Barrett Martin is a man who has worn many hats over the course of almost 20 years as a professional musician. As a drummer, percussionist, composer, producer, world traveler, ethnomusicologist, and now A&R for his own label, he knows the world of music well indeed.
Born April 14th, 1967 in Olympia, Washington, Barrett began his musical studies at Western Washington University studying jazz theory and classical percussion in the mid 1980's, until moving to Seattle in 1987. Barrett's first group in Seattle, Skin Yard, was a heavy art rock combo that featured Sub Pop producer Jack Endino on guitar. The band recorded for SST/Cruz Records, the independent label that launched the careers of many well-known alternative bands in the 80’s and 90’s. The Seattle music scene, still in it's infancy at this time, would later explode onto the world in the early nineties with bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Barrett’s own band, the Screaming Trees.
In late 1991, Barrett joined the Screaming Trees, a seminal band in the emerging Seattle sound. The Trees made three critically acclaimed albums for Epic/Sony during that decade, maintaining a relentless touring schedule that took them all over the western world. Ultimately, this grueling routine would lead to the break up of the band in 1999, at which point the band members decided to pursue different careers.
Barrett had already ventured into new musical realms during the course of his tenure in the Trees, and he made numerous other albums; including the 1994 cult-classic "Above" from the super group Mad Season, featuring the late Layne Staley and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. Barrett also founded the soundtrack-oriented group Tuatara with Peter Buck of REM, making two albums for Epic/Sony in 1997 and 1998 respectively. Tuatara continues to make albums for Fast Horse Recordings, which include 2002’s Cinemathique, and 2003’s The Loading Program. The group has done film soundtrack work as well, please see www.tuatara.com for more information.
Barrett also continued to work as a sideman and session musician during these years, playing on, or producing over 50 albums by many well-known artists (see discography page). This included recording sessions with artists such as: Victoria Williams and Mark Eitzel, REM side project The Minus 5, New York favorites Luna, the French band Air, blues legend CeDell Davis, and even heavy rockers like Stone Temple Pilots and Queens Of The Stone Age. One of the bigger albums that Barrett worked on was with REM on their album "UP”, in which Barrett played drums, vibraphone, and a slew of exotic percussion.
During the late 90's and up until the present, Barrett has embarked on a series of expeditions in other countries to investigate the ethnomusicology of other cultures, particularly those with a strong element of African influenced drumming.
His first trip in January of 1997 took him to Hopkins Village, Belize, where he studied with a drum priest from the Garifuna people, a local Afro-Caribbean culture.
The second trip in the fall of 1998 took him to Dakar, Senegal where he took lessons in Wolof drumming from a local Griot, and members of Les Ballet Senegal, the famous folkloric group. From Senegal, Barrett continued on to Ghana where he took drum lessons from Ashanti drum masters at the University of Legon in the capitol city of Accra.
After Africa came Cuba, and in March of 1999 Barrett was invited to be a member of the diplomacy mission "Music Bridge to Havana", a musical exchange that brought American, European and Cuban musicians together for a series of musical collaborations in Havana. During this trip, Barrett was befriended by a Santeria drum priest and taught several of the sacred Bata rhythms of the African Orisas.
In 2000 and 2003, Barrett recorded and toured with famed Brazilian singer-songwriter Nando Reis. Barrett has played on three of Nando's albums, and subsequently toured much of Brazil. He returns to that country periodically to study with Candomble drummers, the Brazilian equivalent of African religious drumming. Please see www.barrettmartin.com for more information.
In complement to his musical studies, Barrett also pursues his own rigorous spiritual practice in the form of Soto Zen. In March of 2000, he received his Lay Ordination from the Great Patience Zen Center in Los Angeles, a lineage of the Hosinji Monastery in Osaka, Japan. He continues to practice daily.
In 2001 Barrett founded the non-profit record label, Fast Horse Recordings, and has released ten albums to date, including albums by Brazilian, Peruvian, Iraqi and Nigerian artists, as well as his own projects and solo albums. See www.fasthorserecordings.com for more information.
Most recently, Barrett has returned to his academic studies, pursuing a PhD in anthropology and music at the University of New Mexico. As part of his fieldwork in the summer of 2004, Barrett worked on a documentary film in the Peruvian Amazon about the Shipibo Shamans of the Upper Ucayali River Basin. The film, titled Woven Songs Of The Amazon, has Barrett serving as the field recordist/ethnomusicologist, along with fellow musician Luis Guerra. The two men built a studio in the Amazon rainforest and recorded about 50 of the Shaman’s sacred “icaros”, or healing songs. The companion album to this film will also be released on Fast Horse Recordings in the spring of 2006.
This brings us up to the current album from Barrett titled, The Painted Desert. This is his first solo work of 12 compositions, inspired by his travels and studies of musical cultures around the world. From the jungles and deserts of West Africa, to the red center of Australia, on to the rainforests of Central and South America, and finally back to the deserts of the American Southwest; all of these musical panoramas are recreated within the sonic landscapes of The Painted Desert. Featuring the previously mentioned Luis Guerra on upright bass, Tuatara horn players Skerik and Craig Flory on saxophone and flute, and jazz trumpeters Dave Weeks and Dave Carter, the album grooves hard with African and Brazilian rhythms, sophisticated jazz arrangements, the shimmer of Indonesian gamelans, and ethereal melodies that haunt and hypnotize the listener throughout these exotic soundscapes. The press to date has been exceptionally good, with NPR’s “All Songs Considered” reviewing the album in March 2005.
The Painted Desert was released worldwide on November 2nd 2004 on Fast Horse Recordings, and his quintet is playing selected shows throughout 2005-06. His new solo album, Earthspeaker, will be released in June 2006, with a full world tour to follow.