In the annals of rock history, Barrett Martin will in all likelihood be best remembered for stints as percussionist in seminal grunge and alternative bands the Screaming Trees, the Layne Staley-fronted Mad Season, Tuatara with REM's Peter Buck, and the almighty Skin Yard. (Not to mention getting behind the stool for albums by Victoria Williams, Trees bandmate Mark Lanegan and Mark Eitzel, to just barely scratch the surface.) And, hey, maybe throw in a Grammy or two along the way.
That's just fine, if not incredible, for one man to be part of such an essential body of recorded work in the world of rock.
But for the itinerant and inquisitive Martin, that world wasn't nearly enough.
In the years post-Trees through to the present day, Martin has lived many lives in addition to that of drummer-in-demand: published author (newest book being a surrealist memoir of his Screaming Trees years, The Greatest Band That Ever Wasn't), record producer, academic and ethnomusicologist, and even ordained Zen monk.
Martin's latest project is an upcoming series on VEVO, dubbed Singing Earth, which sees Martin and cinematographer Tad Fettig criss-crossing the world, taking deep dives into a world of sound that includes everyone from Pearl Jam's Matt Cameron to Shipibo shaman Enrique Flores.
In advance of the show's release, Martin is heading out, lone-wolf style, on his first tour in quite a while. What Martin calls a "multimedia show" will see him telling stories, showing footage from Singing Earth and playing some music himself on an array of instruments — including drums, gamelan percussion, vibraphone and upright bass.
Martin recalls one attendee post-show telling him it was "like being in [Martin's] living room" playing records and talking.
Ahead of his show in Orlando, with some West Coast dates already wrapped, Orlando Weekly caught up with Martin.
Martin's own interest in a wider world of sounds started in a very rock & roll fashion: hanging with Peter Gabriel.
"I got into world music in about the mid-1990s. I got to have dinner with Peter Gabriel and we talked about world music and how influential that was to him," remembers Martin. "And when I went back to graduate school, it was to study ethnomusicology. I got this huge amount of experience and I worked in the Peruvian Amazon for my master's degree. That was my field work, working with the Shipibo Shamans in 2004. So that was 20 years ago. And then I also worked in Cuba, West Africa, Brazil. I even did a little bit of work in Australia and New Zealand because my family used to live down there."
For Martin, Singing Earth is a natural culmination of a lifetime of playing, studying and exploring music.
"I really love music and that combined with the traveling ... it's a very natural and organic process for me," reflects Martin. "I guess, one could say that I could have started a TV show 10 years ago, but sometimes you need to really do things for a long time and let the flavors marry, let everything come together. And I think now is the right time for me to present this stuff to the world."
Though Martin hasn't played in Florida for nearly three decades since a few runs with the Screaming Trees, he suspects the show will be a reunion of sorts.
"I think it'll be people that remember the Screaming Trees, Mad Season, Tuatara, all the bands that I played with, and I hope that they will come out — I think that they will be very pleasantly surprised," says Martin. "That's the exciting thing about music, you show up and you learn something that you didn't know, and it's exciting because it's something you didn't expect. Those are the things that always excited me about music — the ability to be changed and transformed by it."
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