Los Angeles’ Spider have a classic LA punk sound; the band have been around since the ‘90s, regrouping in 2005 for a year, then again a couple of years ago. My friend vocalist, Hector, works at Epitaph too and also worked at Scratch magazine (one of my fav So-Cal zines).
After graduating law school and working in the music industry you were originally going to manage the band but, you’ve ended up as the vocalist too – you originally asked Mike from Channel 3 but he encouraged you to give it a go; can you tell us about the first time you took the mic?
HECTOR MARTINEZ: I had the ammunition. The raw data. I suppose all I needed was a push. I’d been stockpiling lyrics since I could remember. Really as a form of therapy before I knew what that meant. Not really a diary, but not really poems either. Just mostly stream of consciousness and cryptic words inspired by real events all collected on loose-leaf paper, sacrificed brown paper bags, cocktail napkins, whatever pen and paper I could get my hands on when a lyric hit me.
As the manager of the band my first task was to get the band a singer. Classified ads were placed and I started talking to people who I thought would be great for the band. That’s where Mike Magrann from Channel 3 came in the picture. He was a real friend and motivated me to step up. During this time, Channel 3 was on a bit of a hiatus, playing once a year. Me and Mike had been talking for a while about Spider, exchanging music and lyrics for the nascent songs we were working on.
One evening while at a Paul Westerberg concert, we were hanging out at the bar killing time between bands, Mike essentially said “the hardest part of being in a band is getting along, since you guys are already friends, you have the tough part covered! You should just be the singer!” Later that week, while at Spider practice I relayed what Mike said and the guys said, “what the hell” let’s give it a go!
The first time I took the mic as a member of the band I had words in hand, stepped up to the mic and had no idea how to breath in the context of vocalizing for a band, I did not know how to project my voice, I had no idea how to gauge the proximity of how close to get to the microphone etc. I’d seen hundreds of bands perform but I had no idea on what went into the mechanics of actually doing it. But the guys were real patient and as time progressed l was able to catch up by sheer trial and error!
But yes, Mike was the prime mover in getting me to be the singer of the band. He even wrote lyrics for a couple early Spider songs that were never released. One was titled “Given Name” and the other was called “Never’s Here.” Given Name was never recorded, but we did record a studio demo version of Never’s Here. Who knows, maybe we’ll release it one day!
What was the first song you wrote for Spider? What inspired it?
HM: The first song I put my words to music was “Metal Detector.” It was summer and I was living in Seal Beach, CA. Most days during that time I would spend my waking hours studying for the bar (law) exam. Every once in a while I’d take a break from the monotony of memorizing black letter rules and go outside to get some sun and watch the waves come and go.
One day I noticed there was a guy out there with a metal detector and he seemed very lonely and very sad. I wrote the chorus to “Metal Detector” as coming from his POV. He combed that beach in earnest day after day, hour upon hour, week after week. The reach of the metal detector exceeded his grasp as though his real treasure was immaterial. In his actions, I found a metaphor for the human condition of not wanting to be alone.
Do you find that there are reoccurring themes in your lyrics? Do you find writing songs cathartic?
HM: I was never really a good linear storyteller. I remember reading an interview with Joe Strummer where he said that the key to writing lyrics is to put the maximum amount of meaning in the least amount of words.
If there is a reoccurring theme in my lyrics I would say it’s the repeated, paradoxical and periodic nature of the snapshots of life that are being captured. That seemingly chaotic, random and incongruous nature of the words on a meta-level is the common thread of my lyrics. The dichotomy of opposing forces, the disorder, the presence of light and dark in everything we do. All initially fuelled by the phonetic sounds of the words themselves.
I always find that the apparent unrelated moments of time all fit together better in hindsight than I first thought. It’s as though the words need time to simmer for a while. I’ll go back, a week, a month or year later for the story to ripen up and together the collection of words end up telling a richer and more layered story than if I went from a straight line, from point A to point B narrative. I’ve got some words for new Spider songs simmering on the back burner right now.
Writing and performing are absolutely cathartic. Half exorcising demons (in the performance), half giving birth (these song are like your babies). The process will simultaneously drain you and leave you euphoric if done right.
What do you find challenging about song writing?
HM:The thing I find most challenging about song writing is turning off my left brain. I need to consciously stay visceral and in the sturm and drang when doing band stuff.
HM: I know one of your personal favourite influences is Iggy Pop; when did you fist discover Iggy? How does he inspire you?
I first discovered Iggy through my love of David Bowie. Iggy’s resilience inspires me. He just always seems to plow through the machine of phoniness that’s surrounds us. A genuine article kinda guy. It’d be cool to do a gig with him and his band.
You were born and raised in Compton; what was it like growing up there?
HM: The city was bleak. The crime rate was high, I would hear gun shots echoing in the distance nightly. Our home would get burglarized every once in a while. Poverty and desperation everywhere, opportunists and scam artist in the schoolyard or at the store. You really had to be on your toes. It really heightened my sense of awareness and ability to read and size people up instantly, so I guess that was a positive! As I hit my early teens, punk rock came along and truly saved my life.
Can you recall a formative musical moment?
HM: Car rides to school were always special for me, my most vivid memories starting around the time were when I was in the sixth grade. My older sister Linda would shuttle me back and forth to school on her way back and forth to work. She was a school teacher, so our schedules were in synch.
I remember one day on the way to school I’d ask her “How do they make that sound?” pointing to the cassette tape player in the car. I was fascinated by the thundering guitar tones coming out the speakers. On our daily trips she’d let me play my favorite cassette by Cheap Trick. To this day, ‘Live At Budokan’ will always bring back memories of a those rides to school. Those early experiences made an indelible mark on me. My love for music prompted my right brain curiosity on how it was created. This epitomized truth to me, my wheels were turning, I was experiencing complete freedom.
Several years later, on our way home from school she’d relent to my pleas asking her to stop at a new record store in Long Beach that I’d heard about called Zed Records that specialized in punk rock. Once a month, we’d make the pilgrimage, she’d wait in the car outside in the parking lot, while inside I loaded up on fanzines, records and flyers to shows. Punk was in it’s infancy at that time, fueled by rebellious songs about questioning authority, anarchy, freedom, politics, religion and philosophy. I was fucking hooked!
How did you become aware of punk?
HM: My very first exposure to punk was through the Dr. Demento radio show broadcast in the Los Angeles area on Sunday nights on 94.7 fm KMET. Dr. Demento would play very, very early Weird Al recordings, novelty songs from the 50s, recording by The Shags, just about anything weird and strange he played it! As a pre-pubescent boy (I was about 11 years old) I loved that stuff, then one day he played “Beat On The Brat” by The Ramones. That was my very first exposure to what I later discovered what was called punk rock. I was fascinated by the sounds of this bubblegum rock with chainsaw guitars. For me it was Cheap Trick to The Ramones, next stop was the Sex Pistols and The Clash, then LA hardcore.
The band has been around since the ‘90s but took a hiatus in the early 2000; what brought the band back together?
HM: Yes, Spider first started in the late ’90s, we had about a 4 year run at the time until (1997-2000). Then re-grouped in 2005 for 1 year. Then got back together in 2016 to the present (so far 2016-2018). So we’ve been an active band for about 7 years total. What brought us back together was our friend Josh Fischel who was curating a music festival in Long Beach, CA a couple years ago.
Back in the day, Spider used to gig a lot with Josh’s band Bargain Music. Our bands were nothing alike musically Bargain was a dub, reggae, soul collective and Spider was a simmering visceral punk band, but we were very close friends and part of the local Long Beach music scene. Josh even sang back-up vocals on our song “Killing Time” and Karl our guitar player even did a Warped Tour with Bargain Music one summer.
So we (Spider and Josh) were super tight. A couple years ago Josh contacted me out of the blue and asked if Spider would reunite and play his festival? I told him I’d run it by the fellas (we hadn’t played in years) and turns out everybody was into it so we said, “let’s do it!” So we got back together really only intending to do that one show.
A few days after the festival, Josh passed away. He had been declining in health for years and putting on that festival literally took everything he had. In hindsight, it was like the biggest farewell block party ever given. An amazing weekend spent with a family of musicians that crossed paths with Josh at some point in his life.
Afterwards I think we (Spider) came to understand the true finite nature of life and realized how important it is to do the things you love while you can. So here we are, reinvigorated and more focused than ever. Playing the best shows of the band’s career and working on new material.
Friendship is a big part of the Spider story and dynamic, you’ve known Steve since 6th grade and Karl since 9th grade; what does real friendship mean to you?
HM: Friendship is being able to pick up where you last left off, no matter how much time elapsed. Friendship is sharing core values, a sense of humor and knowing you could rely and trust each other to the end. Having this as the foundation of a band is a gift.
Previously you’ve said of the band that: Spider personifies the will to live; could you elaborate on this? Where does his sentiment come from?
HM: I think as time goes forward, a person either becomes more resilient or they wind down and just give up. As a band, we bounced back from nothingness. For all intents and purposes we shouldn’t be playing anymore, but in fact we’re playing our fiercest shows, making tons of new friends and getting the best feedback from promoters, booking agents, with the internet, we now have from all over the world which is pretty amazing! We just confirmed our first European tour dates. We have a German show booked with Descendents and we just secured spots playing Rebellion and Bloodstains festivals this summer. I can’t wait!! We’ve also got shows lined up with TSOL and Agent Orange. The future looks bright!
You’ve released your self-titled EP (the band’s favourite cuts from early release ‘Youth Insurance’) and you’re working on a new EP; what can you tell us about what you’re working on?
HM: Creatively, the new songs are very mercurial at this point and very much ‘works in process,’ from a logistic perspective, we’ve rented a 24 hour lockout studio that we share with Bad Cop/Bad Cop and Decent Criminal, so right now we’re stoked we’ve got a place to call our own, a place to hunker down and a place to write and work on new material. Who knows exactly what we’ll end up with, but the key ingredients of the band, all original members are intact and all part of the songwriting process. I think it’ll be good.
What’s been your favourite show you’ve played to date? What made it rad?
HM: There are really a few, I’d say my top three favorite shows so far have been our performance at “Music Tastes Good Festival”, the first club gig we did with GBH at the Casbah in San Diego and the debut gig (also with GBH) with original founding member / original songwriter of the band Alf Silva back on drums.
The Music Tastes Good Festival performance was our big come back show as an active band. It was a multi-stage event held in downtown Long Beach. The stage was legit, top notch production and we were playing in our home town of Long Beach. What made it even more special, was that the event was curated by our longtime friend Josh Fischel. The line-up was like a live version of his Spotify playlist. The event was really a love letter to Long Beach, and a farewell goodbye party from Josh. Josh is a big reason we are here today and he was instrumental in helping us reinvigorate the band.
My favorite show was the first club show we did with GBH in San Diego. Man the room was on fire. That was a great crowd, and the energy they were giving us was getting thrown back right at em’, 100 miles an hour of electric energy. The room was on fire that night.
And finally, I gotta say our first show back as a band with original member Alf Silva on drums was definitely one of my favorites so far! No one hits the drums as hard as Alf. He really gives the band that signature rhythmic urgency no other drummer has been able to emulate.
I’ve read that you studied philosophy in college; what was the attraction? I understand that you find similar vibes in philosophy as you do punk rock; in what way?
HM: To me punk rock always meant speaking truth to power. When I went to college I found that philosophy was the most punk rock subject in humanities I could study.
A couple quick examples, Socrates constantly questioned authority figures in search of the truth, the Circle Jerks wrote a song called Question Authority.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s recurrent theme was of self-reliance and he spoke of the need for each individual to avoid conformity and to follow their own instincts and ideas. You see this non-conformist scrappiness in the DIY culture of punk.
Learning how to construct a solid arguments, the study of logic, knowing how to spot fallacies, these are great tools to speak truth to power.
From my study of philosophy, it was a natural progression to go onto study law. In law school I studied intellectual property, copyrights, trademarks, etc.. About 180 years ago, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story said that copyright was the “metaphysics of the law.” He was right, it’s like Plato’s Forms meets Real Property.
During the day, my job is being the Director of Music Licensing at Epitaph Records, in this role I’m in charge of protecting the label’s intellectual property and I’m in charge of licensing copyrights on behalf of Epitaph Records. At night I’m creating my own intellectual property, authoring my own copyrights with my band. Everything I’ve done has led me to this place. It’s all come full circle, it’s like Darby Crash’s ‘Circle One’ concept.
For me punk rock led to my studies which led to my work which led me to create and perform in my own punk rock band. We are playing live, writing songs, creating recordings and putting them out in the ether to live forever.
Via the band and working at Hellcat/Epitaph Records you get to work alongside and with, incredible creatives; what’s the best advice you’re ever received?
HM: There’s a Latin proverb that says “fortune favors the bold” which I think is pretty good advice.
I worked at Scratch Magazine, a punk rock fanzine based out of Southern California in the late ‘90s. It was simultaneously the worst job and the best job I ever had. It was best job because I had a creative outlet, I was writing album reviews, I was interviewing bands, I went to shows for free and met and made friends with tons of folks doing music. It was also the worst experience because I was getting paid peanuts, I was always broke, and most painful, I was constantly getting badgered by my boss to sell more advertising space in the magazine to the indie record labels and bands we covered. He was constantly on my ass to sell ads.
Like most start-ups today, advertising revenue was the lifeblood of the enterprise. Essentially, we ate what we killed. If I didn’t sell ads, there was no revenue for the magazine and no commission for me. No magazine, no job, no food. I hated the pressure of trying to sell something to people who didn’t want to buy what I was selling. I was rejected over 98% of the time. “no, no, no, no.” That’s all I heard all day. Nobody wanted what I was selling! Selling ad space in those days entailed me going down a list of about 200 contacts calling them on the phone every day, week after week, month after month, and trying to persuade them to buy an ad. At the end of the month, I’d start the process all over again. Being an introvert by nature, this pressure on me to be a high yield results oriented salesman was the worst job I could imagine at the time. The rejection was bewildering. Anxiety was high. I was miserable. (I even wrote a song about it, our song “Can’t Control” was a direct result of my working at Scratch Magazine.)
But, on the other hand the job forced me to be persistent and really toughened me up. I learned the value of mindful persistence and resilience. After a while the barrage of “no’s” meant nothing to me, and I’d eventually make a sale. I’d sell a 1/4 page here, a 1/2 page ad there, maybe even a full page 4 color glossy back cover if the advertising God’s smiled on me that day!
Getting back to the best advice I’ve heard. All this reminds me of a quote from Jay Bentley (bass player and original member of Bad Religion) I read a long time ago in an interview he did, when asked what was the secret to Bad Religion’s longevity and success, he essentially said it was because they didn’t give up. They stayed together through thick and thin and pushed forward as a band. There’s a lot to be said about this.
He was saying they reason they succeeded was because they persisted. I genuinely believe that’s the key to success in whatever you’re doing. Persistence. It may not be not the only key to success, or a guarantee of success, but I think if you are persistent in your endeavour. You are setting yourself up for success. “audentes Fortuna iuvat” indeed.
For more SPIDER go here.