photos by Seth Grant

Jacob Davis Martin | Musician

The Family Musician Finds His Pocket

A ZEST Feature for The Peel Literature and Arts Review

A Harmony electric guitar from the 1960’s sits in the corner of Jacob Davis Martin’s bedroom. Harmony guitars were mass-produced for Sears, Roebuck and Co. to show eager young boys that anyone with a catalog could be the next Chuck Berry. Their simple construction creates a distinctly wild and thin (if not cheap) sound that harkens back to an age when rock ‘n’ roll was in. This specific Harmony guitar happens to be the one on which Jacob first learned to make music, and it belonged to his dad, Andrew.

“There’s a sense of placelessness that comes when you grow up without any roots -- when tradition is being stripped away.”

Jacob Davis Martin’s roots are deeply planted in his family’s chicken farm in Cumming, Georgia. Andrew Martin grew up on the farm, as did Jacob. Roughly half an hour north of Atlanta, both generations have watched more and more trees give way to strip malls in all directions of their community. Still, the chicken farm remains. The idea of holding fast to one’s roots in an ever-changing environment is one that Jacob firmly applies to his songwriting.

Growing up, Jacob was inspired by Jack Johnson and singer-songwriters of the 60s and 70s such as Jim Croce and Cat Stevens. Their intricate fingerpicking styles, lush arrangements, and ability to seamlessly blend hope and joy with hopelessness and hurt spoke to him in ways no other style could. Jacob’s strong familial ties and the gentrification he’s seen within his once-rural community, combined with his love for singer-songwriters, has led to him write songs that he categorizes as rootsy folk-pop with a sense of “suburban angst.” He wrote his song “Student Loans” for his girlfriend as a message of encouragement in the midst of a long-distance relationship and a trying job.

“It seems like you can’t win there/ But just hang in there/ Your stupid job can never stop/ Your stupid college boyfriend from his dream.”

Self-deprecatory to the nth degree, these lines are a dreamer’s attack on the overwhelming nature of the mundane struggles of everyday life. They acknowledge that dreams are often longshots, while simultaneously reveling in the challenge. Like many of his songs, “Student Loans” is deeply personal and deeply planted in the writer’s roots. To Jacob, the only way to write honestly is to write personally.

“When all you’re doing is focusing on a theme, it can come across as forced. It should connect to something very personal to you.”

When asked how his writing process has evolved, Jacob is quick to confess that the process itself has remained fairly consistent.

I don’t think I’ve strayed too far from when I first started writing songs. I’ve just found that over time, I’ve been able to express more genuine and earnest things in a more compelling manner.”

Typically, a new song begins as a melody and a line that resonates with him. He then tasks himself with finding out why it resonates.

“Family Musician,” the title track to his upcoming EP, details the journey of a beloved family tramp -- a man who shares his love for music with his loved ones, but must ultimately journey alone.

The opening lines, “God your eyes look young/ Younger than your bearded face would care to say/ Your mom wants you to shave it/ Your dad just wants your ass to get a job” were inspired by a picture he happened upon while mindlessly scrolling through Instagram during class.

“In recognizing that this image of an older man with youthful eyes resonated with me so powerfully, I then had to figure out what about it was so meaningful to me.”

Jacob was reminded of his mother’s recently deceased cousin, Larry Davis, who was an active songwriter himself. Davis often delighted his family by performing his material at various gatherings. In uniting a compelling image with a truly personal aspect of his own life, Jacob found direction for the song. The song’s anthemic chorus details the titular hero’s journey and gung-ho attitude:

“You bought an old guitar because it’s cheaper than tuition/ Hollowed out the car except the manual transmission/ You come around for every wedding and funeral to sing the hymns and/ You’re proud of your position as the family musician.”

The song adds respect to an unconventional lifestyle. The Family Musician can’t stay put, and is instead proud to be a traveler who brings joy with each fleeting visit. Instead of being regarded as a hobby, “Musician” is made a title. Naturally, parallels between the hero and the writer himself can be made. Thus, after the Family Musician comes to an untimely death, the speaker picks up the mantle and declares with pride:

“I’m proud of my position/ As the Family Musician.”

True to the song’s speaker, Jacob recorded one of Davis’ songs as a tribute to the late Family Musician.

Likening himself to an old prospector, Jacob states that writing songs is all about finding a nugget, and then digging for the rest.

“You have to find that pocket. You dig, you draw up a plot, and then eventually they all meet up.”

Jacob Davis Martin has been digging since the eighth grade, and his ever-growing catalog shows that each nugget gets bigger and bigger. Unconventional as it may be, Jacob Davis Martin is proud, even grateful, of his position.

By Chris McGinnis