Antihero Magazine recently spoke to Venezuelan guitar virtuoso Felix Martin about his music background and his latest album, Mechanical Nations.
Scott Martin: When you were growing up in Venezuela, who inspired you to play guitar?
Felix Martin: I started out by playing Venezuelan music, and old tapping. But I admired many musicians besides guitar players. If I must mention guitar players, I would have to say maybe Paul Gilbert, Joe Satriani and Kirk Hammett. Like I said, I used to listen to a lot of classical music, and then jazz. It’s just hard to mention influences, because still nowadays I have a lot of influences.
Scott Martin: Can you tell me a little bit about your musical education?
Felix Martin: I went to Berklee College of Music. I didn’t study music at all when I was growing up, because I lived in a small town, and there weren’t teachers or anything. It was just me practicing until I was 17 years old. Maybe 18. I moved out to Boston when I was 18, and that was my first music lessons I took. That was my first musical education.
Scott Martin: Is that where you met Killian (Bass) and Victor (Drums) also?
Felix Martin: Yeah. Well, I didn’t meet Victor. I met him, but I don’t remember him. We met up, because I used to work at Berklee as I think it was a scholarship or, I used to help new students. Victor was a new student. I helped him, but I don’t remember him. Then, I auditioned him in L.A., because someone recommended him. I officially met him in L.A. But I met Killian at Berklee, yeah. We met at Berklee.
Scott Martin: So, you met Kilian Duarte through a mutual friend, right?
Felix Martin: Yeah, kind of, I don’t remember much details. He must remember all those details. I think, by that time, I used to play with a few other bass players, including Nathan Navarro. He played on my other album. By that time, I used to play recitals at Berklee with three trios or four trios. It’s a long story. Some of the songs were hard, and I had to play with different trios for us to be able to play. We had to spend a lot of time learning songs.
Scott Martin: Did you meet Nathan at Berklee also?
Felix Martin: I think I met Nathan before Killian, I’m pretty sure.
Scott Martin: Can you describe your songwriting process?
Felix Martin: What I do is I always sit down with my guitar and try to mess around with it. When I like something, I record myself. I either film myself, or I record the audio. Then, I still develop an idea. Say, like a ten second idea. I will study it, and then develop it for a song or a section of a song. Sometimes, I think of music myself and start writing it based on what I think. It depends. There are many things I have done. Mainly that. It’s just like me with the guitar, and then trying to develop ideas. I imagine the drums when I’m writing the guitar parts, and once I write a song, say a four-minute song, I already know how the drums will go and how the bass will go. I will mainly tell Victor or I’ll mainly tell the drummer what to do, and then the drummer would play that and add his own style and his own ideas, and we’ll mix it up together. That’s after the songwriting. After I write a song, that’s how we record it. We’ll just share ideas, and start writing parts. Same with the bass.
Scott Martin: How would you describe your style of guitar playing?
Felix Martin: I would say what I do is I play two guitars at the same time. That’s the style. I like two guitars as one guitar. Basically, you can play two chords. You get one different chord, and then a lot of percussion. Not much distortion. That’s basically it. It’s all tapping, of course. I don’t play with picks anymore. It’s just playing two guitars as one guitar, and all tapping, I would say.
Scott Martin: How long did it take you to master the art of playing two guitars simultaneously?
Felix Martin: I started like that when I was a teenager. When I was in high school, I used to play with two guitars at the same time, like a Stratocaster and then an Ibanez. Two regular guitars as one, but then I realized that it’s easier if I make an instrument, one guitar with two guitars on it, because you have them both together. I also needed the same sound. It’s just easier to have one guitar than two. The thing about this was it was a lot more natural for me to play two guitars, or mostly like have one hand playing different stuff than just one hand playing all of it, like a regular guitar player. For me, it just made more sense in my brain. How my brain processes everything, it was easier for some reason. That’s why I started. It was natural. I have been playing like that for probably more than ten years, but I’m still learning a lot. But still, it’s pretty natural.
Scott Martin: Can you tell me a bit about the guitars that you play? Who makes the guitars? Who designs them?
Felix Martin: I design them with Luthiers. I have several Luthiers that do work together. I design them more on the artist way – like the position, the string set up, seven strings or nine strings or eight strings, what pickups to use – for me to be more comfortable with the instrument, I design those aspects. But then all the dimensions and all the technical stuff the Luthiers do. They do everything, because I don’t do instruments myself.
I can’t even change pickups. I’m bad at it. I would say we do it together, and I work with a few Luthiers. The one that is helping me the most I would say is JP Laplante. He’s a Luthier in Canada. He made me three guitars. He was the one who helped me to make better instruments for my technique. He made me one guitar that I call the Standard. It is the most flexible guitar that I have. I don’t use it nowadays too much. I would say JP Laplante is a Polish company who made me the headless guitar I have, the green guitar.
Then there’s Jim Ellsberry. He made me a black hollow body jazz rock guitar, kind of like the Gibson 335. He helped me to build that, but he also helped me to develop all the theory. All the measurements. For the future, I don’t know. We’ll see. I definitely need more guitars. There’s a few things I need to fix, but I don’t know who’s going to make it for me.
Scott Martin: In 2012, you released Live in Boston, and in 2013 you released The Scenic Album. What was your reasoning on releasing a live album before you released a studio album?
Felix Martin: That’s actually the label. I was signed to Prostethic at that time. We did two big shows at Berklee on the main stage, from the Berklee performance center, and they were recorded professionally. Then I got signed by the label when I was graduating, and I told them I have those recordings of live performances. They said if I wanted to, we can release an album out of it. I was like, “Sure, let’s do it.” I was like whatever. Let’s do it. Whatever they say, yeah. The recordings came out pretty good. But it wasn’t planned. They just suggested it to me, and we did the whole mixing and the whole thing. It was more like a fast thing. It wasn’t planned at all.
Scott Martin: You just released Mechanical Nations. Who produced it and who mixed it?
Felix Martin: I produced the whole thing and Jamie King, he mixed it. We both did some. He did most of the mixing, but I also contributed to that a little. He mixed it and mastered it, and I produced the whole thing.
Scott Martin: How do you feel that you’ve matured as a musician between the releases of The Scenic Album and your current album, Mechanical Nations?
Felix Martin: A lot. It has been a while. After I finished The Scenic Album, I made it in four months, because I was touring a lot back then. The Scenic Album was me doing school. Something like that. It was more like me trying to transform myself from a regular guitar player to what I am right now. The whole tapping thing. I didn’t tap at all. I didn’t tap too much on that album, because my technique was still really new. Really fleshed. It would say a lot of evolution. It had been a whole, and I had been practicing a lot and developing new sounds. The Scenic Album, besides being prog rock or like more like progressive metal, the guitar sounds still were like I played power chords and then I did some solos. This one’s more specialized. The new album’s more me. Sometimes, I even consider this album my first album. The Mechanical Nations. When I made the other albums, I was still fresh. I didn’t have time. When I wrote them, I didn’t have too much time to spend with the guitar and develop the sounds I wanted to play.
Before Mechanical Nations, first of all, I spent two years writing it, but before that, I was releasing videos that would help me with the guitar technique. There was a lot of evolution, for sure. I even considered Mechanical Nations my first album because it is the one that I feel the base of my sound, for the future, will sound more like Mechanical Nations but maybe a little better. But it’s kind of my base.
Scott Martin: Can you explain the concept behind The Human Transcription album?
Felix Martin: I always wanted to do a project like that. It was a fantasy of mine. I did that probably just for fun. I always wanted to do it. I found time to do it, so I did it. Basically, I took speeches from politicians, like Gaddafi and Mussolini, Charlie Chaplin, Lula da Silva, nine politicians. I turned their speeches into musical notes, and then wrote music over it. It was a long process. But it was fun. That’s what I wanted to do to have fun, but I don’t think I’ll do it again. It’s really hard, man. It’s time consuming too. People don’t realize. Dude, it took me so much time. That’s what it is. Speeches into music. The politician things? I’m not really into politics. I just took the politicians because I started doing Chavez, the old Venezuelan president. Then I continued doing politicians. People sometimes ask me, “Why politicians?” I’m like, “I don’t know, man. It just happened.”
Scott Martin: The Human Transcription, I think it’s probably hard for you to really explain it. It has to be heard. You can explain it on here, but if nobody’s heard it, it’ll be like. I recommend people to go out to listen to The Human Transcription. Then they’ll really understand, because it’s a lot to take in. You’re playing over a speech. I know what you’re talking about. It’s the normal person. I think it’s pretty genius and pretty amazing to come up with something like that. It’s very unique.
Felix Martin: Thank you.
Scott Martin: Can you tell me who designed the artwork on the cover of your Mechanical Nations album?
Felix Martin: I did. I spend a lot of time designing. Not only for the album, but for everything. The songs, artwork for the songs, artwork for the merchandise, like T-shirts and all that. Then, for the album. First of all, I wanted to have something different, something unique, different, and that reflects me somehow. I spent a lot of time looking for symbols that represent South America, and then I guess the only symbol I found was the continent itself. I started messing around with the continent. Well, not really. I just thought about the continent mixed with my guitar, and then with mechanical stuff, robots. Then, we did a few versions of it, and then we made it. We designed it. I did some editing on the computer, and then my mom painted it. She painted the countries on it. That’s what it is.
Scott Martin: On your current album, Mechanical Nations, you have a song called “Santos,” featuring Angelo Vivaldi. Can you tell me a little bit about Angelo?
Felix Martin: Well, that song, that’s a pretty cool song. “Santos” is something on the Grand Theft Auto GTA. It’s a city, so that’s why I call the song like that. Angelo? Well, Angelo told me years ago if I ever wanted a guest solo, that I should let him know, and that song was the best for a guest solo. This album, honestly, it didn’t have space for guest solos. It just didn’t. I spent a long time trying to find a place for Angelo to solo over it. It was rough. That was the spot. From the whole album, that was the only spot to put Angelo on. I’m like, “Oh, man, let’s do it.” I sent him the tracks, and it came out fantastic. I met Angelo on the Internet, just by email. We played two shows together. Having him as a guest on my set, we played in Philly years ago, and I invited Angelo to join us on stage. Same in New York, last time.
Scott Martin: You just finished the first part of your tour? How did that go?
Felix Martin: It went great. Definitely the best tour so far. We were really happy with it. The guys really enjoyed it. The other band really enjoyed it. We fit together very well. Our styles fit together well, and then our personalities fit together too. We had a great time, and the crowd was great. I think it was the best crowd so far. I’m extremely happy. We also got to play for kind of a new audience. They draw a lot of jam band kids, that scene. We got a lot of hippies. That’s cool, because I like hippies. I’m not a hippie. Well, I’m kind of a hippie, but I just don’t dress up like a hippy.
Scott Martin: I know what you mean. The jam band crowd are very dedicated music aficionados. If they like you, they’ll stick with you and follow you around.
Felix Martin: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Scott Martin: What other band besides Felix Martin, was part of the tour?
Felix Martin: It was Felix Martin and Consider the Source.
Scott Martin: Do you have any other dates planned? Any other tour planned?
Felix Martin: Yeah, but they’re not confirmed yet, so I don’t know. Maybe in June, July, August. We’re planning to tour more for sure, but right now, I don’t know. But for sure there will be one or two US tours this year, and then a European tour this year, for sure.
Scott Martin: Can you tell me what bit of advice can you give that aspiring musician that’s thinking about picking up the guitar for the first time?
Felix Martin: If you’re picking up the guitar for the first time, just play what you like. If you don’t like it, don’t play it. If someone makes you play a song that you don’t like, just don’t do it. I feel like everything has to happen naturally. Just hold on to your dreams, man. If you want to play death metal, just play death metal. If you want to play jazz and death metal, just do it and don’t listen to anybody. Just do what your heart tells you to do. Then, play what you feel, what you like, and if you decide that music is your career, you got to be serious about it and spend a lot of time on it. It is really hard. Every career can be hard. We’ve got to work a lot more than lawyers or engineers. In the arts, you’ve got to work a lot harder, and you make less money. You’ve got to work more hours to make some money.
Scott Martin: I totally understand. At least you’re doing what you enjoy, though. Rather than sitting behind a desk for eight hours making money, you’re doing what you enjoy. You play guitar. You may not make as much money, but you’re doing what you want to do. Which I think everybody should be able to have that opportunity. Unfortunately, not everybody is as talented as other people.
Felix Martin: Yeah, but talent is also like words. Sometimes, for me, I have fun practicing and writing music. It is my hobby and then my career. But sometimes there are rough times, like when I have to spend a whole weekend just recording or practicing. There’s sacrifice too. You could have work too and sometimes it’s tough. That’s tough but you’ve got to just do it. Keep being focused. There are good things, and bad things.
Scott Martin: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Felix Martin: Well, thank you for everything, and be sure to follow us on the Internet, on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and get an album if you can, and come to a show. That’s where it is. Come support us on the show. That’s the thing. Come to the shows and say hi.