photo by Chevy Anderson
by Chance Solem-Pfeifer
Sam Martin remembers when The Velvet Underground frightened him more than any machete-wielding, horror movie psychopath ever could.
The Omaha songwriter and Capgun Coup frontman was a 13-year-old when “Venus In Furs” played in a friend’s basement, instilling in him the idea that music could be “terrifying.” For all the emotions music is capable of capturing, fear would be one to enamor Martin in writing and recording for years to come.
That interest is part of what makes the rare genre indicator “spook folk” apt for many of the songs on Martin’s new self-release, Trite monsters. In Martin’s music, it denotes a sound something like The Mamas & The Papas but with a ghostly singer and the creaks of a decrepit carnival breaking down behind it.
And while Trite monsters is just one in a parade of Martin’s current artistic projects — including a forthcoming movie, Sick Birds Die Easy, with Nik Fackler (Icky Blossoms, InDreama) and a debut studio album, A notion in an ocean, from Make Believe Studios due in October — this 18-track record spans six years of Sam Martin. That’s 18 tracks to capture six years of writing and recording nearly every day, and the evolution of an important philosophical definition that sets Martin’s solo writing apart Capgun Coup’s.
“I feel like the sarcasm isn’t as heavy (as the writing progressed),” Martin says. “And neither is the presumption that people will read the sarcasm. Back in the day, it was more like the drunken slurring. I thought it was charming but now it seems like a waste of time: to pretend to not give a shit about (your music). To care about it and then present it in a way that it looks like you don’t.”
Martin is sure at one time or another he pitched Capgun Coup many of the tracks in the pool of about 100 he drew from for Trite monsters. But as the separations in irony made themselves clear, he demarcated them as solo work.
“That was Capgun’s kind of thing,” Martin says, “(being) sassy and belligerent, and some of the songs with that ideology carried over. Now it’s more separate. It was really hard for a long time to separate what was going to be my stuff and what was gonna be Capgun stuff.”
Still, some of the self-deprecation part and parcel to Martin’s presentation of his music in the mid- and late 2000s was less of a stylistic choice and more of his internal editor. The years he spent compiling work for Trite monsters played an important role in turning off the little judge in his head.
“After they’d become kind of old, (the songs) sound better the way they are,” Martin says. “After a while it’s like listening to someone’s else’s music and you’re not such a critic.”
Trite monsters spans several moments in Martin’s creative life: the days when he was at his sharpest on the piano while living in a house on Omaha’s 35th Street with his Capgun bandmates; the years when he increasingly realized it was possible to write about anything, even internet memes; the days when he looked around at his Omaha contemporaries and says he came to believe that clawing for originality could quickly turn into a “pissing match.” Maybe neglected genres deserved more attention.
The collection’s oldest track is “Pee rock star,” and Martin estimates the most recently written is “Email,” a song which confirms Martin’s determination to transfigure and “emo-folkify” a traditional genre while still attempting to critique contemporary society.
“You can use all these chord progressions that are the exact same, but you sing them and emote them in a different way,” Martin says. “If I’m saying anything (with ‘Email’), I’m saying we don’t really think about (technology) enough and it’s depressing to me.
“You can sound like an old man if you say that. It’s so much putting your own propaganda out there and whoever has the best propaganda gets to the top.”
If a listener is looking for a road sign toward the gist of Martin’s Make Believe release, A notion in an ocean, due out this Halloween, look to “All that glitters is cold,” the mournful final track of Trite monsters. Martin calls it this collection’s darkest and a throwback to his writing of three and four years ago.
“I think it leads into the new album. Lyrically, it’s probably the most dishonest to what I feel now but the most honest to what I felt then. It’s pessimistic, but there are a lot of pessimists out there who like pessimism-reinforcing music.”
Chance Solem-Pfeifer is Hear Nebraska’s staff writer. He absolutely loves a good A&E classification and can’t get over that “spook folk” is real sub-genre. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.