you’re here. ‘Cause that’s so difficult.
It’s so easy for people to hyper-focus on everything, And it’s something I’ve been trying myself. To treat every interaction, such as speaking to people in my day-to-day life, as an experience. Learn from people, grow from people, because you don’t know if you’re going to be here until you’re 90 or if you’re going to be here until you’re 40. Life has a plan for you, and the most you can do is enjoy it while you’re here.
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: I one hundred percent agree with you. That is a perfect example: when you’re in a grocery store, there are so many things to experience. People-watching is one of the greatest things in the world. And I love going to grocery stores. I love going to interesting supermarkets. I love going into wine stores. Because there’s a story everywhere, and you can use that in your life. I’ve paid for groceries for people before.
“Oh, I can’t afford that.”, “I got this. Don’t worry about it.” And that’s something that we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to be here for one another. But in that process, you are experiencing so many great things that if you allow them to, they will give you a little bit more of yourself every single time.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: I love looking back at careers. That’s why you might have noticed that this whole interview has been a little retrospective. One of my favorite things to ask is, can you share a funny or unexpected moment that either happened on the road with a fan or even in your personal life that you feel when you think about it, it just makes you smile?
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: Man, there are so many. I mean, God, seeing The Black Crowes for the first time was such an amazing experience. The funniest thing for me is we did this tour with Henry Rollins in 1994. And my first concert was Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, and Butthole Surfers in San Antonio, Texas. I was 12 years old at the time.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: Wow. Good first show.
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: It was a great first show. It basically changed my life. That was the moment where I said, this is what I want to do. I want to be a musician, and I want to tour the world, and I want to slam, dance, and spit on people and run around. And I jumped up on stage and did a stage dive during the Black Flag set, and then I hit the ground, and I didn’t get up. So Henry saw me, and he grabbed me, pulled me up on stage, and I sang “Damage” with him, just like one verse of Damage, and then he pushed me off the stage. Jump to 22 years later, 82 to 94. I’m out on tour with Henry Rollins. I can’t look at him, I can’t talk to him, I’m totally in awe of him – I am 100 percent starstruck – I am so uncomfortable in my own skin.
And the last show, he comes up to me to the dressing room, and he’s like,” Hey, what’s your problem?” And I go, “If I told you wouldn’t even believe me.” And “He’s like, I want to know because you haven’t said one word to me. We’ve been out here for three weeks.” And so I told him the story, and he’s like, “That was you?” And of course, you know, he remembers everything. I said, “Yeah, man,” I was like, “You changed my life at the age of 12.” And I said, “I just can’t even believe I pinch myself every day, that I get to watch you perform every night. I have every record you’ve ever made. You are the only reason I sing in a fucking rock band. I love you, and it’s a weird experience for me.”
And he laughed and said, “OK, I thought you were one of those asshole Seattle guys.” And he tells the story sometimes in his spoken word about that still to this day about the stupid kid from Seattle who was such an asshole to him on tour. That’s a funny experience for me because I’ve had to say to him several times, “You’re telling the story wrong. I know you remember it that way, but that’s not the story.”
And we’ve had that conversation, and I think that’s funny that now I can see him, and I can actually say, “Hey, how are you? What’s going on?” And he asks about the band and stuff. But I have so many of those experiences that are really funny to me like that. This stupid kid from Seattle who had a dream to be in a rock and roll band got to tour with the one guy who changed his life at the age of 12. It’s just beyond me.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: And now you get a chance to, over the last couple of decades, turn around and do the same for somebody else. Have you ever given any thought to your impact on the music industry and the artists that you have likely inspired to start their own band?
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: I don’t know if I’ve stopped and thought about it. I mean, it certainly has crossed my mind. I’ve met young artists that have told me that Candlebox was their first band or the first song they learned to play was “Far Behind,” you know, stuff like that. But that’s just a beautiful experience to have someone tell you that. But I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about the impact that Candlebox has had on rock and roll music. It’s not something that’s crossed my mind or something that I think I would even be able to contemplate, really, because I never looked at the band that way.
I never looked at myself as anything other than the singer for Candlebox, who wrote some songs that people love. And 30 years later, I’m still producing music and still being a creative artist. That’s really, if you ask me, what do you want the world to remember about Kevin Martin from Candlebox? I would say I’m the luckiest son of a bitch to ever sing in a rock and roll band. I’ve never really looked at it as anything other than that. I’m very fortunate, you know? And I think maybe if I did think about it, it would probably be a little bit too overwhelming for me. So I’d probably try to stay clear of that and let it be what it is.
Altwire / Derek Oswald: What are you most excited about with releasing this upcoming record and touring in support of it?
Kevin Martin / Candlebox: The haters. (both laughing) I cannot wait to read the comments. You know, every time I release a record, I say to myself, I’m never gonna do this again. Because, you know, I’ve made seven, eight albums in my career. There’s one that people listen to. That’s the first album. There are two that people will put on occasionally to remind themselves of the other records that they have. And then there’s four that I don’t think anybody’s ever listened to. You know, that’s not true, of course. We’ve sold copies, but you know, I think it’s funny to me to put a record out in the hopes that it’s gonna make a difference to anybody other than us. We love this record. We love the songs on it.
“Punks,” the first single, is super cool. I’ll never forget writing in the studio how fast it happened. The next single, “What You Need,” is another one that’s got such a cool stomp to it. We pushed ourselves really far on this album. So you know, I think that what I’m most excited about with this is honestly for people to hear it and see what their opinion of it is. When you make your last record, you can kind of do whatever you want in the hopes that people get a little bit more of an insight into who you are as a musician or an artist. And this album for us, The Long Goodbye, is a super extension of what we are as musicians.