This interview took place on August 26, at Pennsylvania's Purple Door
Andrea: Let's talk about [Joy Electric's most recent release,]
"Unelectric." Overall, how do you feel it turned out? Are you pleased
Ronnie: Yeah, I am. I really like it. I mean, I really didn't want any
more out of it than what I did. I wanted something real stripped down.
I think people's perception of it was, they thought it was going to be a
little bit different, but I think that's good, because they kind of got
something they weren't expecting. That's what we're all about.
Andrea: Did you get a good response?
Ronnie: Yeah, we have. Well, to be honest, we got a mixed response.
It's a lot of our real solid fans, they like it. With other people, with
the more "indier-than-thou" crowd, they're kind of skeptical of it. But
overall, it's been a pretty good response. Not too much negative
feedback on it. I'm happy with the way it turned out. I don't think I'd
want to do another one. It's a hard album to do because I hate re-doing
old songs. It's hard, cause you're not that interested in it cause it's
already done; it's old. But, you know, it served a purpose and for that
I think it worked out.
Andrea: Didn't you do it solo?
Ronnie: Well, all the Joy Electric albums are pretty much just me in the
studio. Jeff [Cloud] has different roles in the band that don't really
happen to be that musical, except when we play live. So just the nature
of the music causes me to have to work solo, so that's kind of just how
it works out. As a band, that's my role in the band. Like, Jeff's role
in the band is other stuff, business-oriented stuff and things like that.
Andrea: How long have you been playing with a drummer? Is that a new
thing? I noticed you had one today.
Ronnie: Yeah. He's sort of our east coast guy, and mid-west guy, so when
we do the east coast and mid-west we have him. We've sort of had off and
on drummers. We don't have drummers more than we do, and so we're hoping
Todd, the guy we had today, works out when we come around here and the
mid-west. It's just for us, given the nature of what we do, it really
works well being two guys, and it kind of looks weird being two guys. So
we kind of like that aspect of it, but right now we feel like a drummer's
helping us out. It's filling out our sound a little bit more for the
live shows, that we like, and gives us a little more energy on stage.
Right now it's been good having him.
Andrea: When can we expect a new album?
Ronnie: The new album is being worked on. I started it around the
beginning of the year, and I sort of had to stop production on it during
the summer with all the festivals and stuff. So I'm back into it, and
I'm gonna have it done by December, out in April. I pushed back the
release date a couple times because I don't want to rush it at all. I
want it to be right and perfect.
Andrea: So are you looking forward to this, like it's gonna be a really
Ronnie: Yeah. It's the first of a series of records we're going to do
that are all themes, kind of like a book. So this is gonna be volume
one. There's gonna be a big story on the inside, and everything's gonna
tie in… It's like a big concept album. It's gonna be like our biggest
record, as far as working on it, and the vision we have for it and stuff.
So, there's at least going to be two or three, or maybe four records
that are all gonna tie in, and it's going to be like this big chronicle,
sort of like a book series, of records that we're doing, and this will be
the first one. We're trying to make sure it's right, so I have no
regrets later, like, "Oh, I should have changed that." You always do,
but I'm really being careful.
Andrea: So what are the themes?
Ronnie: Well, it's… I don't know. You're gonna have to wait and see. I
don't want to divulge anything.
Andrea: That's fine.
Ronnie: This record's turning out real personal. The lyrics are really
from the heart. They're on a real personal level, but they also can have
a universal feel so people can relate to it. I write songs from personal
experiences but sometimes when I do them, I bring them out of that into
something else. This time I kept them in that mode. Lyrically, that's
what I'm doing.
Andrea: "Christiansongs" was really blatant and bold as far as
presenting your faith. I know you've talked about this before, but who
was that album directed towards? Who are the people you were trying to
talk to with that?
Ronnie: It was really towards Christians. I think it was towards
Christian bands and the Christian industry… Basically, the whole thing of
it was, I was really listening to all these old Christian bands from the
'70's and '80's at the time, which I've always grown up and listened to,
and that's been my main influence, and I thought, well, they had a
different mode in the way they thought and the way they did their music
back then. They didn't have as many commercial concerns as bands do
today, and it was a real left field thing, what they were doing. For
them to just say, "We're going to just be doing Christian records and
we're going to sing songs like 'God Rules', and 'Life Begins at the
Cross,'" that was a real, like, innovative and real rebellious thing that
they were doing, because they were jumping from the mainstream into this,
and they were actually catching flak. And then, towards the end of that
period, in the late '80's, things kind of turned full circle. Then you
got new bands saying, "We don't want to do that. We think we're being
kind of deep now. We're not going to write lyrics that have Jesus in
there." They got this stigma, with it being like, "That's not cool, or
that's not deep." But that's really kind of contrary, because if you're
doing lyrics that are based on Scripture, how much deeper can you get
than Scripture? But you hear bands that talk about that all the time, as
if their own thoughts are deeper than what God's thoughts were when they
were written in the Old and New Testaments. It just dawned on me that's
just so backwards. You get bands with that whole mentality: "We're
Christians, we're not a Christian band." Kids get confused when you say
that. But they're still playing all these church shows and stuff. So,
we just wanted to make a firm commitment and stand, that kids wouldn't be
confused by us. We still do weird lyrical stuff, and we still do this
and that, but we feel like a lot of songs on that record, we just wanted
to come out swinging with that. The next record's really not like that,
but for ["Christiansongs"], we did what we wanted to do, and it was
really aimed at the Christian market, which means that the general market
didn't really get it, and it wasn't really aimed at that. Because we're
in the Christian market. We're sort of trying to be realistic from that
standpoint. So, there you have it.
Andrea: I like that a lot. How do you feel about this music scene right
now? Would that kind of generalize your feelings?
Ronnie: I don't know. I mean, I'm real devoted to this scene. I think
the scene has a lot of inherent problems to it. I think it comes down to
integrity, the personal lives that the bands are leading. Obviously, you
see a lot of weird stuff- and maybe you don't- but there's a lot of weird
stuff that happens. There's alcohol problems, there's drug problems,
there's fornication problems. There's a lot of weird stuff that goes on
that I don't agree with in the scene, and there's a lot of bitterness as
well, with bands. It's like when Paul talks about teachers and pastors
and giving them a higher accountability, I think the same with a lot of
these bands. I think the attitude of bands now, is they're trying to
sort of shrink away from that, because they know that's the case, but
they don't want to be held accountable. If they even have a little bit
of upbringing in Scripture, they kind of know they are. So, you see a
lot of this push-and-pull, tug-of-war kind of thing with these bands, and
it bums me out, because I just want to see bands that are living the
life. And, you know, I'm not perfect, none of us are, we make mistakes,
we have relationship problems like everybody and all this stuff, but we
have a willingness to want to do it right and we don't want to stumble
kids. I don't want to stumble a kid, and I don't want to do anything
that's gonna make a kid doubt his faith because he's seen our band or
something like that. And I'm not saying we haven't done that, because
I'm sure we have. We are human beings. So I guess I'm sort of
disappointed in a lot of the bands. But then again, there are a lot of
bands that are coming up that seem to be really eager to please the Lord,
with the stuff they're doing musically, and I think that's cool.
Andrea: The style of music that you play, synth pop- would that be how
you would label it?
Andrea: Do you think that that hinders you from being accepted as easily
as if you were a band that played punk or emo or whatever happens to be
in at the moment?
Ronnie: It definitely hindered us in the very beginning, because we
weren't accepted anywhere. We still have that problem. But things are
so much better because we've never changed our style. We do
punk-influenced songs, but we still do them the way we do them.
"Children of the Lord" is a punk-influenced song, but we still did it the
way we did it. There are certain things that have definitely hindered us
through the years. I think things are better now than they've ever been.
Things just keep getting better for our band, and that's what's so
amazing about it. (At this point Ronnie began using hand gestures.) You
see a lot of bands that start, and they go like this: (He raised his hand
quickly) and then they slowly start doing this: (He lowered his hand),
because people get tired of what they're hearing. We started right here
(indicated a particular point) and we just are going like this: (raised
his hand slowly). And it just keeps going like that for us. We've
caught bands that are doing this (coming down) and we're still doing that
(going up). And so it's cool, it's really encouraging, because every
year we have more fans, we sell more records, more people like us, more
kids come to the shows. It just didn't happen overnight, because of the
style of music we're doing. So, do I regret it? Well, no, because we
sell more records than all those punk bands that sold way more records
than us when we first started. So it's kind of weird. It's kind of gone
like that because we've stuck with what we've done. But we've had to
live down a lot of frustrations.
Andrea: It seems like you had a really enthusiastic response today.
Ronnie: Today was cool. It was fun. Yeah, it was a real cool show.
We're not as voodoo as we used to be. We've been doing this now for six
years, and you can only ignore a band that doesn't go away for so long.
Even if you hate a band… And most kids that hate us are just prejudiced
against the style because of the synthesizers, which is automatic. But
then, as soon as they get over that prejudice… I mean, we have these
life-long dedicated fans. So many times you get these guys that say, "I
hated you four years ago, and then I went somewhere with my friend, and
he wouldn't stop playing your CD. I got so hooked, and now I own
everything you've ever done, when's the next record coming out, blah,
blah blah…" It's weird.
Andrea: I think I might actually fall into that category.
Andrea: I think "Monosynth" was actually the first thing I heard of
Ronnie: Oh, okay.
Andrea: I don't know, I probably wasn't ready 'cause I didn't know what I
was going to be listening to.
Andrea: But I listened some more, and I think it's really cool now.
Ronnie: It takes people off guard, but that's good. That's our whole
thing. We really wanna do that.
Andrea: What originally got you interested in that style?
Ronnie: Synthesizers, the way we do them, which is using old
synthesizers- we don't use any new stuff, computers or any of that stuff-
and so it's a real mathematical process for the way I do things, and that
just kind of interests me. Because we do what I call- and I don't want
you to take this the wrong way- but we do what I call a perfect music.
Everything is perfectly in time. There's no human error, because
everything goes through our sequencers, which time everything perfectly.
So every note is entered in through these weird little keypads and all
this weird stuff, how we do it. There's something about that that
fascinates me, just like if you were to open up the inside of a clock and
see it just moving inside perfectly, winding up and moving perfectly.
There's something about the way we do our songs, that just kind of
interests me to do music that way. I'm really kind of a timing guy, and
when I hear live music it bothers me, because I hear mistakes. I don't
like music with mistakes. I'm kind of a real perfectionist when it comes
to that. So, it suits my mentality, and the other thing is that I never
thought I could do anything else original with any other instrument. I
mean, everybody's strumming a guitar, and, I mean, I play guitar; I play
drums; I do all that. So it's not like I have this prejudice against
that; I like doing all that stuff even now. I just never thought I could
be up there on stage thinking, "We're breaking down boundaries with these
kids, doing stuff they've never heard before." Like you said, love it or
hate it, you just kind of go, "Oh!" At least your ear kind of perks up a
little bit, love it or hate it. That's important to me.
Andrea: What would you say to those kids who kind of think your music's
illegitimate? I mean, I heard somebody call it "Nintendo music" once…
Ronnie: Yeah, they do that, and I understand that. For somebody that's
just listened to MxPx or The Supertones or something for the last five
years, sure, it's gonna sound weird. I'm not totally ignorant to that
fact; I understand that. I just say, hey, at least you reacted. You
know what I mean? Because I know when you heard the last five bands you
heard, you didn't even react because it didn't even do anything to tickle
your ear. At least if you hate us, it still tickled your ear. You might
come back later when you're really tired of Switchfoot- nothing against
them- or The Newsboys, because you're not getting what you think you need
to get out of that. We have a weird audience. A real weird audience.
We get real extremist kids a lot of times. "I like Zao and I like Joy
Electric." We get that mentality. These kids are into these extremes.
They don't want middle of the road stuff… I don't know, I would just say,
Andrea: What other projects are you involved with? What exactly is your
role in Plastiq Musiq and are you producing?
Ronnie: Plastiq is just a label I started about three years ago
independently. Like we were talking about before, there's a certain
amount of frustration with Joy E being the lone band out there. I wanted
to surround ourselves with bands that were doing more of what we were
doing, so maybe it wouldn't look so left field. So I started this, and
we worked out a deal with Tooth and Nail to distribute stuff. So I
produce some of the records, and some of the records I don't. It's
definitely a side thing to what we do with Joy Electric. Joy E's a
little more of a focus, and it takes more of my time. It's kind of cool.
It's getting more of this kind of music out there. I also produce
other… Have you ever heard of a band called Fine China?
Ronnie: Their new album's coming out; I did that. I like doing stuff
like that cause, you know, it's kind of fun.
Andrea: You and your brother Jason [Martin, of Starflyer 59,] both ended
up in the music scene somehow, doing musical stuff. Was that kind of a
coincidence, or were you guys encouraged to be musical, or how did that
Ronnie: We didn't grow up in a musical family. There was nobody else,
really, who did anything or had an ear for anything. It's just a matter
of being a teenager, younger, loving music and wanting to start a cool
band. We didn't really work well together because we're brothers. I'm a
couple years older, so I sort of had him under my wing for a while. He
wasn't really a songwriter, and I sort of encouraged him in that. I sort
of got him going with that. I said, "Look, you know, I think you can
write some good songs. I think you can do this." I think with the
general fact that I was doing electronic music, it was natural for him to
go the opposite direction. He probably didn't want to get a bunch of
comparisons. In reality, our music isn't really all that different
except for the instruments. Song-wise, which is what we focus on, it's
very similar. People don't look at it that way, but if you were to break
down a song, if I were to sit here and play one of Jason's songs on a
guitar, and play one of my songs, you'd just go, "What? Who wrote
what?" You wouldn't know because we have a real similar style, because
we come from the same place.
Andrea: So who are your favorite artists?
Ronnie: Right now, currently, I really like Fine China. I like… I'm
trying to think of who I like right now… Who's out there right now?
Gimme some bands.
Andrea: (somewhat jokingly) Blink 182.
Ronnie: You know what, I think the best song of the year- it's funny you
should say that- I think "Adam's Song" is the best song I've heard all
year. Epic song. I love that song. I really like them. I like "All
The Small Things," too, you know, the bigger ones. I really love "Adam's
Song." They haven't released it as a single. I'm bummed. I just wanna
get the single... I like various stuff. I'm really into MxPx. Always
have been… I don't know, I'm hearing various stuff I like, here and
Andrea: How about the older- like you were saying- the older Christian
musicians from the '70's and '80's? Are you really into them?
Ronnie: Yeah, I'm super into them.
Andrea: Anyone in particular?
Ronnie: Yeah. Larry Norman, Keith Green, Daniel Amos, 441, LSU, Quick
Flight- these are bands most people haven't even heard of- Altar Boys,
Undercover. All those bands. Most of those bands are from Southern
California, and that was before there was a big touring scene like there
is now with bands. So they grew up being my idols, and my heroes, and
all that kind of stuff. That's where I mainly came from. We grew up in
kind of a stricter household. We weren't allowed to listen to a lot of
mainstream stuff until later, when we were older, teenagers.
Andrea: How and when did you become a Christian?
Ronnie: I was six years old when I accepted Christ. My parents had been
raised Catholic and a lot of people have different thoughts about that,
but the brand of Catholicism they were from meant that they weren't
saved… They got saved through [the Jesus Movement of the '70's] down in
Southern California. My brother and I got saved through my mom a little
bit later. We were a little bit older. Actually, six isn't very old,
but it's so weird, because I remember the night, I remember the whole
thing, and it was real to me and it's been real ever since. There was
never a thing where I thought later, "Well, I was very young then,"
because I understood. So that's kinda how it happened. It was sort of
basically growing up in a Christian household, because who really
remembers the first five years of your life for the most part, you know
what I mean?
Andrea: Well, thanks a lot. That's all that we're gonna do today.
Ronnie: No problem. I appreciate it.