Blindstone – All About FreedomThursday, 27th July 2023
The roots of heavy metal tie into the blues. For guitarist/vocalist Martin Jepsen Andersen, he gains the chance to explore those blues in a power trio context for Danish act Blindstone. Many may know of Martin with his work in other acts like heavy metal outfit Meridian, the heavy/power band Chalice of Sin, or doom metal unit Anchorite, but here he gets to express himself in a platform that has influences across the Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Mahogany Rush, or King’s X lineage. Their tenth album Scars to Remember glistens in a mold that’s very catchy, inspirational, and groove-based, the melodies and lead breaks very awe-inspiring. We got the chance to catch up with Martin about the latest record, how guitar legend Walter Trout inspired him to put out what he considers his best effort to date, why being a power trio excites him, his approach to songwriting/guitar with all these bands/projects, plus what’s in store for Blindstone, Meridian, and other activities.
Dead Rhetoric: Scars to Remember is the latest Blindstone album – the tenth studio record for the group. Where do you see this set of material sitting in the band’s discography – and were there any specific goals or new influences that came into play for the direction you went in this time around?
Martin Jepsen Andersen: Well, first off, I see this as our best record yet. (laughs). And I know that everybody says that every time, but I actually think it is. I think the parts that make up Blindstone musically and the whole vibe of it, came together very nice this time. As far as new influences are concerned – we had the opportunity during COVID-19 to play with Walter Trout as the backing band for him. For me personally, that really helped me connect with my blues roots, the more blues/rock side of it, witnessing his whole attitude and commitment to that style of music was really inspiring. I know that’s something I took with me when I began writing the music for this album.
There was definitely a new old influence. I used to listen to Walter when I was in my teens and early twenties, he was my hero. Getting to play with him in that whole situation was very inspiring.
Dead Rhetoric: How did that opportunity to play with Walter come about in 2020?
Andersen: Walter’s wife is from this area, she’s Danish. They have a house here, and they decided to stay in Denmark during COVID-19. Maybe they felt it was safer. They were here, but Walter really wasn’t doing anything because he couldn’t bring over his band. Then two local promoters got the idea, well something needs to happen. We need to do something that will uplift people, we need a break from all this gloominess in the quarantine. We could have gatherings of up to three hundred people were allowed. They got the idea to set up these shows, us backing up Walter. That’s how it came about – it was on the initiative of these two local promoter guys. We met up with Walter and we just clicked like that. On a personal level, it was great as well. It was just luck, and a bit paradoxical – something good came out of that tough period.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the collaborative process with Swedish lyricist Peter Svensson next to your musical compositions – and why you decided to seek outside support for this aspect of the songwriting?
Andersen: The thing is I play with Peter in another band, that’s more like a doom metal band. We’ve become friends, and he told me he’d like to try writing something that wasn’t so heavy metal oriented. He sent me a huge word document with a lot of lyrics, and I liked them. I thought they were great. From there, some of the lyrics I used pretty much as they were, some were more collaborative, where if he had a chorus line that was good then I would build on that. It varied from song to song – some are totally his creations.
It was a welcome opportunity to work with a lyricist, because I don’t find writing lyrics the easiest thing in the world. Let’s say it’s the part I enjoy the least when it comes to writing songs, because it’s difficult. You are writing in a foreign language; I may find it hard to find new topics or new ways of saying things. It helped inspire me to write the other songs that he didn’t participate in. It was a totally painless process working together on this.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it more of a challenge working on the vocals and your melodies versus the guitar playing that you do?
Andersen: Yes and no. I guess it is, but it’s also because in later years I have started to pay more attention to my vocals. Back in the day, the first few albums, I would sing, and I just wouldn’t be as critical about the vocals compared to the guitar playing. I spent quite a bit of time this time on the vocals, just to make sure everything is in tune and in time. At least within reasonable parameters. I approach the guitar playing and vocals the same way. I keep doing it until I think it’s right. I suppose myself producing, I may be a little overly critical. I keep going until I think it’s good enough.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you enjoy most about the power trio format within Blindstone? How would you assess the strengths of each player and what they are able to bring to make this band very unique and special in terms of the approach to your music?
Andersen: It’s the freedom. Being only drums, bass, and guitars/vocals, means the whole idea with Blindstone is we get to jam and improvise. That’s easy to do, being just a trio. There’s more room for everybody musically to do their thing, when the opportunity arises. It’s also kind of demanding on me – being the only guitar player and the singer. I’m in other bands with other guitar players, it’s definitely a different way of playing being the only guitarist.
Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of the career highlights with Blindstone – specific albums, live shows, touring/festival experiences, or any other memories that will stay embedded in your brain for a lifetime where you knew you were making a mark with your art/craft?
Andersen: Definitely playing with Walter was one. There are lots of highlights. Every time we’ve toured, we’ve done some touring in Europe where there have been some great shows and great opportunities to meet people. We did a show in England, a festival called the Ramblin’ Man Fair. That was really special, a great show. I suspect no one knew about us – the show was held in a tent stage, about 3,000-5,000 people and the tent was packed. It was a magical experience. And we’ve had some of those.
Pre-Blindstone, it was one of the things that helped inspire us to come into being. Jesper, the bass player, he’s a dear friend of mine and we’ve been playing together since 1991. We were in Los Angeles to do some music with his brother-in-law, and we ended up in a recording studio in Hollywood with George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars. A major turning point for me, because it was such a positive experience working with George and how enthusiastic he was about our performances. He was very supportive; it was one of the things to focus on what I really love doing instead of trying to be overly commercial. I was young and chasing record deals, the whole commercial side of things. Do what we like, that experience was crucial in us forming Blindstone back in the day. We ended up on one of George’s albums with the recordings we did there, that was really great as well.
Dead Rhetoric: How has your approach to the guitar evolved in your numerous band/project endeavors (as you are a part of Meridian, Anchorite, and Chalice of Sin) – do you believe your outlook has changed now that you are close to fifty years old versus how you looked at the instrument in your twenties and thirties?
Andersen: Hmm, I don’t know how much it has to do with age as such. The more music I’ve done, the more recording projects I’ve done, the more I suppose I’ve refined my approach to the guitar. I have a better understanding of playing for the occasion, if that makes any sense. When I was say 20 or 22 and someone let me into a recording studio, I had to play a whole lot of notes and impress everybody right out of the box. And that’s not really a priority right now. I have a better understanding of playing within a genre. For the new Blindstone record, I actually slowed down a bit in the lead guitar department. I have made my point on other projects, so here I don’t have to play a million miles an hour.
It’s maturity, generally. Age, and the fact that I’ve had the good fortune to do a lot of different things. You just get experience and know when to apply things and when not to do it.
Dead Rhetoric: You are also a contributing songwriter to numerous other band/project efforts over the years. What to you are the ideal components to creating a memorable composition in this capacity – as it can’t be written to order or on demand, correct?
Andersen: I don’t know if I really have an answer to that. I generally write the music, and someone else will write or record the vocal melodies. I try to come up with parts that sort of flow together, and something that has a hook to it. You don’t want to overshadow the vocals; it has to be cohesive in some way and also appealing. But you don’t want to overpower what’s going to be on top of it. That’s my philosophy. Generally, I try to not make too many abrupt changes in the flow of the song.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you think the approach to promotion/sales will be with Mighty Music for Blindstone after spending more of your career in this band on US label Grooveyard Records?
Andersen: As far as sales go, time will tell. What I can say is the promotional gear is totally different. There is a lot more focus on promotion. I’m talking to you today, and I’ve had a couple of other interviews. That’s five more than I would have done in the past – and that’s not a knock on everybody else. It’s just where the focus is of Mighty Music, they are focused on the promotional side of things. Which is a good thing, and I knew that from Meridian, we are on the same label umbrella. With the musical climate of today, promotion is crucial. You can’t just put out a record and expect people to discover it themselves, it’s just not going to happen. They really are doing a lot in that department, which makes me happy.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think is the greatest piece of advice you ever received regarding your music career or the business side of things? And if people ever ask you for advice in this area, what words of wisdom do you like to impart?
Andersen: (laughs), The best piece of advice in regard to having a music career is something that I read in a guitar magazine many years ago. It was a tutorial on how to get a career and get signed in the music business. There are a lot of suggestions, but it boiled down to if you keep going, something will happen. That’s something I strongly believe in. If you put out your first album and nobody bought it, you have to put out a second one. And keep going, keep doing what you believe in, and what you love. Eventually someone will discover things, you may not get world domination, but you will get an audience and it will be rewarding in the long run. Sure, there are tons of frustrating moments and times of rejection, times when you will feel like you’ve fallen out of favor and that it doesn’t seem worth it – but keep going. It’s really the essence of it.
As far as advice- yes, I’ve been asked by other people for advice. The only thing I can say is keep going. Keep doing it, keep doing what you love. Don’t try to second guess people. So many people try to jump on a talent show, like it’s some sort of shortcut for your career. It can have a detrimental effect on your career, as some people will say, ‘oh he was only on that talent show’. You have to build things slowly, and steadily. There are no shortcuts to really making it.
Dead Rhetoric: How does a veteran musician like yourself try to stay relevant in navigating the changing musical landscape with digital downloads, social media platforms, and instant communication technology that differ from the older methods of promoting and publicizing your work?
Andersen: I try to use social media as much as possible. I try to engage with people. You have to do that. The whole social media part of it is essential to engaging with your audience. I’m not from a time where… Blindstone put out our first album in 2003, and when did Myspace appear, a few years later, I think. We are used to using social media, it’s not like we sat around and let people do the work for a long time and have to make this huge transformation. There have been things with Spotify along the line, but it’s not that different from when we started out. One thing is certain, it’s much easier to put out music now, but it’s much harder to get noticed because there is so much of it. Shouting the loudest so people notice you – there’s work to do in order to stay noticed so people are aware of your activities and what you are doing. There’s an element of keeping yourself in the news so to speak, not that we are in huge news outlets or anything. Keeping awareness with people, there’s some work to do there.
Dead Rhetoric: What types of activities, hobbies, and interests do you have outside of music that you like to engage in when you have the free time and energy to do so?
Andersen: Music is a very big part of my life. I work a day job too, as a music teacher. Music is very much, more than just something I do an hour a day, it’s a basic part of my life. I like binging a good tv series. I have an interest in astronomy, space, science, and those things. I am a huge science fiction buff. I know every Star Trek episode by heart, almost. I make time for my family as well.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Blindstone, Meridian, and any other projects/bands over the next twelve months?
Andersen: For Blindstone, the plan is to get out and play as much as possible, once the album is out. I’m hoping more shows will materialize. As far as Meridian, we have some shows coming up in the fall with Metal Cross, and some friends of ours in Norway called Ghost Avenue. We have this package with the three bands. I have a few other recording projects that I am working on. It’s a little too early to talk about those things. I have a covers album I have been doing with my oldest son – he also plays guitar. That’s pretty much finished, I’m looking forward to release that at some point this year. The main focus would be to get out and play as much as possible.