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Barrett Martin

Barrett Martin (born April 14, 1967) is an American drummer, upright bassist, composer, producer, writer, and Zen artist. He was the drummer for the Seattle, Washington groups Skin Yard and Screaming Trees, as well as the supergroups Mad Season and Tuatara. A multi-instrumentalist and producer, he does recording session work in Seattle and Los Angeles and has played on, or produced, over 75 albums to date. He is primarily known for his powerful tribal drumming style, which includes the use of the tom toms as a rhythmic component that replaces the traditional hihat and ride cymbal. He credits the jazz drummers Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Elvin Jones for inspiring this approach to his drumming style, as well as the rock drummers John Bonham, Keith Moon, and Neil Peart. He has also stated that the heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali inspired his drumming at a young age, saying, "Ali was so incredibly fast on his feet, and his hands were both light and heavy at the same time. Float like a butterfly, sting like bee, that's the way a great drummer should play – light and heavy, the way Ali boxed." Martin has been featured on dozens of albums and several film soundtracks, and notable collaborations include work with REM guitarist Peter Buck, Iraqi master musician Rahim Alhaj, West African Griot and master musician Foday Musa Suso, delta bluesman CeDell Davis, Rumi scholar and poet Coleman Barks, and Native American poet and songwriter Joy Harjo. The PBS short documentary on Barrett's drumming and Zenga painting, titled "Zenga and the Art of Percussion", won a 2009 Emmy in the New Media Arts category.


Martin was born and grew up in Olympia, Washington, and studied jazz and classical music theory at Western Washington University in the mid-1980s. After dropping out of college to play music professionally, he later completed both his bachelor's and master's degrees in anthropology, linguistics, and ethnomusicology at the University of New Mexico, graduating summa cum laude (highest honors). Living in Seattle in the mid 1980s, Martin was witness to the early music scene there, joining grunge pioneers Skin Yard in 1990, and making two albums with the band, 1000 Smiling Knuckles (1991) and Inside the Eye (1993). When Skin Yard broke up, Martin was asked to fill the recently vacated drum seat in another seminal Seattle band, Screaming Trees. The Trees went on to make two more studio albums with Martin, Sweet Oblivion (1992) and Dust (1996), before calling it quits in June 2000.

In 1994, Martin formed the supergroup Mad Season with Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, and Chicago blues bassist Baker Saunders. The band released its debut album Above in 1995, playing only a handful of local shows before disbanding.

In 1996, Barrett and Peter Buck of R.E.M. founded the revolving-door music project Tuatara, which has released seven albums to date. In 2004 he released his first solo album as the Barrett Martin Group, The Painted Desert, and in 2006 he followed up with a second album, Earthspeaker. A third solo album, Zenga, was released in June 2009.

In the late 1990s, Martin went on to become a top session musician in Los Angeles, playing drums and percussion on records by R.E.M., Air, Luna, Stone Temple Pilots, Queens of the Stone Age, and singer-songwriters Victoria Williams and Mark Olson.

Aside from his collaborations in various projects as a professional percussionist during and after the dissolution of the Screaming Trees, he has focused his musical endeavors on the study of percussion styles from various cultures around the world, primarily African tribal rhythms and the music of Latin America. The earliest and most apparent influence of tribal techniques in his style can be heard on the 1991 Skin Yard album 1000 Smiling Knuckles and in the opening drum riff of the Screaming Trees' song, Nearly Lost You (as a side note, this drum groove was performed as a loop during Bill Clinton's 1992 inauguration ceremony). It can also be heard on the songs "November Hotel" and "X-ray Mind" during his stint in Mad Season.

His field work in ethnomusicology has included work with Garifuna drummers in Belize, Wolof Griots in Senegal, Ewe drummers in Ghana, Santeria drummers in Cuba, Candomble drummers in Brazil, and the singing Shipibo shamans of the Peruvian Amazon. Between 2000 and 2003, he also worked with Brazilian singer Nando Reis, playing on three of Nando's studio albums, and touring much of Brazil in the process.

In March 2000, Martin was ordained as a Zen monk in the Soto tradition through the Detroit Street Zen Center in Los Angeles. He has been studying the Zenga arts tradition for several years, creating numerous paintings and sculptures as a Zen artist. His first official gallery show was on June 5, 2009 in Portland, Oregon, and his work has been shown in galleries in Seattle, Portland, and Santa Fe, as well as in numerous personal collections.

In 2009, after twelve years of musical study around the world and graduate academic work at the University of New Mexico, Barrett was awarded a master's degree in anthropology, linguistics, and ethnomusicology. He returned to Seattle and professional music once again, playing drums for the all-girl Seattle rock band Visqueen, and playing upright bass with the folk-noir group CoBirds Unite, which features fellow Seattleites Rusty Willoughby and Rachel Flotard.

In 2011 he was appointed adjunct professor of music at Antioch University in Seattle, the famed liberal arts institution. He teaches classes on Indigenous music, music as socio-political commentary, and spiritual expression in music around the world.

On June 21, 2011 his group, The Barrett Martin Group, released their newest album "Atlas", on Barrett's own independent label, Sunyata Records. The band features many of Seattle's top jazz and rock luminaries. "Atlas" is a lengthy 13 song world-jazz-fusion opus co-produced and mixed by longtime friend and Seattle producer Jack Endino.

On August 2, 2011, Barrett's most well-known band, Screaming Trees, will release their final album. Titled "Last Words: The Final Recordings", the album was produced by Trees drummer Barrett Martin in 1998–99 and was mixed by Seattle producer Jack Endino. It will be released worldwide on Barrett's independent label, Sunyata Records, however there are no plans for a band reunion or any shows at this time.

In 2012, Barrett has formed a new Seattle, Washington supergroup named Walking Papers. The band is a blues based rock band formed by Seattle musician Jeff Angell (The Missionary Position, Post Stardom Depression) and Barrett. This debut album features a stellar cast of additional musicians who have each added their unique musical voice to the record: Visceral bass lines by Duff McKagan (Guns & Roses, Velvet Revolver), blistering guitar solos by Mike McCready (Pearl Jam, Mad Season), elegant keyboard stylings by Benjamin Anderson, and soulful horn arrangements from Dave Carter (Trumpet), Dan Spalding (Baritone Sax), and Ed Ulman (Trombone). The album was recorded by Catherine Ferrante at Avast Studios in Seattle, and mixed by Jack Endino at Soundhouse in Seattle. Mastering was done by Chris Hanzsek at Hanzsek Audio. This record will be release in October 2012. Currently, Barrett's official website states they are playing a few live shows in the Seattle area.


Walking Papers
Barrett Martin Group
Skin Yard
Screaming Trees
Mad Season
The Minus 5
Various Others

Film soundtracks

External links

  • Barrett Martin Official
  • MySpace page
  • Tuatara homepage

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