They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, which is a good thing for musicians like Sleeping With Sirens guitarist Nick Martin. Every year for the last eighteen years of his life Martin has been married to the road and the songs he hears in his head. Back in 2016, during a brief break from the madness of the band, he married the true love of his life, Jenna Silva.
“Days like today are worse than most.” Martin is referring to the fact today is Valentine’s Day, February 14, and he’s more than one-thousand miles from his other-half. Seated in one of the green rooms behind The Intersection’s main stage in Grand Rapids, the thirty-five-year-old rock veteran believes being away from home will never be easy. “I miss her. She was out for a few days for the Olympic shit that we did. I’m pretty tired. I’m realizing more and more as I’ve gotten older that even if it’s a week-long tour, I would still be extremely exhausted by the end of it. I’m pretty tired but it’s been a blast, I can’t complain much.“
The conversation continues on the topic of health, with Martin joking that he’s recently completed his annual physical (“My numbers are great!”). Like many who live life on the road, Martin has struggled to maintain a healthy lifestyle while traveling. “I’ve been working on my health for a couple of years now, trying to slim down. I look back on the old D.R.U.G.S. (Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows, a band Martin was a part of) days and it’s just, oh, I was big, man. I had to change a lot of stuff in my diet, especially on tour, man. It’s hard. I’ve cut late night pizza and quit putting creamer in my coffee.”
Less than a week prior Martin and his bandmates were performing as part of the 2018 Winter Olympics. It was the first such event Martin had been a part of, and he was able to share it with his wife. The joy he feels when discussing having her there rivals his excitement for performing. “I knew late last year we were gonna be doing that and I immediately was like, I have to have her there. She had a blast too. She froze to death along with me, so we shared that together, it was great.”
He continues, reflecting further on the cold. “It was by far the coldest show I’ve ever played in my life. I think it was somewhere between 10 and 20 degrees? After the first song, I couldn’t feel my fingers, so I had those little hand warmers and had them in my jacket so after any pause I had I was warming up. It was so bad. But it was a lot of fun and a really really cool experience.”
Life has been changing for Martin. In addition to growing older and getting married, the California native has found he has developed an outlook on touring that differs from the one he possessed in his youth. “You know what,” he begins, “I literally don’t even look at tours anymore as far as how long because I’ve learned I have to be a day by day person. If I start thinking too far ahead, I get pretty stressed out. The anxiety kicks in, so I have to be like ‘okay where am I tomorrow?’ and that’s what I focus on day to day. Even when I’m not on tour, I live and breathe the band, so I feel like I’m never really off the road. It’s still nice to have downtime, though. Between getting older and having a wife I enjoy being home [far more now] as opposed to when I was 18 and just wanting to be living on the road. It’s a different way of life now. “
That is, perhaps obviously, much easier said than done. “It’s crazy because the other day I was on the phone with my wife and..” he trails off momentarily. “This tour’s been kind of tough for me, emotionally and mentally it’s been kind of a bit more exhausting than usual. I told her this, and she was like, ‘you know, you’ve held it together really well, and you’ve been doing this for half of your life.’ When she said that, it was like a shit ton of bricks hitting me all at once like, oh my god, I’ve been doing this for half of my life, and it’s all I know. It blows my mind that I’m still doing it. It’s wild.”
Such realizations are bound to come with questions of longevity and continuity. One could argue this is the only thing Martin has known in life, as the other half – his youth – was mainly a developmental period. The life of a musician is the only one he has known since leaving home. He could find a new path to pursue if he so desired, but that doesn’t seem to be where his head is at right now.
“[This] is a conversation I have all the time,” he explains. “I love this, but half of my life has been dedicated to this, and you think about the future and what that holds, and it’s kind of a mystery, but I turn it into a positive thing. It’s just, as things come, I see what happens. I thought I wasn’t going to do this four or five years ago and I quit, and now all of a sudden I fell back into it. So it’s a wild, wild journey.”
Martin claims a lot of his renewed faith in music stems from joining Sleeping With Sirens. As he mentioned, the time immediately preceding his decision to join the group was spent thinking music was part of his past. Having dealt with indie and major labels, not to mention a wide variety of talents, egos, and personalities for a decade already, Martin hit a breaking point following the dissolution of his group D.R.U.G.S. that came with a much-needed hiatus from the world of rock.
“I think it was important for me to step away from music for a while because it was pretty toxic and poisoning for me in a lot of ways,” he says. “So, it was good to really have the time to reflect on my life and what I was doing to myself. I needed to realize I was getting older and that I had to find a better balance. By the time I got with Sirens I was definitely in a different mindset and different place, a better one. It has been a lot more comfortable for me in this scenario as opposed to others, and a lot of that has to do with who I surround myself with. If there’s just one person in the chain that isn’t on the same page, it just doesn’t work for me. So it works in this scenario and everyone in this band is like brothers to me and they’ve given me a newfound love for being in a band and being in music in general.“
In 2017, Sleeping With Sirens joined the Warner Bros. Records family. That was the first major label deal for the group, but not for Martin. He knew all too well how things could go awry, but nearly five months after the release of the group’s label debut, the audacious Gossip, he claims the group’s new home is working out better than expected. That is due, at least in part, to the fact the band feels free to create as they see fit.
“I have [been through this before], and I’ve bounced around on a ton of indie labels, but, surprisingly, the majors are finally starting to get it a lot more. That was a big reason why we decided to join the Warner family — they gave us creative control. There was never a point where we had A&R or anybody coming down on us and saying ‘you need to sound like this’ or ‘the band needs to look like this and this is what we expect.’ They gave us literally complete control, and I felt like on previous independent labels that they were a bit too hands-on at times. Not necessarily in a negative way, but I think it was important for us to have complete freedom this time, and we had issues the past few years internally with personnel and people we were working with where we felt a bit stifled. Being with Warner has been a blessing.”
Having creative control provided Sleeping With Sirens the freedom needed to create their most experimental record to date. Though undeniably grounded in the world of rock, Gossip finds the group foraying into new areas and ideas that help to create a bigger, more anthemic sound overall. There are no two tracks that sound alike on the new record, and in speaking to Martin, you get the sense that is intentional. After years of feeling they needed to fit a mold, Gossip is where Sleeping With Sirens set themselves apart once and for all.
He continues, “When we had A&R come in, they were floored. They were like, ‘this is the next step for you guys and if people get it or not, who cares? You guys are happy with it, and we’re happy with it and let’s move forward with it.’ And that was the beauty of that. There weren’t any expectations going into it with what was going to happen with the record; we just were excited to put out a product like that finally.”
That last line may be the key to understanding why Martin cannot hide the near-constant smile on his face. The road may wear on him, as it does everyone, but there is no denying he is genuinely pleased with his place in life. He may not be the most successful musician in the world, nor the most famous, but he understands he doesn’t need to be to find happiness in this business.
“That’s one thing I learned over the years,” he explains. “You cannot think about your art in terms of sales and response. You can’t quantify success by saying ‘I want the record to do this, I want it to sell this much, I want it to reach this many people, etc.’ I had to realize that whatever art I’m creating has to make me happy and the people involved, and that’s it. If the record sold ten copies, I have just to say, ‘you know, that sucks, but I’m happy with it, and that’s all that matters.’ I think at the end of the day if we were to put out something that we weren’t happy with and it sold a million records, I wouldn’t be happy about it. I would think it cool that a lot of people loved it, but I wouldn’t love it. That would make me a bullshit artist, and that’s the last thing I ever want to be. I never want to be a bullshit artist.”
Age and experience helped develop Martin’s evolved outlook. Sleeping With Sirens has managed to produce more record than any other group Martin has been associated with, and that body of work provides a certain level of comfort young artists do not understand. Being a young artist expressing yourself in a world that always demands the youth conform is cool, and to some, it’s even considered an act of rebellion. Young artists have to seize every moment and make the absolute most of it because any miscalculation or missed opportunity could mean the end of their all-too-brief shot at longterm success. The same cannot be said for those who have endured the road and survived the outcry of divisive releases. Those artists have built something bigger than themselves, a community, and because of this they have a feeling of acceptance young talent cannot know.
“When you’re younger,” he begins, “you’re trying to find that sound. You’re trying to figure out what it is that you want to do, and more often than not you’re just emulating what you’re listening to at that moment. You’re just trying to get your feet wet and kind of figure out who you are, but then fucking 15 years go by, and now you’ve evolved, and you learned more. You figure out what you’re comfortable with, what you’re not comfortable with, and it changes. Everything changes – your mindset, your business experience, it changes everything. But I love it.”
The one thing not changing in Martin’s life anytime soon is his work ethic. Sleeping With Sirens will wrap their current tour just two days following our conversations, but Martin claims the group has tour plans throughout 2018. When asked if that is all they have planned, his eyes grow wide. A brief moment passes where it’s clear he’s debating just how much to share, but soon the excitement overcomes him. The band has been writing again, and based on his tone it seems they’re onto something big.
“We don’t necessarily have a set schedule beyond our current tour plans,” Martin explains. “Right before this tour started we were in the studio randomly. It was a completely random chance, and all of a sudden we wrote this song.” He pauses, briefly. “Everyone was like ‘whoa, that’s awesome.’ It is legitimately one of my favorite things we’ve ever written. We shared it with our team, and our manager was like, ‘if you guys want a few more days, you’re already here, write some more stuff.’ So we wrote like four songs in three days, and they’re honestly all amazing. So we want to take advantage of whatever’s happening right now.”
All photos from Sleeping With Sirens’ February 14 headline performance in Grand Rapids, MI.