INTERVIEW: MARTHA | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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We feel like we are more powerful than we’ve ever been.” There’s a laugh from Martha’s sibling rhythm section Nathan Stephens-Griffin and Naomi Griffin as Nathan says this, but that doesn’t mean what he’s saying isn’t true. Three years after their third record Love Keeps Kicking, Martha are back this month with their new album Please Don’t Take Me Back. A joyous collection of riffs underpinning songs of despair and defiance, it’s got a legitimate claim to being considered their best work yet. 

For a band whose music is so frequently influenced by the (usually awful) events going on in the wider world around them, Martha haven’t exactly been short of source material over the last couple of years. Indeed, the horrorsphere we live in is writ large in their new songs. As Nathan explains, “The first record was about growing up punk, the second record was about grown-ups who stayed punk and the last one was about matters of the heart. If I had to summarise this one, there’s a song called Total Cancellation Of The Future and a lot of the themes of the song are about feeling like we’re living in wild, bleak times and the things we were promised we should be able to expect have all been taken away.”

Their passion and unwillingness to compromise are key in what initially attracts people to Martha, but what makes them stick around is just how much fun the band make it all feel. And it helps that they’re a gang, the kind of band you couldn’t really ever imagine replacing a member. Naomi acknowledges: “Making a music video, going on tour and making an album, they’re all ways for us to hang out and have a nice time together, so as much as songwriting can be really cathartic and give you a space to reflect on quite difficult things, the activities we get to do are really motivated by hanging out with your mates.”

Nathan expands: “I think there was probably a point 10 years ago where we were like ‘should we try and be cool…?’ I’m happy that we’re goofy and we can make a serious point and also just have a daft laugh. The goofiness is very much part of the package.”

a lot of the themes of the song are about feeling like we’re living in wild, bleak times and the things we were promised we should be able to expect have all been taken away

Martha have always tried to shine a little light into the dark, and Please Don’t Take Me Back represents another attempt to do that. The title is a pretty heavy hint, but they’re keen not to fall into the trap of longing for the good old days (indeed, as the album’s title track reminds us, “The old days were bad). Nathan clarifies the context: “We need to try and somehow envisage a future that is better and imagine and try to build the world we wanna see in the wreckage that we’re living in. It’s about not romanticising the past which we shouldn’t just accept as good enough, ‘cos the more things get worse, the more it feels like ‘oh if we could just go back to that’… But actually, no, since bloody forever, things haven’t been good enough and they need to get better.”

Four albums is an atypically long lifespan for a DIY punk band, and the fact Martha are still here a decade after their first album is testament to their commitment to the cause. It can also make a band a little lonely when they outlive their peers, especially coming out of a period when everyone’s been forced indoors for so long. They once told us to Move To Durham And Never Leave, but it’s clear that their home city is a different place now. As Nathan says: “We’ve not really got a space in Durham any more. We’re very lucky we’ve got Pop Recs Ltd. in Sunderland. We were very much part of a scene when we started and now, locally, nationally, globally, whatever… For me, I feel a bit more disconnected just because of how long we’ve been quiet. Three years is a long time for people in bands – it’s the entire life of some bands – so I want this tour to be a chance to reconnect and see what’s going on everywhere.”

After such an insular spell, it’s understandable why the band seem particularly excited to be back on the treadmill and ‘veterans’ or not, they’ve got no intention of dialling anything back. Naomi says: “I wanna try and go places and see people, see people we’ve never seen, see people we haven’t seen for a while. For me that’s the main thing, just getting about a bit more.”

Nathan is in agreement. “For a band as old as we are, we feel like we’re in a rich vein of creative form. We’re desperate to go on tour and we’re desperate for people to hear the record. We’ve had a version of the record for a long time, but I think it’s our best record. I’m happy that people have liked what we’ve put out so far, and I hope that it reaches more people, but even if it doesn’t, I’m just dead keen to get out and play.”

The chance to be in a room with Martha in such an eager frame of mind, and armed with such an invigorating and infectious set of songs, is a true privilege. After everything everyone’s been through, this band and their new record represent pure hope. Their two December dates at Pop Recs Ltd. promise to be highlights in the North East music landscape for 2022, and an early Christmas present for the region. I’d urge you to take a trip to Sunderland to catch our greatest band on the form of their lives.

Martha release Please Don’t Take Me Back via Specialist Subject Records on 28th October. They play Pop Recs Ltd., Sunderland on Thursday 1st and Friday 2nd December.


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