A Warm Twist on a ‘Cold Reading’: A Conversation with Damon Martin
Mediums have been around for millennia. I can’t think of another profession where research on the subject yields results like “See also: confidence trick.” For as long as there have been people claiming to be mediums, there have been people like composer Damon Martin to call them out. His latest Traumatosis album, Cold Reading, takes the listener on a journey that details the deceptive techniques used by people who claim an ability to talk with the dead. This subject offends Martin on many levels, and he took a very thoughtful approach to getting his message across. The listener knows that this is not an ordinary concept album from the very first track, “Secrets of the Spirit Cabinet.” Themes from that introduction can be found throughout the album. Whispers, various sound effects, and multi-layered instrumentation set the stage for what is to come. The album, dark and moody, spills forth songs of loss, hope, and betrayal at the hands of someone claiming to be something he’s not. The eventual outcome seen in track nine has the subject of the album expecting his payment for sharing his God-given gifts with the unwitting customer who only wanted a bridge to lost family members. The final song, “Six People,” brings it home with an acoustic guitar and rousing vocals. Martin’s hard rock past is evident in many of the songs, but he takes that foundation to a whole new level. Cold Reading is a concept album intended to be heard in a single sitting, not piecemeal during a commute. Each song builds upon the last, and multiple listenings reveal new layers of sound and music. Skeptic and musician Matthew A. Kacar Jr. interviewed Martin about his new project.
The full interview is available at http://artistconnectionpodcast.libsyn.com/webpage/episode-086-damon-martin.
Where are you from, and how did you get to where you are now?
I’m from Scotland, North of Scotland, Aberdeenshire. I’ve always been into music. I was given a keyboard when I was about four years old by my mother. I used to sing for just hours and hours. I was just playing around with my sound and teaching myself chords and just doing it my own way. I had about three of these keyboards. they were just little cheap things that my mom bought me because I kept clogging up the speakers with pancakes. I was a bit of a chubby child, I think. I have no idea what I was doing. I was just going by feel which is kind of what I still do. My studio isn’t great. It’s kind of all about just how it sounds and how it makes you feel.
Thinking about Cold Reading, was there a pivotal moment in your life where you started to question things? Are you skeptical by nature about certain things? Do you like to know how things work?
Yeah. I think really analytically, especially about myself. And so, I’m a very self-reflective type but yeah, I want to know the truth all the time. Except for the weather—I like to be surprised with the weather; everything else I want to know. I’m an atheist. I think that I’ve always been atheist. Obviously in Britain, a Christian country, we have to have prayers in our schools. Sometimes I would go home and believe in God and sometimes I would go home and I wouldn’t. There’s a lot to find out about all this stuff. The more I knew, the more angry I would get when people would abuse others with supernatural acquaintances and mediums. That sickens me, absolutely just turns me off completely. I think it’s the most corrupt, most hideous con that anybody can do. It’s bad enough to be conning people in any way, but you have people who have just lost their children, and then you have mediums pretending to be their children and pretending to talk to their children—that absolutely makes me want to vomit.
How do they stay in business? How is that still allowed?
A lot of these TV psychics are really litigious and take anybody to court who criticizes them. That’s why I’ve never named a name because it’s so dangerous. I don’t want to get my life ruined by litigation. If you said so and so is not psychic, they can take you to court and often successfully sue you.
It feels like it is harder to be a skeptic because it’s a lot easier to just say “I have faith.” At the end of the day, the more you question either psychics or mediums or even a priest, it’s back on you. On your track “As the Meter Ticks,” that’s what is happening, “I’m a vessel. Don’t question me.” What do you say at one point? “Don’t interrupt; I may never get this vision back.”
Yes, that’s it. Yeah, that’s exactly it. I decided to write that track because it starts off with kind of this arrogant, “I don’t see the world the way you do.” There’s kind of a superiority complex which is, I think, why most of them get into it. It gets them a position of power and a position of that charisma and, you know, glory. I mean they get to be a rock star. We’ve only done one performance of this album and it was a local one. It was mainly friends and family and stuff and it was a tremendous one.
You played it at the Tunnels (a music venue in Aberdeen). It sounds like the perfect place to perform Cold Reading.
Yeah, it was good fun. I don’t like to be limited and I really like to mess with the audience as well. It’s a horrifying show sometimes. I did a magic routine. I thought that would be quite appropriate where I stick this big nine-inch needle in my arm and that went down really well. It was really uncomfortable. I made the audience as uncomfortable as I possibly could, for them, not for me. It was great. Yeah, I think I stopped in silence for a whole minute before I even began and people just watched me and I didn’t say a word. But at the end, it was amazing. Then, it was amazing praise. It was just heartwarming. It kind of made everything feel so worthwhile and then fun, praise that I don’t deserve. It was a wonderful evening.
I’m sure. So what’s next for you?
There was a lot leading up to this performance we just did and so kind of taking it easy. I’ve got a lot of projects. I’m composing a piano concerto just now which is using the same kind of artistic approach that I use with all my stuff. I’m trying to put as much meaning into things as I really possibly can and give it my all, but the concerto I’m writing is also about a novel that I’m simultaneously writing. So, I’m busy with that. It’s about shell shock during the war. There’s a soldier who’s recovering from shell shock and he interacts with the other people that are affected by it worse than he is. I’m really quite drawn to people that have mental illness. It’s always comforting being around people like that I think. I don’t know why. It makes me feel more comfortable. I think I’ve always kind of seen myself as being a bit eccentric and a bit out there, so maybe it’s kind of comforting being around people with that kind of sense.
You can learn more about Damon Martin at www.traumatosis.com.