-- Martyr gets shredded --
Interview written and conducted by Stijn "Metal Shredder" Daneels.
Recently I was contacted by Martyr’s co-founding member Rick Bouwman to check out his band’s debut live album Martyr Live In Japan. He also invited me to do an interview on Skype which we eventually did on Wednesday night June 12, 2019. We talked about Rick’s love for Japan (and he gave us several Japanese metal bands to check out), his personal criteria as a WOA Metal Battle Netherlands jury member, his advice for up and coming metal bands and the unique Martyr experience.
BMS: Hello Rick! First off, thanks for sending me the Martyr Live In Japan album! I’ve listened to it and it sounds badass! Tell me, how did this live release come to fruition?
Rick: Back in 2017 we did our first Japanese tour, we had gigs in Tokyo and Sapporo and had a lot fun there. Then in February this year we went back to the Land of the Rising Sun and did some shows in Osaka and those concerts were recorded and now released as our first live album.
Rick: I’ve always had much love for Japan, its awe-inspiring culture, its friendly and respectful people, its delicious cuisine and of course its metal scene as well. You know, while Japanese metal musicians certainly take cues from their Western counterparts, they do manage to add an epic and original twist to their own styles. It all feels a bit more larger-than-life and Japanese culture and music has inspired me both as a person and as a musician during my whole life.
BMS: So that’s why you decided to record your first Martyr live album in Japan itself, right?
Rick: Indeed. One of our earliest and most popular songs is “Speed Of Samurai” (released on our 1985 debut album “For The Universe”) and is written as a tribute to the Samurai warrior-spirit as well as to Japanese metal acts from that time like Loudness and Earthshaker. So recording our debut live album in Japan also served as a Martyr story going full circle. From day one Japan has been directly inspiring Martyr’s sound, so now we went back to the “roots” of our music.
BMS: That’s a beautiful story! As for me, this live album is my first profound taste of Martyr. And I must say your music feels like a blend between thrash, power and classic heavy metal. It feels old-school like bands from Ostrogoth and Killer from my own country but your music does have a different edge to it (likely the Japanese creative inspirations you told about earlier). Martyr’s sound also has a very upbeat, energetic feel to it, which I really like!
Rick: I’m glad you say that, because that’s exactly the atmosphere what we as Martyr are aiming for. At its core, Martyr’s an old-school band, but of course we’ve been writing material since 1982 and things evolve both creatively (with fresh influences flowing in) and practically (with more advanced recording technologies available).
BMS: Yeah, that’s quite a leap forward in time and tech! Now, I’ve read that you like to discover new bands. Since I’m quite the band explorer myself, tell me, what exciting bands have you discovered lately?
Rick: Currently I’m listening to plenty of young Japanese bands such as the symphonic/neoclassical power metal band Jupiter (who I recently saw live in Rotterdam) and progressive metal band Saber Tiger. Check them out, you won’t regret it!
BMS: I know I won’t! Now back to Martyr. I’ve read on your website about the Martyr experience. Tell me some more about that.
Rick: While there are many bands out there that just play their material live on stage without anything else, we as Martyr want to make all our live gigs an engaging and visually pleasing experience. We use projectors to visualize our songs and Robert, our frontman and aside from me the only remaining founding member, does a splendid job at getting the audience involved during the shows. He runs back and forth across the stage and through the crowd, showers the front rows with water, talks directly to the audience, etc.
BMS: I always like it a lot when I see a band that uses crowd interaction, lightning or other visuals to create a compelling atmosphere during their gigs. It makes them stand out.
Rick: Correct and we have a mentality of “the audience is more important than the band.” After all, no band can survive without its audience. That’s why I personally believe it’s important to always provide your best show, no matter if it’s in front of 50 or 5000 people. Those people in the crowd have paid for and show genuine interest in your band, so always bring up your A-game and send them home both satisfied and at the same time hungry for more!
BMS: That’s right! Now that your Live In Japan album is out, what are Martyr’s future plans?
Rick: For the rest of this year we’ll be doing gigs and we’ll be heading back to your country on November 2, 2019 at the Metal Against Child Cancer festival. We also have plenty of freshly written songs ready to be released next year in a new studio album.
BMS: I’m looking forward to it, both the MACC gig and the new Martyr tunes. So Rick, what other things do you do in life aside from grinding your Martyr axe?
Rick: Aside from being Martyr’s lead guitarist and gig booker I’m also a talent scout for the Dutch record label Profane Records as well as for our own label, Pt78 Records, also based here in the Netherlands. In addition I serve as a jury member and advisor for a couple of metal battles including the Wacken Metal Battle Netherlands.
BMS: Ah, that’s interesting, since I’ve been a jury member of the Wacken Metal Battle Belgium for the past two years. Tell me, Rick, what are some of your personal criteria when judging bands?
Rick: I look at the band’s overall musicality and skill but also at the visual aspects. How often do the band members move and dance around on stage? Do they have their own backdrop? Do they show genuine confidence and passion for the art? Is there any chemistry between the band and the audience and between the band members themselves? Things like that. I never let my own musical tastes get in the way of my judgment.
BMS: I see. As for me, I mainly follow my gut feelings. If a band manages to engage me and evoke strong feelings inside of me (be it through heavy beats, musical technicality or catchy lyrics), then I feel very positive about them, no matter how close their style matches my personal musical preferences.
BMS: Something else, as Martyr you’ve established a solid and successful reputation as an artist and I believe a lot of young musicians look up to you. So, Rick, what advice could you offer to those aspiring rock and metal acts?
Rick: Always play the music that you want to play. Don’t let commercial interests or so-called music elitists decide what you should be playing. Also play as many live shows as possible, because that’s where you can gain the most valuable experience and where you can further expand your fan base. Playing live often also presents you as an active, on-the-road act and it also generates more interest when you eventually record an album. After all, who’s going to buy your album if they haven’t even heard of you?
BMS: I agree! In fact, over the years I’ve bought many albums from bands I hadn’t heard of before until right after I saw a live gig of them (Fleshgod Apocalypse is a famous example of this).
Rick: Indeed. First head out, play gigs (back in the 1980s we did a gig every weekend) and build your fan base and overall momentum and then jump straight into the studio to make an album. Then rinse and repeat. It’s also important to stay in touch with venues and promoters you’ve worked with in the past, because bands are quickly replaced and eventually forgotten. In this day and age of internet and social media everybody has instant access to pretty much everything, especially music. So keep up the hard work, remain engaged with your audience and business partners and stay hungry!
BMS: That was very inspiring! Is there anything else you wish to add before we wrap up this Skype conversation?
Rick: Me and the other guys are looking forward to seeing you at MACC this November!