Martin Page: Acclaimed Songwriter and Musician
Martin Page is originally from Southampton, England and first gained recognition as a songwriter in the early eighties with Top forty hits for Kim Carnes and Earth, Wind & Fire, among others. With Bernie Taupin (and with Dennis Lambert & Peter Wolf), Page wrote “We Built This City,” a Number One Hit for Starship (their first) in 1985. Page and Taupin returned to Number One the following year with “These Dreams,” recorded by Heart that became a huge hit. Page teamed up with Peter Cox and Richard Drummie of the UK group Go West and wrote “King of Wishful Thinking,” which was featured in the movie Pretty Woman . It became a top ten hit for Go West in 1990, followed by another hit “Faithful.” With Robbie Robertson, he also penned the critically acclaimed “Fallen Angel,” featured in Robbie’s first solo album. Some of the award-winning songwriters, producers and artists with whom Martin Page has worked or co-written include the following: The Commodores, Barbra Streisand, Tom Jones, Paul Young, Brian Ferry, Phil Collins, Josh Groban, Elton John, Diane Warren, David Foster, Cher and many more. Page’s debut solo LP In the House of Stone and Light was released in In 1995, its title track became a substantial pop and adult contemporary hit. In 2008, Page released his second solo album, In the Temple of the Muse on his new independent label, IroningBoard Records.
This interview was originally published back in March 2011.
TSM: Martin, thank you so much for doing an interview with TSM. Being a huge fan of your work I’m truly, really honored with this opportunity.
MP: Thank you, Jessica; it’s a pleasure to be talking with you today.
TSM: At what age did you start writing songs and get into music? And what was the first song you ever wrote?
MP: I started writing songs seriously and learning to play my main instrument (bass guitar) at the rather late age of eighteen. In my early teens, I was being groomed to be a professional soccer player, but around the age of eighteen, I decided that my real passion lay in music. I grew up in England during the sixties; consequently, I was heavily influenced by and attracted to the Beatles’ music. I think the first song I ever tried to write was an obscure funk/soul song called, “Midnight Flight to Heaven.” I was the bass player in an R&B Pop band called Bronx, based in Bristol, England, during the seventies. We were a cover soul dance band, and my song was written totally on the bass guitar!! Hence, it wasn’t the most melodic or harmonic piece of work that I’ve ever written, but we did perform it live with rather good audience approval, so it gave me the confidence to write more.
TSM: Tell us about the formation of your band Q-Feel. And how did you come up with the name?
MP: After gigging as a bass player in various soul bands around England (I loved American soul music), I eventually found myself in London – the place to be if you were going to make it as a professional musician. I hooked up with a Scottish guitarist named Brian Fairweather, and we became great friends. We decided to form a band together, and set about getting a record or publishing deal. We got ourselves a little Teac 4-track tape machine and set about recording demos in my little bedsit in Islington. This was in the early eighties when there was a techno music revolution going on within the music industry. We were influenced by up-and-coming bands at that time, like Ultravox, The Thompson Twins, Tom Dolby…and The Tubes from the U.S., so our demos took on that flavour. Our demos eventually got us a record deal with Jive Records…and our second single, “Dancing In Heaven” (Orbital BeBop) became a big cult underground club hit here in the States. In fact, that record was my passport to becoming based in Los Angeles. Our band name, Q-Feel, was actually thought up by my father. It’s an aeronautical technical term used by pilots in jet aircraft. My father worked for British Aerospace, and I asked him if he had any ideas for our new band’s name. We wanted something mysterious and with technical overtones. He suggested Q-Feel. Q-feel is the invisible force that a pilot feels on the joy stick when he is maneuvering an aircraft through tight turns – it keeps the plane stable and stops it from breaking up. Brian and I related “Q-Feel” to the invisible force of music.
TSM: Your latest album release is In the Temple of the Muse, which is your second solo album and first release on IroningBoard Records. I know that this album quickly reached number one in CD Baby’s top albums in the pop/rock chart, and this position was repeated various times. I really like the name of the album. Why did you call it In the Temple of the Muse ? Is there one song in particular that stands out as a favorite for you?
MP: There was a renowned book shop in London during the 1800’s which was called “Temple of the Muse.” It was frequented by many of the romantic poets of the time – Byron, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, etc. The name struck a chord in me and seemed an appropriate title for my second album. There had been a long time between my first and second solo albums, and it felt particularly special for me to be back in the studio again writing and recording. I saw the studio as a temple in I was attempting to communicate with the muse again. Music is my religion… so I liked the connotation of seeing my home studio as a church, and my songwriting as my communion with creativity – The Muse. I have no particular favourite song on the album, but “Mi Morena” – recently recorded by both Josh Groban and Elaine Paige, and “The Long Walk Home” – just recorded by Robbie Williams , are highlights for me.
TSM: Many songs you’ve written or co-written with others have become hits. “In the House of Stone and Light” was a Billboard top twelve pop hit, plus it reached number one in the AC and HAC Billboard charts – it held the record as the longest charting single in Billboard’s Hot AC chart. What would you say are the key qualities that make a song successful?
MP: I think the key quality of a successful, popular song is its memorability – that it instantly becomes recognizable and attractive to the listener’s ear. Something about the song on some level must connect with the listener’s sub-conscious. In my book, for a song to have staying power (by that, I mean that its audience looks forward to hearing it over and over again), it needs a memorable melody matched with sympathetic lyrics, matched with complimentary rhythms and phrasing. When the unique blend of these elements comes together in harmony, then a song has a fighting chance of communicating on a wider level. Having said that, in my experience, melody is the main factor in a song’s ability to transcend fashion and trends and become timeless.
TSM: What’s your process for writing lyrics? And where do you get the inspiration for your songs?
MP: Lyrics either come to me as I’m writing the song, or appear after the melodies and chords have been created. Sometimes I have a title in my head before I pick up the guitar or go to the piano. Sometimes I have nothing but the music. In a book, I have a collection of title ideas, concepts and phrases, and sometimes – if I’m lucky and the time is right – I pull these titles and often one of them fits the piece I’m working on. I often record sketches of songs with just phonetic vocals (I improvise sounds with my voice), and these sounds define what type of words should eventually be used in the songs. I’m a great believer in the concept that, in popular music, the sounds of words are just as crucial as the meaning. I’m a voracious reader, so much of the lyrical concepts of my songs come from what I am reading at the time. I’ve been fortunate to have collaborated with some of the finest lyricists: Bernie Taupin, Hal David, Robbie Robertson and more recently Robbie Williams, to name a few. So, I’ve had a great apprenticeship learning to be a decent wordsmith. Their work inspires me to try harder.
TSM: I absolutely love the song “The King of Wishful Thinking” that you co-wrote with Go West. I know I speak for many when I say this since it’s a hit song that so many people love. I’m wondering…what was the inspiration for this song?
MP: “King of Wishful Thinking” was totally a three-way collaboration between me and Go West. I wrote the music and much of the melody, and created the feel and groove. Richard Drummie and Peter Cox wrote the lyrics and honed in the melodies. Richard Drummie had the title “King of Wishful Thinking” hanging around in his own “little black lyric book”, and as the demo was being recorded, he suggested the idea and title. Both Peter and I thought it was perfect. The demo was recorded at my home studio. I remember that, as I recorded the music, Peter and Richard sat outside by my swimming pool writing the lyrics…every now and then dipping into the pool for a swim and inspiration (well, that’s what they told me!). I wish all hit songs were this much fun to write. Peter and Richard were a joy to work with – we became very good friends, and after the success of “King of Wishful Thinking,” we were encouraged to write together again. That next collaboration gave birth to their next single,“Faithful.”
TSM: Who are your major music influences?
MP: I have a huge, huge arsenal of musical influences; I am a fan of every genre of music. As a young boy I collected thousands of vinyl forty five singles and albums, and I grew up studying all these popular artists. I learned to play bass and my future instruments by ear – playing along to these records. As this question is too hard to answer in a reasonably short space, I’ll mention a short-list of some of the artists that have greatly influenced me over the years, starting with The Beatles who were and remain my biggest influence. Other artists that have inspired me are: early Genesis; Elton John; Earth, Wind & Fire; Peter Gabriel; Bob Marley; The Blue Nile; Thin Lizzy; Jethro Tull; Arvo Part; Mozart; Toots and the Maytals; The Who; The Brothers Johnson; Sly and The Family Stone; Sting; Thomas Newman; Mark Knopfler; Parliament; Toto; Little Feat; T-Rex; Osibisa; Paul Simon; U-2; Henrik Goreki; Tom Dolby; Joni Mitchell; Jackson Browne; Mike Scott and The Water Boys; Talk Talk; Justin Currie; The Kinks; Prefab Sprout; Marvin Gaye; Stevie Wonder; Rufus and Beethoven, to mention just a few.
TSM: Over the years, you’ve had experiences working with award-winning songwriters, producers and artists. Through all these experiences, what are some important things you’ve learned about working in the music industry? And what has been the biggest challenge for you as an artist?
MP: I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to stay true to your original passion, to hold on strong to the ideals that first brought you to music. You get many ups and downs within the industry and the business side of it can batter your spirit, so I learned quite early on to get up and fight again after being knocked down by business disappointments and failures. Consistency and a stubborn belief in my own creativity are major aspects of my success, as well as making the business side of music play second fiddle to creativity and art. The biggest challenge for me as an artist is simply to just keep believing in my message – to remain motivated as an original voice and creator.
TSM: What advice would you give to aspiring songwriters and artists?
MP: My advice is simple – do it every day because it makes you happy! Realize why you became an artist or a songwriter in the first place – because it inspired you and made you happy. It’s important to be incredibly dedicated to your art and vision. Only through hard work, constant practice and a deep, unshakable belief in your calling can you succeed. Try and realize deeply that it’s the only thing you want and need to do – and the path ahead will unfold naturally. And remember – you do it because it makes you happy.
TSM: The music industry is constantly changing, such as technology and certain genres of music aren’t as popular as they once were, etc. What are your thoughts on the music industry today?
MP: Yes, we are in the middle of the digital revolution, which has changed the music business profoundly. While the digital revolution is making music technology cheaper and more accessible to more people, which is a good thing, it has also made music in general less revered and cherished, which is a bad thing. The sheer volume of downloadable, accessible music today has given music the perceived value of a quick drive-thru hamburger. This has a trickle down effect on the songwriter and artist, whose art undoubtedly suffers because of the industry’s current demand for instant gratification. Faster and cheaper is the value call of the music industry at present. But I do believe, as we get to better grips with the digital phenomenon, the public will tire of soulless, fast digital files and eventually demand quality over speed – and that music that has been crafted over time with love and care will be revered and respected once again – fingers crossed!
TSM: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?
MP: I wish I had the power to eliminate cruelty – inhumane treatment of animals within our society/world. Man believes himself to be more important than all the other living creatures with whom he shares this earth – due to his ignorance and religious dogma. From vivisection to badly run zoos to badly run circuses to food and fur factories, we forever abuse our power over the animal kingdom. Animals feel and suffer just as we do. In my mind, we – as the dominating species on this earth – should be obligated to look over, respect and safeguard our animal relatives.
TSM: What is one of your favorite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?
MP: “Make the best of it.” Also, The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha are teachings that continue to inspire, empower and motivate me.
TSM: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can our readers find out more about you?
MP: I’m putting the very last touches to my solo album, which I’m immensely proud and excited about. It has long been a desire of mine to play all of the instruments myself on an album, and on this next body of work, I have achieved that. I can be found at: myspace.com/martinpage, Facebook and martinpage.com. Also, my music can be found on cdbaby.com and Itunes (all links are on my MySpace page).
TSM: Thanks again for doing this interview. I wish you continued success with all that you do and look forward to your next album.
MP: Thank you so much, Jessica. I have really enjoyed the interview. Good luck with the online magazine. Cheers.