News Column

Tending Her Farm, Tending Her Songwriting

June 30, 2013

YellowBrix

With a new album in the works and a new manager to help spread the word, Motels frontwoman Martha Davis is feeling the same enthusiasm and anticipation about her band as when it formed in the early '70s.

"It's a really exciting time, a rebuilding time," Davis said by phone from her 72-acre farm in Oregon. "I have a wonderful band and big hopes for the future. We're really looking to change the landscape. It's funny, this version of the band has been around 10 years, longer than the original Motels."

The new wave band, now known as Martha Davis and The Motels, is best known for its '80s hits "Only the Lonely" and "Suddenly Last Summer." The band performs Tuesday at bergenPAC in Englewood and tonight in Long Branch.

Davis has written several songs for The Motels' first album in five years with former Train bassist Charlie Colin. She said she balances her time between recording Motels music and solo material, and herding pigs and tending to goats, turkeys and chickens on the farm she has called home for the past eight years. "I've never been 100 percent comfortable in the city," Davis said. "Now I enjoy the cities when I tour and come home to a crazy, beautiful, wacky farm."

Until recently, Davis also ran all business aspects of the band, but she found that she was spreading herself thin. Giving over the reins wasn't easy.

"I had made some bad management choices in the past and was very leery of hiring someone," she said. "But [managing her career] was totally time-consuming and the promotion part, using social media, isn't my specialty."

Davis credits the band's newfound visibility to its new manager, Greg Sims. One of Sims' first moves was to have Davis and The Motels play in Europe for the first time since the band's heyday in the '80s.

The Motels formed in Davis' native Berkeley, Calif., in 1971. The band took a circuitous route to its commercial breakthrough a decade later. The band's third record, initially called "Apocalypso," was rejected by Capitol Records, which said its quirky pop was too far afield for the mainstream market.

"I always wanted our music to be a little strange," Davis said. "The people I listened to, like David Bowie and Brian Eno, were outside of the mainstream."

The Motels reentered the studio and emerged in 1982 with "All Four One." The record hit No. 16 on the Billboard albums chart on the strength of the Top 10 single "Only the Lonely."

But success was bittersweet, Davis said. "That album, though it was the most successful, was way too produced and slick," she said. "We had a hit, but it was a tradeoff. And it went even more pop afterward. I didn't know how to put the brakes on." Eventually Davis dissolved the band in 1987.

In 2011, "Apocalypso" finally saw the light of day through independent label Omnivore Recordings. "Thank God it finally came out," Davis said. "It's so much fun. We always play the song 'Apocalypso,' and we've been getting conga lines in the audience."

Sidebar:

MUSIC

WHO: "Awesome '80s," featuring Martha Davis and The Motels, Bow Wow Wow, Gene Loves Jezebel.

WHAT: New wave.

IN TOWN: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Bergen Performing Arts Center, 30 N. Van Brunt St., Englewood; 201-227-1030 or bergenpac.org. $25, $35, $50.

ALSO PERFORMING: Martha Davis and The Motels, The Cynz and The Glycerine Queens, 7 tonight, The Brighton Bar, 121 Brighton Ave., Long Branch; 732-229-9676 or brightonbar.com. $15.

MORE INFO: themotels.com.

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