October , 1980
Martha Davis and the Motels – Chapter Two
Born in Berkeley, Calif., Martha Davis began playing the guitar and singing at the age of eight while listening to her mother's collection of Dixieland, classical, and blues. Seven years later, she found herself songwriting, and also married, the wife of an Air Force officer in Florida. Two kids and a broken marriage later, Davis returned to Berkeley to finish her education.
During the time she was married, Martha never lost her love for music and one day was persuaded by a friend named Lisa to join a group called the Warfield Foxes. They later changed that name to the Motels, and thus the group was born. With spirits high, the group moved to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming overnight successes. It didn't turn out to be the case. After knocking about the L.A. scene trying to find gigs, the Motels, along with the Pop and the Dogs, put on a memorable Radio Free Concert series that drew large crowds and also focused on the local scene in Los Angeles. It worked, and soon the Motels were playing around Hollywood. It appeared they would sign with Capitol records when suddenly the group split up over musical direction. Davis kept the name and auditioned musicians for a year and a half. "1 was naive about people," she said, but luckily she found the musicians that would turn her rock and roll dream into reality.
They were keyboardist/saxist, Marty Jourard, brother Jeff on guitars, Michael Goodroe, bass and drummer Brian Glascock, a veteran of the English and L.A. rock scenes. The group was signed on Mother's Day last year, and in nine months, they cut two albums, "The Motels," (which received a gold certificate in Australia) and "Careful," which has been climbing the charts steadily since its June release. Its hit single, "Danger," has helped get this bands name more widely known throughout the country. Touring with the Cars hasn't hurt either. The group has had one line-up change with that being Tim McGovern replacing Marty's brother Jeff on guitar last January. He's added a new dimension to the group says Davis and the band is currently in the midst of a nationwide tour of this country. They'll hit Europe later this year and finish up around Christmas.
JAM: Was Dean Chamberlain's leaving the original Motels what broke that group up?
DAVIS: Dean didn't exactly leave the group. The earlier band basically broke up over musical differences. The one who left was Robert Newman, the drummer. When that happened, they said, "Well, I guess we will have to get another drummer," and I told them the Motels were going to have to get another singer because I was leaving also. I had the same feeling about the musical direction the group was headed as _ Robert did. Chuck and Dean wanted to go on a more high energy rock direction, and I was more into the melodic kind of stuff. That's when the band split up. There were no hard feelings at all. We all see one another and we get together for our annual Christmas parties and stuff.
JAM: How did you decide on the types of musicians you wanted to have in the Motels when you began auditioning?
DAVIS: That's real hard. I have made wrong decisions a bunch of times. But first of all, you have to decide what kind of music you want. I'm kind of naive about people. If I was to ramble on about all of the people that I listen to, you would find that there is no correlation with who I listen to and the type of music the Motels do. The group right now consists of four different parts of the world...literally. Three are from the U.S., but one is from England. We all have different musical backgrounds and different musical upbringings, but somehow we are very compatible. When it comes down to creative time, everyone listens to one another and there seems to be something tying us all together.
JAM: You auditioned people for the group even though you didn't have a record contract. How do you convince musicians that what you have they will have a future in?
DAVIS: Well, they just didn't flock to the auditions. It was hard, especially since the 'woman boom' hadn't started yet. There wasn't that much credibility for girls and guys to go and play tunes together. It was shaky then. It was especially hard showing them the songs that I had written because they're so personal and it was like showing yourself to a complete stranger. But things worked out.
JAM: When you look back on everything you've gone through with both Motels, is there anything you wish you would have done different?
DAVIS: There are a lot of things that I wish we could have done differently, but more so with me than with the group. It’s a long hard struggle for anybody. I look at being a musician as being a doctor or a lawyer. It takes a good eight years...it really does. Just the learning, the playing, not making any money and just keeping your wits and awareness about you is extremely difficult.
JAM: What has kept you going all of these years, especially when you are raising two little girls at the same time?
DAVIS: Well, it could be one of two things. I could really believe in it, or I could be really dumb. I just kept on believing. When the Motels broke up, we had made it to such a point that it wasn't the fact we weren't making any money, or that we weren't signed. The Motels had already received enough recognition that is seemed like a dumb time to quit. We had just got our foot in the door and we had to keep doing it. I think that this business, you have to keep on believing, and if you start to doubt yourself, then you are only leaving yourself open. I still have periods when I doubt myself and that is very unhealthy. It takes a lot of energy to keep on going.
JAM: How do your daughters feel about all of this?
DAVIS: Well, they are very happy about the fact that after all of these years, it is starting to pal off, and that I wasn't just crazy all of these years. I think that the kids had their doubts at times. "She is going to be a rock and roll star! Oh no!" (Laughing) Touring is real tough on me, especially with the girls at their ages (12 and 14, miss them a lot, but we get on the telephone and talk. I just put them in a new school because the L.A. school system is so crazy. I thank God that I have the money to do that. We have a nice house now, the kids are in a private school and they like it a lot. I think that it is the first time that they have had a genuine education in like five years. The L.A. school system is crazy. I'm not kidding. But yes, it is tough being away. They wanted me to be there on the first day of school and I couldn't do that. We do miss each other a lot, but we love each other a lot too.
JAM: What did you do before you got involved with the Motels?
DAVIS: Well, it was kind of a strange turn of fate. I got married when I was 15 and I went to Florida and I was an Air Force wife. I raised the kids there, the marriage fell through, and I came back and decided I was going to go back to school and get my high school diploma. At that point, I was on welfare and the marriage had not worked out. I went back to school and my parents died within two years of one another and I went from flat broke to having an inheritance shoved in my lap. So, I became a smart business woman. I bought a house, and in those days you could actually go out and buy a house, and I took the check from the inheritance and said to myself, "I don't know if this is right or not, but all I want is a house for my kids." I got a little house which I ended up selling when I moved to Los Angeles and then I bought musical equipment. I decided that I had already committed myself so desperately that I was going to invest in myself thinking that I was going to be my own future. I'll be damned if it didn't work. I was doing odd jobs at times and things definitely got rough when I went out and got the Polymoog and the PA system and the little things. But I did invest my money in a couple of other things that kept me going for a while.
JAM: Does the West Coast hold some sort of mystique about being the place for aspiring musicians to find their fortune and fame?
DAVIS: I thought that you wouldn't get anywhere staying there, and L.A. is a place I hated. I hated it before I moved there, I had to pull my kids out of the schools because the schools were shifty and it seemed all wrong, but at the same time, that is where the industry is. It is where all of the companies are, all of the studios. It seemed the thing to do, but it wasn't easy. The original Motels went there thinking we were going to make it overnight because we were so hot. But you get down there and you get kicked around for a while and you really do see it firsthand. You meet all of the musicians that have been there, and you hear all of the horror stories and you decide if you are going to go for it or not. Because of the strangeness of the town itself, it's a weird place. Now I love it. There's a lot of energy in that town and I have grown to love it… especially since my kids are in a good school.
JAM: How exactly did the Motels end up signing with Capitol Records?
DAVIS: We had rehearsed probably for about two months or maybe not even that long. It happened real fast. We got out and started playing and in six weeks there was a buzz from a label. It started with Capitol. And when Capitol started sniffing around they have the old feeding frenzy. If one label sees another label is Interested then they start getting interested and that's when you get your feeding frenzies’ and the bidding wars and all of that shit which could have really happened if we had really pushed it, but I wasn't into that in the first place. Bidding wars are for money that you are going to owe them anyways, so why try to get $300,000 unless you are going to do a Sex Pistols and cut out early. But that wasn't exactly what I was looking for anyway. I was looking for a label that had a lot of heart and we sure got one. I can't say enough about Capitol Records. They have been completely amazing. They might have looked at the sales figures on the first album. They weren't too shabby. I think it was about 150,000 worldwide and it went gold in Australia. Somebody needs to tell Capitol to calm down they are so good for us.
JAM: Would you have been happy to see the Motels hit it big right off the bat?
JAM: So you are content with the way things have developed with the Motels?
DAVIS: Yes, and I like it for a bunch of reasons. The one that is the most cold and callous is that nowadays, when someone makes it overnight, and of course overnight means the eight years plus the overnight, when that happens, there are a lot of people that are automatically turned off to you just out of principle. That's just the cold hard stuff. The main reason that I'm glad it didn't happen is the first album didn't sell fast, and we got to go out and tour with it. We actually go to places and really build our following at the ground level where you , know that if the people bought the first one, and they really like it, they will be back to buy the second. It's something that seems a lot truer than something that comes out overnight and people know you don't have to have it. It's great. When it's overnight, everybody goes, "What are they going to do for their second album," and all of that garbage. This way, it's a slow, gradual build, and it is a really strong one. Every place that we have played that we played before I recognize faces and the people sing along with the words and it is nice. Good ol' diehard fans. You know that they will be their next time. I really like that feeling and you don't have to take the world by surprise. It's much better this way.
JAM: In order to become a success, do you feel that you have to sacrifice your music in some way in order to become commercially accessible?
DAVIS: There is a degree of that that prevails, which is kind of sad. It's not like selling out either. If you really believe in your music and you really want people to listen to it, you'll do what you have to do. We owe some sort of commercial success to the record companies because after all, it is a business and I want to continue in it. Establishing a name in this business is something that you have to do, and hopefully the actual music on the airwaves is becoming more open to newer stuff so you don't have to conform to the old formats of songwriting. Like "Danger." I wrote that for the Pointer Sisters. My lawyer called me up and said they needed tunes, and I just came up with this little melody and went and sang it in somebody's living room. They loved it, but they already had gotten all of their material so they couldn't use it. I wasn't even going to use it for the Motels.
JAM: Your success: Is it luck or fate?
DAVIS: I'm a firm believer in fate, but I feel awful lucky. Sometimes I think about both my parents being dead and glance upwards and say, "Okay. Who's the wise guy?" Some things just work out this way.