Sentimental Fools – Interview with Phil Martin (Martin & Garp)

Just in time, before the dull autumn weather makes us feel depressed, a dose of sunny optimism comes straight from the Netherlands. Today “Making Up”, the first single of the Dutch duo Martin & Garp, is released by Légère Recordings. A song that, with its catchy guitar and synthesizer licks and luxurious, radio-friendly harmonies, takes us straight to the heyday of Californian West Coast music of the late 70s and early 80s. WEST COAST SOUL talked with Timothy van der Holst aka Phil Martin about the new single, their forthcoming album “Sentimental Fools” and their fascination for smooth West Coast music.

Timothy, “Making up” is your first single from your forthcoming debut album “Sentimental Fools”. The song strongly reminds me of the West Coast music of the early 80s. Artists like Bill LaBounty and Nielsen & Pearson come to mind. Was it your goal to capture this classic Californian sunshine pop atmosphere with this song?

Haha, well those are definitely artists I love, so I can’t hide that. It’s got a bit of a Fleetwood Mac touch too. I wrote the song together with Joel Sarakula. I don’t think he was so much influenced by Bill. But that’s exactly the period, my favorite West Coast period. Especially the production and arrangement qualities of those artist.

What fascinates you about this music era?

I grew up with Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and The Doobie Brothers. The records that my parents use to play. It’s that songwriting style in combination with soulful grooves, good vocal harmonies and smooth production. They really took their time in the studio to record those records and the musicianship is amazing. As a musician I have always been influenced by it. Beside this I love writing songs, getting chords together and put a melody on top. I’m not a good singer, but to write a song you don’t have to. After I write a tune I ask the best singers to perform it, haha.

Martin & Garp is your first excursion into the West Coast music genre. You have been a successful songwriter and producer in the Dutch soul and jazz scene for many years. Tell us a little bit about what you have been doing so far.

I run my own recordlabel SocialBeats Records since 2003 and worked together with Unique Records from Düsseldorf a lot. My projects are The Soul Snatchers, The Jazzinvaders and Laura Vane and the Vipertones. Besides those projects I produced a lot of albums for other artist and did a lot of remixes for the nu-jazz and soul scene. All influenced by 60’s soul and jazz music. Lots of horns, funky drums and sharp soulful voices. I have so much fun doing this, but I also want to try other things and explore new genres. I love 60’s and 70’s music. As a studio engineer and producer I always go into that direction. Using the old instruments from that era and try to catch the vibe and feel of this groove music. So that goes for this album too. Exploring the style and bringing the right musicians together to make a proper album.

For Martin & Garp you have teamed up with the Dutch singer and saxophonist Lo van Gorp, who has already worked with many musical greats such as Paul Carrack, Roger Hodgson and Chaka Khan. How did you find each other?

Lo is a famous backing vocalist in Holland. He is doing lots of session work. So I worked with him before on other projects. I always loved his voice, but also his spirit to music. We share the same passion for this style of music, so it was clear we had to do this together. I couldn’t wish for a better singer. He has such nice tone and is such a beautiful personality. We work very easily and quick.

Your debut album “Sentimental Fools” will be released on January 15th. What can the listeners expect?

Yes, very exciting. As the label owner Helmut Heuer from Légère Records said to me: “It sounds like an album from the late 70’s”. I think it’s soulful and groovy stuff with some proper songwriting. Somewhere between Hall & Oates, Bill LaBounty, Doobie Brothers and I think even some Average White Band will be heard on the album – to name a few reverences. It’s been fully arranged with tasteful keys and guitar lines. Lots of percussion and backing vocal harmonies.

Timothy, when it comes to music, would you describe yourself as “Sentimental Fools”? Or is the name of the album a bow to the classics like “What A Fool Believes” by the Doobie Brothers?

I have to be honest I hadn’t seen the link with “What a Fool Believes”, haha. But no, you are right. Lo and I are definitely Sentimental Fools. We love beautiful music, passioned music with a good sentiment. It’s also the longing for music from the past.

How long did you work on the album and where was it recorded? Please tell us a little bit about the recording process.

I started experimenting two years ago. But I was to busy with other stuff. Because of the lockdown Lo and I didn’t have any gigs, so that was a good reason to lock ourself up and start working on this album. It all went pretty quick. I started writing songs together with Joel Sarakula and Laura Vane. Just by sending ideas across through google drive. Joel was the one who inspired me to get started on this project after I worked with him on his last album. A record like this has been on my mind for a long time.  I was in shock when Young Gun Silver Fox released their first album five years ago. They made me realize that it’s about time I would make music like this too.

As you mentioned before, you wrote songs for your debut album together with Laura Vane and Joel Sarakula. How did this collaboration come about?

I met Laura through MySpace (!) around 2007. From that time on we started working together. We wrote a lot of music together. She’s such a talent, great singer but also songwriter. She is so easy to work with.  Besides that we are very good friends which is also important to me. Joel and I met two years go. A friend of us brought us together. I jammed with him on a house concert and I invited him to come down to my studio and do some recordings. We worked on his last album “Companionship“. I did some engineering, drumming, percussion and writing. We are working on a new project together now. We definitely will work more together. Again, the friendship is important. Laura and Joel are such passioned musicians. I love that!

Timothy, your album will be released by the Hamburg label Légère Recordings. How did it come about?

I did some remixing for Helmut Heuer in the past. I always loved his releases. Joel told me that he would be interested in Martin & Garp. I think it is the right label for this genre. It’s a label which is not in it for the money. They run the label because of passion for music. Same like Unique Records. Again that’s the main reason for me to do this. I live on passion, ok some money can be helpful too….

The Corona pandemic is hitting artists and musicians particularly hard. Are you currently planning concerts or special online offers, e.g. online shows next year?

We don’t wanna think in that direction yet. It’s all so unsure. We rather focus on the release and creating music in the studio for now. If the opportunity will be there we will definitely go out and play. We have got some great musicians who can nail this easily.

A last question: The Netherlands seem to have an affinity for classic West Coast music. Your label mates Young Gun Silver Fox celebrated their greatest successes there. What do you think are the reasons for this passion of the Dutch?

It’s funny, I have absolutely no idea. It took me by surprise too. When I heard the first Young Gun Silver Fox album I told Shawn Lee to come down to Holland to do some small gigs at a jazzclub I run. But all of a sudden they became big in no time. Radio 2 DJ’s really love them. But then again in the 00’s a band like Venice where also big in Holland. So the Duchies seem to have a passion for this Californian sound.

Timothy, thank you very much for the interview and I wish you both every success with the new album.

Thank you!!

Photo: Ruud Baan