The title track on Jeff Martin's debut album 'Still' opens with the line 'I can feel my whole world changing' – a relative understatement for a man immersed in obscurity and a full-time job six months ago. Reluctant to jump on the Irish musical merry-go-round, he has maintained a low-key presence on the Dublin scene. The reason for this wasn't hermetic but came from a desire to try and record an album even if he wasn't sure he'd release it.
"'Still' began as a collection of songs I'd accumulated over a period of time and I wanted to document them. Having looked around for someone to record with I knew I needed to find someone who understood what I wanted to do and I met up with a producer called Stephen Shannon. We started to put down the songs and it went so well that it developed from seven tracks to nine." Martin wanted the core of the album to be stripped-down acoustic but was willing to try something different with it. He was prepared to take chances with instruments and equipment he had never used before or knew much about.
"I started with the traditional format of acoustic-based music but I wanted to decorate them with a lot of other elements. After recording the guitar, I listened back to each song to see if I could enhance the sound and ended up using harmoniums, cello, a French horn and a 303. We also ended up using some sampling on it, which I didn't know much about before, but for me it's all about complimenting the songs as opposed to adding something that wasn't there in the first place."
These are the songs of a troubadour, filled with poignant snapshots of life. The guitars are both dexterous and delicate and every flit across the frets is a complex composition made to sound effortless. Each song is a touching observation on the human condition, from the pensive reverie of 'Wiseone' to the world-weariness of 'Tired'. Martin proudly claims he has never written a love-song, admitting he prefers to steer clear of what he dubs the 'you-broke-my-heart-and-messed-me-up' genre. "I'm more interested in writing about people and things that happen in everyday life. I do write about specific themes but I disguise them so that the listener has to read a little bit into each song."
While he is happy to doff his cap to Elliot Smith and Nick Drake as influences, Jeff Martin is loathe to wear the mantle of singer/songwriter. "The term singer-songwriter is a really irritating one, it conjures up images of whiney, chord-strumming self-indulgence and if you play in a band you don't have to deal with that 'poor old me image'. People focus on the music and your role in a band, which is doesn't happen when you're a solo musician."
He applies this stoical independence to the process of actually getting an album into the record shops. To avoid the pitfalls of major label interference, he decided to set up his own label, Casino Gravity, and release the album himself. "It's fantastic that people are bringing out their own albums themselves. Everyone knows you can make the music you want to, in whatever way you want so there's less hassle by not having to answer to anyone else."
As he limbers up for this Friday's album launch, what does he make of the album and where would he like to go from here? "'Still' is very song-oriented. I've always believed in the cliché that a song can live forever and although the songs are rooted musically in today, I'd like to think they'll stand the test of time."
Ireland is awash with songwriters that vary in talent as much as they do in scope. Even though this scene is bursting at the seams with hopefuls, there is a dull whiff of mediocrity about it – which Jeff Martin shirks from and successfully avoids. His melodic world-view is fraught with tenderness and stands alone without sentimentality. Having recently supported Glen Hansard and with Redneck Manifesto gig lined up, it's about time Jeff Martin stepped up from the underground and showed us that his musical flair makes 'Still' one of the best debuts you'll hear this year.
Jeff Martin launches his debut album, 'Still' in The Shelter on Friday 31 August with support from Dot Creek, Richie Egan (The Redneck Manifesto) and DJ Stephen Shannon.