If you need a band to restore your faith in humanity during these turbulent times, then look no further than Durham pop-punks Martha. Their third album, ‘Love Keeps Kicking', explores the ways the world seems to kick us while we're down, but it also sees the four-piece kicking back.
"It feels like a sadder more sombre album than our previous records," says drummer and vocalist Nathan Stephens-Griffin. "It wasn't deliberate, but this is where we're at as a culture, as a world - we're in a really shitty place, but there are still things to hold onto."
In many ways, ‘Love Keeps Kicking' is a break-up record, though not just the break-up of a romantic relationship. "I think the world is breaking up, isn't it?" asks Nathan rhetorically.
"We feel like a general negativity and sadness that's being felt across the board has filtered into our songwriting. It's not strictly a break-up album, but it might be a heartbreak album," explains bass player and vocalist Naomi Griffin. "We still love love, though!" she laughs. "We always try to find a bit of humour in sad or stressful situations. The band is meant to be fun; we want to have a good time doing it. We don't want to be chucked out in the Marie Kondo sorting of things that don't bring people joy!"
What Martha have done with ‘Love Keeps Kicking' is turn this negativity and heartache into something uplifting, right from the opening chords of ‘Heart is Healing', with the scrappy riffs and irresistible vocal harmonies that have become a signature part of their sound. As with their previous records, one of Martha's greatest strengths is their storytelling ability, giving a voice to life's outsiders to highlight everyday political issues. When speaking out as a band, Martha certainly don't hide their political views, though in song form, they are framed within the narrative of everyday experiences.
"I believe that everything is political or can be viewed politically," states Nathan. "Daniel (Martha guitarist and vocalist) and I are also in a band called ONSIND where we're very overtly political, whereas, with Martha, the political manifests itself through stories of outsiders that we don't necessarily see reflected in mainstream music that often."
"I do think about the political context of what I'm writing and what could be read into it," adds Naomi. "When producing any kind of art, you contribute something whether you support or criticise the status quo, and it's important to be aware of that."
"When Ed Sheeran gets up and plays a song about a woman, you wouldn't think that was political, but it carries with it a backdrop of cultural ideals," says Nathan. "It's rooted in a white, middle class, heterosexual experience. Any expression of the personal is political. I'm fine with Ed Sheeran mind, and actually, I love George Ezra. You can quote me on that!"
A perfect example of Martha's knack of shining a light on the people that tend to be brushed under the mainstream rug, is album track ‘Mini Was A Preteen Arsonist'. On the surface, it's an endearing slice of oddball pop about a young miscreant, but there's much more underneath.
"It's a true story about a kid from County Durham called Mini Cooper who spent his life incarcerated," explains Nathan. "He repeatedly set fires, even setting fire to his own house twice, and he was greatly harmed from being institutionalised. That song is an anti-prison song; it's about what we do when people represent a ‘problem', and we don't know what to do with them."
The release of ‘Love Keeps Kicking' marks a new chapter for Martha, with this record being their first release via the excellent Big Scary Monsters, having worked previously with the now defunct cult indie label Fortuna POP!
"We wanted to work with a label who understand what we're about and care what we're about, and BSM have always been very supportive and enthusiastic," says Naomi.
"Trying to find a label is a bit like dating – people don't want to seem too keen," adds Nathan. "We're the kind of people who just want to be like ‘look, I like you, will you go out with me?', and not do all the pretending to be interested stuff. And now we're on the same label as The Get Up Kids!"
Recent years have seen Martha juggle work life with the demands of touring with the likes of Joyce Manor and Jeff Rosenstock across Europe and the USA, and things are bound to get a lot more hectic in 2019, which, Nathan worries, "may be the year that is going to push me to the limits of my ability to not be insane." Though fellow bandmate JC Cairns drives other bands around on tour, Nathan, Naomi and Daniel all work in academia, as a Criminology Lecturer, Research Assistant and University Librarian, respectively.
The surreal difference between working in a North East University to then flying to America and appearing on a TV show alongside Aubrey Plaza, is not lost on this pop-punk band from a tiny village in County Durham. "Sometimes it feels like we're peeking from behind the curtain into this world that we don't have access to. Obviously living in Durham, it's not the centre of culture, so appearing on The Chris Gethard Show in New York really wasn't a normal experience for us," says Nathan.
"Travelling the world is weird for us, but it's even weirder for everyone we know," adds Naomi. "You tell everyone at work you're going on holiday, and they ask what you're up to. ‘Oh, we're just going to sit in a van all day and sleep on a floor. We might drink some nice pop'. Why? ‘Because we love it!'"
This unassuming wit and charm melts its way into Martha's song-writing, making it nigh on impossible not to fall in love with them. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that this pop-punk quartet will end up as iconic as Buzzcocks or Billy Bragg. Like these punk legends, Martha are able to take their vulnerabilities and bottle them into the sound of sheer joy. Though Nathan jokes, "Who knows if anyone will make it out of 2019?", there's no doubt that Martha will still come out kicking.
Taken from the April issue of Upset, out now. Martha's album 'Love Keeps Kicking' is out 5th April.
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