It’s a miraculous yet familiar tale. Group of friends form a band, works their asses off gigging around town, cuts some demos, secures a recording contract, writes a hit or two, emerges from local obscurity to global touring and sales success, hits a creative and interpersonal wall, disbands, wanders in individual obscurity for a few years, gets back together, older, wiser, produces the best effort of their career and does it all over again.
Okay, granted, it’s a grand simplification but a fairly accurate depiction of Candlebox, whose 1993 self-titled debut – released in the midst of the northwest existential musical, cultural maelstrom known as ‘grunge’ – rose above the grey Seattle mist to global notoriety. They grew up with the flannel-clad locals but Candlebox was not a grunge band, riding the coattails of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and a ‘scene’ whose explosion took on mythical proportions. They rocked without being labeled or attached to a movement, pure and true to their melodic instincts, and sold six million records in the process.
Singer Kevin Martin and guitarist Peter Klett — the songwriting team that birthed Candlebox –were reunited with original drummer Scott Mercado by the 2006 Rhino/Warner Brothers retrospective, Best of Candlebox. After being away from the music kingdom for nearly seven years, the band was welcomed back with open arms, invited to play radio shows across the country with Top 10 multi-platinum artists. More importantly, these longtime compositional compatriots discovered that the time and tide apart had nurtured enhanced chemistry and mutual personal evolution that has now manifested in a cache of new songs that leave their past works, for lack of a better phrase, far behind.
“I left the band after the Happy Pills Tour in 1999,” says Klett. “Got really drunk, did a bunch of drugs, played golf, moved to California, moved back to Seattle, fell down the stairs and got sober. Kevin called me while I was fronting a band called Red Light and told me about the Rhino project. Said it’d be a shame if we didn’t go out and do some dates, which we did in the summer of ’06. And the fans came out and it was very validating. We started writing together again in early ’07 and it was beautiful.”
When you’ve been writing about rock n’ roll for more than 20 years like I have, it’s easy to be sucked into hyperbole, especially when you’re on assignment but with my pedigree and professional cred on my sleeve, I report with all candor that the new Candlebox long play is one of the most musically accomplished, lyrically insightful and downright magical records I’ve heard in years. Under the studio aegis of producer Ron Aniello (Barenaked Ladies/Lifehouse) and engineer Cliff Norrell, (Henry Rollins, REM), Martin’s punk and Klett’s classic rock roots have woven to form a breathtaking collection of eclectic tunes worthy of deeper assessment.
Into The Sun is set for release on 7/22/08 and Candlebox will take these songs to the people with a worldwide tour and live presentation commensurate to the power of the record. The LP is a bold, eclectic mix of rhythms and textures highlighted by the ambitious, eight-minute plus Pink Floyd-ian opus called “Breathe Me,” a balls to the walls ballad inspired by Martin’s Australian wife. “You’re a deep-rooted tree, an artist’s muse/I watch you listen, I watch you share/You make me want more, and you make me scared/You’re so much more than I ever hoped.” Maturation of emotion cometh from the creative road less traveled. “That song is about how much I love my wife,” says Martin. “Peter and I have evolved as songwriters, musicians and friends. We paint with much broader strokes now.”
This growth is evident on the metallic rocker, “Underneath It All,” a heavy, crunchy, very electric and existential examination of the gypsy in all of us, highlighted by Klett’s swirling, echoing Robin Trower-like guitar riffs. “People think life on the road is a dream,” observes Martin. “It isn’t. It’s lonely and oft times, troublesome. If it weren’t for the fans and their energy, I’d just as soon stay home. But that’s what feeds the gypsy soul. That connection.”
On the further topic of connection is the song, “Surrendering,” a poetic call to action for wounded warriors of aching heart and good intent, it’s theme is archetypal but no less resonant now than during the classic Crooner days of another Martin (Dean) and his compatriot, old Blue Eyes Sinatra. Elsewhere, Martin delves deeper into his well of human experience with the song, “Miss You,” inspired by his late father. “My dad was a World War II vet who died four years ago at age 81,” he says. “He would call me every June 6th and tell me another story about how he survived Omaha Beach. That song is about how I got to know my dad through the war stories he told me.”
“Consider Us” is a powerful track about death also inspired by Martin’s father but pointing to his own new responsibility of parenthood. “I’m not sure I’ve gotten more mystical as I approach mid life,” he observes, “but my dad has visited me in my dreams several times since his passing. Now that I have a child, life has definitely gotten more profound.”
In this brave new fiercely competitive world of evaporating record companies, digital downloads and My Space created rock stars, when artists are given a rare second chance, they know they must rise to the occasion. Candlebox disappeared but they have most definitely returned and this time, it’s not the scene or the culture or the media doing the talking. It’s the music. And that is miraculous.