Photo by Victor P. Corona
Interview with Jason Martin | By Morgan Y. Evans
Since I heard about Jason Martin’s Power Animal System project, a self-heralded species and gender-queer trans-missional-dimensional experiential service—who incidentally just missed touring with Lady Gaga and who were founded by an ex member of cult band, Brown Cuts Neighbors—I figured, hopefully, our paths would cross someday.
My friend Matto, guitarist of long-running power pop band, Kitty Little, reached out recently and told me he had put out Martin’s new record, Power Animal System Methods, on his boutique punk label, Peterwalkee, and that, like me, Martin was suffering from PTSD after some recent hardships. I heard the record and loved it, a sort of a lysergic Id bender into animal magnetism and doing what you’re not supposed to. It’s all executed with a sort of DIY indie flair, and yet, features the kind of capable musicianship one doesn’t hear enough of anymore—cool, sort of ‘90s inspired bands like Seattle’s Wimps and Los Angeles’ Peach Kelli Pop notwithstanding.
Still, Martin’s songs are in a weird world all their own, and it was great to pick the artist’s brain about erotic animal entities from other dimensions, high heels, power chords, and surviving targeted hate crimes. Three cheers for this wonderful creature, and may Martin long create and feel safer. Power Animal System Method’s is one of the more fun and, by far, more deceptively simple records of recent memory.
How are you feeling? Have you been writing new songs now that this record is out, or are you letting it sit for a while?
I don’t have to worry about stopping and starting projects; it is an ongoing flow, including but not limited to music creation. This is because I am deeply obsessed with finding what shapes a thought form can take—like, in recorded audio formats or visual formats and whatever is passing for “reality.” I’m a matchmaker, a dating service. I match thought forms with mechanisms by which they can be realized. The dates don’t always work out. Some end up as friends with benefits, if not a full on relationship. Or they become enemies.
I can work with that. I’m great at channeling my mania and fetishes. It’s easy, because, somehow, there is a cosmic channel I can tune into when I want to and—BOOM!—I have content. It takes a lot of practice, but if you really practice all the time, anyone can do it in their own way. I’m so amazed. Every time. Baffled, even. I’m very honored to have such access. I can’t believe I got it like this. It’s a mystery that can be elusive, but it’s always there, whether I use it or not.
With music, I’m usually about three completed albums behind whatever album is being released. So, there are two more LPs in the can after this current release on Peterwalkee. So today, yes, I’m feeling quite well. After an extended break for health reasons [that] we will get into in a moment, I’m slowly getting back to making art, recording songs, covers, noise drones, and some spoken word. Some of it is solo, some with collaborators. At some point in the future, the current audio material will collate into LPs, cassette releases, stuff I put on the Internet, or soundtracks for video art pieces I’m working on.
When did you first became aware of feeling like you had these animal entities in your life?
Sometime in my youth, I realized I was pretending to be animals and that it was more than a game. There was a focus on wolves and dogs, but not predominantly so. They started to have attributes that seemed separate from me even though they were me.
My first tangible contact with these entities occurred in Albany, N.Y., at the Empire State Plaza during some evening festival, while I was staring at a mechanism that held up little cars and spun them in a circle. I couldn’t have been more than 6 years old. I looked down at the mechanism, and then, I stared up at a giant treble clef made in a grid of lit-up office windows of the 44-story Corning Tower. Past the tower, stars were coming out. I looked up, down, up again, thinking I knew something about the wolf people and I was one of them. Or I was a helper.
These are the words I use now. Back then, no words. It was a visual message in bolts, wheels, light grid, treble clef, stars. I make drawings of them. They were ambassadors from another dimension. As I matured, erotic gateways opened though which we communicated. I kept it a secret for decades.
You have some awesome collaborators on this, and Peterwalkee is a great label. Would you talk about creating the album?
I like to make a thing that I know is going to be put in a spiral and played back, like on an LP. Or on a spool, like on a tape. Digital is fine, too, but I grew up with analog formats, and that makes making albums a little more fun if I know they are going to end up in those formats. It’s not actually better quality, I just prefer it when I have the option. The first &’ EP I ever released was back when CDs were only for stuff that was mainstream. All the underground stuff was vinyl or cassette, because it was the cheapest.
So, Matto, my friend for years now, wanted to put out an LP, which is my favorite. I recorded it in my spare time in the last couple months of 2012. I wanted to do something customized for Matto and Peterwalkee, despite having completed unreleased albums still on the shelf. I didn’t know where to start, but I had some ideas. Pop songs are not precious, and we are past the age of “pop masterpieces,” and thank God. So, I devised a set of rules that I hated: major and minor chords, steady beats, and not a lot of takes. I am a total hypocrite, because my discography is filled with years of CDs, LPs, and tapes with songs like this all over them. But, still, it’s good to have some rules to chafe against, even if it’s all completely made up and not true. Often, I am tempted to expand on basic song structures. Finished albums will include sound pieces constructed out of pop songs, experimental recordings, and collage. I can’t help myself—but sometimes, I can.
Most songs were written and recorded as quickly as could be played. For example, “She Got Power” is one chord. I “wrote” the song in a few minutes, the time it took for a bandmate to tune her drum in the other room. A few overdubs, and it was done. A couple dozen songs were completed and tons more incomplete songs that were abandoned, either because they were bad or just not coming together in time. I play all the instruments on some tracks, some are a live three-piece band with an overdub or two, with others landing somewhere in between those two approaches.
My main collaborators are two friends with whom I’ve worked on all kinds of projects over the years, and who are great artists in their own right: Jessie Pellerin and Troy Pohl. There are a host of others who contributed, some of whom ended up on the final album. These additional contributors are there because they would stop by to hang out, but I’d bring them down to my studio and cajole them into laying down something.
Do you mind discussing the recent attack you endured? If you are up to it, are you feeling any safer? As someone with a different sort of PTSD, I related when I heard. It’s hard to describe that kind of shock or dread to others.
PTSD, wow, it’s no joke, as you clearly understand. As a person who has managed mental illness my whole life, in my case, it’s what they are calling Bipolar II. Having PTSD is like being on another planet, a whole universe of difficulties I never could have been prepared for. I still battle it every day. I rarely feel completely safe. It has affected everything. But thankfully, I’m steadily improving, feeling more aware, more safe, more everything, in a very concrete manner due to family, my partner Virginia, all kinds of friends, and an amazing team of professionals, including a therapist who specializes in PTSD cases.
There were two attacks. The first being by far the worst. The big one. I was knocked out, then beaten severely and left for dead with lots of blood loss. The only reason I’m not dead is that someone happened upon me and alerted people who ran the nearby bodega. They called 911, and so, I’m still here. The injuries were immense. Too many to list here. Suffice it to say that the fact that I now am fully ambulatory and have the same face I did before the attack—including normal vision, hearing, and no brain damage—is nothing short of a miracle. This is due to amazing surgeons, assorted medical professionals, support from everyone around me, and my unstoppable willpower.
That first incident was at the beginning of October. I couldn’t leave the bed or couch for three months. There was a second attack while I was still significantly sick. I survived this incident due to a couple friends who deescalated the situation in time. I’d just done my first performance since the initial attack. A performance in wolf girl drag at a friend’s party, just a brief 10-minute thing. I had to medicate myself just to be able to arrive, I still had major physical ailments, but I really wanted to do the show and I did. And joined in the dance party after.
I don’t think people knew how messed up I still was. It was amazing. After the party was over, I was still in costume with my friends who were helping carry my gear to the car. In the style of a hate crime, we were targeted, and it was ugly. There was a standoff during which I had to accept the possibility that this might be the end. The thought I had during this standoff was, “I must prepare my soul now in case I am murdered or severely disabled.” Thankfully, we were unharmed. I went through all this in she-wolf form. Experiencing it as her and as me. It was a most cosmic trauma. The following day, I had a severe mental episode that turned out to be PTSD. I can’t remember many details about the attacks—especially the first one, of course—but suffice it to say I feel very trigger-y around angry white dudes.
I can’t watch anything in the media about Drumpf. There was an online fundraiser and a benefit event. This made enough money for me to get well in a manner, and with a speed that would have been impossible otherwise. That is not an exaggeration. I’ve had unbelievable amounts of support from my community, locally and beyond, including some tweets and Facebook posts by people I admire, like comedian Chris Gethard, Lady Gaga, my sister Lady Starlight, and many others, some who traveled to my benefit event from New York, Boston, and other towns beyond the local area. I mention these because of name recognition, however it must be emphasized that an incredible group of local friends orchestrated all of this. None of it would have happened without their work. My friend Zhenelle got the ball rolling and dozens immediately jumped into action. Too many to name here, though I wish I could. The love and support continues to this day.
So, it’s nine months later, and I still have lots of healing to do. It’s slow and often very frustrating. It’s not visible. Assorted internal things are still amiss, both physically and, of course, mentally with the PTSD. But I have an incredible support system that keeps me steadily progressing despite the setbacks I experience.
Power Animal System Methods has a well-executed production aesthetic akin to some ‘90s punk or more lo-fi stuff, albeit really tastefully and professionally pulled off. Like the more hi-fi Guided By Voices stuff. It made me think you know your options but were going for a certain sound?
Yes. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m definitely going for a very specific sound I’ve honed over a couple decades. I ran my own for-profit recording studio for a number of years, I’ve created and exhibited sound-art installations, and worked in recording studios that were far more professional than any of mine. But I like my recording style a lot. It suits me.
“My Blank Pages” is reminiscent of The Byrds’ “My Back Pages.” Are you discussing holes in the memory? It’s a cool way to end the album.
I love your interpretation of it. I may tell people in the future that that is what it’s about. It’s “My Blank Pages” with the refrain cut in half and looped. The words are a loose description of a prophetic dream I had before I came out of the closet with these animal human mystery entities that are now integral to my work. The end of the dream was the best part: me standing in a control room of a television station that was doing a documentary on a guy that looked like me now. His full-scale drawings were like my secret drawings. The closing shot of the television show was camera 4, the feed from camera 4, showing a wolf person in a vintage military outfit, of a feminine type. The drawing became a fully sentient being as they slowly zoomed in.
I’ve only had a few dreams in my life where I experienced intense realistic eye contact with another. But watching the preview monitor, she lifted her head slightly and her gaze pierced through the video signal, and her eyes met mine in a most intense manner that I can still see and feel to this day. She looked at me with such intensity and calmness and said, without a mic, directly into my brain, “I can make you talk and walk.” I woke up quite shaken with all kinds of conflicting emotions. Fast forward a decade later. I’m holding a Danelectro 12-string guitar, leaning over a tape recorder, and fiddling with wires trying to come up with an idea, and I’m like, “Ha! Yes, that story with that Byrds song!” I had to sit down, I was laughing so hard. Then I hit record.
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung has influenced a lot of rock ‘n’ roll. Can you discuss how his writings helped your life?
I came around to reading up on Jung after I decided to make my secrets part of my art. All those years of having a secret world that I was plugged into, completely separated from the art and music I was making and releasing. So, when I made the scary decision to integrate it all, I wrote out all this stuff about my secret drawings and the thoughts and emotions I had about them. And how I knew they were real somehow. I had drawings. But it wasn’t enough. They meant all these other, um, things I just didn’t have words for. It was really hard to write out what these animal human hybrid space entities were, and why, because most of it consisted of feelings, impressions, connections, sex, shapes, colors—everything except words. I did my best to make words out of it.
It took months to get it on paper, but I did, and I began my research there. In libraries, talking with friends who were open to such things, cross referencing lyrics to songs I liked and searching keywords online and going for the wildest, most tangential connections and finding amazing synchronous material. I’d just started seeing my current partner, Virginia, and she was very helpful in overcoming my shyness with getting it out in the world. I came across all kinds of works on mythology, alchemy, numerology, psychoanylism, history, astronomy, and even politics that connected with what I’d been experiencing in secret all these years. It helped inform my future work and understand my past. I wrote a thesis on all of it eventually. It’s somewhere in a library at NYU. I went back to school and got my MFA there, with all this material, because I needed more help realizing all this stuff than I could on my own. It worked. This after years of swearing to the high heavens I’d never go back to school. Growing up, I hated school. But the high heavens have their ways. We’re always the last to know.
I just made my own Walking Bombs record called Know You’re Wild about how people don’t acknowledge their inner wild side and how that can lead to bad things if not channeled properly. Do your animal manifestations present a similar opportunity for expression of your own self?
Spandex is important. Shiny neon spandex and wrestling with friends and working out. And fabulous dance parties in power suits. In wolf and lion headgear. This helps everybody. I am me, but also those creatures. But they are not only me. Them, her, he, she, them—they are part of me, but they are also themselves. With separate agendas and reasons for being. I’m a channel and also a host. We share atoms in the third dimension. I’m not only club president, I’m also a member. The things that happen with all the costuming, singing, wrestling in spandex, and all the witchy wolves in power suits, they are necessary and they are present and they are real and people instinctively understand this, whether they like it or not. People letting loose and playing and not being self-conscious and not harming others and allowing themselves to be mocked and be uncomfortable and going for it anyway is the key to making everything better. I’d also really like to hear your album! Sounds like we have some cool stuff in common.
Is it hard explaining to “normal people” the reason for writing something like “Houndman Vs Power Poodle,” or do most people get it? Most of your fans and listeners are probably already pretty sharp followers of the arts.
Thanks! I don’t understand the lyrics to at least half the songs I like by other artists. I don’t always understand my own lyrics. It is more important that the vowels are in the right place. Lyrics can be overrated. I care about lyrics to a point. I also care about what amp what guitar goes into and what microphone and what preamp that mic is routed through. Lyrics are one of the things that come out when I open the gates. Sometimes, it’s really tight and direct, complete before I can even write it down on the page; other times, I have to find the flow, and when I do, I don’t worry about specifics and keep scribbling till there are enough words to sing.
They say, “Write what you know.” So, the subject matter that’s already manifesting in my art and life keeps coming up. The lyrics to the song you mention were written during a session where I really needed some lyrics and there were none. It happens a lot. I wracked my brain for a starting point. I just need a starting point. I got one. It was a memory of a sexual fantasy I had while trying to sleep, with the song “Moonlight Gambler” [by Frankie Laine] playing on an AM radio. I was 19 and had been hanging out with a woman at a party. We had discussed having a wrestling match, which was a secret thing I deeply desired to do, but was so closeted in my desires that I had no way to express it. I went home all supercharged and frustrated. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I saw realistic star constellations. That gave way to an anthropomorphic hound dog man and poodle woman who were wearing orange and black spandex space leotards. She had captured and tied him to the back seat of a space motorcycle, making him forcibly straddle her from behind, you know, on the back of a motorcycle. But, like, in space. And how she had outwrestled him, really kicked his ass, and abducted him to her ship for unspeakably awesome and humiliating scenarios.
Nowadays, I have friends to do this with. All the time. I am a success story. A hot witchy wolf grrrl power suited spandex-clad success story in five-inch pumps. It’s like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins once said: “DON’T SUCK LEMONS, SUCK-CESSS!!!”