Songwriting Virtuoso Sam Martin Chronicles a Life in Debut Solo Album, 'Alpha Omega' [Q&A]
Photo: Jimmy Fontaine
Sam Martin has been songwriting and producing for other artists for years, quietly amassing over two billion streams through the projects he's touched. Martin is widely revered as pop songwriting royalty, with Maroon 5's "Daylight" and Jason Derulo's "Want to Want Me" being just a few of the many songs he's collaborated on. Having already proved himself behind the scenes, Martin is stepping into the limelight with his debut album, Alpha Omega, an emotionally packed 18-track feat detailing a life from conception to finish.
The album itself is too complex to describe in the space of a couple hundred words, but falls somewhere between pop and alternative rock with lots of playful production touches. Martin has put himself at the heart of this project, from playing most of the instruments on the album himself to directing the accompanying film. Featuring audio clips from his own life and translations of highly personal memories, the film showcases the moments in Martin's life that shaped him into the man he is today. Martin offers a piece of himself to listeners with Alpha Omega, revealing vulnerabilities and taking his artistry to the next level.
We sat down with the songwriter, artist and father to discuss Alpha Omega, telling the truth and gaining momentum as an artist.
OTW: Let's start with the title! How did you land on Alpha Omega?
Sam Martin: I originally had the album as "Requiem" because I love Mozart's Requiem. I wasn't settled on it and my lawyer, who hilariously loves the record and listened to the private Soundcloud link over 40 times, said "This is too positive of a record to be called 'Requiem.' What about 'Alpha Omega,' like A to Z in the Greek alphabet?" I liked that because the whole album is from birth to death of a human's life, and it's semi-autobiographical, but I, of course, haven't died yet so it can't be totally autobiographical.
OTW: So is this a story inspired by your life or pretty much a retelling of your life story to the T?
Sam Martin: Once it hits the midlife crisis I project it on people I grew up around, but up until that point it's like 90 percent autobiographical. There are a few moments I exaggerate because it's good for the story, but it's mostly based on true events. I basically had a great childhood and a great thirties so far, so it was a reminder of how hard things have been to get to where I am.
OTW: I think that's pretty common for people to have a tough time in their teens and twenties and come out of it in their thirties.
Sam Martin: Yeah that's why I'm hoping people can relate to it; I'm just telling a true story and trying to be honest.
Photo: Jimmy Fontaine
OTW: Could you tell us about the recording process and co-producing the album?
Sam Martin: I didn't want to bother any of my really talented musician friends because I couldn't guarantee that it was going to be a good idea. I was so used to bringing opportunities to producers and saying, "Hey I've got this song, Adam Levine likes it, let's do it." And all of a sudden I've got these songs and I'm keeping them. I would start songs like "Sabotage," and get them really far, but I just didn't trust that I would be the one to finish them. As the project went on I became way more confident, and I got some help along the way. I played all the bass, key, guitars, organ, some drums, and vocals of course, so it reminded me of how I used to do things as a kid. It felt like returning to my old self, just on steroids. (laughs)
OTW: How does it feel to go from writing for other artists to debuting your solo album?
Sam Martin: Well, I'm sober about it, but it is very fun. I had reached a level of success a lot of songwriters dream of, but for some reason I wasn't terribly happy. I realized in hindsight that I was getting sick of serving other peoples' moods and whims. It was exciting for a while, but I learned that you have to express yourself and feed your creative intuitions, or else what you're writing for other people suffers as well. I have a million thoughts on that, but mainly it's been fun, healing and exciting.
OTW: Let's talk about the film, which you directed yourself. That's a huge undertaking, how was that process?
Sam Martin: It was mostly overwhelming. I hadn't directed anything for seven years, I used to film features for nonprofits in third world countries. I was actually kind of on track to be a director, but music was always my first love. When I got my break and Maroon 5 took my cut for "Daylight," I didn't have to make videos anymore and I dove into songwriting and abandoned directing. I had a bigger idea than the available budget for this project, so I thought the best way to do it was for me to direct it and edit it. My brother and sister helped out as well, and we basically went right to the edge of our abilities. Everyone was a hero on that shoot, once we finally got shooting it was a well-oiled machine. It was really special.
OTW: You included some audio clips of your own life in the film, how did you go about choosing those?
Sam Martin: My sister is usually our family archivist, and I had her send me some stuff and pick out audio. I also recorded my son, I think he was about two at the time, and he gave me some amazing stuff. My wedding is in there, my dad's 60th birthday party is in there. For me, it's wonderful so I hope people can connect with that too.
Photo: Jimmy Fontaine
OTW: Going into the specific tracks, "Blue Eyed Joy" is a personal favorite. Could you tell us about writing that song?
Sam Martin: Oh really? Thank you for saying that, that was the first and last song I wrote for the record. I started it like eight years ago, and it had a few good lines, but I cranked it back open because I felt like it could be much better. The very last thing I wrote on the record was the chorus for "Blue Eyed Joy," which is like the best part of the whole record. So it's cool to have the last thing you do be one of your best. I think a lot of songs are written by single people who are sort of troubled. If you look at the top charts, I don't think any of those people are married or in a long-term relationship. So I wanted to do something that legitimizes sticking it out and get through the hard stuff. My favorite line of that song is "diamonds don't form overnight." You can't think your relationship is going to be perfect overnight. A happy 60-year relationship does exist, and we shouldn't forget it.
OTW: I think we all need that reminder; dating scene can be tough.
Sam Martin: Yes, it's possible!
OTW: Do you have a track you're most excited for people to hear?
Sam Martin: My personal favorites are not always the favorites of everyone else. But my favorite single tracks are probably "Great Escape," "Blue Eyed Joy," and "Come On." As a concept album, it's important for the listener to note that the album never stops and that themes reemerge.
OTW: Tell us about balancing being a dad with releasing an album?
Sam Martin: My family is a delight. I'm obsessed with my family, and my kids are growing up so fast - I don't want to miss it. I work from home a lot and have people over instead of going out to write.
OTW: What does 2019 look like for you?
Sam Martin: It looks like a big mystery. We've got this record, and I've still been writing a lot for other artists. I'm making a whole other record in case we get good momentum - I'm kind of doing everything right now. I must admit I'm having the most fun working on this record.
OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?
Sam Martin: Starrah. I love that "Codeine Cowgirl" song she just put out. I also love Elephant Heart, my buddy is in that group. There's some good stuff there.