Country newcomer Brad Martin knows his way around a music video. The Ohio native studied broadcast engineering and audio-video production at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, before moving to Nashville in 1994. After arriving, he picked up freelance grip work –- hauling lighting, setting up props and such -– on video shoots for Tracy Lawrence , Marty Stuart and Vince Gill .
Now, he’s got his own hit video, “Before I Knew Better,” directed by Shaun Silva (Kenny Chesney ’s “Young”). The clip was filmed outside Palmdale, Calif., in the Holly Desert, in January. The song comes from his debut album, Wings of a Honky Tonk Angel, released Tuesday (June 18).
“We actually got out there at 4 in the morning, and it was 29 degrees,” Martin tells CMT.com. “I’d never been to California before, and I’ve always associated Southern California with hot weather, bathing suits, that kind of deal. Of course I’ve always associated the desert with being hot as well. We’d gone out there in the winter, and 32 degrees was the high the whole day.”
Despite the chilly weather, Martin admits that the filming went smoothly, especially for a new artist.
“I already had an insight into what everybody was doing and what was going on,” he says. “It made it a lot less tense. If you’ve never been around that and you’re a new artist, and it’s your first time being in front of the camera, plus wondering what all that stuff is going on behind the camera –- it helped me out a lot. It made me be not so nervous.”
If Martin does get nervous, he rarely shows it. He moved to Nashville at 21; two weeks later, he met Noel Haggard (son of Merle and, at the time, an aspiring star himself) at the now-defunct Gilley’s on Music Row. Haggard and his guitarist suggested an impromptu trip to Printer’s Alley, a seedy strip of bars in downtown Nashville. Martin agreed, and they headed to Barbara’s, a country dive where Martin ended up performing regularly for four years.
Near the end of Martin’s stint there, Printer’s Alley had again become a premiere nightspot in Nashville, and Martin’s appearances were packing the house. Around this time, he also met Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts , who was just starting to get his musical career going at the nearby Fiddle & Steel Guitar Bar. Martin moved over to Maggie McGee’s, on Lower Broadway, where he could better concentrate on songwriting and showcase his material for publishers. Eventually, he signed a songwriting deal with Mike Curb Publishing.
“Yeah, it was interesting. I’m still getting over it,” Martin says with a laugh. “My goodness. Printer’s Alley. Seems like a whole ‘nother life ago.”
Nevertheless, paying his dues in the honky tonks affected Martin’s musical approach which involves taking traditional country themes (drinking, good times, love, more drinking) to a contemporary audience. “I like everything that’s out there right now,” he claims. “Being a songwriter, and a guy who loves and creates music, I can get particular about what the song’s about, lyrically. But as far as how it sounds, I think we’re wide open to anything right now. I think I fit more on the traditional side of things. When I put the album together, my whole objective was to go with the traditional base, with more of a hip edge to it.”
About another song from the new album, “Damn the Whiskey,” Martin says, “It’s about a guy who works through the whole week and gets his job done and, come the weekend, he’s out to have a good time. A lot of time, the whiskey takes him too far and he’s like, damn the whiskey for doing what it should. Trust me, that is all too true with anybody, including myself.”
Long before making it in Nashville, a 5-year-old Martin tagged along with his dad Richard’s country band at fairs and festivals within driving distance of Martin’s (and Johnny PayCheck’s) hometown of Greenfield, Ohio.
“I learned that my dad was the coolest guy that ever walked,” Martin remembers. “I idolized my dad. My dad put the stars in my eyes from a young age. He’s been playing music since I’ve been an infant and I grew up with that in the household. My bedroom used to sit right above the dining room, and I can remember dad bringing over his band guys. I thought his bass player, Herman, was the coolest bass player in the world. They used to work up arrangements, some of which I still use today in my band because they inspired me so much as a kid. I can remember falling asleep to the rumble of the bass and the kick drum and the guitars right below my bedroom.”
In time, Martin’s father took a job at a factory to support the family. (Martin’s older sister now sings in his band; he also has a younger sister and brother.) On Tuesday’s (June 18) edition of CMT Most Wanted Live, Martin showed his gratitude to his father with a surprise invitation to appear beside him on the Grand Ole Opry on June 29.
It’s the familiar faces of his barroom audience that inspired his songwriting on his debut album, Wings of a Honky Tonk Angel. “You see what goes on in their lives,” Martin explains. “And in a sense, you become a part of that, because if you’re playing there regularly, you know how many people come in there, how often and what songs they like to hear. I gained a lot of my songwriting experiences through living a little bit of that life, performing and singing to these people.”
Now that he’s 29 –- he celebrated that birthday performing on the Grand Ole Opry on May 3 –- and has notched his first hit, are those late nights still as fun as they used to be?
He says with a laugh, “Well they’re getting harder to get over, I’ll say that.”