The Martinis Biography (April 2004)

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The Martinis

The Martinis

The nerrrrr that kickstarted a million mixtapes, the skzzzz that opened a million college radio shows: the unholy-yet-melodic din that Joey Santiago strangled out of his guitar in archetypal alt-rockers the Pixies has been imitated, never duplicated and, in the 11 years since their demise, practically silent.

Those familiar buzzes and squonks have returned-albeit in a different form. After years of rumor and hearsay, The Martinis have finally poured out of Los Angeles with their debut record, Smitten, a sunny monster of a pop record that runs the energetic hooks of chief singer/songwriter Linda Mallari against Santiago's signature angular assault.

"I guess it's just an inherent style I have. It's more of a contrast this time around. These definitely have pop structures and I thought it would be kind of neat to put that sound back in," Santiago says. "Making shapes… that's what I do."

Produced by Brad Cook and Blag Dahlia of the Greedy Brothers production team (Foo Fighters, the Distillers, Vandals, Ben Harper, Fishbone) and featuring the rhythm support of Smash Mouth bassist Paul De Lisle and drummer-of-all-trades Josh Freese (A Perfect Circle, etc.), Smitten is a collection of 11 candy hearts dedicated to loves loved, loves lost and everything in between.

The Martinis sound is a study in contrast. There's Santiago, the self-taught, gloriously erratic note-mangler who dropped out of college to form the Pixies with roommate Charles Thompson, a.k.a. Black Francis, a.k.a. Frank Black; then there's Mallari-classically trained in piano and voice, Emerson College music minor and a seasoned road dog (well, with the hyper-cheerful Up With People troupe, of all things). She met Santiago in 1987 right after a tour, both sitting side-by-side in a now-defunct Boston dive, the Rathskellar.

"I was sitting at the bar while my friend was playing pinball for beers," recalls Mallari. "Joey was sitting right at the side of me and we were both looking through the mirror; I look over and I go 'Oh my god are you Filipino?! Oh my God, I'm Filipino too!" He said, "No you're not!" I had to rattle off all the bad words I knew in Tagalog! I gave him my phone number… 'I write music, if you ever want to write music together call me!'"

And how did the music go? "Ahhh! I just wanted to pick up on her," laughs Santiago. "I wanted to make music too, I suppose… but I got very busy. You know, with the other band."

Mallari offered to donate her talents and years of voice training to the then-embryonic Pixies (who hadn't even played a show at that point), to which Joey countered with, "Oh, we already have a chick in the band."

Throughout the Pixies days, Santiago and Mallari hung out, wrote songs and drank martinis; producing the earliest Martinis ideas, their name and the song "Free," which appeared on the Empire Records soundtrack in 1995 (their last -official- recorded appearance until the release of Smitten).

Just like the two musically divergent characters of Santiago and Mallari coming together, the music of the Martinis itself has an equally intriguing juxtaposition. Although the music has a breezy demeanor-most likely a result of Mallari's mom blasting Broadway in the house, her tour of duty with Up With People and her never-ending love of right-of-the-dial radio hits-the lyrics generally take a more sinister turn.

The honey-glazed harmonies of "You Are The One" hides a subliminal creepiness ("It sounds like a happy song, but it's really about how someone can suck the life out you," says Mallari, "how someone can love you so much that they can kill you inside") and jaunty cruncher "People In The World" explores an acrimony for L.A.'s silicon-injected gloss. All over unforgiving power-pop that howls like Siouxsie Sioux, drives like Veruca Salt and, naturally, cracks open the Pixies bone machine.

"Sweet, sweet, sweet. Everything about it is sweet-all except the lyrics," says Santiago. "That's where we come from and this is the product of that. I think it's a style of it's own."

Christopher Weingarten

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Last updated 04-15-2004