MARTIN REV: I NEVER FEEL OVERRATED
Martin Rev was half of Suicide and once caused a brutal riot in Brussels, Belgium. His solo album Cheyenne will be reissued this year. This interview by Nikki Darling.
I read that in the early days of Suicide you would get booed as soon as you walked onstage.
It happened very often, but usually after they heard the sound and saw us. I think they either felt we were very threatening, or we represented the future—which they definitely didn’t want if it looked and sounded our way.
Was your earlier music inspired by jazz? Or were you intending to go for an electronic feel?
My early music was originally inspired by rock first, which I grew up on, and then later jazz, which I got into deeply, and any classical—especially more contemporary stuff that I was exposed to on the way. I wasn’t trying to go for any feel—just what was the next frontier in my development. Electronics was just the freshest and only really new vista at some point. I branched off into electronics after taking my group into places where there were no keyboards and I had to use electric ones, and also from the necessity of having to keep playing what moved me on a very limited financial plane. But above all they were simply just the next step for me in my own music. I had deeply explored all the previous phases of what was happening instrumentally up to that time—at least along my own path. There was also the album Emergency by Tony Williams, who I had known and played with a bit as well. It seemed to have a 3-D aspect in the way the guitar electronics were being used with the other guys—it just reinforced that this was the new world.
Do you remember Lester Bangs? What was New York like then?
I remember Lester. He came backstage at a couple of shows. There are lots of stories, but I think the music tells them best in its own way. Everyone then seemed to be quite serious in their own trip, even if you weren’t into what they were doing. There wasn’t a lot of posing unless it was part of the theatre which was part of the music.
How did Suicide manage to make that record so frightening-sounding?
The record sounded just the way we played live. It was actually heard by people who knew of us as tamer than the shows at the time. The songs came from real life—newspaper articles—like “Frankie Teardrop”—and just the imagination and intensity of vision and survival that we were each going through as individual artists.
How inspired were you by people like Elvis or old rockabilly singers?
Of course that stuff was in my blood from very early exposure. So it was always there. I didn’t have to try to cultivate it much.
What do you think about so many people regarding you as a such a major influence?
It’s always cool, but the reality of it cannot be taken too seriously, though. It has nothing to do with where you’re going next, you know?
Do you ever feel overrated? Like people get caught up in the myth and then that perpetuates itself? Or do you genuinely think you were doing something truly unique?
Strange—I never feel overrated. I guess it’s because I know how much more I want to learn. I wake up to where I left off the day before, which is never anything you can rest on for long. I never took the positive critical stuff too seriously. Only about now I can see that we definitely stand out in the world we’re in, but who knows ultimately how important that is or will be? And again, it doesn’t lead me further down my path. That only comes from the pursuit of the knowledge and means to go further.
What does Martin Rev do when he’s not playing music or answering questions about Suicide?
After playing or studying music or pursuits and arts related to it, there’s not a whole lot else except my personal life. Nothing else means as much for me.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I don’t think I listen to anything that different—I just hear it through my own experience and in relation to what I’m working or thinking about at the time.
How do you feel about the label ‘punk’?
It’s cool. We were using it as early as 1971 and then let it go a year or two later for other stuff. I think it has a relation to something my generation went through in a very subtle way—as well as the obvious.
Do you ever see kids on the street dressed like you thirty years ago and want to punch ‘em in the face?
Everything that has some impact goes down that way. It never bothers me—I just observed it happen like a lot of other things. Actually, I’m glad if we left some material or idea that may be useful in some way, even if not possibly for that long.
What’s your favorite sports team?
My years of having a favorite team has passed to where I just dig anyone playing an exciting or well-executed game.
Boxers or briefs?
None or both.
Have you heard that people claim Bruce Springsteen ripped you off on Nebraska?
I heard it as “influenced.”
Do you make a living as a musician?
When I make one, it’s as one.
MARTIN REV PLAYS TUES., JULY 24, WITH FUXA, LSD AND THE SEARCH FOR GOD, THE NEW COLLAPSE AND ALISON CHESNEY AT THE SILVERLAKE LOUNGE, 2906 SUNSET BLVD., SILVERLAKE. 8 PM / $15 / 21+. WWW.FOLDSILVERLAKE.COM. AND ALSO PLAYS WED., JULY 25, WITH FUXA AND LSD AND THE SEARCH FOR GOD AT THE KNITTING FACTORY, 7021 HOLLYWOOD BLVD., HOLLYWOOD. 8 PM / $15 / ALL AGES. WWW.KNITTINGFACTORY.COM.