Barrett Martin

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Barrett Martin
Barrett martin.jpg
Background information
Born (1967-04-14) April 14, 1967 (age 54)
Origin Seattle, Washington, US
Occupation(s) Musician, Producer, Writer
Instruments Drums, Percussion, Upright Bass, Guitar, Vibraphone, Marimba, Piano
Years active 1987–present
Labels Columbia, Cruz, Epic, Sunyata
Associated acts Barrett Martin Group, Levee Walkers, Mad Season, Queens of the Stone Age, R.E.M., Screaming Trees, Skin Yard, Tuatara, The Desert Sessions, Walking Papers

Barrett Martin (born April 14, 1967) is an American drummer, composer, producer, award-winning 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 100 albums to date. In 2014, he was awarded the ASCAP Deems Taylor award for excellence in writing for his liner notes in the Mad Season Deluxe Reissue. 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 hi-hat 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). His master's degree field project involved fieldwork with the indigenous Shipibo people of the Upper Peruvian Amazon, where he recorded and documented dozens of Shipibo curing songs, which became the film and CD, Woven Songs Of The Amazon.

Living in Seattle in the late 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 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.

In 2004 he released his first solo album as the Barrett Martin Group titled, The Painted Desert, and in 2006 he followed up with a second album, Earthspeaker. A third solo album, Zenga, was released in 2009, followed by the albums Atlas (2011) and Artifact (2012).

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 2016, he also worked with Brazilian singer Nando Reis, playing on most of Nando's studio albums, and touring much of Brazil in the process. In January 2016, Martin produced and played drums on the newest album for Nando Reis, to be released in the fall of 2016.

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 2010 Martin started his own imprint label and book publishing company titled Sunyata Records & Books. The label has released over 20 albums to date, most of which were produced by Martin.

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

On August 2, 2011, Screaming Trees, released their final album titled, Last Words: The Final Recordings. The album was produced by Martin and was mixed by Jack Endino. It was released worldwide on Martin's independent label, Sunyata Records, however there are no plans for a band reunion or any shows at this time.

In 2012, Barrett formed a new Seattle, Washington group named Walking Papers. The band included Seattle musician Jeff Angell (The Missionary Position, Post Stardom Depression) and also included bassist Duff McKagan (Guns & Roses, Velvet Revolver), and keyboardist Benjamin Anderson. The band released its self-titled debut album on Martin's Sunyata Records in the summer of 2012. Guitar solos on two of the album's songs were provided by Mike McCready (Pearl Jam, Mad Season). The album was co-produced by Martin and Angell and was engineered by Catherine Ferrante at Avast Studios in Seattle, and mixed by Jack Endino at Soundhouse in Seattle. The band toured extensively between 2012 and 2014, doing multiple tours of Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. The band recorded a second album in 2014, which has not yet been released due to Duff McKagan's touring schedule with the reunited Guns & Roses.

In April 2016, Martin announced the formation of a new group with Duff McKagan and Mike McCready titled Levee Walkers. The premise of the band is to record 2-song singles with various singers around the world who sing in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. The band's Facebook page confirms songs recorded with the British singer Jaz Coleman, the Puerto Rican singer Raquel Sofia, the Brazilian singer Nando Reis, Canadian singer Danko Jones, and Seattle singer Ayron Jones. The band has not announced any touring plans at this time.

With the ongoing hiatus of Walking Papers and the formation of Levee Walkers as a studio project, Martin has focused his energies as a producer for other bands and solo artists around the world. Recently, he produced albums for the Welsh band Buffalo Summer Second Sun (2016), Nando Reis (2016), delta blues legend CeDell Davis' Even The Devil Gets The Blues (2016), Tuatara's "Shamanic Nights, Live In The City (2016), and Seattle singer-guitarist Ayron Jones (2016).

As of 2013, Martin is also writing a music and culture blog for The Huffington Post, where he posts essays about his travels and observations around the world.

Involvement with Mark Eitzel

Martin, as part of Peter Buck's Tuatara, performed drums, acoustic bass, marimba, vibraphone, tabla, congas and tambourine on Mark Eitzel's 1997 album West, co-written with Buck.