Ed Martin has had six years of success as the singer of Alternative rock band I Am Giant (Sony). The original members, Shelton Woolright and Paul Matthews, picked Ed’s soaring and soulful vocals to front the band out of 160 other hopefuls.
With I Am Giant, Ed has recorded two albums (one going to Gold), toured the world and supported artists such as rock legend Slash (Guns ‘N Roses).
As 2014 comes to an end, Ed has found himself hankering to return to his musical roots. He chats with Line Hilton about his singing journey to date, what he’s learned, and his plans for the future whilst sipping on his Dr Stuart’s Herbal tea—very rock n roll…not!
iSing: How did you discover you could sing?
EM: I was only really good at acting and drama at school. So I auditioned for a local amateur dramatic society. They said I had to sing as well, I said “OK, I’ll give that a go”.
That was for the show Anne of Green Gables. I was singing in the chorus and did some small solo parts. I remember the guy that ran the theatre company said, “You’ve got quite a good voice for a lad of 13.” Couple of years went by, did a couple more theatre productions for that company. I was about 15 when I really started taking it seriously. I realised I was better at singing than acting. I did a school production where I had a significant part as the Chief of Police in the Pirates of Penzance (Gilbert and Sullivan). My voice broke very early so I had a very deep voice at school, just right for that part. Then from there I formed a high school band—as you do when you’re at school—just doing covers. That band continued through college and university.
iSing: What did you do after high school?
EM: I went to University to do Media but ended up dropping out. I then went on to run a nightclub in Southampton for about 3 years. I still sang in a band.
iSing: How did people like Stevie Wonder and Thom Yorke influence your sound?
EM: I was a massive, massive, Radiohead fan. I spent a lot of time listening to Radiohead and Thom Yorke, studying videos. I love the style and tone of his vocals, the way that he contorts his voice into various styles, the sheer emotion that his voice provokes. It’s the same with Stevie Wonder. Both of these vocalists sing with so much passion. That’s what attracted me so much. I don’t intentionally try to sound like them, but their influence must come out naturally. I hope the passion does.
iSing: What kind of training did you do to prepare yourself for a career as a singer?
EM: I had lessons when I was still at school, Mum and Dad paid for it. But after school, I couldn’t afford it. I went for about 10 years without any lessons, then about 3 years ago I took them up again. The rigorous touring schedule with I Am Giant got me back to lessons. My voice wasn’t coping with the workload. I tried YouTube video lessons but they didn’t really help much, they weren’t structured enough. A friend recommended Chris Johnson who really helped me get my stamina back. It wasn’t until then that I started taking my vocal health seriously.
iSing: How did you get the I Am Giant gig?
EM: (Laughs) We always joke around that we met online, on a dating site. Actually, it was through an advert on Star Now.
I’d been in a band for 3 years, whilst I was running the nightclub but it wasn’t going anywhere. We had a development deal with Island and had management. We were touring, had an EP but nothing really happened. Nothing materialised, I was feeling worn out by the music industry so I took time off.
After about a year I was feeling a bit low and thought it’s probably time to get back into music. I was feeling fired up again. So I started applying to ads on Star Now. This one said something like:
“Platinum selling artists looking for vocalist to form a band with. Influences N.E.R.D, Rage Against The Machine, Radiohead and Perfect Circle.”
I wasn’t a particular fan of Rage Against The Machine or Perfect Circle but was a big fan of N.E.R.D and of course Radiohead. I went to the studio they had in Kingston. I’d been asked to learn two songs. We recorded a verse and chorus of one of them. When we finished they said, “OK, lets go to the pub.” I thought oh, well that went down like a sack of shit then. They just want to get me out the door. Then we got down the pub and they were like “Yeah, mate, you’ve knocked the socks off everyone else we’ve seen. We’ve had 160 applicants, auditioned 30. You’re the best we’ve seen; don’t want to audition anymore. So when you want to start?”
iSing: How would you describe I Am Giant’s music style?
EM: Post 90s rock, really. Heavy rock at times, with melodies somewhere between Coldplay and Muse.
iSing: How did this style influence the way that you sing?
EM: The reason they liked me, and the reason why the band stands out, is because of my vocal influence in soul music. My voice isn’t your typical rock voice. I think I brought what I normally do into their style—especially for the first album.
iSing: Did the “Rock ‘N Roll lifestyle” affect you? How did you manage it?
EM: (laughs) As soon as we started touring and flying around I quickly found the sheer lack of sleep took its toll on my voice and me. I was also affected by the extreme changes in weather—especially the heat and going in and out of air-conditioned places.
I Am Giant’s material is vocally taxing, not just because of the melodies we’ve constructed. It’s a real loud rock band, well-known for highly energetic live shows. I’d be absolutely shattered after a one-hour show. I very quickly realised I couldn’t do the traditional rock ‘n roll lifestyle or my voice would suffer. I got used to it eventually. Though there were the odd days when I’d just go “Aaarrgh” and give in, have a few beers and stay out late. But I’d always pay for it on the next night’s performance.
iSing: You have recently left the band to pursue a solo career. What will you take with you on the next leg of your journey?
EM: Wow, the list is endless. It’s been such a big learning curve. One of the main things is to live within your means; we spent everything we earned on touring, sometimes more. Also, aim high, but be realistic with goal-setting.
I’ve learnt everything about songwriting from working with Paul and Shelton, and with producer Forrester Savell. Paul taught me all about crafting vocal lines, ways in which you can fund a band, I’m more aware of the business side. You don’t realise when you’re young how much you need to treat the band as a business.
[I also learned] how to deal with personal relationships within the band, understanding the creative intensity will change your relationships.
I know I will be better off in my solo career for learning all this stuff.
iSing: What do think your challenges will be as you move forward as a solo artist?
EM: Having more control over the music. I didn’t get much say in the music in I Am Giant. So with the solo stuff it will all be down to me, that’s a new responsibility.
Largely starting from scratch and having to build my own fan base. The fans from I Am Giant may not follow my new path.
I tended to keep to myself in I Am Giant. For instance, I rarely got involved in interviews. But if you keep to yourself as a solo artist, you’re not going to do very well!
iSing: Where do you see yourself over the next 10 years?
EM: I would love to do this solo record then get a label, a manager, and publishing behind me. Be a staple part of the industry, a touring live act, well-established solo artist.
If I don’t, I will still be doing music, no matter where I am or how old I am. I don’t think you ever lose that bug. Once the music bug gets you, you’re pretty doomed. Look at the Rolling Stones still touring well into their 70s!
iSing: What would you advise up-and-coming singers about having a career in singing?
EM: In terms of the craft of singing, even if you have to do an extra shift in a bar, get the money to pay for lessons or some kind of vocal coaching. You will have a much longer career if you look after your voice from the beginning.
Dedicate your entire life to music, 100%, while you can. Sacrifice everything. Don’t be half-hearted about it. For instance, don’t refuse a tour because you have a job. When you’re young you can get a new job any time.
And the most important thing I will say is just…be…a…nice…person. If you’re a bit of a twat people will find out about it, so leave your ego at the door.
I’ve seen it so many times—amazing band, so much ability, really tight—but they are nob heads. People will say, “Yeah, great band, but will never work with them again!”
So be a nice person, you’ll get much further.
Photographs: Matthew Joseph