Jonathan Martin makes music that mattersSongster to play Anthony Wayne's Thursday and Friday
Like many musicians who exist outside the confines of pop radio, Jonathan Martin doesn’t like to pigeon hole his sound. The singer-songwriter’s music is sort of like southern rock but deeper, like blues rock but harder, and maybe even a bit like metal, but so much more literate.
“We’re going to have to find a word for ‘poetic rock’ somewhere in there,” said Martin, who will playing acoustic shows this Thursday and Friday nights at Anthony Wayne’s.
Maybe he’s right. He’s been a poet since he was 12 or so and certainly talks like one. He’s full of smart turns of phrase and surprisingly fresh descriptions of familiar feelings. He also has one of the most basic requirements for a poet (or perhaps any artist): honesty.
In his songs, and even in casual conversation, he doesn’t pull any punches.
“I’ve been through so much pain in my life — physical, emotional,” he said.
He then listed off a string of medical conditions past and present and his first heartbreak. Martin, now 34, believes he suffered a stroke at 19 and thinks he may have had mercury poising from a damaged filling, though he can’t prove either. He’s lost people close to him and once almost lost his own life due to food poisoning that caused him to shed 20 pounds in the blink of an eye. The list goes on, and while this turmoil has been terrible, he sees its silver lining. With adversity comes perspective, and he relishes it.
“I think it causes you to get in touch and become a more compassionate person toward other people who are in your shoes,” he said.
That’s not just important for everyday living, but for his music, which has been pouring out of him for a while now. He estimates that in the past four years or so, he’s written upwards of 240 songs. Though he can’t say exactly what sparked this flood of creativity, he feels it has something to do with his house. It has an otherworldly energy to it, one he can’t quite explain. He’s even had local ghost hunters pay him a dramatic visit — though that’s another story.
“It doesn’t feel like you’re being watched,” he said. “It feels like you’re being watched over.”
Regardless of what it is, he believes this force has helped unleash his writerly creativity, which comes out in all kinds of songs.
Sometimes he writes from his own perspective and sometimes it’s from that of a fictional character, steeped in history. In his songs, Martin can be a Viking, bounty hunter or cowboy. As far-out and fanciful as this might sound, he does always try to tie his tunes to understandable concepts. Above everything else, real human emotion is at the heart of all his songs.
“I try to write it to where everyone can relate to it,” he said.
Though he’s confident in his abilities as a writer, singer and guitar player, he admits he’s in a learning curve, as is anyone attempting to perfect anything. He’s always looking for feedback from his friends and fellow musicians (“the school of hard thoughts,” as he calls it), and is constantly searching for new places to play and new crowds to entertain. One day, he would love to be a songwriter in Nashville, but for now he’s still finding his place in Western North Carolina’s music scene. He admits this journey is not easy, but it’s the only one he knows that can take him where he wants to go. He doesn’t sound attached to any specific outcome, however.
In his words, “I’m going to go wherever the Great Spirit takes me.”
His desire to move forward is not so much about getting his name in lights as it about something closer to his heart. Martin wants to help people however he can. In addition to playing typical gigs in Haywood County and beyond, he likes to do benefits, and is open to playing as many as he can.
At one of his most successful fundraisers, he and the Waynesville Country Club raised more than $1,000 for Star Ranch, a local refuge for abused and neglected horses.
When he looks toward the future, Martin imagines helping others on a bigger, even global, scale. His sense of purpose is undeniable.
“It’s something I think about, get excited about, get frustrated over. It’s something I’m passionate about,” he said.
Though he really does hope to change the world someday, for now he’s putting all this heart and caring into playing around here. He’s happy to do it. Even though it’s not as dramatic as helping people in Africa or some other war-torn place, he knows how important a good night of music can be.
This Friday and always, he hopes his audience takes away “resonance, healing, and awakening” from his work, he said. “And of course love.”
He tries to put all these ingredients into every one of his songs.
Jonathan Martin will be playing with the “super-talented” (Martin’s words) guitarist Tyson Halford at 7 p.m. Friday, March 9, at Anthony Wayne’s at The Gateway Club, 34 Church St. in Waynesville. Martin will also do a solo show at 7 p.m. Thursday. The shows will be acoustic and made up of mostly original tunes, with many instrumental songs playing until about 8 p.m. Martin would like to thank his good friend and Anthony Wayne’s new bartender, Lisa Bessent, for helping to make this musical night possible. For more information on Martin and a sampling of his music, “friend” Small Town Jonathan Martin on Facebook or call Anthony Wayne’s at 456-6789.