Their name suggests pinpointing a specific man in a lineup of many, and you can set the band apart from the rest of their peers in the same way. Although they’re only a duo, two smooth harmonizers are all they need. Instead of dividing duties among several members, Joseph Scott and David Martin equally contribute vocals and sounds.
“In terms of who plays what, since there’s only two of us David’s the principal song writer so he does most of the guitar work and the lead vocals,” Scott said.
Their friendship has survived the test of time – 14 years to be exact – but Scott and Martin have only been making music together for four years. Before signing with their current record label Jumberlack Media one year ago, they independently released their EP Help Me, I’m On Fire in 2006.
Their first major album was recently released on Jumberlack, entitled An Army Life, which they recorded in a year and a half. It will have two separate releases, including the physical release which was celebrated with a show at Scene Metrospace in East Lansing on January 26. The digital release will come sometime after that. Scott and Martin also have a 7″ CD in progress.
Country music of the 1970s and ’80s influences Martin’s styles, and it comes through clearly in sections of the music. A hint of a banjo can be heard in the record “For the Learned” from their An Army Life album. The vocals are soft and the old country undertone is definitely present in the easy flow of the guitar and (subtle) drums. “I’m sort of a sucker for cheesy ’80s country,” Martin said.
While most of their days are consumed with music, free time and time for outside activities is important. Video games are one good way to relieve stress. Scott is working on a doctorate in economics from MSU and David is currently a fine arts major at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit.
Although both Scott and Martin have gone through college, most of their spare time goes to music. Scott is currently part of another band by the name of Canada, which released its EP around the same time as Help Me, I’m On Fire was released. “It just kind of worked out, because right around the time that our EP came out Canada’s EP came out. We’ve kind of just existed in spurts,” Martin said.
Canada has more touring experience than That’s Him! That’s The Guy! (TH! TTG! has only done two official tours), but Scott and Martin aren’t shy when it comes to live performances. “We have a thing where, generally speaking, whenever we walk into a show it’s inevitable that somebody will point at one or both of us and say ‘that’s him, that’s the guy’,” Martin said.
No one said that at the CD release show on January 26, but their performance awed the audience anyway. Scott and Martin are incredibly in sync on stage, and it’s clear they don’t need any other members to bring the music to life. The number “Polish Lancers,” which can be previewed on MySpace, hypnotized the entire crowd and the melody was blended with smooth vocals and beats.
“They tackle some pretty serious issues for what might be called pop music or indie pop. They’re talking about like, divorce and alcoholism and dysfunctionalism. But not in an angsty way, more in a clear-eyed way,” said Peter Richards, director of Scene Metrospace.
“It sounds like, as personal conflicts they’re moving forward and not wallowing,” Richards said. “I think that’s what I like about it, as far as the song writing.”
While Scott started off playing drums (for the opening numbers), during the performance he switched to three different instruments, going from drums to bass and then from bass to acoustic guitar. Martin also switched instruments near the middle of the show, from acoustic guitar to bass. These switches came when Chris Bathgate and members from fellow band Frontier Ruckus joined Scott and Martin on stage. Although the vocals remained with Scott and Martin, the guest musicians knew well the music they were playing.
These are the only people who know as much as Martin and Scott do about their live shows, but they appreciate all the time they have with Scott and Martin, and their music. “That’s Him! That’s the Guy! music is some of the best music to play on mandolin because they always leave me just the right amount of space,” said musician Chris Bathgate, who plays mandolin with That’s Him! That’s the Guy!
“It’s what they’ve been doing lately live; there are some songs that are really, really flowing, some songs will be super choppy,” Bathgate said.
Help from fellow artists is usually sought after from Michigan-based bands, and as a duo TH! TTG! sometimes goes to a rotating line-up for live shows and recording. “If we didn’t record with friends I feel like we’d probably be blacklisted, no one would want to work with us,” Scott said.
They also join other artists on stage and in studio, which creates a unique sense of community among their local peers. “We’re fans of our friends’ bands and our friends are fans of us,” said Martin.
“I really enjoy the sparseness of it; it’s challenging to write a really sparse song. It’s easy to like, fill it up with as much poetry and melody as you can come up with,” Richards said. “Instead of doing that, they spread those ideas out over several songs.”
“They’ve come up with a really nice catalogue of songs. They don’t really have bad songs because of that,” Richards said.
Coasting on the harmony and then slamming a drum or guitar chord to bring the song home is a rock-solid theme in That’s Him! That’s the Guy! music. “It’s almost like I’m playing straight bluegrass. Then you have these sort of quieter moments or louder moments where there’s really open, long, long chords,” Bathgate said.
Although they have help performing and recording from time to time, Scott and Martin don’t see themselves formally adding any other members to the group. “We like how it is now, how we have people who can rotate in and out as the ideal. From the beginning it’s always been kind of a thing where the two of us have just been able to sit down and bounce ideas off of each other,” Martin said.
“If it works it’s because the interplay between the two of us is working, and if it doesn’t work it’s because the two of us or one of us or something didn’t quite click,” Martin said.
“I think that’s probably, in the end, why we’re able to keep working together. If things aren’t going well, there’s kinda just a sense of like, sit down and instead of playing music watch Red Dawn and play Guitar Hero and that’ll sort of calm things down,” Martin said.