It is hard to imagine Martin Sexton sitting still for very long-which makes it even harder to imagine him as a real estate agent. So when the Syracuse, New York, native failed his real estate exam straight out of high school, it seemed only natural that he’d turn to his love of music to sustain him. Reared on classic sounds, Sexton quickly made his way to Boston, then to New York City, where he wandered the streets with his guitar in hand. Busking gave Sexton the perfect opportunity to take his music to the people, and the streets soon became his most invaluable music school. Since then, Sexton has released eight albums, each a distinctive blend of styles that reflect both his heart and soul and his musical roots. Currently on the move once again, Sexton will play at SOhO this Wednesday, April 1. He recently phoned in to discuss life on the road.
The live performance is a big part of who you are as an artist. What do you get out of touring? Oh boy-a world of experience. Meeting different people and visiting different places and singing my songs for different audiences is what I love to do most in my life. I’m really thankful that I’m still happy to be doing what I’m doing because I’ve been doing this for a while and I know some people who seem to be kind of burnt out. But I still get a huge sense of joy when I get onstage and people applaud. I also still enjoy the riggers of the road. I really enjoy the greasy spoons of America more so every day. Many artists I know only experience the road from the backstage door, and I think that’s a shame.
You started out busking around Boston. How did that experience shape you as a musician? The busking was my schooling. If anyone asked where I studied music, I would say the streets of Boston and New York. That’s basically where I learned how to perform and how to get the audience, and it’s where I learned how to use my voice as a solo instrument and use the guitar as a bass or drum set. Basically my whole sense of style was grown on the street.
Given the rigid tour schedule, do you miss the liberty of busking? I still can do that if I want to because I’m not always on the road. I actually have a very civilized life, where I’m at home more than half the time. So if I want to pick up the guitar and go and play somewhere, or sit in with somebody or go and play in a local bar, I can do that. I have always kept that within arms reach. And I play pretty much every day in my kitchen anyway. I’m always making music. I’m always whistling, always banging on the table or tapping my toes, much to the chagrin of the people who live with me.
You grew up in the 1980s, when music was very fashionable, yet you went a far more classic route. What inspired that? I was growing up on real classic rock ‘n’ roll-Hendrix, the Beatles, Stones, Janis Joplin, The Doors. That’s the root of my music. But I did take a big detour after high school in 1996. I needed money, and when I failed my real estate exam, I joined a band. I had a mullet haircut and sang all the hits of the ‘80s. So I went from having long hair and sideburns and playing “Freebird” in garages to playing Ah-Ha and Tears for Fears and Chaka Khan in bars and at functions. I did that for a couple of years. It was also good schooling for me and was actually great for my singing because I had to reach those high notes!
You have a very old-school approach to music-making. Are you at all tempted by developing technology? I think, with me, the most comfortable house to live in musically is the old-school house, where it’s more about tubes and knobs and dials than about chips and buttons. I love mechanical things. I love old cars. I love turning a knob and having something happen as a result of that, as opposed to pressing a button and seeing a bunch of green LED lights moving. I’m kind of an idiot when it comes to electronics.
Martin Sexton will play SOhO (1221 State St.) this Wednesday, April 1, at 8:30 p.m. Call 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com for details and tickets.