Martin Sexton brings the ‘thinking man’s pop’ rock to Vail
VAIL CO, Colorado
When Martin Sexton sings these days, he’s trying to make a difference, bringing attention to pervasive social and political while bringing a diverse audience together.
“I’m trying to use my art for something greater than just entertainment,” Sexton said. “But I think my music has a pop sensibility and can be entertaining. I like to call what I do ‘thinking man’s pop.'”
While Sexton’s singer/songwriter-style songs aren’t protest songs per se, he’s trying to convey messages that cut through the static of left vs. right, red vs. blue that pervades political discussions, particularly on television.
“I compare that (TV political talk) to World Federation Wrestling,” Sexton. “It’s all theater. It’s all fake. It’s just noise that divides people.”
Instead, Sexton says he’s trying to draw awareness to increasing government intrusion into private lives as part of the national security state that has flourished since 9/11 – from the Transportation Security Administration at airports to the Patriot Act to the National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Barack Obama in December.
“That lets the military arrest you without any charges,” Sexton said. “That’s against the laws of the land. But nobody says anything about it.”
He’s also against the continuing war in Afghanistan and wants to bring out the economic disparities that prompted the “Occupy” movement.
“I’ve had enough,” Sexton said. “I’m standing up and saying ‘this is bull—t. Other people are too. This is what people are talking about. This is what I’m talking about. If enough people talk, maybe things can change.”
Sexton’s newly prominent socio-political awareness can be heard on his cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” the 1967 song that is one of just five cuts on his new EP “Falls Like Rain.”
That song, written at the height of the Vietnam War, asks “everybody look what’s going down” and argues that “nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.”
That’s a direct reflection of Sexton’s aim at focus attention on issues and finding an approach to solving problems that isn’t based on division. Appropriately, he calls it “unproduced,” just him and a guitar recorded live and put on the record.
The theme is unity
But there won’t be any partisan diatribes from the stage when Sexton performs Tuesday night in Vail at the free Hot Summer Nights concert. He doesn’t have much use for either political party or the culturally paralyzing liberal/conservative dichotomy.
“There’s only one party in the country today, the war party,” he said.
His theme, he says, has been and will continue to be unity.
“Maybe I should have that as my motto: ‘Martin Sexton, bringing folks together since 1992,'” he said. “I’m not preaching to the choir at my shows. My aim is to bring people together who would never be together and getting them to set aside their differences. They may not agree on guns or abortion or politics, but they’re singing in three-part harmony.”
That harmony comes every night, particularly when Sexton is playing solo shows, as he will be doing on his current tour.
“It will be Martin Sexton and whatever-city-I’m-in Boys and Girls Choir,” he said. “They’ll definitely know the words. It’s a beautiful thing.”
“They” is the loyal audience that Sexton has developed over the two decades since he started busking in Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Harvard Square. In 1996, Sexton released a record called “Black Sheep,” which got him signed to Atlantic Records.
He did a pair of discs for the major label (“The American” in 1998 and “Wonder Bar” in 2000), and then, way ahead of the curve, launched his own label, Kitchen Table Records in 2001. He has stayed busy since then, releasing five albums, while maintaining a busy schedule of touring — sometimes with a band, sometimes solo.
Sexton’s songs, which have turned up on television shows like NBC’s “Scrubs” and Showtime’s “Brotherhood” often require some serious vocal gymnastics leading fans to wonder how he can make the dynamic, multiple octave leaps that help create his highly acclaimed performances night after night.
“I try to take care of it,” Sexton said. “I do a good warmup before and I try not to talk too much after. I don’t go out carousing. A lot of people ask ‘Why don’t you come out and sign stuff and talk?’ If I did that every night, I don’t think I’d be able to sing the way I do every night.”
Sexton says he’ll continue to deliver his musical messages when he tours. But he won’t use a heavy hand.
“I’m not out to alienate people, to divide,” he said. “I want people to see what’s going on. I want to bring folks together. Music can do that. I can do that.”
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