Martinez, Vince (Death & Taxe$) (May 2004)


An Interview with Death & Taxe$' Vince Martinez

Tom Shannon (© Death & Taxe$)The Los Angeles-based group Death & Taxe$ formed nearly 14 years ago when bassist and vocalist Tom Shannon [pictured at left] and drummer Don Medina combined their interests in progressive rock, jazz fusion and heavy metal. This quartet, rounded out by Harrison Pearl on guitar and Dave McIntire on vocals, was influenced by a diverse group of progressive musicians such as Rush, King Crimson, The Beatles, Miles Davis, Kiss, Yes and Iron Maiden. Though they appeared on various compilation albums, it wasn't until 1996 that they released their first album, Death & Taxe$ - Paradigms For A New QuarterParadigms For A New Quarter. By then Shannon had added Chapman Stick and percussion to his repertoire, and an instrument called a garp (a self-designed combination between a guitar and a harp). Medina had left the band in 1991, so on drums it was Mark Hanson, and, since both Pearl and McIntire had also left, Tony Martinez was now on guitars and vocals. Martinez left shortly after, and in his place came Vince Martinez. In short order, Medina returned to the line up and the band released, in 2001, Theenigmathatisman.

On November 14, 2002, Shannon passed away, the result of brain cancer that he had been battling since early 2001. Though he had undergone surgery in mid-2001, three weeks before his death it was learned that the cancer had returned (he had been admitted to the hospital, having suffered a stroke).

Vince Martinez (© Death & Taxe$)Guitarist and vocalist Vince Martinez is behind the release of the latest Death & Taxe$ album, The Alaska 12 Expeditions, which he explains was "recorded in honor of [Tom]. Tom had been diagnosed with cancer approximately 2 years prior to that, but had recovered and responded well to his surgery and treatment, so much so that as recent as 4 weeks prior to his last days, he was given a clean bill of health. And at the time, Tom and I were discussing going back into the studio to record a new album with our new drummer, Dean McCall Dean McCall [Medina had left again in 2001]. We decided that we would focus on a new album right after the ProgWest show (we were booked to play the pre-show). And this was an exciting time for us because right around this time, we were on a high from completing another new song, aptly (or strangely) titled 'It Is Now Becoming Fantastic.' And we had just been confirmed to play the pre-ProgWest show. We had been working hard for years to get on any of the US Prog festival bills, but had never broken the mold. So with this pre-show booking, we thought that this could be the year where we gained serious consideration for other Prog events (with Powermad and ProgWest now on our resumes). Unfortunately, this never actualized. Tom was hit with a stroke that preceding October, recovered remarkably fast and well with emergency surgery, but then died after having another stroke just weeks later. The stroke was brought on by the cancer that was again growing on his brain. But this time is was much too aggressive.

"Anyway, amidst my mourning, I decided not to let our songs, [which] we [had written] since his original diagnosis, die with him. With his family's blessing, I decided to record our songs and release it as a Death & Taxe$ CD in the effort to raise money and awareness for Cancer Research. Proceeds will go to UCLA's Jonsson's Cancer Research Center."

Death & Taxe$ - The Alaska 12 ExpeditionsPW: Does the title refer to something specific; if so, what?

VM: The title is actually quite personal. Believe me, if I explained it, it would lose the mystique that it assumes without explanation. "Alaska 12" is basically an inside reference to a personal "Tom" story. To be brief and vague, Tom purchased a t-shirt on a family vacation when he was 12 years old that said Alaska and had the number 12 on it (like an old sports jersey type t-shirt). Anyway, the story around Tom and this shirt is a story that makes everyone smile when they hear it. But it only makes sense to those who knew Tom personally. So Dean suggested that we use this as an album title. I suggested adding the word "Expeditions" to give it added depth and other possible meanings for those who didn't know him. Alone, "Alaska 12" doesn't say much to those outside of the circle. But the Alaska 12 Expeditions was decided upon to depict a sort of journey that we feel this album takes you on. It hints at a sort of concept. And unintentionally, that's what this CD turned out to be: a concept album. It was always Tom's wish to record a concept album. It's a bit haunting that Tom became the subject matter of the concept album he always wished D&T would record. But I kinda wanted to oblige that wish. So The Alaska 12 Expeditions seemed to be a good title. In my head, this title makes me think of the journey of Tom's musical life since he originally bought that shirt over 20 years ago. That happens to be the year before Tom took up guitar. But the lyrical content is mainly made up of philosophical concepts dealing with life, death, happiness, and suffering.

PW: What kind of person was Tom?

deathandtaxes_tshannon2.jpg - 14953 BytesVM: Intelligent, pleasant, trustworthy, loyal, stubborn, humorous, creative ... I could go on. What can I say? This guy was my best friend. Philosophically, he was an Objectivist and student of Ayn Rand. Musically, he loved uniqueness. He was a huge Rush and Beatles fan, and was also known to enjoy jazz, metal, and prog. He was the prog-head of the group. He also performed with the well known Southern California Genesis Tribute band Cinema Show featuring the late Shaun Guerin [on vocals and drums]. Tom introduced me to Genesis and Crimson when we first started hanging out some 15 years ago. And of course I've never been the same since. Like I mentioned before, Tom was the prog-head of the group, but we shared a like enthusiasm for the harshness of Crimson and the elegance of early Genesis. I'm not sure if those influences are obvious in our music, but there you have it. And I remember falling in love with Echolyn with Tom when we were simultaneously blown away by their live show at Progfest back in '93 (or something) in LA.

And Voivod. Man, we loved Voivod!

Obviously, his bass playing and songwriting speak for themselves. Like all great musicians, I believe Tom's personality was everywhere reflected in his bass playing. He loved to create; he loved to improv; he loved to write; and challenges excited him. He always played with an edge. He was such a great guy to play with live. "Punk rock, man!" is what we used to say before playing live. He was such a great counterpart for me, and I must say, I miss our conversations as much as I miss playing with him.

PW: Who else appears on the album?

Death & Taxe$ - TheenigmathatismanVM: For starters, I'm introducing our new drummer, Dean McCall, on this album who joined us just months after our last album's recording sessions. And of course, I'm back on guitar and vocals, but I also played bass on 3 of the songs.

Many of the musicians that Tom worked with professionally were very eager to help me record this album. These musicians were also personal friends and this was their way of paying respects. Members of the great improvisational group Bag: Theory (a variation of the 80s SST band Paper Bag) are on the album: Mark Segal on percussion and harmonica, Marc Mylar on sax, George Radai on bass, and guitarist Anthony Cossa. Singer John Stack of a great local hard rock band Numira actually co-wrote a song with me. And his vocals are just excellent. He has the power and melody that Tom and I always lacked but looked for in our vocals. His voice is the perfect compliment to our D&T sound. And lastly we had the very competent Matt Brown on keys and vocals. Matt is a great solo singer songwriter. But he was also the key master in the great Genesis tribute band Cinema Show [...]. Shaun Guerin was originally scheduled to appear on this album, but do to his untimely and tragic death [in July 2003], our plans never actualized. All of these musicians are featured in strategic places on the album. I think it really came out sounding nicely.

But most importantly, I was able to incorporate some of Tom's very own playing on the CD, including one of our last recorded improvs during a band practice. I think the pieces I have of Tom's playing on the album is what really gives this CD its life and accentuates its purpose.

PW: What's the significance of the snail that appears on the artwork and on the website? And in the song "Snail"?

VM: I hate to disappoint, but there's no fascinating story behind it. As I mentioned before, I thought Tom's personality came through in his bass playing. And the "Snail" is a short clever piece that I associated with Tom's person, ever since hearing it for the first time some 17 years ago (when I was just a fan of Tom's original band, New World). It's a clever little mathematical piece that's quirky, yet has character. There's a certain charm to it that I can't explain. And that's Tom. So the graphic artist I worked with decided to play off the imagery of the "Snail" for the CD artwork. And wanting to convey a sort of musical journey with the music, the image of a snail seemed to lend itself to a "journey" feeling visually.

PW: What's your favorite moment on the album?

VM: It's too hard to say. I'm still too emotionally attached to each piece on the album. Whenever I've listened to it, I'm brought right back to the time when Tom and I would write or practice this stuff. Seriously, the whole album does that to me. "Unspeakable" gives me chills sometimes. That was one of the last improvs I ever did with Tom that I recorded at one of our last rehearsals with a single room mic. It's eerie that it sounds like the beginning of an end. Which is actually what it turned out to be. And that's why I placed where I did on the album.

"And Let There Be Light" is special to me. Tom and I recorded that when we first started playing professionally with each other. It's amazing that I can remember those 30 seconds so vividly. But honestly, the album is full of those moments for me.

PW: Did the songs change character from how they were originally planned to final recording, or are they much as you and Tom envisioned them?

VM: Great question! Actually, I considered adding a hidden track on the CD that would have given you the recording of our last ever rehearsal (with Tom right before he died). We played each of the main 6 songs that night, getting ready for our pre-show for ProgWest. And eerily metaphorically, I ran out of tape during our last song at a moment when we're going off in the middle of "Misunderstanding."

Keep in mind that all of these songs were written and performed while we were a 3-piece band. So we played each of these songs a little raunchier and rockier than what you hear on the CD. Particularly "Revolver" and "Death: Theory." But I truly think highly of the way everything turned out. I ultimately decided against the hidden track idea. The last thing I wanted was to look like I was exploiting our circumstance. And not to mention, some things I would rather just keep to myself.

But the arrangements did not change at all. But the performances, by nature, affected the delivery. First of all, I'm not half the bass player that Tom was. The parts I played, I did my best to play the root of what Tom's ideas were for the songs, and nothing more. But as for the tracks George played on, I asked him to be more liberal and to give me his best Tom impression. But I also thought it was important to let people hear George's personality, too, so on the track "Death: Theory," that's pretty much George's ideas from beginning to end. That is the song that probably changed the most. It was originally going to have vocals. But it was important to me to create an opportunity for some of our closest musical brethren to be on the album as a way of paying tribute to Tom. So at the last moment, I asked each friend to take a solo over each part that was to have a verse in it. And I thought it turned out well.

And I must say that Matt Brown's vocals and keys on "Revolver" really gave this song a life of its own. I think it's just beautiful what his performance added to it.

PW: Since you play a variety of guitars on the album ... what's your equipment set up, and your favorite "baby"?

Ahhhh ... the equipment! Well, let me first start off by saying that I'm never playing what I really want to. My gear consists of what I can afford (barely)! For the most part, I play through the very first amps I ever purchased with my own money. I financed a 50W JCM900 Marshall head and 4x12 cabinet when I was in the 10th grade. I still play through that. I also have a Roland JC-120 that I use for most of my clean play. Also when I was in the 10th grade, I saved up for a 1979 Standard Les Paul (natural finish). That's my baby. It has EMGs in it, but I'd like to change that soon. I loop a BBE Sonic Maximizer through my Marshall head to add some warmth and bite. Of everything I've ever purchased, this little BBE Sonic Maximizer was the best $150 I ever spent. But at the moment, I have my eyes set on Bogner amplification. A good friend of mine uses them and they just sound great. But again, I play what I can afford. And as long as the Marshall is warm enough, that's what I'll use. It doesn't have the greatest tone known to man, but hey, it hasn't failed me yet. And for the most part, we're still only at the club level, so what I have now does fine. We get great press and praise from musicians, but that hasn't exactly turned into record sales! So I have to make do with what I have!

But as for the album, I mostly used my PRS. I couldn't even tell you what year or model it is. I bought it used a few years ago after D&T played the Powermad festival in Baltimore. But I love this thing. Just a great guitar.

And I just thought I'd point out that for the song "Famous Strangeness," I played the cheapest 7 string Ibanez (AX7221) money can buy on that track. I wasn't sure if a 7-string guitar was something I'd like to start playing permanently, so I bought the cheapest one I could find to try out. But it's all in how you play it, right? As for the rest of my gear, I played a Fender 12 string, and a poor man's Strat on "Revolver." I don't know where the body came from, and the neck is homemade, but it plays well enough.

I also played Tom's Rickenbaker and his 6 string custom bass made by Ken Bebensee (www.kbguitars.com). The custom was Tom's baby! Ken makes wonderful guitars and basses.

PW: And finally, Vince, if you don't mind the question, will Death and Taxes go on as a band, or will you and Dean continue under a different moniker? Or even, move on to other projects?

VM: Still not sure about continuing under the D&T moniker, but I am certain about continuing my relationship with Dean. I've already written a handful of new tunes that I've been playing with Dean and George Radai on bass (who appears on the Alaska album). We'll start gigging in early June to test the material. I will definitely perform as D&T initially to support the cause, but I haven't made a long term decision yet. There are elements to my new material that have no relationship with the way D&T sounds musically. It definitely allows for more jazz and funk elements to cut through than in the past, but it definitely carries a similar thread of intensity and force that I always thought D&T achieved. It was always important for us to be creative and unique and risky in our songwriting. We never wanted to write the same album twice. But no matter where we went as a band, our "metal" roots would show. And I like that. And they are starting to show in my new material as well a little bit. But who knows? Sometimes I think that my new material should absolutely be released as D&T material because it absolutely carries out our "anything goes"/"never again" songwriting spirit. But then again, the thought of Death & Taxe$ without Tom Shannon is still hard to register. Tom and Death & Taxe$ have always been considered one and the same. Like I said, I still don't know.

Sometimes I think I shouldn't because the new stuff doesn't sound like anything I would have written with Tom; but then again, that's the same reason why I think I should. Tom and I always wanted every D&T album to be "different" than the previous one.

PW: You mentioned gigging in June for the new material, but do you plan any live appearances in support of the current CD, to help get the word out about it and about the cause it supports?

I don't actually have any gigs confirmed at the moment, but I'm shooting for early June and on. So if anyone needs a band for their event, feel free to look me up. We'd really like the right exposure for this album and cause. In preparing for this release, I did my best last year to get on the 2004 BajaProg and NEARfest bills (among other prog events), but none would have us. So if any of you readers can help us out and mention to these promoters that you'd like to see us, I would greatly appreciate it. And thanks again to Progressive World for all you've done!

PW: You're welcome, Vince. It's a great album and for a great cause. Where can folks purchase the CD?

VM: It will be available for sale through www.cdbaby.com, www.towerrecords.com, and www.amazon.com. I encourage the use of these sites for orders coming from outside of the US. And of course, you can always get order information through our website at www.DnTmusic.com. Again, the purpose is to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Proceeds will be donated to UCLA's Jonsson's Cancer Research center on behalf of the band and Tom's surviving wife and family. All donations of any size will be greatly appreciated. Everyone who donates (regardless of the amount) will receive a copy of our new CD, The Alaska 12 Expeditions. Donations of $18.99 or more will also receive a copy of our last CD Theenigmathatisman (the previously recorded Death & Taxe$ CD, while supplies last) and a compilation CD of the bands whose members contributed to the recording of The Alaska 12 Expeditions.

Please make donations payable to Vincent Martinez and send to:

Death & Taxe$
P.O. Box 7334
Torrance, CA 90504

Please remember to include your contact information.

PW: Thank you for your time, Vince. We wish you much future success.

[Read more about the album at Death & Taxe$'s new website; a tribute site to Tom Shannon is at grodin.com/tizzo/]


Discography:
Paradigms For A New Quarter (1996)
Theenigmathatisman (2001)
The Alaska 12 Expeditions (2004)

Added: May 16th 2004
Interviewer: Stephanie Sollow

Artist website: www.dntmusic.com
Hits: 1911
Language: english
  

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