Roy Martinez (Chilali And The Chief) – Chatting On Air

Roy Martinez (left) with Rose Parker and David Hyams, Freo.Social, 2022

Bill Quinn: This evening I’m joined by Roy Martinez. Now Roy, you and I go back a long way.

Roy Martinez: A long way back. A couple of days? A few days?

BQ: A long. long way. Last Thursday evening. We were there [at The Local Hotel] for Local Heroes with Bob Gordon to see the amazing David Hyams in conversation and performance. That was a really fantastic evening, wasn’t it?

RM: Yeah, well I’ve known Dave for a long time, but I actually learnt a whole lot more about his history. It was very informative.

BQ: It was, and let me just ease your mind about when we start talking, because I want to ask you some questions in a little while (after I’ve done the gig guide and the parish notices). Don’t worry; I’m not going to ask you what your first memories were and what you were doing when you were five or six years old.

Because we did find out a lot about David Hyams!

RM: Yes, that’s right, of course. I’m going to do one of those Local Heroes myself (as Chilali and The Chief).

BQ: Chilali was going to join us tonight, and we were going to have live music here in the studio, but she’s not able to join us.

RM: She’s not. She’s listening to us now, probably. Her voice hasn’t quite recovered from her bout of whatever lurgie’s going around.

BQ: I’m so sorry to hear that. Chilali, if you’re listening, get the manuka honey into you.

Now you’ve brought in this EP. Tell us more about Chilali and The Chief.

RM: Well, Chilali is my wife. We met because she was writing some songs and we were actually working together, and developed a relationship.

Here we are fourteen years later, and now we’ve finally got a bit of momentum and are trying to make it a career now, the both of us.

Image courtesy of Roy Martinez

BQ: Is that here in Western Australia that you met?

RM: Yeah, here in Western Australia. We met at one of my other gigs. I’ve got a little recording set-up at home, as a lot of musicians do. So we just started doing some demos, and of course with Covid you get a good chance to really have some time to delve into your music.

So we basically did this [the EP] about that sort of time.

BQ: Was Covid in any way an inspiration for it, or did it just provide you with the opportunity?

RM: It’s more the time and the opportunity really. We get inspiration from everywhere else. I suppose maybe there were a couple of songs that remotely had something to do with the whole world situation.

BQ: I guess from what I understood of how lockdown worked over here in WA – at the time I was up in the Northern Territory – I’m going to say you weren’t as restricted as, say Melbourne might have been. You wouldn’t have been as locked down.

RM: Yeah, we were lucky here. We only had week-long lockdowns here. We had just a few, so we were very lucky. For us maybe only a handful of gigs was cancelled, really. We were still working on our stuff.

And we’d meet friends from around the area. I live here in Hamilton Hill and there’s a lot of musicians there, so we’d meet at the dog park or something like that, and there was still some little bit of interaction – with six feet apart. of course.

BQ: At least you could get out, whereas if you were in Melbourne, you might have been writing some songs like, “Would You Please Pick Your Socks Up Off The Floor And Put Your Garbage In The Bin!”

RM: Yes, something like that!

BQ: Tell us about these two songs that we’re about to hear.

RM: Ok, the first one, Lua De Prata. My wife, pre-Covid – probably 2019 – she had the opportunity to go to Spain and do the El Camino pilgrimage walk, the Portuguese leg. The Camino Primitivo, probably the hardest one. A lot of mountains, a lot of hills, and a lot of tracks rather than roads.

So she did that, and of course being in that environment and that exotic Spanish scenery and all that, she wrote four or five Latin-inspired songs. Lua De Prata was one of them.

I didn’t go; I was stuck here in Perth, but she told me about these songs. So I was conjuring up with my production panel hat on, and thinking up chords while she dictated her lyrics and melodies to me.

RM: I’m a bit of a science geek, so at home pre-Covid, I was looking up a lot of things like conspiracy theories when it wasn’t the trendy thing. But I’m always interested in science fiction and celestial things. So I was looking up this thing about the moon, how weird and interesting in terms of its dimensions, how it’s freakishly the right size when we have a total eclipse of the sun. And the distances like how all the craters are basically the same depth even though some are big and some are small.

Things like when some of the American spaceships crashed onto the moon, the moon actually rang like a bell. Resonated for hours after. And stuff like that.

All these kind of weird things that have been on the fringe but seems to be now a little bit more accepted. Still don’t know the answers to them.

So I was looking up all the strange stuff like that, and Chilali, she’s in the other room doing all her beautiful, poetic, emotional sort of stuff. So we mashed them all together!

BQ: And called it ‘fusion’.

RM: Well, the EP here is called ‘The Moon Series’ because we just happened to have written about four or five songs that have this celestial theme and mainly about the moon. The Fool Moon is about all the effects that it does here on earth, like all the crime rates that go up at the full moon, and how it affects the tides.

BQ: That’s where we get the word ‘lunatic’ from.

RM: That’s right, yes. So this is a homage to that. And Lua De Prata was just maybe Chilali’s more personal thing, her take on our relationship where I’m the science geek guy with my feet off the floor, and she’s the grounded, more emotionally stable – not! – part of the relationship.

BQ: You mentioned that you guys got together about fourteen years ago and you’ve got the EP now. Where’s the duo taken you to? What things has it given you?

RM: Basically we were a bit restrained in travelling. We would have loved to have gone overseas. Pre-Covid, Chilali went to Spain and Portugal in 2019 with a friend of hers. She wrote a lot of these Latino songs when she was in that frame of mind and in that environment.

So that [album] is coming up soon. I’ve actually produced some of those songs. They have a definite Spanish – I think of them more like a Santana-ish kind of thing, because I get to play nice guitar on that, both acoustic as well as electric.

So we would have loved to have gone overseas, and we’re planning that maybe next year. But so far we’ve been trying to do a lot of local touristy type things. We love going down to Margaret River, virtually every month going down there, playing at places like Settlers which we’re playing next week. And the Brewhouse and Cheeky Monkey, and we’ve got one coming up soon at Xanadu Winery as well.

So we love going down there, and the bucket list thing is to maybe live down there one day. We’ve done Rottnest, we like going down to Albany quite a lot, Bunbury, and Kalgoorlie even. We love that kind of travelling life. Our ultimate goal is going around to all the festivals.

BQ: I’ve got this feeling from my four and a half months in WA that this region has a fair appetite not only for live music but for live original music. Is that a fair assessment?

RM: I think so, especially Fremantle and the nearby surrounds. They’re very open to original music. It’s funny, I always see there’s a big segregation between north of the river and south of the [Swan] river. I always say that the north of the river people think that the Fremantle crowd is a little bit out there, and as south of the river people think the north people are just too suburban.

I equate it almost like with Melbourne. I remember being in Melbourne quite often touring there, and people want to hear original music there. And Sydney is a little bit less; a bit more of the cover/tribute thing. RSL clubs and stuff like that.

BQ: Now, tell me about The Human Highway, because this sounds like a fascinating project.

RM: The Human Highway, for any Neil Young fans, is a tribute to him. There’s a few of us based here in Fremantle – Rose Parker, Dave Hyams and myself – we love Neil Young. I think it was Dave’s idea.

Dave’s got a great sense of humour; he said, “If there’s anyone you could mimic him with a high, male, weedy voice, it would be Neil Young. So Dave’s found his iconic place in that.

BQ: When David was singing on Thursday night, even before he mentioned anything about The Human Highway, I got an instant resonance of Neil Young. And I thought, he’d sound good trying that. Lo and behold!

RM: The great thing is we’re playing great songs and it’s always packed. No matter where we play, we seem to have quite an audience. We played all the way down in Esperance at the end of last year, in Albany at the beautiful entertainment centre down there, and we’re about to go to Darwin in November. So it’ll be great to go up there.

BQ: And then you’re doing something on a property out at Yorke.

RM: Yes, our friend Alan [Dawson, Radio Fremantle] will be doing the PA for that. Yes, this is a private show of some sort – someone who’s a bit of a fan. We’ve actually got quite a few fans who are big supporters and we’ve played at their birthdays and stuff like that.

So this person, we’re playing on their property there at Yorke. We just have some issues with the generator to work out to make sure that when I hit that low B on my bass guitar it doesn’t trip out the generator.

We have a great crew and it’s always fun to play those songs. There’s seven of us. We have Jeremy Threlfall on lap steel and rhythm guitar, Russell Smith on drums, Adam Gare on fiddle or violin, Rose Parker on guitar, and Dave Hyams, and me.

Image courtesy of Chilali and The Chief (Chilali Song and Roy Martinez)

BQ: And Dave tells me that you’re going to be doing a gig here in Fremantle at Freo.Social.

RM: Yes. Usually Dave books November and December out for this band, so we have quite a few gigs. We’re going down to Margaret River and to quite a few regional areas.

BQ: Tell me about your work with Dave Mann.

RM: Well, Dave I’ve known for quite a long time. About 20 years or so. He’s one of my best friends, and for me, one of the best songwriters out there, and definitely one of the best singers as well.

We went to Melbourne to Joe Camilleri’s studio (The Black Sorrows, Jo Jo Zep And The Falcons). I remember that was our first experience together recording Dave’s second album there, and I’ve been on most of his albums since. Kind of similar to me, he’s now got a duo with his wife called The Nomadics – his wife is Bec Schofield. So they’re on their trajectory, and we occasionally do gigs with them.

I always get to see Dave when he’s in town, but right now he’s in Broome because he’s got a houseboat up there. So he’s with his family and he’s decking out his houseboat so he can eventually get it down to Perth. He’s quite a McGuyver; we call him McGuyver because he can make something out of nothing.

We recorded this one in Rada Studios, I think. It was basically Adam Diggs, myself on bass, and Dave Mann. The song is Tapachula Streets. Now this is interesting. Dave is a surfie and lives in Margaret River, and they had a surf movie festival playing down there. And he watched one great movie about surfing in Mexico and it was still not edited properly, so it didn’t have a lot of the soundtrack music on it.

And Dave was so inspired by this particular story which was about homeless kids in Mexico having them learn how to surf by an Australian couple who already had about six or seven kids who were already adult age. So they went to Mexico and started to teach the homeless kids to have some focus in their life and meaning.

And Dave was so inspired by this that he wrote this song, and you can hear the story beautifully, poetically talked about in this song:

BQ: You’ve done quite a bit of work with Rose Parker.

RM: Yeah, mostly playing bass but also on keyboards.

BQ: Did I hear before that you do a little bit of drums as well?

RM: Oh yeah, I do a lot of drum programming and playing drums as well. In all of the Chilali And The Chief stuff I’m playing everything. I think the only other instrument was harmonica which was done by Jean Guy Lemire, another Fremantle identity. He’s probably playing right now. He just goes around Fremantle, finds a gig, plays a couple of songs, and goes from one gig to the next, on a bit of a pub crawl playing.

BQ: You’ve also done some work with The Yabu Band.

RM: Yes. Let’s see; how did I meet those guys? It was actually again through Dave Mann. The drummer at that time was Jade Masters. Now Jade had been studying at [??]Music which is the Aboriginal/indigenous school for music, and The Yabu Band were two brothers: Boyd and Delly who both graduated from there.

They’re just phenomenal musicians, lovely guys. We hooked up with them because Jade was more or less managing them and sort of producing them as well. I think they did a couple of albums before me, but we had a good opportunity to go to Joe Camilleri’s studio – from our experience with Dave Mann, we went in with Jade and I produced that album.

We travelled; we went to Canberra quite a few times to play at Parliament House. Actually, there area lot of gigs that are shown on NITV, probably late at night. I sometimes get a ring from friends saying, “Oh Roy; you’re playing on TV.” Yeah, the same one that they play over and over again.

But they’re always great fun, the two brothers, and they’re actually doing gigs again, I believe. Unfortunately I’m too busy to be with them this time, but they’ve been doing lots of gigs up north, actually. Delly was a bit sick there for a while, but I think he’s come good now.

BQ: We’re moving through your record collection and we’re up to Wil Thomas.

RM: Wil is from Broome. And again, through the connection of Dave Mann, we used to go up to Broome all the time. In fact, Dave more or less goes up to Broome every winter and follows the sun. I remember we were playing at the famous markets up there in Broome, and Wil he’s the steel forge, kitchen utensil kind of guy – he’s making knives now and some beautiful, very artistic stuff with steel.

So he’s a great musician himself. He looks like Eddy Vedder from Pearl Jam, he sounds like Bob Dylan, and he writes some fantastic songs, mainly about the stories of Broome. Of course, one of the biggest things in Broome history is the Japanese divers that used to dive for pearls. And the song ‘Sayonara Nakamura’ is the story about one of the famous divers, Nakamura:

BQ: Tell me about your experience with Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse.

RM: Gina sings in the Noongar language. Oh my god; they’ve gone such great guns. Their programme is in the school curriculum now. They’ve made a music book and the kids are learning the Noongar language. Which is a wonderful thing because it was threatened to be dying out. Gina has an amazing spirit about her and an amazing way with words.

And of course, singing in Aboriginal/Noongar language, she has to set up the songs in English so the audience knows generally what it’s about. She’s such a great storyteller in the greatest folk tradition. I’ve never experienced this at a gig where I’m playing bass guitar in the band, and I’m following the music just trying to concentrate on my part, that there’s time where I can just escape and look out into the audience.

And I’ve never experienced this before where the crowd en masse are crying because it’s so emotional. And they don’t understand the words, but they know the story. And there must be such resonance in the words that they can feel it and they can understand the story.

BQ: Now you’ve got a residency at a lovely little venue here in town [Fremantle].

RM: Yes, there’s a new venue called Fire In Your Belly. I think it used to be an Indian restaurant, directly across the street [Queen Victoria Street] from Officeworks as you’re leaving Fremantle. Wonderful venue, great food, set up by another couple – husband and wife who are musos as well. We’re doing Wednesday nights there, roughly starting about six o’clock or so. We’re there for the indefinite future.

BQ: How did you stumble into that gig?

RM: Funnily enough, I was across the street at Officeworks getting my stationery supplies and I heard this great Stevie Ray Vaughan-like guitar emanating from somewhere. I thought maybe a car had their radio on really loud but I noticed it was a real live guitar and it was coming from the old restaurant that I used to get my Indian takeaway from.

All the chairs were stacked up at the front so you couldn’t go in, but I could see a stage and stage lighting, and there seemed to be a couple of people in there playing music live. I thought they were maybe rehearsing but it obviously wasn’t open to the public. So I just kept an eye on this place, and then I heard there was place called Fire In Your Belly.

I kept going to Officeworks getting more supplies and every so often I’d go in and ask about what’s happening here, armed with my CD and my business card. So I finally met Emmet and Kellie who are a wonderful duo. There act is called M8 (M8 Mewsic). And they really want to create it as a music venue. I’d say be summertime when it’s fully fledged, it’s gonna be one of the main venues in Fremantle for music.

BQ: Kellie was telling me she’s spent a lot of time setting it up, and she wants it to be more than just a restaurant/bar/eatery, but she wants it to be a place where workshops can happen, where people can meet and develop things.

RM: I’m gonna run a few workshops there like song writing workshops, and perhaps Chilali when her voice gets better – she’ll do some vocal training and stuff like that. Women’s empowerment groups.

BQ: So it’s in Queen Victoria Street, it’s called Fire In Your Belly, and we’re not on commission here [for mentioning the venue so often].

RM: I get a bit of a taste from the kitchen – that’s my sponsorship there.

BQ: Roy, thank you so much.

RM: I really appreciate it, Bill. That was fun.

BQ: And Chilali, if you’re listening, get better soon.

Full audio of the Monday 29 August 2022 edition of ‘Folking Around’ is at: > Monday 29 August 2022.

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