Whether you were there when The Motels first burst onto the music scene in the early '80s or are just rediscovering them again, it's hard to deny that singer Martha Davis is one of MTVs first leading ladies and one of the most charismatic female performers in rock.
The 1980s are back in full swing as Talking Stick Resort plays host Wednesday to the co-headling tour The Go Go's and Martha Davis & The Motels Replay America. The two bands will perform their repertoire of hits and summon a night of new wave nostalgia.
The Motels recorded six records for Capitol, starting with their self-titled debut in 1979. Three years later their album "All Four One" and the smash single, "Only The Lonely" propelled them to the Top 10 and gold record status. They followed that effort in 1983 with "Little Robbers" as well as another Top 10 single, "Suddenly Last Summer."
In 1988 Davis took a sabbatical from the music scene after The Motels broke up. Davis rebooted the group several times but in 2013 she signed with manager Greg Sims of Vesuvio Entertainment and is as busy as she was three decades ago.
Davis spoke exclusively to Get Out about the dawn of MTV, her longtime friendship with the Go Go's and new music on the horizon.
Q: I was surprised to learn that the first incarnation of The Motels dates to 1971 in Berkeley and you didn't break it big until about a decade later... that's some serious dues paying.
MD: I feel the same way. Not that I think people should be put through undue punishment but today's music scene and the scene of the past are are polar opposites. Back then you learned the instrument, learned how to sing, brought your way up through the club scene and if you were good enough, then you got signed by a label. Today you can make your own music in your bedroom on a laptop, put it out on the Internet and do all sorts of social media to promote it and let that do the traveling for you. But there's really no replacement for that kind of activity and experience. It was hard and it was a struggle but I think it's also important. There were some miserable gigs in the early days but at the end of it, I still wanted to do it so bad. I know that a lot of baby bands do travel, but I'm not sure that it's quite the same as it used to be.
Q: The band moved to Los Angeles in 1975, which was dominated with acts like The Eagles, Poco, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Linda Ronstadt. It doesn't sound like you fit in.
MD: No, we didn't. The Motels thought we were going to take LA by storm because we had this Berkeley/San Francisco cred. It was a big investment of our time and resources and we probably should have done a little more research before we left. We get down to LA and there's only three rock and roll clubs to play – the Whisky, the Roxy and the Starwood – and you couldn't play any of them unless you had an album deal. That kind of put a crimp in the plan. So what we ended up doing was putting together a live show called 'Radio Free Hollywood,' which featured three acts. We sold our own tickets, put up flyers, rented a cop, bought a couple kegs of beer and rented Trooper's Hall, and it turned out to be quite a success. Shortly thereafter, the Whisky, the Roxy and the Starwood started asking us to play at their clubs. Coincidental?
Q: On Wednesday you'll be co-headlining with The Go-Go's, whom you actually have history with dating back to the 1970s. How strong is that bond?
MD: I've gotta say this tour has been so much fun and I love those girls so much. We've never really had a chance to hang out like this before. Back in the 1970s, we were young and even though we were cordial, we were so self-involved and insecure, and there's this protective wall that comes up. Now that we're older, we just love to be hilarious. We're having so much fun. I love them so much. The place where we shared a rehearsal space with the Go-Go's in the 1970s--we had a little room and they were looking for a place and we were short on funds, so they scooted their equipment on one end of the space and ours was on the other. We shared microphones and I remember some of them were lowered down and had this deep glow lipstick on it. The Motels got signed before the Go-Go's and they got excited for us and said, 'Well, maybe if we move our stuff to your side of the room we'll get signed, too!' And they did get signed and boy did they take off.
Q: We can't talk about The Motels without talking about MTV. “Only The Lonely” and “Suddenly Last Summer” were in constant rotation in the early days of the network. What credit do you give MTV for the explosion of The Motels?
MD: I think there was an explosion going on across the board with lots of bands and MTV at that time. Before MTV, we arrived in LA and the whole polished California rock was happening with The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt and our ship was kind of quirky. Then punk came in during the late 1970s, but we were a little too melodic for punk. So when MTV and new wave crashed upon the [scene] did we find a way to fit in. The beauty of the music of the 1980s is that no two bands ever wanted to sound like the other. Everybody had a very individualistic sound and it created this wonderful frenzy of sound and creativity. It was a really glorious explosion of art and MTV coinciding with this evolution in music helped everyone.
Q: By the late 1980s, it seems as if you had just dropped out of the music scene altogether?
MD: I did. At that time I was so far from where I originally wanted to be and the record company had changed so much. We had gone from the team that we originally started with to a group of people we no longer recognized. It frustrated me and then The Motels broke up and I ended up doing a solo album. I ended up being exhausted and not being artistically fulfilled and I just stopped. So here I am again and still doing it with a wonderful new band and they're amazing musicians.
Q: I get the idea that perhaps the first flush of fame had this frenetic pace to it and that you're enjoying yourself this time around.
MD: You're absolutely right because I really haven't had a good partner in this crime until my new manager, Greg Sims. He's managed me for the past few years and things have been fantastic. I can't explain to you how rare and how beautiful that is. He's so proactive and makes things happen. All of these years I've had this career and he's completely changing things. We're touring, recording, doing social media. These days you have to become virtual in order to become real. The Motels have recorded 18 new songs and I'm excited about it. I would like to see it come out by the end of this year but I'm not sure if that's going to be possible. There's packaging and artwork and release dates. Probably better to say 2015.
Q: For someone who's never seen The Motels live, what can they expect?
MD: They're going to see an absolutely fantastic band. They'll see Marty Jourard from the old Motels playing sax. They're going to hear all the old songs and a couple of new ones. Mostly they're going to see a very happy band play real music.
If you go:
What: The Go Gos and Martha Davis & The Motels Replay America!
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 23
Where: Talking Stick Resort, 9800 E. Indian Bend Road
Cost: $50 to $150
Information: 480-850-7734 or www.talkingstickresort.com
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