Published Feb 03, 2010With Tuesday (February 2) finally marking the official release date of Delicate, the first Martha and the Muffins studio album in 18 years, the focus of the band's Martha Johnson and Mark Gane is now firmly on their musical future. The week before, however, the Toronto, ON duo were taken on a journey down memory lane courtesy of internationally acclaimed French band Nouvelle Vague.
The core NV concept is the reinterpretation of classic new wave and punk hits of the late '70s and early '80s as easy listening or bossa-flavoured tunes. In 1980, Martha and the Muffins scored a Juno Award and an international hit single with "Echo Beach," and the song made a real impact on one of Nouvelle Vague's co-creators, guitarist/producer Olivier Libaux.
"I have been a fan of 'Echo Beach' since the first time I heard it in the '80s," Libaux tells Exclaim! in an interview. "I was a teenager at this time, and my dream was to become a musician, actually a guitar player. When I heard this song for the first time, the guitar intro blew me away."
Martha and the Muffins and Nouvelle Vague have now formed a mutual appreciation society, cemented when Nouvelle Vague played a show in Toronto at the end of January. NV invited Johnson and Gane onstage to join in a spirited version of "Echo Beach," much to the surprised delight of the audience, and the following day Martha and the Muffins were invited to join Nouvelle Vague at Toronto's Wellesley Sound to contribute to a new NV version of the infectious track.
"We did a quick rehearse of 'Echo Beach' with them during soundcheck and played the song live at night. It's already on YouTube [see below]," says Libaux. "The morning after, we met again in the studio and everything went very well. Martha and Mark are nice people, very open-minded, so we could work in a good atmosphere, and record some basis for a future Nouvelle Vague recording. We recorded Martha's voice, Mark's guitar and my acoustic.
"Played acoustic, it's simply a beautiful song. We slowed the tempo a bit down for the studio version, and I think we will bring some bossa nova and latin feel on the version. I can't wait to be back in our Parisian studio to achieve it."
Speaking with Johnson and Gane, the pair are hopeful their song will appear on the next Nouvelle Vague album, and there has already been talk of Martha and the Muffins being invited to guest on "Echo Beach" when Nouvelle Vague play England's famed Glastonbury festival this summer.
"They were lovely people to work with, just so gracious," says Johnson in an Exclaim! interview. "I think we struck up a close friendship in a very short time."
Of the new recorded version, Johnson notes that "I did a low-key sort of whispery vocal," while Gane says, "I had to relax with it to get into a Latin kind of groove. With our new wave origins, we tended to jump on the beat with it. To be a writer and see a song reinterpreted like that is fantastic. I think Nouvelle Vague do phenomenal cover versions."
"Echo Beach" has taken Gane and Johnson on quite the journey for more than two decades now. "That one song has changed our lives more than anything, from the time we were born," says Johnson. "Everything has come from Mark sitting down to write that song. It changed so many people's lives."
Amazingly, it was just the third song Gane had ever written. "I had come out of an experimental music background, so I had no real sense of pop music writing," he explains. "A few years ago, I was given a tape of a gig we played at [Toronto punk hangout] the Beverley Tavern in 1978. Even then, people were yelling for that song, even though we'd only ever played it three or four other times."
Despite all the staying power of "Echo Beach," Martha and the Muffins are now turning their attention to the release of Delicate. The record is coming out on their own label, Muffin Music, distributed by Outside in Canada. International digital distribution via such outlets as iTunes has been secured, and they'll be seeking deals to release the physical CD in different markets.
"Obviously the record industry has completely changed in the 18 years since our last record," says Gane. "We have no tangible experience of what getting on AOL means."
Martha and the Muffins play two shows at the Music Gallery in Toronto on Friday (February 5) and Saturday (February 6), with more Canadian dates possibly coming later this year.