I was to speak with Tucker Martine on the phone a couple weeks back but a sudden burst of severe back pain kept me from dialing his number. Luckily for you, he agreed to answer a quick six-pack of questions via email instead, thus saving you from my transcribed grunts and groans.
Martine was named one of the ten best producers of the decade spanning ’00-’09 by Paste Magazine, he’s loved by My Morning Jacket (among others), and is married to the wonderful singer-songwriter Laura Veirs, but nothing compares to being interviewed by OWTK. Via email. His life having now been made whole, I think you’ll hear Tucker finally start to relax and produce some real quality work. All kidding aside, he is an amazing producer, having worked with dozens of vital rock-n-roll outfits and most recently with his wife on her first family album “Tumble Bee”. I asked him about that album, about his musical childhood memories of his father not penning Barry Manilow hits, about his first impressions of kid’s music, and about what role music should play in the modern family.
OWTK: What are your musical memories as a child? What kind of tunes did you hear and enjoy growing up?
Tucker: Most of my early musical memories are of hearing my father, who is a songwriter – working away on his songs, often late at night in the kitchen while I lay in bed on the 2nd floor above him. Many of the records played around the house were of songs he had written. I remember a period where I assumed he had written every song played in our house. I told the kids at school that he had written “I Write The Songs” by Barry Manilow, only to later learn that wasn’t the case. When I was 7 my father gave me the Rolling Stones “Green Grass And High Tide” on vinyl. That was the first record I owned. He took the family from Nashville to New Orleans in 1981 to see the Stones at the Superdome; that’s my first concert memory. I had the 45 of ”Start Me Up” which I believe was the first 45 I ever owned. Music was always on in the house or in the car. My dad always liked to play it REALLY loud when we were actively listening. It appears as if I have inherited that from him.
OWTK: What were your impressions of modern kid’s music before beginning to work on Tumble Bee? How have they changed since releasing the album?
Tucker: Until I did some thorough exploring of the old folkways catalog, I like many others, had assumed that any record that mentioned children on the cover was very likely dumbed down and pandering. Then I put it all together, it’s an important part of any musical folk tradition - Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Shel Silverstein, Tom T Hall etc – they all made records with young folks in mind. As a new father it became an exciting challenge to explore that tradition and try to extrapolate on it and figure out how to make it our own at the same time.
OWTK: Describe your approach to making Laura’s first album for children? What sounds/aesthetics did you want to include and what, if anything, did you want to shy away from?
Tucker: Another thing I realized while thinking about music that kids love, is that they love lots of very creative music that isn’t “for kids”. The Beatles are an obvious example. something like Sgt. Peppers is very melodic and also very playful while still being taken seriously as a work of art. I wanted to make sure we didn’t lower our standards in any way going into this.
OWTK: Music was once a communal affair, a shared experience where traditions and stories were passed on to younger generations. What role do you see music playing in a modern home, one ripe with electronic devices, countless media outlets and more technological diversions than we know what to do with?
Tucker: Last night Laura was playing her guitar and singing to our son while he was in the bath. After every song he would sign for more. When he got out of the bath he ran over to the guitar and pointed at it asking for more. He loves to play the drums every chance he get and we overhear him singing often even though he only has about 30 words in his vocabulary right now. I think music can play as big of a role as ever in the modern home and I realize that that might look different for a lot of families than ever before but I don’t think it’s going away.
OWTK: What is your favorite track on “Tumble Bee”, the one you’re most pleased with how it came out? And why, what about it, specifically, works so well?
Tucker: I honestly don’t have a favorite. I love different things about each track and i feel like the whole of the album is what I am most proud of – the way each track contributes something valuable to the record as a whole.
OWTK: Aside from her role as songwriter, how does “Tumble Bee” differ from Laura’s albums stylistically, musically?
Tucker: I think mainly the difference is that it’s a little more playful and the lyrical themes reference things like relationships less and wildlife more.
Watch Tucker, Laura, and crew make “Tumble Bee”: