John Brown’s Body: Roots, Reggae, Royalty
Over the years, how has Elliot taken on more control and leadership of the band?
Elliot has always been a force on stage and an amazing presence and people have always latched on to his energy on stage. He’s an incredible performer and singer on stage. His voice – there’s only one Elliot Martin out there – is phenomenal. He’s always been one of my favorite singers. The first bunch of JBB records were written by Kevin Kinsella. We used to have two singers during the first 4 or 5 records, so Elliot was more of backup singer. He would be on stage and he would sing harmonies and vocals. He would sing crucial harmony parts even though he wasn’t writing the songs.
When we put out the record, Spirits All around Us – that was the beginning of Elliot really busting out. That was the first record, where he had written three songs. When the band started hearing the potential of playing that style and having that in the arsenal, then it was just a matter of time before we really wanted to focus on that approach. It was more of a cutting edge sound. When Kevin left the band in 2006, then that was it – Elliot was the front man and that was the end of the story. Amplify (2008) was written pretty much by him and Kings and Queens is a step to the next level as a songwriter.
You’re the only original member of the band left. What has kept you going and keeping JBB what it is?
Pretty simple: the music. It certainly hasn’t been easy at times. There’s many ups and downs being a musician, but at the end of the day when I get to play this music with my brothers and I feel the band getting better every show and I feel that. People come up to me on every tour and say, ‘You guys never sounded better, how do you do it?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’ I’m inspired by the music I get to play and the people I get to play it with. In that sense it makes it easy, but there were times when everything went down in 2006, we weren’t sure how we were going to proceed and the music kind of led the way for us. Elliot started writing more music and then we started kind of restructuring the sound of the band and the music just kind of got better and the vibes just kept getting better. It’s been a huge part of my life since my 20s.
I read that you’ve described playing in an eight-piece band to being in a rocket ship, can you elaborate on that?
We’ve always prided ourselves on taking out a full horn section. We don’t cut corners on the sound. When we travel we roll with a B3 organ, a clavinet, and a three-piece horn section. The sounds are big and it’s a lot of sounds and it’s a heavy energy. Our bass player Nate is one of my musical heroes and my best buddy and the drum and bass are second to none. That’s what it feels like when you’re up there pumping away and the horns are ranging, the organs are bubbling and the bass is practically overturning your drum set. It’s that kind of vibe and I would not have it any other way. I love the feel of it.
And finally, looking at your touring schedule, the band is making its tenth appearance at the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival in Trumansburg, NY.
We’ve played a lot of festivals across the country and GrassRoots is always at the top of all of the lists as the festival we look forward to the most. The level and the quality of the music. All the musicians are there for the right reason. They always go for the pure artists and it’s inspiring. We’ve played there for over a decade and we’re one of the main draws at this point. We usually play a headlining set on a Friday night in front of lots and lots of people and it’s a highlight for the festival people and for us as well. We always look forward to it.