Having travelled from Syracuse to Boston to the world and back, Martin Sexton has heard and played music from many lands and many cultures. On his latest album, Mixtape for the Open Road, he continues to combine the myriad voices in his heart and head and share them with his ever-dedicated and ever-larger group of fans.
After eight acclaimed studio albums and a handful of efforts to capture the pure musical ecstasy that is a live performance – one that can be experienced Saturday May 9 at the House of Blues – Sexton says that he looks back with pride and pleasure at his own musical road.
“It has been 20 years enjoying the fruits of my labors,” he observes, “which is nice.”
In fact, Sexton says, he feels “blessed” for what he has, especially the longevity of his career.
“That seems like defying gravity to me,” he remarks regarding two decades of making art. “I am feeling respected amongst my peers which is petty much everything I ever wanted. I am living the dream really!”
That “dream” has taken many twists and turns, including time playing in subway tunnels, recording for a “major” label and, most recently, becoming a strong independent voice in the often cookie cutter world of music.
“The music biz has changed so immensely,” Sexton observes. “I had my path through the maze but the maze changed.” And while such changes have apparently confounded other artists, Sexton has been able to take them in stride and, in many ways, to take them under his own control: “It’s been a long, strange, beautiful trip since I started. In some ways, it’s better than what I dreamed.”
While his early days included dreams of chart-topping albums and heavy play on radio and MTV, Sexton suggests that, if he had enjoyed (or had) those things, he would probably not be performing now (which would surely be much to the chagrin of many, including himself).
“I’d probably be on VH-1’s ‘Where Are They Now?’” he says. “Instead, I have this ongoing fruitful and artistically true situation.”
As he has been able to make his own way and find success on his own terms, Sexton goes so far as to suggest that he may be somewhat of a guide to other artists who are finding frustration with traditional means of motion.
“I’d like to think of myself as a power of example that one can sort of do this without the major machinery of that industry,” he says. “I am proud of the fact that I have what I have without the sanctions of the music industry…. I’m independent!”
While he has gone it alone for much of his career, the founder of Kitchen Table Records has not been alone for much of it at all. Even when he was playing in the subway tunnels near Harvard Square, Sexton always drew a crowd and was often able to sell out his CD stashes from his guitar case! These days, fans follow him around and make his concerts regular events to which they always bring friends.
As he has so established himself with fans and musical friends, Sexton feels that he can now use his art to do more than just entertain. “It’s also there to help me on my mission,” he says, revealing that, after many years of consideration, he has actually written a personal statement of purpose that involves using the power of music to make the world a better place.
“I see my role as to bring unity to people of all kinds,” he explains. “I want to show us how alike we all are and to entertain while I am doing so.”
In his continuing effort to find new ways to engage and entertain, Sexton stretched a bit on his new album, both in terms of external geography and internal. Writing and recording from Jackson Hole, WY to upstate NY to his home in Western Mass. and taking influences from George Jones and the Grateful Dead, Sexton collaborated with such talented friends as guitarist Duke Levine and Joe Bonadillo to make an album that is as varied as a mix tape and as wide ranging as the open road itself.
“In many ways, the Mixtape album is not that different from other records in that all my records are super-rangey,” he suggests. Noting that he tends to make albums that echo the Beatles’ masterpiece Abbey Road in going from acoustic to bombastic.
“With this record, I stepped on the gas in that direction even more.” The main difference, Sexton says, is that he played more of the albums himself, just as he did on his early demo tapes. “It’s more me than ever because I am playing most of the instruments, including the bass, the keyboards, the percussion, and all the vocals,” he explains. “I am all over the tracks.”
When asked if he feels that he is skewing older with a title that refers to the means by which many of his own peers proclaimed their affections for others back in the day, Sexton confidently counters, “I got teenagers and they knew it.”
No matter who or what is in the “mix,” Sexton is sure to come across with integrity and passion and that, he suggests, is what has allowed and encouraged him to make the many connections he has as he continues along life’s open road. “I mean what I sing,” he says. “I try to tell the truth, and whether it comes out as a folk song or a rock song, it is real and people recognize real stuff.”
As such “real stuff” is always happening and as Sexton is always eager to encounter and engage it, he admits that there are always new ideas brewing, even while he shares his latest collection.
“Right now, I am sort of enjoying that early stage of my cycle where I am touring,” he says, admitting that he is loath to think about what may be next until he has had more time to settle into what is. As the new ideas begin to pile up, however, Sexton also promises to share.
“I am like a fisherman,” he says. “I get my catch and ride back to shore to cook ‘em up and share ‘em with folks.”
– Matt Robinson
15 Lansdowne St., Boston 888 693 BLUE (2583) www.houseofblues.com/boston/