Martin Sexton is livin’ the life
September 24, 2010
Martin Sexton was hiking in the Grand Tetons when he met a fan in the middle of the woods – a forest ranger whose story inspired the song “Livin the Life,” which is on Sexton’s most recent album “Sugarcoating.”
In a previous life, the forest ranger pulled in millions working on Wall Street, he told Sexton. Then he listened to the album “Black Sheep,” quit his job and went back to school to become a forest ranger.
The song asks simply – are you living the life you dreamed of?
“He said ‘I make one one hundredth of the salary I made, but I’m on a righteous path. The path I’m supposed to be on. I’m heading in the right direction and I don’t get up every day and throw up before work,'” Sexton said during a phone interview last week.
In the past, Sexton, a blue-eyed soul man if there ever was, has mostly released records that touch on non-controversial themes – drawing mostly from his life experiences, and how he strives to live as an example of someone who can successfully chase – and live – a dream.
Not so with “Sugarcoating,” which was released in April.
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“The last couple of years have been an awakening for me about how the world seems to work and not work,” Sexton said. “There’s so much bull—- that I don’t believe a thing I hear anymore on the news or anywhere else; you’ve gotta dig if you want a real answer about what’s going on.”
With the lines “I wonder why nobody wonders why/with all the sweet sweet sweet sugarcoating/the nightly news gone entertainment biz/and the politicians out showboatin’/One day somebody tell it like it is,” the title track is a look at the world after 9/11.
“(Sept. 11) brought us to this place of war that knows no end,” he said. “Wars that no one seems to be able to even articulate why we’re there. It’s still unclear to me – I’ve heard it’s to stop terrorism, but to me that’s like stopping Santa Claus. It doesn’t translate to something that I think is the truth. So I’m saying no. I’m not a Republican, not a Democrat and not in the Tea Party movement. I’m just an American wondering what’s going on and raising my hand and saying no, I don’t want to pay taxes so that you can send more troops to Afghanistan or to take over Iran.”
Over the past few years, Sexton has learned things that terrify him.
“The media is basically owned by the corporations that own the corporations that run the world. I’m saying what about the constitution? Does that matter? What about how this country was founded – getting away from tyranny and taxation without representation? Does it matter that the majority of people would say ‘no, we don’t want to be at war’? I’m scared, but I’m fighting. I’m not going to back down. I’m going to sing about it, talk about it, and act. I invite people to do the same – look for the truth and do something about it.”
Despite the heavy lyrics, the title track “Sugarcoating” is an upbeat song, something that Sexton made sure of.
“Even someone who has their mind made up about what happened on Sept. 11 might still like the song – it’s a catchy, western swing kind of song, a la Johnny Cash with the Jordanaires backing him,” Sexton said. “The song is kind of sugarcoated itself.”
From birth, people are trained to see the differences in each other, Sexton said, which keeps us divided, nestled snuggly in our own safe cocoons.
“But really we’re all brothers and sisters, all star dust. We all bleed red, we all love our kids, we all need food and water and we don’t seem to see that unless there’s an emergency, or you’re shipwrecked,” he said.
Sexton’s fans know his music blends genres – soul, of course, but gospel, country, rock and blues, too. More than anything it’s Sexton’s voice that sets him apart from other musicians, said Minturn resident Nick Mahaffey.
“He has a great falsetto – loud and beautiful,” Mahaffey said. “He hits notes that most people can’t hit and he can really break from one note to the next very easily. Plus he has a great look – sick chops and a great feathery looking haircut. His look is sharp.”
Along with a “sharp look,” Sexton is a spontaneous sort of guy. He recorded “Sugarcoating” without any of the usual modern touches – no rehearsals, no pre-production, and using all vintage gear.
Sexton makes records like the old jazz guys did – by “showing up and working it out,” he said.
“It lends immediacy and spontaneity to the record,” Sexton said. “There are mistakes that wouldn’t happen, or wouldn’t be allowed to happen if I was overdubbing. But when you’re live, I paint myself into a corner, say the wrong thing, say something I never would have thought of and it becomes a cool moment in the song … mistakes are golden. Half of the mistakes I make, I keep, and later come to really enjoy.”