I met up with this unique band of friends on an early Autumn evening with freshly pressed copies of their debut Neon Traces EP, due for release in early November. Sketch (aka Dave Myers), Spike (his Art graduate son), Jim and Joe held forth on a number of topics and proved to be highly engaging and awash with plenty of anecdotes and clues to their band identity. Only Spence was absent, having more pressing business in Birmingham.
I started with a short history lesson. They formed 3 years ago and hail from Stoke, Birmingham and Manchester, all now living (bar Spence) in the South West. Jim used to be the Manager of Fopp records (now sadly defunct) and they all maintain day jobs – how else could they afford the funky trainers some were sporting tonight?
A gig was happening with Peter Hook, formerly of New Order (to commemorate Ian Curtis) and he invited the nascent quintet to play with him. They ended up writing 5 songs in 5 weeks. All have worked in various bands for over 20 years, and now work in various occupations but are keenly aware that there is little money in the music business. Having said that, Joe has most recently written the string sections for the latest New Order album. Elevated company indeed, but this also helps to put their own pedigree in some sort of context.
Spike talks about his influences deriving from electronica and beat programming. He helped to program the drums with Joe (although Spike and Spence also have expertise in the area), when recording of the EP began last November. They recorded both in the Sound Gallery, located in the basement of The Phoenix and at home, the whole process taking about 5 months to complete.
Annie Rew-Shaw brings delicate guest vocals to two of the tracks (‘Immortals’ and ‘ Sugar’), the lyrics for which are written mostly before the song itself is formed. Dave may sing along to the demo, but the whole process is organic, all the elements coming together in a glorious synergy.
Now, what’s in a name? Stella Martyr could have been called Urban Fox (!) but, as Sketch points out, you just need to google a potential name, and if nothing comes up, keep to it. The name actually comes from a Prefab Sprout song which contains the phrase ‘stellar matter’. It works, it carries weight, it rings with purpose.
They recently supported Everything Everything at the Phoenix, which was sadly a one-off. We talk about the marmite-like nature of Jonathan Higgs’s voice – I am in the LOVE camp – and the fact that EE were very willing to offer support and encouragement to them whilst seated doing the Fat Pig Pub Quiz on the night before the gig!
What are their ambitions? ‘To do some gigs outside of Exeter!!’ opines Jim, the bass player. ‘We want to make more EPs ‘ he adds. By releasing the EP shortly, their level of exposure will hopefully go stellar. By pressing a 500 strong batch of super cool clear vinyl copies, they have repositioned themselves to move forward, take the local music scene by the proverbials and shake up the mainstream.
Stella Martyr make dark, brooding and beautiful music, which remains individual, challenging and, above all, compelling.
Their strong work ethic keeps them fighting to constantly creating new sounds, but they won’t be travelling the length and breadth of the UK in a camper van anytime soon. Spike, in his early 20’s, could probably manage it on his own, but Stella Martyr are very much a living, breathing unit who want to continue creating EPs (and maybe a long player) for as long as their bodies, souls and minds remain intact.
All hail Exeter’s new musical curators.