MarthaGunn – Interview – 2016

MarthaGunn have become the band on the tip of everybody’s tongue right now in Brighton. After recently launching their debut single, ‘Heaven’, through Blood Red Shoes’ Jazz Life label they seem to be plotting big things for the future.

As far as bands go, they are largely a slow burning group, taking every move carefully and methodically ensuring that all the failsafes are in place before stepping into the darkness. What this has lead is a strength in their sound and social media presence. Nothing is done haphazardly therefore nothing feels incomplete. Their single launch at The Joker recently was testament to how they have grown as a group. I had a chance to catch up with Humphrey, Max and Ally over a coffee to discuss their past, present and future as a band. We also talked about how outlining all their workings out as a group has lead them to have such a fortified sound.

How did you find your ‘Heaven’ single launch last month?
Humphrey: It was probably the most entertaining gig we have ever played as a band.
Ally: I heard the sound wasn’t the greatest but it doesn’t matter too much, we really enjoyed it when we were up there.

How did you find playing with Penelope Isles?
Max: We really enjoyed it, it was the first time we have played with them. We put the single launch on ourselves so we specifically wanted to have them along. I think Frankie, our drummer, caught them at Green Door Store and said they would be really good for it.

Do you have a favourite venue to play in Brighton?
Humphrey: Erm, we have probably played The Joker and The Hope the most. In terms of favourite venue – because we like to put our own gigs on in Brighton – The Joker tends to work best. We like to have complete control of our gigs and that tends to be the best location for that. It is so cheap and easy to use. The backstage area works well too when it comes to warming up.

Ally: The sound at The Prince Albert is always great, we love playing there.

How about outside of Brighton, do you have a favourite city you have played in?
All: London.

Max: As well as London we have played Bristol though. That was really nice. We played a place called The Crofters Rights. We really enjoyed that, it’s nice to play at a place we have never played before where nobody at all knows us. We still managed to get a crowd too which was good.

You recently played Bushstock Festival up in London – how did you find your time there?
Humphrey: Well, we played The Defectors Weld – it was this really nice pub and we played our own set at 2:30pm which was surprisingly busy. Asides from that, ourselves, Matthew Atlas, Flight and Ceramic went onstage at the church and performed an encore together which was ‘Wild Horses’ by The Rolling Stones. Abby and Max actually did a duet on a verse which almost made me cry. It was pretty amazing.

Max: It was definitely one of the most memorable moments we have had. It was packed to the rafters, there were about 650 people there or something – people were clinging to the pillars of the church. It was one of those moments where you feel something special has happened.

You guys seem to be on the cusp of something right now following the ‘Heaven’ launch and the Bear’s Den support slots up in London. How do you see yourselves progressing from here?
Humphrey: Well we are taking summer off just to write more. We want to start thinking of album material although the album is still quite a while off. We have another single coming out on Communion in September – they do a thing called ‘The Singles Club’ which is where they release four singles a year.

Is that to be a double A-side or a standard single release?
Humphrey: It’s probably going to include more of a B-side than an A-side. We are not quite sure yet – there will be more than just the single on there though.

Can you tell us more about the song?
Ally: Of course, it’s a song that we have gigged recently. It is called ‘Honest’ and it’s Abby’s piano debut which she has only learnt recently – I think it was actually the first song she wrote on piano and it is amazing.

Max: We actually played it at The Joker the other week. We were supposed to play it at Bushstock on the Saturday (18th June) and we had rehearsed getting the piano on and off because it was quite a small stage. We had to get the movement on and off stage nailed to a tee which we got down quite well during soundcheck. It was when it came to the actual gig though that it kind of failed. We got it done but the lead had broken at some point during the set so we had to take it off again and confess that we could not play it.

Ally: Abby has just finished recording the vocals up in London for the song [‘Honest’]. It sounds much bigger than ‘Heaven’ did after hearing it back.

Max: I think with ‘Heaven’ we had written it a long, long time before recording it. This one is a lot fresher to us, it is still kind of in its infantile stages therefore we have a lot more energy in it.

Was there a particular reason as to why you chose ‘Heaven’ in the first place then?
Humphrey: It just felt the most single-like to us — it was a bit of a no-brainer. It did a good job of unifying that sound that we particularly wanted to be achieving. It was a notion of that coupled with the support from other people at gigs that built it for us. We wanted to go in with a punch and then that was released on Jazz Life (Blood Red Shoes’ label) — there is a limited run of vinyl presses going at Resident now.

How did you find working with Jazz Life?
Max: It was amazing.

Ally: Stephen was such an amazing guy to work with.

Humphrey: It kind of changed the whole game for us really. Before that, we were being so patient with it all. We said to ourselves we really wanted to release something this year and we were just going to do that ourselves and do it all off our own back. It was a really nice step into the music world with the Jazz Life backing and their full support. It’s really nice to work with a label which is a small, homegrown artist-run project.

Ally: It’s not just Stephen by the way, it’s him and Laura-Mary who was out in LA.

So how has Jazz Life and Communion worked in tangent with one another?
Humphrey: Well, with this particular ‘Heaven’ release it has been more Jazz Life. Communion have operated more with the shows around it — they have always been supporting us though. They kind of wanted to leave us to our own devices a little to see how we coped on our own but now, with ‘Honest’, they are going to be supporting us a little more.

Max: We recorded ‘Heaven’ with Ian Grimble who we are recording ‘Honest’ with too. We recorded ‘Heaven’ back last summer and he is very involved with Communion being one of the co-founders there.

How do you get on with Communion?
Humphrey: We really love working with them, we share a lot of the same values together. Ian and the other guys there are fantastic people to work with.

How did MarthaGunn come about as a band then?
Humphrey: Well, we all moved to Brighton in September 2013 – the MarthaGunn we have now is slightly different to what we had then. As a band and group, the people have slightly changed but as a sound and ideological force, we have all changed vastly.

Max: We all sort of found each other and it happened quite fast, basically within a week of moving down. I met Abby at Brighton Electric, Ally – we met at uni and Humphrey and I had mutual friends who introduced us to one another.

Humphrey: Nothing really came together until after a year or so when we got Frankie on drums. Nobody really knew who we were before that. We began to spread our wings a bit and move out of Brighton. We were very happy with what we had and we felt like we could take some steps forward and progress further.

Max: We had a few musical adventures from time to time. We had quite a heavy phase at one point. We soon realised it wasn’t quite for us though. It took us coming full circle with our sound to grow satisfied with ourselves.

I saw you down at The Mesmerist a long time ago; I suppose when you were the old incarnation of MarthaGunn. You always seem to have a very methodical way in how you want to progress, being very cautious. How do you feel about your movements?
Humphrey: Wow, yes, that was a long time ago [laughter].

Ally: I think we have always realised that time is our best friend and there is never any need to rush anything. We have always wanted to take as much time as possible to work things out and progress at our own pace.

Humphrey: It has really worked in our favour. It has never really felt like effort, everyone we have worked with has naturally fallen around us. We only like to work with people who are as excited about the music as we are – I think this makes things run a lot smoother.

Following your ‘Honest’ release — what are your next plans?
Humphrey: Well, we are thinking about touring but that is yet to be confirmed. There is no immediate rush but that seems the logical step, I guess. We just need the machine to make that possible [laughter].

Max: It definitely depends on how the next song goes down as well. We are just beginning to talk to agents and that now. There are still members of our team that we are courting — so to speak — there is no rush but it’s coming together.

And, in regards to an album, what can we expect?
Humphrey: That is like a long-term dream I suppose but definitely something we want to start thinking about.

Ally: It’s one of those that if we put our minds to it, it will happen. It’ll get there but we don’t have anything confirmed as such yet. We want it to be as good as possible and therefore we are consistently writing. It’ll come together though.