Cornerstone 2000: Joy Electric Interview

Ronnie Martin has proven time and again that music can evolve, and that great songs can still be written.

This interview was conducted by Nolan Shigley and Tricia Krull at Cornerstone 2000. My voice sounded like a 50 year old man who had been smoking a pack a day since he was 20, so I wasn’t hesitant to let Tricia do most of the talking. I was just eager to listen to the man behind much of the music that I’d come to love over the past few years. Tricia was actually the outgoing soul that snagged Ronnie for the interview and made Opus the better site it is today.

Honestly, the first time I listened to Joy Electric I wanted to hurl the CD through the 4th floor window. But my opinion and tastes have obviously changed. In my humble opinion, Ronnie Martin (and his brother Jason) is a quite a musical genius. There are not too many creative or original artists out there like Martin. He has proven time and again that music can evolve, and that great songs can still be written.

Tricia: How old were you when you first started playing music?

Ronnie: I was eight years old. I loved Chief Green and my parents bought my brother and I a piano and got us piano lessons. So that’s how it started.

Tricia: So when did you start Dance House Children?

Ronnie: Dance House started in 1990.

Tricia: How old were you then?

Ronnie: I was 20 years old. Yeah, and Jason was 18 or 19 years old.

Tricia: Tell us about Plastiq Musiq.

Ronnie: Plastiq is something I started, it’s been about 2 years. Joy Electric has always been this leftfield thing and we’ve always not wanted it to be a leftfield thing. We’re not into the whole “We’re in our own private little sector here and we’re cooler than everyone else.” We’ve always wanted to be as widespread as possible, but I thought that if I gave an opportunity for other bands to do what we were doing, it would open things up a little bit. Of course, I was wrong. You know, we get a lot of demo tapes and stuff. It’s been good and compilations do really well. So we’re able to put out a lot of different bands.

You guys probably have noticed that there are no labels in this scene that really are going to pay any attention to a band like us. We’ve been blessed with Brandon Ebel. He’s always really supported us. But for anything else, there’s really no where else for bands like that to go. So I’m just trying to support stuff like that.

Nolan: What about N-Soul Records?

Ronnie: Well, N-Soul is a little bit different because they are so strictly doing club stuff. Our whole thing is like, we just see ourselves as an indie band or a punk band or whatever. We’re just using electronics. We’ve always kind of stayed away from that whole, you know dance/techno, house, trance kind of stuff. And there are a lot of bands that are doing this. We are kind of the outlet for that. It’s sort of like pop or rock bands that use electronics. That’s kind of our vibe instead of being strictly a club band.

Tricia: What have you been listening to lately?

Ronnie: Lately, we just got the new Deftones album. I don’t know, the new Deftones album. I can’t think. I liked the last one better. I like those guys a lot.

Tricia: What caused the change in your music? For example, your former stuff to Christiansongs. It’s a quite sudden change to being blatantly Christian.

Ronnie: Well, with Christiansongs we really just wanted to… I was listening to a lot of the old Christian bands at the time like Altar Boys and Undercover who I really liked a lot. I noticed that if you listen to those records from the 80’s and 70’s and then listen to the records now, there’s really a shift in a band’s overall attitude, like lyrically and so forth. I thought it would be neat to do a record kind of like they did back in 1983. To where they’re real amped up for the Lord and stuff like that.

Bands toward the end of the 80’s thought they were trying to get deep or something. They really weren’t deep at all. Their lyrics were actually even dumber. That’s how I always thought of it. So, we just wanted to do kind of a record like that, like an old Altar Boys or an old Undercover, or 441 album or something like that. I don’t know if we pulled it off, but that’s what we were trying to do.

Tricia: Well, it sounds pretty good. And then from that to Unelectric?

Ronnie: Yeah, Unelectric is kind of the… you know, we always like to do an album and then an EP or something before our next real album. We don’t like to stop putting stuff out. We thought we needed to reinterpret some of the more popular songs without all of the sound effects or synthesizers. I like the way it turned out.

People always focus more on the sound of Joy E than the sounds, and that’s going to bug me for life. Because we always write the songs and don’t even attempt to do the production until we like the songs. Given how strong the sound is, that’s what everybody concentrates on. “Unelectric” is a good opportunity to say, “look, here is the song, so check it out.” We care about the songs a hundred percent, and we care about the sounds about twenty percent. It’s hard to hear the balance.

Tricia: What are your hopes for the future in terms of Joy Electric?

Ronnie: We’ve been really fortunate. Everything just seems to keep getting bigger and better for us. A lot of bands come in and quickly get a huge fanbase, but then 2 years down the line you don’t know what’s going on with them. For us, it’s been really strange because we just keep getting more fans on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis. We’ve worked real hard. We have more fans now than we ever [had] and every day it just keeps getting better. I don’t know why God has done it that way, but it has been a really slow buildup, but it’s been good. We appreciate everything. We’re really glad at this fest. We just played Creation for the first time and it took us years to be able to go there, you know. We were really excited to be there. I think it has kept our egos in check, because we are thankful for just every step along the way. And then the show we did. I don’t know if you guys were at the show, but it was so good to see just that many people there. It was a total blessing. I forgot what the question was. What was it?

Tricia: Your future?

Ronnie: Oh yeah, we just want to stay on that line, you know. The fact that everything keeps increasing and never decreasing… I don’t know, I guess God just said, “I’m going to work with you guys slowly.” So, we’re thankful.

Tricia: It keeps you humble and encouraged at the same time.

Ronnie: Yeah, it kept us frustrated, but kept us humble. Doing stuff like we did the other night is real cool. It gives you a lot of encouragement.

Nolan: I noticed a lot of the material coming off Plastiq Musiq, especially Goodnight Star, has retained a lot of your influence.

Ronnie: I actually didn’t produce them, but I know what you mean. You should hear some of the demos I get. Every time I get a demo it sounds like what we were doing on the first album. It’s kind of weird. But you know, it was for the longest time… I mean, for a band like MXPX, it’s so much easier for a kid to pick up a guitar and emulate who he’s into. For us, a kid that was into our records 4 years ago has taken this long just to save up the money to buy the equipment to enable him to start doing that kind of stuff. Now, it’s just kind of coming around full circle.

Yeah, it actually bothered me because Goodnight Star was a little too influenced by me, but I really like their songs. So that’s why I decided to work with them. I really felt they had something cool going. It’s kind of strange.

Nolan: You did produce the House of Wires new one, correct?

Ronnie: I produced the first one, not the second one. I also just produced the new Fine China album. I’d like to get more into that, [production].

Nolan: Were you pretty much their link into Tooth and Nail then?

Ronnie: Yeah, what happened was that I originally signed them for Plastiq Musiq. Plastiq has such a vibe to where anything on it people are going to think it sounds like a particular thing. Fine China is kind of a mix. I didn’t want the label to hurt them. I don’t want somebody that hates Goodnight Star to automatically hate Fine China. They are more serious, too. I shipped them over to Tooth and Nail and they are just going to be Plastiq Musiq production. I don’t want anything to hurt them, because it’s like the best record I’ve heard in years. I want the best for them.

Nolan: I noticed you said you were a punk band with keyboards.

Ronnie: You know, the vibe was kind of out on the last record. We just thought it was ironic, because, “hey, we write fast songs, too.” What’s the difference? The melodies and the chords are the same. Do you just classify punk as guitar, bass, and drums like Green Day? It’s not how we look at it.

Nolan: Well, last year, that was the best punk rock show I had ever been to.

Ronnie: Right on, man. Thanks.

Nolan: I kind of wished the crowd would have made it like that this year too.

Ronnie: Yeah, the vibe always changes with us. The new stuff is slowing down a little bit, it’s a little darker. That’s kind of what I’m aiming for right now.

Tricia: You seem to try to keep things changing.

Ronnie: Yeah, it gets a little boring, so you gotta switch it up a little bit.

Tricia: Speaking of, what are you excited with in the music industry? Is there anything out there that you’re excited is going to happen?

Ronnie: I’m really excited when bands are writing better songs. I was real disillusioned in the ’90, because I really hated all that stuff by bands like Pearl Jam. Not because of the musical style, I listen to everything, I just didn’t think the songs were ever there. I like big hooks and big choruses. That’s why I’ve always liked bands like MXPX, because Mike understands that.

On the horizon… what did I like here that I heard? I thought Element 101 was good. I hadn’t heard them before. I thought they wrote some good songs. I kind of like that band Further Seems Forever. I’d never heard them and I thought they were real cool. They’ve got some big songs. I’ve just always liked bands with big songs. It’s always been my thing. Maybe there is going to be more of a change into that.

I think a lot of the punk rock stuff has helped that, because most punk bands are influenced by the Ramones and Bad Religion and others like that. All of those bands have written great songs. So, a lot of the punk bands have written the best songs in the scene over the past few years. That’s why I really love a lot of that stuff. I think a lot of that stuff has a lot of promise. Even bands like Reliant K, have you heard those guys? They’re corny, but they’ve got the hooks.

Nolan: I actually own a Plymouth Reliant K.

Ronnie: Oh, you do man? Cool.

Nolan: Powder Blue. I need to hook up with those guys.

Ronnie: Yeah, tell them you got that car.

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