Candlebox and Peter Cornell both paid their dues in the trenches of Seattle’s grunge scene in the ‘90s. Candlebox vocalist Kevin Martin and Peter, the brother of the late Chris Cornell, established a friendship while playing the same venues, circuits and even with each other a few times, but when Candlebox took flight with their debut in 1993, they lost touch-until a few years ago.
Candlebox was celebrating the 20th anniversary of their album Happy Pills, with a show in Seattle two years ago and Cornell was a patron alongside his wife and Martin’s manager. And suddenly it was like no time had passed, Martin and Cornell were kids again, catching up and shooting the breeze like it were 1993.
“I told him I’m making a record and I’d love to have a song with him on it,” Martin told American Songwriter. And a few weeks later he sent me something and I just loved how swampy it was. He played it on a dobro guitar and it had this mad, southern bluesy feel. And the energy just felt perfect and the way it still does now. I knew exactly what I was going to do with the track. And it was the catalyst for the record, because I wasn’t inspired at the time and that kickstarted it all for me.”
The song, “Let Me Down Easy,” would grow to be the single from Candlebox’s forthcoming record, currently untitled and due for release next year. Finished together in pre-prod in just over an hour, Martin showed Cornell some examples of how he envisioned the song developing, and Martin said Cornell made it painless.
“It was pretty magical,” Martin said. “When you have great bones, you can do anything. It made it easy.”
The lyrics portrayed in the song show a personal tie to Martin and his experiences as well as perspectives on certain topics like forgiveness and redemption. And even though Martin seldomly writes a full song on his own, he loves writing bridges, which he did for “Let Me Down Easy,” allowing him to become effortlessly attached to the song, making lyric writing even easier.
“I’ve always written to other people’s music even on the first record,” Martin said. “There are maybe a couple songs to each record I wrote myself, but for this track, I wrote the bridge, so it allowed me to attach myself to it. But the energy of Pete’s acoustic version allowed me to find the southern blues vibe I was looking for and I basically became Robert Johnson and asked ‘how would he write this song?’”
With Robert Johnson in mind, Martin wanted to take his classic story of the crossroads and weave it in with his own experiences with the devil and god, a relationship that has deteriorated over the years and even sparked some of Candlebox’s biggest hits.
“I knew I wanted to tell the story of the crossroads and the fact that I’m no longer a practicing Catholic,” Martin said. “Like with ‘Cover Me,’ which was basically an argument between me and Peter Clint about the differences between Catholicism and Christianity and which is better, which is ridiculous. And I’ve always kind of thought about how people have this attitude of ‘if I ask for forgiveness, I’m ok’- but it doesn’t work like that in my mind, I find it silly so I wanted to tell that story in a roundabout way. And that redemption and forgiveness can come in many ways as long as you ask for it.”
Martin’s prolific writing wasn’t always propelled by his vocal ability or perception as a singer. Prior to Candlebox he had never sang in a band, he was a drummer. But it’s that rhythmic sensibility that helped him maneuver through Candlebox for years as a vocalist. But mostly his writing has evolved more and more as he gets older, and his views change on religion, life, society and the patterns of songwriting transform as he becomes more immersed with other writers like Cornell, Adam Kury of The Hiwatts and Morgan Rose of Sevendust. Working with such influential artists over the last couple decades, Martin is not really fixed to writing homogeneously across each album, like he used to.
“The new record is just all over the place,” Martin said. “I’m not super stuck on writing cohesive records anymore. I like them to go where they want. With this one, if someone had an idea when we writing then we rolled with it. The record has a few songs like ‘Let Me Down Easy’ and a few that are heavier and inspired by Motorhead, then some songs that we pulled from more obscure stuff, but lyrically it’s very cohesive, dealing with today’s emotions and rages and frustrations. But really, it just has manic highs and incredible lows and at point it doesn’t know who it is and I didn’t bother to steer from that. And I think the guys were happy we did that, because we did the songs, we all chose to do.”
And even though Candlebox did not get to put twenty songs on the album, like Martin hoped to, he is still very proud of the record. “I’m prolific it’s ridiculous,” he chuckled, “I get sidetracked a lot and involved in the recording process so I didn’t accomplish everything but I’m very happy with the record.”
While Candlebox focuses on the safety of their loved ones and music lovers all over, they will be holding their new album until next year, and will be narrowing in on completing some covers of their favorite protest songs. Stay tuned for more on their socials and check out their first cover of “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, but not before having a listen to the blues-leaning, Robert Johnson inspired sound on “Let Me Down Easy.”