Black Cobra's Rafael Martinez, left, and Jason Landrian, right.
Colombian native and former South Florida resident Rafael Martinez has been involved with some of the most electrifying bands in metal since leaving Miami in the mid '90s to pursue further training and education at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Few will remember his recorded local music ventures like Pointe Blank and Monochrome, but many will recognize him from stints in seminal bands like -(16)- and Acid King. With friend and longtime collaborator Jason Landrian, Martinez has been tearing into the world of heavy music as the two-headed monster known by the name Black Cobra.
With four studio albums and an endlessly hectic touring schedule that has taken them all over Europe, North America, Australia, and Asia, Black Cobra shows no signs of slowing down. Sharing the stage for the first time with locals Holly Hunt and Shroud Eater, the band's Basel-related engagement at Gramps this Sunday will be a welcome respite from the overbloated fiasco of the fairs and a real treat for local metalheads.
We here at Crossfade had a chance to catch up with Rafa and this is how it went.
County Grind: I have always thought of you first and foremost as a guitarist. However, you've gone on to take part in established acts like Gammera, -(16)- and Acid King, where the guitar wasn't exactly you did. Now you drum in Black Cobra with Cavity's Jason Landrian on guitar. Tell us about the creative process in the band and how you guys assemble your songs.
Rafael Martinez: Well, as you pointed out, I've had the opportunity of playing guitar, bass, and drums in different bands since I first began my musical journey about 25 years ago. So I'm always playing different instruments at home and writing music that we later transform into ideas that fit Black Cobra. We also record a lot in the practice space and build kind of an archive of ideas. We then go through all of it and start working on pieces that we like. Sometimes songs will happen more spontaneously on the spot and others we'll spend more time on, working out more complex structures.
In the beginning, you guys lived on opposite coasts, tell us how that worked then, logistically and artistically and how it has changed over the years with you guys living closer now.
When Jason was living in New York back in 2003, I was still in Los Angeles playing bass with -(16)- and Acid King. So on down time from tours, I would record ideas in my studio in North Hollywood. I would mail him CDs of what I had put down on tape and we would listen to the recordings over the phone and talk about how we wanted to develop certain songs. We didn't have any kind of schedule, so we had no pressure of finishing songs by a certain date. Sometimes we would start a song and wouldn't get back to it for months. It was a very interesting process not playing in front of each other all the time. I went to NY a couple times and we managed to get a lot of ideas recorded that ended up on the first album.
Now that we've been living in the same city for a while, we've worked a lot on band chemistry and playing a lot together has enabled us to explore more dynamics. We've done over seven hundred shows now, and playing live is one of the best things a band can do to hone in your sound. Christ, I remember during the Chronomega world tour, we did 180 shows in ten months. We had the songs down solid by the end of that trek.
I want to talk about aesthetics for a bit. When you guys released the seven-inch in 2004, it was an attractive product. I've noticed that your releases since, specifically the four full-length albums, all have very distinct looks. From the deep-sea mysteries of Bestial, through the sepia-tinged goggles of Feather and Stone, the day-glo volcano of Chronomega to the wintry hell of Invernal... How do you guys choose the look for each release and what can we expect for the next one?
We've always had an affinity towards forces of nature and the like when it comes to visuals. Art always comes after the music. Jason was responsible for the look of the first EP as well as the first two albums. Alan Forbes had done some t-shirts and posters for us, and he expressed interest in doing our third record, so we went with him for the third record, which looked great. He basically did a different painting for each song and he nailed exactly what we were looking for.
For Invernal, we hired artist Sam Ford. He plays drums in the band Wizard Rifle. We had done a show up in Portland with them and his roommate is an old friend of mine, Nate Carson, who runs Nanotear booking. We were crashing at their house and Sam had been working on a cover for Thrones. He was maybe halfway done with it, but we were really impressed at what he had, so we kept him in mind.
When we were writing for the record, we were writing songs about a nuclear winter in Antarctica. The whole thing had started from reading about Ernest Shackleton and his rough journeys to Antarctica. That sort of mutated into a nuclear war breaking out, where there were mutants and petrified flora all over. That's what we told him it was about, and after he stopped laughing and realized we were serious, he started to work on it and came up with a monolithic structure that appears on the cover. He did a great job on the whole thing.
The next album is top secret. So I legally can't tell you anything about it.