Ronnie Martin of Joy Electric
By Andrea Saylor

This interview took place on August 26, at Pennsylvania's Purple Door Festival.

Andrea: Let's talk about [Joy Electric's most recent release,] "Unelectric." Overall, how do you feel it turned out? Are you pleased with it?

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 good one?

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?

Ronnie: Sure.

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.

Ronnie: Really?

Andrea: I think "Monosynth" was actually the first thing I heard of yours…

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.

Ronnie: Right.

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, "Good."

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?

Andrea: Yeah.

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 happen?

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 there.

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.

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