For Ryan Martinie, it’s easier to explain the process of creating music with his newest venture, Soften The Glare, than it is to explain the end result. “It’s been weird to define it to people,” he admits. “It’s guitar, bass, and drums, and we’re writing whatever we want to write. We didn’t go into this thinking it had any [limiting] parameters, so it doesn’t. There are all sorts of interesting things that don’t have anything to do with metal or rock or jazz or fusion; we didn’t attach ourselves to that mindset. It’s liberating to be able to write without a defined notion of what you’re writing—to just explore. I love that. Part of the ethos of this whole band is exploration. We’re exploring musical possibilities.”
On its fan-funded debut CD, which was produced by Jamie King, Soften The Glare’s difficult-to-define sound may wink at and nod to artists such as King Crimson, Chick Corea, and Béla Fleck (heck, you might even hear a bit of Mudvayne, the metal band that made Martinie famous). But the real joy in this eminently palpable recording comes from Soften The Glare being just a trio of guys who enjoy making what Martinie resorts to calling “semi-rock-ish music.”
Rounded out by guitarist Bon Lozaga and drummer Mitch Hull, Soften The Glare illuminates just how talented Martinie is. And while his virtuosity on the instrument has never been in question—his tenure with Mudvayne solidified his place among rock’s greats—Soften The Glare seems to have unshackled him in profound ways as both a player and songwriter. “There isn’t a change of ideals, but a movement for musicianship and clarity,” he explains. “I’m still about punk rock—I’m not trying to play every note perfect. That’s not what I’m up there for. But I do want to be a representation of what you feel about the world. I’m supposed to be a conduit in some way.”
Soften The Glare has been playing live for a few years. What made you decide it was time to make a record?
It took a while for us to gain our own identity. It wasn’t simply, “Here’s this riff, it’s in A and it’s in 5/4 and we’re going to play this for eight measures and then we’re going into D.” It was feeling things out and seeing what worked. I think at this point there’s some intuition involved in the writing process. Now, when I’m writing something I go, “I bet Bon is going to do this with it.” Or, “Mitch is going to be able to syncopate it and play three over four.” There’s some intuition there after working together long enough. To me that’s super important.
It’s kind of an old-school approach, where you play the songs live first, then you go record them.
It was about taking the songs out and seeing what worked and honing them. We wanted to take these songs for a ride around the block to see how they felt, which helped the overall ethos and vibe of what we were doing in the studio. They did shift a little—feels in certain parts changed. Some notation changed. It was a valuable experience for us, and the songs became better because of it.
What new challenges did you face with this band?
Knowing that your parts are going to be heard puts you on the spot. Live, you’ve got to play real tight. It’s not like the punk-rock days of Mudvayne, where we have a massive sound system and the crowd is as loud as the band. That hides a lot of stuff, and you don’t have to be super accurate for the song to come across. You can have more performance elements. But with this, if you start messing around too much it just doesn’t sound as good. You don’t have the same leeway that you have in a louder, more bombastic setting. It’s clean and clear. As a player, it’s certainly honed my skills and made me a tighter, more aware player. It allows me to interact with them and have a conversation that’s intimate instead of yelling at someone across the room. It’s like we’re sitting in the same room communicating deeper ideas.
What was your approach to tracking bass, gear-wise?
It was DI and miked—a head and an isolation cabinet. I’ve tended to be heavy on DI, because it creates that clear, clean sound, and I gravitate toward that. But it’s not just about gear, obviously. I try to get my sounds through my hands and techniques, or a little creative EQing and compression, which can go a long way.
Speaking of techniques, on “Kitchen Sink” you’re doing wicked hammer-ons with the left-hand as well as struck rhythms with the right.
Yes, but it’s hammered with the left hand in chordal form. So, I’m not only doing hammer-ons with the left hand in a full four-note chord, but I’m also striking those three-or four-note chords with the right hand. And doing a rhythm in between. I’m excited to share those things with the bass players out there who are interested in what I’m doing.
Your fretless playing on “March of the Cephalopods” is melodious, almost like a vocal part.
I literally approached that from a more vocal standpoint—not operatic in terms of vibrato, but more singer-ly. They are supposed to be memorable melodies that are kind to the ear and interesting and provide an inviting window into the song. You’re supposed to want to peer through the window and get a good look.
Soften The Glare seems to have a sense of humor, too.
I want to laugh. I want to be entertained by silly things in the songs. Some musical comedy has to happen in there. We’re exploring, and we want humor. If the song reaches someone emotionally, whether it’s laughing or shedding a tear, hopefully they can connect to it in a way that is personal. Instead of telling everybody what it is, we’ve left it open for interpretation.
Soften The Glare, Making Faces [independent , 2017]
Basses (all Warwick) Thumb NT Standard 5, Thumb NT Custom 5, Thumb NT Custom Fretless 5
Amps (all Warwick) WA600 head, 410-8 PRO cabinets
Strings DR Strings Hi Beams Custom Tapered Set (.050–.130)