Soul singer week! How Martin Sexton follows his bliss (an interview)

Martin Sexton has long been a favorite singer of mine. When I saw that he was coming to the New Jersey, I decided to give him a call. You see, Sexton is a special kind of artist. While some music lovers believe that artists’ creativity peaks early in their careers, I disagree. Some get better with age, and why shouldn’t they?

As the years pass, they have written more songs, played to more audiences, had more life experiences and had more chances to hone their craft. To the naysayers of my theory, I offer Martin Sexton. He’s long been an NPR favorite, but his recent records have become even more consistent. Although he’s never hit the big time, Sexton and his fans are now enjoying the fruits of his lifelong labor of love.

The 2010 full-length album "Sugarcoating" and his 2012 EP (a shorter album of five songs), "Fall Like Rain," both weave effortlessly from one musical genre to the next – often within the space of a single verse. A YouTube search for his name reveals many impressive live performances as well as his video blog entries – all of which show a man who is happy and an artist who has won the respect of his peers.

After all these years, why does his muse stick around? If one thing is clear from the following interview, it is that he is happy with his life and he works hard at reminding himself of that fact.

Gene: I heard you say in an interview on NPR that you hoped the price of the EP helps people out in hard times, that you thought the price of an EP ($5) was appropriate. My wife has been out of work for almost a year and journalists don’t make any money, so we are both glad you did that.

Martin: I really did think it was a good time to do something with so many people out of work, or underemployed. It fit me too because I only had about five songs at the time and they were all pretty relevant to the times we are in now. We always offer it at shows for free if folks are out of work. We are amazed. There are a few people at every show who hand money to our merchandise person and say, "Here, this is for the person who got it for free." Somebody always pays it forward at the shows. It’s a wonderful cycle of giving.

Gene: I’ve also heard you say that you think we are entering a new 60s. I grew up in the 70s and 80s and I was always jealous of people who grew up in the 60s. I loved how passionate people seemed in the 60s and how they seemed more inclined to try and change things they didn’t like. Do you think we are headed for that kind of 60s?

Martin: Not heading into, we are definitely in it. There is so much going on that I’m just waking up to. It’s time to go out in the streets and occupy and carry signs and talk about it. Spend about it. Vote about it. Act about it and sing about it. That’s what I do. I truly love America. I don’t know a more patriotic person than myself, but I am not a big fan of our government or the multinational corporations that run it. In the 60s people didn’t just listen to pop music and watch TV. They protested. They organized and I think that is happening now. People are waking up to things like the National Defense Authorization Act, the Patriot Act. All of these things chisel away at our ability to fight back.

Gene: That is what you see as you travel across the country?

Martin: That is what I see. They are not just believing everything they see on the news or read in The New York Times. They are looking at things sideways now. Before, I think we tended to take everything hook, line, and sinker. Eyes have been opened and once they’ve been opened you can’t shut them. The more I know, the more I want to know.

Gene: It also seems like you’re getting happier. Is that true?

Martin: Oh yeah! The records are like photo albums of my life. Since I’ve been married and had kids I’ve been enjoying the fruits of my labor, I’ve been enjoying those simple things. My kids really are what taught me everything I’ll ever need to know. I tend now to really appreciate those super essentials. They are simple things. It’s stuff that is easily taken for granted, like family, kids, wife and friends. I could drop everything right now without a problem, every possession, every dollar that is in the bank account.

Gene: I was driving down the road with my family in the car and your song "Living the Life" (from the album "Sugarcoating") was playing and I thought to myself, "This is a good soundtrack for where I am in life right now."

Martin: That is what I believe. Chasing dreams! Be careful! Dreams come true! My dreams have come true over and over. Most every dream I’ve had has come true. It’s a wonderful way to be, to be aware of that.

Gene: How does the reality of being a singer compare to your childhood dream of being a singer?

Martin: In many ways it exceeds the dreams. Many ways it has been spot on. What I always dreamed of was having the respect of my peers. Anything after that was gravy. I believe in what [Joseph Campbell] said about following your bliss. The bliss is sort of what I see as my signpost to follow. If something feels right in my gut, I follow it. So many people I meet, they get up every morning and have a sickening feeling preparing for work. That would be the signpost of the universe saying, "Turn away from this." Many people I know are waking up and that is what that song "Living the Life" is all about. It’s about turning away from that path and going for that other path of that dream you had as a kid. In following those dreams I found myself in a really good place where I can be a good father and a good friend and an artist who is remaining true to my heart.

Gene: Do you enjoy singing to yourself when you’re walking around the house?

Martin: That is all I do. I am constantly whistling, humming, singing, tapping out a beat on my lap.

Gene: If my wife gets a job sometime soon, will there be more new music from you in the near future?

Martin: For my next record, I’d like to actually make a classic country record, sort of like a George Jones 1973 type of production. I’d really enjoy some type of departure like that… I am going to lay low in the coming year. My next record will probably be 2014 sometime.

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