Martin Zobel ADD

Interview with Martin Zobel

10/05/2014 by Gardy Stein

Interview with Martin Zobel

We all have rocky roads to travel, and we all experience losses. The key to overcome these struggles is to accept them as a part of life. Don't give up and drown in misery but, while integrating all these experiences, move on and make sure you remember those who have left us. Our parents and grandparents live on in pictures, stories, and, most of all, in us. People who didn't have any children or died very young are harder to remember, especially because death in our society is such a big taboo and hardly spoken about. Speak up! Talk with friends and family members about the deceased, tell people who didn't know them about those wonderful moments you had together. Celebrate the person who passed away so that he or she will never be forgotten, and through mutual support we will come out of hard times strong and confident.
Last November, the Soulrise Band lost their friend and bass player Alexander Körösy and were shaken to the core. Despite this stroke of fate, they continued their work on Keep Planting Seeds to create a legacy worthy of him. In a moving interview, Reggaeville spoke to Martin Zobel about DubLex, the work with Fully Fullwood and the upcoming album.

Your album is just about to be released. How do you feel about it?
I'm excited, to say the least. I mean, I've been working for months; it was really exhausting because it was a lot of work, little feedback, just me in the studio, working, working... You know, the later it gets the more I feel like I'm missing something. But now it's getting better again, I feel it's coming together now. There are people who are helping me a lot. It's exciting!

Did you choose the release date on purpose? I mean, the 3rd of October has a special meaning, at least for us here in Germany.
No, it just happened! Actually the album was planned to be released in July, but then, you know, we had some troubles.... we lost our bass player in November and it was tough, tougher than we thought. For me also, when my little baby girl was born, it was all about her first. The entire band was kind of stepping back a little, it was good to take some time and get some distance and then take a fresh look at the entire thing and listen to it again - it was necessary I think. We realized pretty soon that it's not going to happen in July, so we just figured: Let's do it in October! This Friday was the first date we were thinking of and it was just later we realized that it's the day of German reunification. But it fits, you know... because even though we had some major troubles, we finished it! You can hear a lot of emotion in the album and that's very special for us.

Why did you decide to record again at Fully Fullwoods studio?
Well, it was pretty clear from the beginning because Fully is a really close friend by now, he is a real soulbrother and I love working with him. I think the band does, too. The last time we were recording at his place was so special for everybody, because he made us feel at home and we realized that he is much more than just our producer, he really is a friend. And he is a legendary bass player too, you know, so it was clear from way back that we wanted to do another album with him. Also, Lex and Fully had a really strong connection, and he was devastated when he heard about Lexis passing. We were thinking about cancelling everything, because recordings were already scheduled for December and then in November Lex passed away… But before that, we had promised him to not give up. So we decided to push on through and then Fully said: "I'm gonna play the bass! That's no question, I'm gonna do it!" And if there is anybody in this world that can fill in for Lex it's Fully. We also brought Lex's bass guitar over to California and Fully played the entire album on Lexis bass. That brought us even closer together. This album is very special because it is a lot about Lex, it is a lot for Lex, I mean, the entire album is dedicated to DubLex. And now to have Fully Fullwood playing the bass… It is a really crazy thing because, you know, he was one of the biggest idols for Lex and he was also the guy that played so many hits back in the days, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, you name it... and now he became a part of the Soulrise Band for this record which is awesome! It helped us a lot to work with the entire situation.

You said that the album is a dedication to DubLex… I think you can hear it in the lyrics as well. For example, Freedom In The Music, it sounds as if it was written for him!
Yes, I wrote it after he passed away. Lex had cancer and I still remember one day when he was already on treatment in the hospital. I visited him and then he said "Martin, I have so many ideas and I have no way to record them properly!". Then the next time I brought his bass guitar and my guitar and a mobile recording equipment and we were sitting on his bed, recording new ideas right there. So, there are many songs on the album where Lex actually wrote the bassline or the entire idea.

Like which one?
There is another song for Lex called Living Our Dreams. This idea is actually from Lex, but I wrote the lyrics afterwards. You know, Lex was always the one in the band who made us aware of the dream that we are living, he always said: "Look guys, we are in San Diego, look where we are! It's the music that brought us here!" He just had such a strong believe in the music. And he said: "Even if I die one day, I'm dying playing the music." We all knew that he wouldn't get too old, and that's why the song Living Our Dreams, for example, is a really emotional song.

So he put a lot of himself in the album... I think that's the best thing you could have done for him, to include these songs!
It was really really necessary! He was our friend and brother and at the same time he was the oldest band member, he was there longer than anybody else. He was kind of the spine because he had such a special way to play the bass. You can never find a replacement for that.
We left his bass in California and Fully still plays it. From now on he plays Lexis bass, and that is just... I think if Lex could see that, you know, this is the greatest thing. And also the recording sessions were really really emotional. I mean, we cried a lot, we laughed a lot, because Lex was such a funny guy and we had so much fun together, so all of that is in it. This record is full of true emotions!

You put an EP out before the album, called Inspiration... What feedback did you get for that so far?
We got a lot of feedback from all over the world, from the States, Canada, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, France… it's great, and actually that's what we were hoping for. We haven't been there for quite a while and we wanted to let the people know that we are coming back. For all those who supported us through the years, we wanted to give them something back, so we thought the EP might be a good way. Also to let the people know what was going on. I think it makes it easier for us now to bring out the album because people know that something is in the making...

So you are well prepared to launch the big release now! And you have Irievibrations Records on board again too…
I think they are doing a great job. We were thinking about what to do in this regard, but I like the three brothers and they helped us to bring out Land Of The Free the way we wanted it to have. It was really there, not just in Germany but also France, the States... in April last year I was in San Francisco with my girlfriend and I saw the album in a record store! So, now we have a different situation because with Keep Planting Seeds, we want to release it in Europe in one week and the next week in USA, Canada and Japan. It's a lot of work and still we have to push some things ahead. Like, we will also have vinyl releases this time because people were asking us like crazy: "You are playing Roots Reggae, you are all about analogue sound and you only release on CD???" (laughs)  The only thing about this story is that we ran out of money, and we are not in the big business and this is just a genre where the budget is limited and we have to work with it. But this time we promised the people to come up with vinyl too, so we are doing that but it's going to take some time, at least until November 14th.

Talking about the finances, you did a crowd funding project for the album. I know that some platforms only let you have the money if you reached the sum specified. How was that in your case?
We reached half of the money we wanted to get, but we chose a crowd funding campaign that gave us the opportunity to keep the money raised. Before we raised the campaign I thought OK, I know how many records were sold from Land Of The Free, so we figured if only 400 people buy the album ahead of time, we'll have 8.000. But we realized pretty soon that it was not that simple. There are many obstacles, like people can only pay through Paypal or Credit Card which many young people still don't use in Germany. And it's obviously still something different to go to the store and buy a record or to order it way ahead of time. That's what was the main problem, I think. In the end I was extremely happy that we got at least 4 grand which is something, you know, and also we tried other ways to get support. In Germany we have the Musikinitiative who supported us, also the town of Tübingen where I live, so we found ways to raise some more funds and I hope we can make it happen the way we planned.
Also House of Marley, they sponsor us not with money but with material. They sent us their catalogue and said: "Choose what you want and let us know!". So we did that, and it was like Christmas when that big box arrived and now everybody in the band has their headphones! They said we could maybe talk about tour support and stuff, but that's for later… As I mentioned before, we were not there for almost a year, so now it's all about stepping out again. It's one thing to bring out a record, but the next thing is to let people know... You need a lot of promotion and marketing and stuff, so this is really tough for a band in our format. We have to have it done properly this time, we want do it for Lex because this is a very special album for us. We want to present it the way that it needs to be. It's Lex's album!

The promotion and marketing, do you do it yourself then?
We have Valentin Zill by our side whom we met shortly after the last album was released. We did an interview for Reggaeville with him the last time (laughs). He has connections to Reggaeville, Riddim Magazine and all these platforms, and he knows a lot of people and agencies. We started talking about it and he said "Well, we could do this or that." and then I said "OK, let's do it." So he is kind of managing the whole marketing thing. He is working with an agency in France, with another one in Spain, in Germany... it's coming all together. He's leading the entire thing, so I'm just talking to him most of the time.

Since you do a lot yourself, it's good to have people in the inner circle to keep it simple, I guess.
That's the tough thing. I learned many times if you depend on other people, sometimes you get lost. Because they are not taking it as seriously as you do or they are not feeling the same spirit as you do, so whenever that happens you get disappointed. A really close friend of mine, Ganjaman, was here recently until a couple of days ago, and we were talking about this for hours. He also said that nobody ever gave him something for free. And that's why I'm having a hard time letting other people do something for me, because either we don't have the funds to pay people like it should be or it's hard for me to stand behind their backs and tell them the way I want it to have it. You know, I'm a motion graphics artist, I studied motion graphics design and I know all that stuff, I can do it, but it's just a question of time. I'm also really a perfectionist and if I want it to be in a certain way, it's easier for me to just do it myself before I tell other people all the time and pay them a lot of money to do it. That's what I just experienced. I have family and I'm spending so much time working on this project and there is no reward until now. But I still want it to be perfect, as far as I can go.

So with Ganjaman you were doing a videoshoot?
Yes. Actually he was just helping me again. We've been close friends for a long time and I know that he has some serious video equipment and he also has a perfectionism that I really appreciate. So, when I was struggling to get the video done, I was calling him in the middle of the night and he was there. He was like "You can count on me!", and literally a few days later he came from Berlin with three guys and they helped me doing the entire shooting. Without them, none of it would have happened.

For which songs did you shoot the video?
It's actually a medley of different songs. First we wanted to do an entire album mega mix. But we realised pretty soon that it's not possible, because it's a matter of time and also a matter of keeping the people right there when they are watching the video. It would be 12 minutes or more and it's tough you know... If you have the budget you could give every song a certain vibe, also visually, and that's what I was aspiring to do, but it takes a lot of effort. So we are not quite sure yet how many songs will be in it. I will see when I went through the entire footage that we have, but it's going to be a medley. Wake Up is going to be in there because of the intro of the song, it will be the intro to the music video too. My Home will be on it, Keep Planting Seeds, Living Our Dream and Calling. I think it's the first half of the album.

You said you studied graphics and motion design, was it you who did the cover design and everything yourself?
Yes. I always do that, with all the albums. Everything you see out there, whether it's video or graphics or something audiovisual, it's all created by me. I have a studio which is close to my apartment. I built it after Land Of The Free came out, I spent one year to build a recording studio with a motion graphics suite. It's a full scale analogue studio, inspired by Fully. Because there I learned that, no matter how long you work with Pro Tools or Logic or whatever on a computer, it's never going to sound the way Fully did it without any computer at all. That's why I was inspired to launch a studio based on high class analogue equipment and that's the way we are working, especially for the kind of sound we are striving for. And in that studio there is also an animation suite, so we have everything right there and I have perfect working conditions.

If someone asked you to work for him in that field, would you do that too?
Yes, I do that more and more. I did the last Fully Fullwood album for example, and it was even about to be nominated for a Grammy for the best cover art work in Los Angeles. At one point I founded a company, it's called Analogue Vibes. It does a lot of music video, image clips, motion design and stuff, but also postproduction and everything audiovisual. So everybody who wants to have certain... how can I explain that... we work with a certain love for detail, that's what I love about other work, too. That's why I'm also very critical of other work, and if I feel that there is not enough love in it, not enough passion, I'm turned off pretty fast because it has to be there. That's what we want to do.

I think the same can be said about your music!
It's important to keep that up! And that's why we do this kind of music. Of course we are aware that it's not going to be mainstream music, at least not in Germany. But it's not for the sake of being mainstream, it's just for the sake of creating that kind of sound that's not being made anymore, with that love of detail in the sound. If you hear it once, if you listen to an old record, a good Roots record, the sound is beautiful, it doesn't hurt your ear! That's what we were thinking when we were recording Land Of The Free and Keep Planting Seeds. You can turn it up loud and it doesn't hurt the ears, it's always full and warm and soft.

What I also really like is that the instruments have time to unfold...
Yes, to breathe! It has to be that way, especially in Roots Reggae music. Because this is a music that's breathing so much... that has to breathe! In the Reggae scene now there is a strong tendency to just book a vocal recording artist and then book another backup band who does like every artist on the festival. It's losing soul, because it all sounds the same kind of. Of course, because it's the same band and they cannot prepare it the way like your band does it, they are just learning the riddims. When I play with Soulrise, for example, we are a band that knows each other very very well. And when we play, everybody listens to everybody else. The music is happening on stage, it's breathing! And that's what is necessary to have a good live show and have good band sound as far as I'm concerned.

As important are the lyrics, and this is another thing I really appreciate in your music. As you said, it's a very emotional album, but also the subjects that you bring up are really about global issues. Like personal freedom, you are talking a lot about freeing ourselves, breaking the chains...
Of course! I mean, when I'm saying I don't want to work from 9 to 5 in a regular day job but I'm doing my music and I still want to survive in that society, I'm already taking my freedom. On the other hand I also feel how it's always grabbing me and trying to pull me back in certain things, because you get these routines and they can drown you. It's really tough sometimes, especially when I'm talking to friends that have a regular job and get their monthly salary on their bank account. They are saying "Wow, I would love to do the same thing as you, but it's so insecure." And it is, of course. I never had my monthly salary, but the more you do that and the more you follow your heart about this certain way of life, it somehow feels right and you realize it's not about the money! As long as you have enough to survive, you realize how much more it is about… living! (laughs) Simple. And that's why it's so prominent in our songs…
Also about making a change in a certain way, of course. Reggae music has always been proud to be a music which is idealistic and maybe even naïve, at least that's what people say about me sometimes: "Martin Zobel is hippiesque!" That's honest, but I want to be authentic and I don't want to talk about the stuff everybody else is talking about. We are not from Jamaica, we are no Rastafarians, so we have different topics. I just wanna make that point because for me this is important. When I'm saying that I want to make a change, we can only make a change by living this change. The way we consume our goods, the way we live, that's the most important thing because this we can influence ourselves! And when I'm making music I just realize that I have a certain responsibility because there are younger people in front of the stage or who buy the album that are listening to what I'm saying, at least some of them are. And then music is a wonderful option to change something! Not in a way to tell them: "You mustn't do that!" or "You should do this!", that's what often happens. What we want to do is what you can hear in the song Inspiration. Be an inspiration, inspire others. Don't tell them what to do and how to change, inspire them to change! Be an inspiration if you really want to make a change. And that's what I'm trying to do, I want to inspire other people who are maybe uncertain about their way of life. I just tell them: "Follow your heart, you will never go wrong!" The same way I try to inspire people just by being creative with everything that surrounds us and always have one eye on sustainability. Things that you buy and stuff… There is so much duality in the entire system already, people talking about this and living that. In Reggae music, people are always singing about unity, but believe me, there are so many artists that are not living this unity and this is just sad. So, when we are on stage, of course we make a show and all that, but we are not trying to be somebody else, and that's what I want the people to understand. I'm just myself!

You mentioned that you just became a father. Did that change your outlook on things?
Definitely, it changes so much! The thing is, you cannot explain this to anybody who has not had this experience. Before, I loved kids, but it was different. Now, every time I see my little girl, it's like - WOW, it's a miracle! And now she is starting to pull herself up and then she stands there! It's just amazing and I think it changes a lot, like, forever. Also in terms of what my life means and our responsibility for the future. We have to maintain a certain awareness that this world is not ours and we have no right to waste it all. If you see how the people act out there and waste it, you can lose your faith… I'm singing about it, that's also in that song, Inspiration: 'Sometimes it's hard to keep the faith.' But I know there are people who feel me and that's the thing that keeps me going.
That's also one of the reasons why the record is called Keep Planting Seeds. If you listen to the lyrics, it says it all: 'It may seem at times that the soil runs dry, but still it's worth, keep on planting the seeds, they will grow!' Also, the time we went through after the passing of DubLex, even though it was a tough experience losing such a close friend, we still keep planting seeds. It makes you reflect a lot and then you are more grateful for what you have. Gratefulness is a really important ingredient.  

What about shows coming up? Do you plan a tour?
We are just playing 5 or 6 shows in October. We wanted to do more but, as I said, sometimes you get disappointed when you depend on others. Now we are working with Ela from Ikwaliti Booking and plan more shows for next year. Our time is coming again, we just have to keep on working. It has been tough for the band too, because sometimes we had years where we played 60 shows and more, and now this year it's just a few shows… But, as Fully tells us, "It's a tough road, just keep on going!" He also experienced that first hand back in the days with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, he told me lots of stories when they played in front of ten, twenty people. Nobody really cared about the music, but they did it for years! It's hard to believe now. So he said: "You have such a great band and the only thing you have to do is don't give up! Just try to become better!" So that's what we are doing. Everybody in the band right now has another job they can work at, and I have my studio, so everybody is surviving somehow, but I hope that at one point we make it to another level!

We hope that too. Thanks so much for these deep insights. Any closing words?
Stay focused and listen to your heart. It sounds a bit naïve, but it's not! If you really feel what you love, you will find your way. Like, on the last album I had a song that said 'If you choose a job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life!' Be ready for some rocks on the road, find your way and learn how to breathe!