Story by: Conor O’Reilly, Photos by: Ben Haynes
Allow me to introduce Seth Martin, a banjo and guitar-playing folk musician from Washington. Not of the old-clothes-and-indescribable-music folk variety, he can technically be defined as contemporary.
Growing up the eldest of eight brothers and sisters in 700-people-strong Toledo, Washington, Martin’s first musical experiment was in a Seattle-inspired grunge band during high school. Stronger influences soon diverted him from this long-haired and greasy path. Listening to Bob Dylan and John Denver led him to pick up the banjo. On hearing Neil Young, Martin’s musical influence took a surer path.
When Martin first came to Korea in 2007 he was still in the early stages of musical growth. His music then was an anti-war, anti-commercialization rant against Bush era politics. The songs he wrote were those of an artist searching for a voice. There was never any doubt about his talent. One listen to his debut album, “The Iraqistan War and Other Stories,” and you can hear the strength and variety in his music. The energy he brought to his album and live performances have left many intrigued and optimistic for his future.
In 2008, Martin left Korea and returned to the United States, where he recorded another album that he had worked on while in Korea. Over the next two and half years, Martin managed to tour around the United States six times; he played on collectivist porches, in church groups, in house parties, at anarchist gatherings, in coffee shops, always following the gigs. The experiences he had on the journey is central to his personal and musical philosophy today.
“The people I met and played with along the way survived by making their own decisions,” he said. “And they care to hold a stake in their own communities.
“Music is how people express, how they feel, and what better way to express this than to have music that is for something,” he said.
On a cool Saturday night in early November, at a small cultural exchange center in Bundang, Martin, dressed in a checked shirt, a cap over his long hair, he stood in front of a packed room of church-goers, public school students, expats and a Jeju naval base protestor, all sitting around a big communal table sharing fruit, muffins and a few bottles of booze. There were no microphones or amplifiers. Martin, with guitar in hand, led the room in a 20-minute sing-along with barely a break for air on his part. He was joined by a host of other performers, all improvising together, with Martin’s contagious enthusiasm and energy acting as a coagulant.
“Much of my songs are geared for the community they are played in,” said Martin. “My songs and audience change all the time.”
This is his element.
“Without the usual technical apparatus you are freer to play, and people are encouraged to participate as there is no wall that microphones and speakers can often cause,” he said. “There is no alienation, only openness and diversity, and that’s how healthy relationships last.”
For more on Martin’s music and to download all his recorded albums, including his most recent album, “Seth Martin and the Menders,” visit sethmartinandthemenders.bandcamp.com.
Seth Martin hosts a regular pot-luck and folk evening every first Saturday of the month in Culcom near Seohyeon Station.
Contact Ben Haynes at email@example.com