Martin Sexton's Not Buying It
Q&A with singer-songwriter Martin Sexton
By Melanie Haupt,
10:28AM, Thu. Feb. 9, 2012
A dozen years ago, Martin Sexton was a freewheeling troubadour, spreading singer-songwriter joy across the small clubs and outdoor music festivals he visited over the course of his near-constant touring schedule. Today, life's a protest song and Sexton's on a mission to relive 1968. Catch him Saturday at the Moody Theater.
Austin Chronicle: It’s been nearly 10 years since we last spoke. You’ve started a label, put out a couple of albums, and had a kid. How’s life? What’s up?
Martin Sexton: Life’s been good, the label has been good, music’s been treating me well. I’ve been trying to use my art not just for entertainment but to also carry a message if I can.
AC: What message have you been trying to spread?
MS: The message I’ve been honing in on in the last couple of years and last couple of records would be to encourage unity. For people to set aside differences and see the greater common good. I think as a unified people we’re much harder to mess with, and much stronger.
AC: Is that a national thing or humanity? What's the context?
MS: Nationally, and humanity in general. Every person who’s not a multi-billionaire is under attack in some way or another all over the world, not just us Americans. I’ve been encouraging people to lose the left-right paradigm, you know, the black-white thing, the gay-straight thing, the pro-life or pro-choice thing. Set our disagreements aside, maybe agree to disagree, because there are larger issues that we can all agree on. I think we all enjoy our Bill of Rights, and now the freedoms we have as Americans are under attack, being watered down.
AC: On your new EP, how specifically do you see your songs speaking to this call for unity?
MS: On Fall Like Rain, there's only one song that specifically calls for unity, and it’s called “One Voice Together” and I’m sort of calling out for people to come together, to lose the left-right thing, the red and blue thing. And the other tunes, I dunno. I’m not sure if there’s specifically a unity vibe. In the title track, I’m trying to lose the earbuds and the TV and the computer and try to be open to life on life’s terms instead of being medicated all the time by all of life’s distractions.
AC: Rather than looking at devices, we should be looking at each other?
MS: That’s what I’m trying to do lately. I’m trying to change myself, trying to see the likeness in people. I get so ... and I’m not preaching, I’m part of the problem, I’m trying to change myself. I’m getting better, though. I’m taking my earbuds out and I’m turning off the television and I’m going outside. Getting out in the air and the sunshine. It’s like God’s medicine.
AC: Do you have any plans to bring any other artists onto your label, Kitchen Table Records?
MS: No plans to bring in any other acts. For the past decade, it’s been my vehicle for getting my music out into the world. We have a great team. It's a really wonderful time to be independent because there are so many avenues at our fingertips that weren’t available a decade ago. All the developments in technology make for a fruitful landscape for artists.
AC: We’re in a nice little watershed moment, too, where people might respond more positively to a genuinely independent artist than in the past.
MS: As an independent, I’m free, too, to write and sing and talk about in interviews whatever I want to talk about. There’s no one worried about me pissing anyone off. It’s great, I don’t have an editor or a boss telling me what I can and can’t say.
AC: Sounds like your motivation right now is to be apolitical, or do you have specific causes? Are you trying not to take any particular stand?
MS: I wouldn’t call myself apolitical, but I don’t have any causes now that I’m aligning myself with. If there’s a cause I’m aligned with, it’s unity instead of division.
I think we’re in the new Sixties with things like the National Defense Authorization Act, which our president signed quietly on New Year’s Eve, giving the okay for the military to arrest people without a search or any due process of law and indefinite detention. That’s what scares me. That makes my ears perk up. I realize I’m now living in a country that is not the America I was taught about. I was taught America doesn’t torture, America doesn’t make people disappear, America doesn’t assassinate people, its own citizens or otherwise. That’s not our America right now and I want the old America back. I’m not the only one.
AC: What I hear you saying is that if we can stop being so distracted by all the things we’re distracted by – those divisions along various lines that you’ve mentioned – we could achieve liberty and justice for all?
MS: Yeah, it would help. I know it helps me not being so distracted, not so plugged in, helps me reach out to other people. It helps me look inside myself, listen to my true self, listen to my heart. Americans are supposed to have the ability to fight back, and those abilities are being weakened by things like the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act. Those things basically suspend the rights that are granted to us under the guise of “It’s for your own safety” and I’m not buying it.
When I was a kid, we were all supposed to be afraid of Communism and Russia. And it went away. So now there’s a new thing to be afraid of and it’s terrorism and I’m not buying it. 35,000-40,000 people die every year on the American highways; how many people in the past 10 years have died of terrorism in America? Imagine if we spent the billions that we spend on homeland security on improving our highways and driver education? That would save us tens of thousands of lives right there.
So, I’m not buying it. I demand my rights, I demand my ability to fight back when my government does something illegal, like make its own war in Libya without Congressional approval. I have a problem with that and I think it’s incumbent upon me as an artist to sing about it and to speak about it. I can’t just use my music purely to entertain. It’s fun and it’s part of what I do, but the other part is I have a responsibility as a human to do my level best to bring what I can to the table as far as goodness.