Open Heart Surgery
- Martin Grech »
Whilst TOTP may be awash with teenage flesh, pontificating on puppy love, the paedo-pop scene can hardly claim to have generated many genuine schoolboy mavericks. Martin Grech’s ‘Open Heart Zoo’ would have seemed an assured debut as it was, but that he made his first serious creative inroads whilst most of us are wrestling with the horrors of double geography is rather an impressive feat. Swamped as he must’ve been with pent-up pubescent chemicals, one wonders how he didn’t let things go totally to his head. “When I was at school, I pretended I didn’t have a record contract and when I was working, I pretended I didn’t go to school. It’s the only way you can deal with, it’s strange. I made my own record first before I got a major deal with a major label. I signed to a production label and they helped me make the record. I started demo-ing when I was 15 and then those demos turned into the demo album and that demo album turned into the recordings that you hear.” Being a bit different at school can illicit all kinds of unwanted attention and whilst many kids may dream of being rock stars, Martin actually was one. One wonders what it must’ve felt like for his schoolmates messing about in their own bands. “No one even thinks about doing music when you’re that age. Because it’s the only thing I know it didn’t feel unusual.”
So for a guy who starts working on his first album aged 15, you’d imagine he’s been playing guitar since he was 9, 10? Nope, Grech is one fast learner. “I picked up a guitar when I was 13, that’s when I first started playing and I probably started writing, literally one-chord songs when I was 14. The first few tracks we recorded, the demos, I had about three tracks that were any good, they were written when I was 14.” If you’re not welded to your seat with sickened jealousy, you’ll be disheartened to know that not only had Martin only been playing guitar a couple of years, he had next to no idea what he was even doing. He himself declares himself very much an idiot savant. “I don’t know about chords, or what goes what. I don’t know how you’re supposed to do this and how you’re supposed to do that. I deliberately stayed away from doing music at school. They teach you how to structure things, I just did whatever felt right.” Dispensing with expensive music lessons and skipping the music classes at school, the young Grech eschewed academia’s approach for a shopping trip to get a healthy record collection instead. “You’re most influenceable (sic) as a teenager. If it hadn’t been for The Bends, I wouldn’t have started doing music.”
Under the safe guidance of Radiohead and with a roaring muse, as he may have been, the gap between aspiring artist and bona-fide rock star is a tremendous gulf. Whilst many teenagers may dream of becoming a ‘golden god’ (copyright Robert Plant), few actually do anything about it. Fortunately for him, a co-conspirator was more than keen to get involved. “The manager that I have now was just a friend that I’ve always known. He’d listened to my demos that I’d done on my 4-track at home and he loved it. He had contacts and you end up meeting up all the right people. Hopefully you attract people who are good to work with for your music and luckily I did.” Still, now as a fully-grown twenty-something, how pleasant can it be to look at your tortured adolescence? “When I look back, I always get stressed because that album represents me at the moment and I haven’t released anything new and I’m so different now from when I was 15 years old. I’m still the same person, but everything that I want and everything that is important is different.” This of course brings us to what is his first release in well, quite some time, the download single ‘I Am Chromosome’, which sounds well... I’ll let the man himself explain: “My first record is like three different parts, a bit heavy, a bit middle of the road and a bit classical. It’s a combination of the two extremes. It’s a bit heavier than anything off the first album, but also with the classical feel of the first album as well.”
A new single, so then presumably a new album must be soon on the horizon? Well, not quite. With all the legal business that comes from changing record label (although he concedes negotiations have been pretty friendly really), Martin has been banished from the studio whilst the various execs put pen to paper. For an artist with such a furious work-rate, you’d imagine this must to be trying. “I’m a bit wound-up because I haven’t been able to record anything. If I had, I’d have probably had three albums out by now.” With the various suits now happy, work is only now set to begin on his sophomore effort, if he ever fathoms quite how to sift through the many songs. Raring to go as he is, the second album will certainly be a less deconstructed record than his debut. “It’s much more into capturing a moment and then capturing another moment, rather than having an album of me going through loads of different phases. The first album is a bit like that, it’s a bit too eclectic, it’s got too much stuff because I was still learning when I was making that record and I was still changing the kind of music I liked. I’d do a recording and four months later, when I was in the studio again, I’d be into different stuff. I’d be writing different stuff and I’d come in with new tracks and not want to work on the old tracks.”
If ‘Open Heart Zoo’ was the culmination of three years trying to figure out quite who he was and what he wanted to do, his new approach will be very much different. “Nothing is methodical, nothing is thought out before it’s done. It’s captured improvisation and inspiration. Sometimes I’ve got a couple of chords and an acoustic guitar and I’ll write a melody and lyric and that’s the track. Sometimes I’ve got a whole symphony worked out. Sometimes, I’ve just got a riff.” Sometimes, you just have one hell of a lot of a songs, not that he ever wants that to stop that. “Every artist goes through times when they can’t do it anymore for a little while and then you just kill yourself. It’d quite traumatic when you think you can’t write any more, you can’t do it for a couple of months, then suddenly it comes flooding back and you’ve got millions of tracks. To stop it on purpose is just like murder. I’d be too scared if I stopped it on purpose, it wouldn’t come back.”
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