Ronnie Martin has released records as JOY ELECTRIC since 1994. His unique analogue synthetic sound has amazed many and confused others. Underneath the blips and beeps are some of the most amazing melodies and progressions of the pop music era. Martin has also released records as RAINBOW RIDER, RONALD OF ORANGE, THE FOXGLOVE HUNT (with FINE CHINA's Rob Withem), and has done two records with his brother Jason (STARFLYER 59) under the names DANCE HOUSE CHILDREN and THE BROTHERS MARTIN. Poptek's Andy Ingram considers him a pop songwriting genius. And as any obsessive music geek has done, Andy emailed Martin some random, personal, and fanatical questions. Here is their conversation. (From May 2014)
AI: You have written songs under the name JOY ELECTRIC since 1994. The last JOY ELECTRIC album, DWARF MOUNTAIN ALPHABET, you said would be the end of that project. Can a fanboy ask if that's still true?
RM: Did I say it would be the end? I can't recall. You know, I wouldn't put a definite closure on JE, but I have no plans for anything other than maybe a holiday project in the future. I had written the songs for DMA awhile back, so I wanted to get them into people's ears instead of them sitting indefinitely on the shelf. So DMA was a good opportunity to do that and see if we could fund it through Kickstarter. I feel satisfied with that at the moment.
AI: So what's next for your newer projects, SAID FANTASY and DAPHNE ORAMICS? Are there any other projects in the works?
RM: I've been working simultaneously on two SAID FANTASY albums that should see completion before summer's end. I've spent time on those because I don't have a deadline and I want to make sure I'm taking the right direction. The DAPHNE ORAMICS record has been recorded and just needs to be mixed at this point. The only other project I have in the works is a worship-oriented album for my church, SUBSTANCE, that we'll be recording this summer. It's starting to sound like a lot as I type this.
AI: How do SAID FANTASY and DAPHNE ORAMICS differ from JOY ELECTRIC when it all sounds like your brand of analogue synth pop?
RM: A couple of distinct ways. First off, they're still both completely analogue, meaning that they're limited to analogue synths only. So that part of the formula has remained intact and that's simply because I don't have any interest in other instrumentation for electronic music projects. More specifically, here's how they differ to both JE and each other. SAID FANTASY will be monophonic synthesizers recorded and mixed in mono, completely live, with no sequencers used. So stylistically it will be a very raw oscillator and white noise type of feel. This will give the project a kind of looseness that some of the original synthesizer recordings from the 1970's had. For DAPHNE, we made a rule that it would be analog synths only, no sequencers, but with live drums. So they're both very pure in their vision and output. Vocally, both albums veer from the kind of sounds I've typically done with JE as well. My goal for these was to be very distinct from JE, to the best of my ability.
AI: Is anyone else playing and writing in SAID FANTASY and DAPHNE ORAMICS?
RM: SAID FANTASY is a solo project, and will remain that way in the event of a live show as well. I'm a big fan of one-man electronic shows. DAPHNE consists of Jon Sonnenberg (TRAVELOGUE, HOUSE OF WIRES) and myself splitting songwriting and vocal duties, but we also have two other synthesizer players to help supplement our live show because we play everything live, no backing tapes.
AI: Will there be any future releases from THE FOXGLOVE HUNT?
RM: Rob (Withem) and I would really love to record another record. The material is there, so it's really a matter of finding a label that's interested in funding the project. FOXGLOVE is close to both of our hearts, so I don't think we ever intended for it to be a one album project. We'd like to pick up where we left off with the EP (BUILT MY FORTRESS), actually.
AI: What is Rob Withem (THE FOXGLOVE HUNT, ex-FINE CHINA) up to now? He’s one of the greatest songwriters in the world, so we must know.
RM: He is undoubtably one of the world's greatest and largely unheard of songwriters. At this point, he's running his company, helping plant a new church in downtown Phoenix, and building up material for future projects like FOXGLOVE.
AI: I remember reading an interview with you for CCM Magazine where you mentioned "perfect pop". A decade later I am still intrigued but have very little idea what you mean. Can "perfect pop" be defined?
RM: I know it means different things to different people, but for me, it just means resolving melodies. So when you hear a song like A-HA's "Take On Me" for example, every note and chord change finishes in a place that settles your mind and excites your heart, in a sense. Or a song like "Titanium" from DAVID GUETTA, to use a more modern example. By the time Sia (the vocalist) finishes singing the word "Titanium", she's resolved the word in it's "perfect" place. And this is why I don't separate songs by genre or artists at all. A good song is a good song if it follows these rules. My opinion, of course.
AI: How do you see yourself as a songwriter? Or in other words, do you think of yourself as a genius like others think of you?
RM: Genius is not a word I'd ever be comfortable attributing to myself. I do think I've written some songs that have a timeless quality to them, in terms of the songwriting involved. That certainly doesn't qualify as genius, but when I think about choruses like "Whose Voice Will Not Be Heard" (from DMA) I feel like I achieved something memorable, in a classic sense. It's hard to talk about your own work without coming off arrogant so I'll leave it at that.
AI: A few years ago you and your family moved from Southern California to Ashland, Ohio to start a church. How is that going?
RM: Well, we actually didn't move to start a church, but that's where we ended up. It's going well so far and I'm loving every minute of it. Major challenges, but we're seeing God's grace more greatly through the difficulties.
AI: So since I got your Ashland story wrong, what brought you to move?
RM: It wasn't entirely wrong. We initially moved to Ashland to be part of another church in the area, but we felt God calling us to plant a couple of years in, so we parted ways. So we actually did move to Ashland to plant a church, but we just didn't know it when we first moved out here.
AI: Has the transition to a leadership role in the church at all changed or affected your music?
RM: I think the ways that God has grown me over the past decade has caused me to see what an idol music had been in my life. I think it's in a healthier place in the sense that it's not my identity like it was in the past. So...good changes, and hopefully changes that will make the music more expansive and less about myself.