The calendar reads 2021, not 1993. The Metallica’s and Rush’s of the world aren’t calling with invites to tour, MTV’s not pounding on the door for their next video, and that’s okay. Candlebox have seen the highs of the music world, but nearly 30 years into their career they’re still finding new successes, and by embracing the ideas behind the current single “All Down Hill From Here,” it’s safe to say that there are still victories to be found on the road ahead.

We’re speaking with singer Kevin Martin from the road where he and the band are promoting the Sept. 17 release of their new album Wolves and preparing for today’s (Sept. 13) premiere of their new video for “All Down Hill From Here,” a song co-written with Blind Melon’s Christopher Thorn that Martin says is one of the most honest songwriting experiences of his life.

The bluesy rock track was born out of conversations between himself and Thorn about their respective stages in their music careers, having been with bands that achieved a certain status and fame, but finding the challenges of a changed music world nearly three decades into a career and still trying to engage and connect with an audience.

“I think Christopher and I have been friends for going on 25 years and I was there when Christopher moved to Seattle and helped him build a studio and I was there when Shannon Hoon would call and leave voicemail messages and I also got the call from Christopher’s wife when Shannon died on the tour bus,” recalls Martin. “So I’ve had this relationship with an incredibly talented human being for a long long time and our conversation essentially revolved around what he and I had been experiencing in all these years of touring, what our relationships were like not only with ourselves but our bandmates, our friends and our family. And then that led to we’re getting older. I’m 52 and Christopher is 51. It’s all these things you just don’t think about when you’re a kid that are just inevitable. They’re going to happen to you.”

“When you reach that point, for instance Travis [Warren] is a phenomenal singer and musician, but it’s not Shannon. And I think that’s always kind of haunted Christopher when it’s been about trying to write new music or trying to put Blind Melon back on the road. I think he’s always thought it diminished the value of Shannon as a person, and that was a conversation. And all my conversations were experiences of things of Candlebox being a red-headed stepchild from Seattle and not being included in the musical community. And that led to this song,” says the singer.

The song speaks to the peaks achieved, the thousands of towns played and the "one too many clowns" that have tripped things up along the way, serving as an honest reflection on the life of a veteran touring musician at a time of reflection. But, as Martin explains in a statement, there's a bit of hope in the discussions had. "It’s a story I think a lot of people can relate to, not only musicians. Like the boxer who's on his last legs, he still has an opportunity. You really can’t count anyone out," says the singer.

“I’m just so grateful that he and I had this conversation because it’s the first time I’ve really been this honest in anything I’ve ever written about my personal life. It really is the story of what I’ve experienced. And it is all down hill from here. Fingers crossed, I’m halfway through my life if not three-quarters of the way. You don’t know how long you’re here and you have to live life to its fullest every single day. There’s responsibility in that, and I think that’s what this song tries to portray.”

Candlebox, "All Down Hill From Here"

The “All Down Hill From Here” video was shot during traveling during the month of August, giving viewers a more honest insight into the life of a touring band. And in the spirit of honesty, this clip is exactly how Martin would want it. “I’m not a fan of shooting videos where it’s all set up and there’s some sort of script or something like that. I’ve never been like that. But I think Candlebox is a far better band live in person than they are trying to be characters in a video. I think our videos have always sucked, but anytime we do a live video, I just enjoy it,” says the singer.

Touring has definitely changed since the ‘90s, with the vocalist noting the advantages of touring today ranging from bus accommodations to even just having the internet to help fill the time between shows. But he also points out that the advances in technology have affected the concert going experience, too. “The attention span during a show is way different. Your audience is far more interested in turning around and getting a selfie with you onstage if they’re in the first, second or third row,” says Martin, also adding, “Everyone wants to hear the debut album and that’s what I revolve the set around. And I never used to think about that stuff in the ‘90s. You put your record out and everybody bought the record because that what they did. There was no internet so you couldn’t watch YouTube videos and stuff so they would come to shows and be excited to see the show.”

Having been through the initial burst of hype, major label backing and playing to giant venues, we asked Martin exactly what he’d say all these years later to his younger self as he prepares for that journey. He laughingly responds, “There are so many things I’d say to my younger self. Where do you start? 1. Don’t listen to your bandmates 2. Listen to your manager 3. Don’t listen to your label. 4. Listen to your manager.”

Plenty has changed over Martin’s time with the group, including the music industry itself. The vocalist says the biggest challenge his band faces these days is just getting a record out and for people to hear it. The avenues of doing so have changed since the ‘90s and there are challenges that come with being a band of a certain age and lineage.

“In the ‘90s, if you wanted to sell a million records, you spent two million bucks. After that it was just icing on the cake. If you want to sell a million records now, you’ve got to spend close to four or five million dollars, and it just doesn’t happen anymore. As challenging as it is to be an independent artist, it’s a lot freer than being signed to a major,” says Martin. “Majors are not likely to let you choose to make a video in a rehearsal studio or to take a camera on the road and shoot yourselves in a bus. They want to spend the three or four or five hundred thousand dollars on a video cause that budget needs to be chewed up.”

Marketing to your audience also becomes a factor. “In a situation like Candlebox, a band that’s almost 30 years old, there’s not a lot of kids we’re going to reach. So we’re not doing a lot of TikTok videos. Our audience is between 35-45 which is the Facebook crowd and the problem with Facebook is everybody hates it. So you’re kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t if you’ve been around a while,” says the singer. “If you’re young, you can have a hit single off of a Soundcloud mixtape or something like that. Because kids are looking for that sort of stuff. They’re not looking toward 50-year-old guys playing rock ’n’ roll to do a TikTok dance to.” Martin admits finding ways to organically reach an aging audience is a nut they’re still trying to crack.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s all down hill from here. There are still successes to be had. “I don’t really look at record sales or concert tickets or VIP meet and greet numbers as success. For me, the success of what I do and what I hope to accomplish is reaching one person per show. If I can reach one person and they send me a message via Facebook or Instagram or Twitter and say ‘I really loved your show the other night. I loved that one song and I don’t know the name, could you let me know?,’ that to me is a success,” says the singer. “I think the days of measure yourself against records sold on the Billboard Top 100 are long gone. And if you can find success in your day-to-day as a musician, through the creative process or the performance element of what you do and you strive to achieve your absolute best, that’s a great success. You’ve accomplished something that a lot of people haven’t.

"The weirdest thing I think for me is looking at an almost 30 year career and I’ve sold nearly seven million records worldwide, but somehow that one person that can say, 'Who is Candlebox?' That one person can fuck up your entire day. I think that’s the thing that if you can avoid that type of ego and you can allow yourself just to be the musician and human being you are, then you’ve accomplished what you’re supposed to do." 

"Great success is something that I’ve had and it’s not something that made me any happier than I am now. Things cost a lot more money, and as your income increases, so does the cost of living. It’s six of one and half dozen of the other, really. Half my friends in Seattle that were in more successful bands than me that gave us our break don’t still tour. They work at Microsoft or they opened their own coffee shop or something like that. I’m still out here doing this, and it’s shocking to me. I’m really very grateful for it and I’m thankful that this is my job." 

He also finds success in his appreciation for his craft. “It’s a greater appreciation now [than I had in the early days], and it’s really because people still come. You know when you have a hit record people are going to show up,” says Martin. “Nowadays, when you’re not moving 20,000 or 30,000 units, and people are still showing up, it’s thank you for coming to see us play. Thank you for letting us play new music. I think a lot of fans, 90 percent of them only want to hear our debut record. But there’s that 10 percent just jonesing to hear something off the new record or an odd b-side from Lucy or something like that. All these things play a role in your appreciation for your audience. It’s just a way different experience now and I’m just so grateful that I get to still do this.”

Candlebox, Wolves Album Artwork

Pavement Entertainment
Pavement Entertainment

Getting to "still do this" includes putting out a new record, and Wolves is one that’s very much reflective of the current world we live in. “Over the last five years, we’ve seen some incredible transitions in humanity and the role that empathy plays in our lives as humans as well as compassion. It’s become so violent and so aggressive on so many levels and it really scares the shit out of me where we’re headed,” says the singer. "I’ve only been on this planet 52 years but I’ve never experienced this kind of mayhem, craziness, anger, frustration, bitterness, fear.”

The title comes from looking at the wolf mentality and applying it to our current day chaos. “The lone wolf or injured wolf is more dangerous than a pack of wolves which is a strange thing to say but a pack works together and a pack works toward what they need and they don’t take more than they need and they live somewhat harmoniously in that environment,” says Martin. “This record has songs that talk about that, that deal with empathy and compassion and there’s songs on this record that deal with great frustration, great anger, darkness, fear, anxiety and all those types of things. I’ve said that this record is somewhat bipolar in the sense that it has manic highs and manic lows and it has that happy, normal if you will, middle space that finds its way into your life at times when you have those crazy moments, but music is the all-time healer.”

“It’s my hope that somehow we have another Bob Marley. It feels like the world needs another Bob Marley, just somebody that says, 'Listen, it’s all going to be alright. We can get through this but we have to love one another. We have to find peace.' The anger over masks and vaccines and Covid and Trump and Biden and she’s an idiot, he’s an asshole, I’m not a fucking scientist or a doctor or a politician, I have my opinions, but most importantly I’m a human and I try to be a good human and I want to show respect and love to everyone who crosses my path but it’s real hard right now. It’s really really hard right now and I don’t know how we’re going to get out of it. But long story short, that’s what Wolves means."

The album, which also includes the standouts "Let Me Down Easy," "My Weakness" and "Lost Angeline," will be arriving later this week.

Thanks to Candlebox's Kevin Martin for the interview. The 'Wolves' album is set to arrive Sept. 17 via Pavement Entertainment and can be pre-ordered here. The group is also returning to the road this week, kicking off a lengthy run Sept. 14 in McKees Rocks, Pa. See all their dates and get ticketing info here.

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