Ten Years After: Fast Heart Mart

"People often ask me, 'If you are trying to be a professional musician, why would you live in Albuquerque, New Mexico? Why not L.A. or Portland?' I just tell them, 'Because it’s cheap and sunny!' " —Fast Heart Mart

Rip Williams

On the crest of his current popularity as Best Of Burque reader's poll winner in the categories Best Singer/Songwriter, Best Busker and runner-up for Best Folk/Americana/ Country Band, and with the Weekly Alibi staff including his latest self-recorded CD Cheap & Sunny in the Top 10 Releases of 2008, Fast Heart Mart remarks, "It's pretty nice. It's a little embarrassing. I feel appreciative of everyone who likes my music enough to vote for me.”

“At the same time,” he says, “I wanna make it clear that I am not like a football player or a professional athlete or something. The reason I got into this was not to be the best. There is no ‘better’ or ‘best’ in art ... it's an expression."

As Fast Heart Mart happily hollers to a small crowd Downtown at Fourth and Central on a Thursday at noon, the wind is blowing dollars out of his tip basket—always primed with $2 bills, $1000,000 counterfeits and New Zealand coins to hold them all down. The street is where most of us hear his songs for the first time. Blending comedy and candor, his lyrics live comfortably in strong melodies, quirky timing and a stripped down acoustic instrumentation. They challenge you to quit your job, and to dream a world with no cops and no laws. To believe that the Apocalypse will be a joyous time. "For those of us who like campfires," he qualifies.

If you've been paying attention, you've heard the story about the inherited heart defect which spawned his name; his several deaths from this condition, and the device, subsequently implanted in his chest, which shocks him back to life. That's on the surface. The deeper story goes back to 1999, when 22-year-old, Virginia-born environmentalist Martin Stamper followed his now ex-wife to New Mexico for the first time —temporarily. The marriage didn't last, but his love affair with the Dirt City persisted for a decade.

This article is a tribute to this quintessential Albuquerque landmark, and my best friend.

Before Fast Heart Mart's first CD Heart And Soul in Y2K came an unpretentious cassette, The Songs Of Martin B. Then in 2001, the even more rare Celibacy Is The Ultimate Rebellion. But in between was an improvised project called Pissed Off Preschoolers, which included singer/ songwriter Eric Berglund. The Austin transplant remembers their collaboration:

We would go to a music practice room at UNM, set up the 4-track and then improv for an hour straight. One time we played after hours with the lights off, and the cleaning crew cracked open the door, got freaked out and left.

We started singing, “We freaked them out,” and Martin came up with some great demented guitar riffs that he looped with his sampler. It was one of those moments where we got totally lost in an improv trance, and it was quite exciting.

Martin is such a spontaneous live performer. He relates to the audience in a very personal way and draws them into the song's world. I've never seen him play a song the same way twice—he keeps you on your toes. He's definitely a great storyteller.

Each Fast Heart Mart CD boasts a different backing band, and he has earned a reputation for "grooming" some of Albuquerque's most renowned players—bestowing upon them what has come to be known as "The Fast Heart Mart Pedigree." One such member is drummer extraordinaire Murdock O'Mooney (Into The Quick, Leah Black, of god and science), who sent this message from South Korea:

What can I say about Fast Heart Mart? Martin rocks like a one legged hooker, is as sensitive as a beetle and as rigid as a rock. Playing in bands with him since 2002 has been nothing short of a privilege and an honor. Overall my time knowing my dear friend Martin Stamper has been one of great joy and fulfillment. Although, there was that one time when he broke up our band and I wanted to burn him alive while he sat scorched and helpless in the passenger seat of his Subaru Forester. But time heals and motivations become clear with reconciliations. I have developed musically and otherwise as a result of gaining insights into his wacky world of tricked out VW's, various viscous variables, and guitars and songs. I look forward to another ten years of rocking from the Fast Heart Mart, and hope to be privileged enough to be behind the kit for a few of those years, or at least a few of those shows.

Since his arrival in Tamalewood, he has released six rule-breaking CDs under his own name and two more with his olde-tyme string band Hobos In Limbo. (Also the title of his second CD from Little Kiss Records). Hobos banjo man Kevin Jones (additionally known for his work with Saltine Ramblers and Sharon Gilchrist) had this to say:

Playing with Martin has always given me a sense of achievement as a musician. We listen to each other and the interplay is wonderful. He is always open to new ideas and musical exploration. The fit has always been natural, and we just flow off of each other. It is always nice to know that Martin and I were early trailblazers in this Americana/bluegrass/country thing in Albuquerque. We were playing 100 year old songs before they became "cool" again.

Martin is a true professional and I always savor the opportunity to do a show with him. The evolution of Fast Heart Mart is amazing too! He continues to reinvent himself and the live shows never cease to amaze me.

As for me, his sidekick for the last six years, I wanted to write this article because Fast Heart Mart has had a profound effect on the direction of my life. When I first saw him live at The Launchpad in 2002, I had been out of the music business for five years. Sick of the schlock that was coming out and sick of the sheisters that it attracted, I had been living in the Gila down South and managing a horse rescue. That cold December night, I only heard four of Martin's songs and he made me care again. I realized he was the real deal. As I discovered Martin more and more, I was moved by his humble sincerity. I decided to use my 30 years’ experience in the industry to get this kid a break—yet wondering if helping him achieve fame would be doing such a sensitive person any favors.

Luckily, or not, he hired me to manage, book and publicize the act as well as backing him musically. While avoiding fame, we have still been able to make a living with music because we always stayed fiercely indie: Making everything ourselves, and (with the help of our friends and family) living a minimalist lifestyle, reusing materials, running the tour van on veggie oil while going on the road 6-8 months a year. Martin's vision was always to think small. We played intimate shows. We turned down our amplifiers so the audience could talk. We even passed on recording contracts, preferring the freedom we had to visit a town for a week or two at a time—getting to know the places and people—instead of playing a month of faceless one-nighters just to make a label rich.

Despite vagrancy laws and sporadic police harassment for busking, in 2005, Fast Heart Mart began touring the US in earnest. Like any indie artist making a living, he has been required to wear many hats. Out of necessity and with much help and guidance, he became a competent VW diesel mechanic, perfecting the conversion of his Vanagon to run on waste vegetable oil. He also learned to be a recording engineer, producer, CD manufacturer, videographer, woodworker, guitar tech, drummer, electrician and finally ... sprout farmer!

"Because it’s fun to grow your own food! But on the road you can't really do that, but you can grow sprouts," he explains in the Tucson installment of his must-see weekly tour vlog: fhmtourvideos.blogspot.com.

Also in 2005, he was the subject of an independently produced documentary entitled Arrhythmia from local videographer and musician Rob Nakai (Holiday Sail) who found inspiration in Fast Heart Mart's do-it-yourself ethos. Still, Martin made time to play drums for the short-lived and much-talked-about Mother Engine, lead by Santa Fe singer/songwriter Damian Taggart:

I recall seeing Fast Heart Mart at the Spring Crawl one year: In that moment I realized I was totally a "fan" in the same way that you are for any great musician, not just because he was local or we were friends. Martin's song writing has always melded the things I love about the Americana/folk tradition with a subtle dose of angst. I really look up to Martin for following his heart and eschewing the other possible paths and material entrapments that we all have to contend with - instead, he has always chosen to focus on his artistic vision as a primary motivator.

As a producer and recording engineer, he has attracted interest from a variety of local acoustic acts, some of which appear on his record label Mutant Mariachi Productions. Besides his own bands, he has recorded Choke Cherry Ranch, Carlosaur, Whispering Doug Parker, Saltine Ramblers, Young Edward and Evernorm (aka: Norm Everette). Norm writes:

Time flies when your having fun. Ten years ago I was sitting in a small recording studio in a single wide trailer, in a seedy trailer park, in the “War Zone” of the Heights of Albuquerque, up by the New Mexico State Fair Grounds busy laying down some bass guitar tracks on one of Martin’s first albums, and it seems like just yesterday. I remember a whole lot of gigs over the years that I either witnessed or sat in on, both with Fast Heart Mart and the bluegrass configuration of the Hobos In Limbo. My favorite thing to join in on has always been the song, “New Mexico” where I get to sing like a space alien, just because I can, I guess. ... we must have been having fun because time sure has flown.

In 2006, Martin began experiencing recurring symptoms of an illness that has worsened with time. On his CD An Orange Album, he calls the excruciating pain in his chest "acid reflux" and sings a demonic ode from his gurgling stomach's point of view. The end of that year saw him touring New Zealand and playing North and South Islands and even the ferry between the two.

In 2008, it was diagnosed as pleurisy. The pain increases from singing and blowing his harmonicas. It is accompanied by fever and exhaustion. He pushed onward. He headlined the world's premiere sustainability event SOLFEST in Northern California and barely made it through his rigorous tour schedule.

By 2009, the episodes increased from twice a year to every other month. After CAT scans and X-rays and tests and medicines, he is left knowing less about his problem than before. The pleurisy diagnosis was refuted. He’s pulled back from touring and contemplates his fate as a musician and a functional member of society.

Touring is his livelihood, and he has traveled as far as New Zealand playing his own brand of "Sidewalk Rock," gaining much respect from his peers for his talents but also for his support, encouragement and etiquette. It upsets Fast Heart Mart to no end when a band plays their set and then leaves instead of watching the bands that follow ... or when the touring band is stuck in the opening slot of a four band bill with no chance for a crowd, or when a show is advertised for a particular time but there is no attempt to stick to that schedule, disrespecting the audience. He only half jokes about setting up an etiquette website, and even coaches hecklers on their manners, advising them, "Never yell the same thing more than once—or folks will think that you’re drunk."

Jeremy Fine (of god and science, Detach Records, KOB News):

It started at the beloved Blue Dragon Coffee House and those stellar Open Mic nights (R.I.P.). Matt Dominguez and I were just us calling ourselves "of god and science." We had no drummer, no lead guitar, my flat backup vocals, and only a handful of clever ideas. We did a duo set with just acoustic guitar and my bass. We sucked ... and Martin walked up to us one day after our 3-song set to tell us he was into what we were doing.

I think I threw up after that set. So technically I think he was our first fan. He is an awesome friend that has stuck with us from the beginning. I've always admired his funky tuning while playing trick. His style is like no other on this planet. And I will always be inspired by him. Albuquerque is a cooler city with Fast Heart Mart on the streets.

Darrell Sparks (Selsun Blue, Rivet Gang, Handsome Family):

Oddly, I met Mart the day after George Harrison, the Beatle, died. I was walking around UNM near the SUB and I heard someone playing Beatles' songs. It was a kid wearing a stocking cap and playing harmonica and guitar. Was it "Across the Universe?" I threw a dollar or two in his guitar case and said, "Hey, this is a cool thing," and we ... agreed, “Yeah, too bad about George, eh?” His tribute was a nice surprise walking through the campus.

Whether Fast Heart Mart will beat his mystery illness—the way he returned from the dead the times after his fast heart gave out—remains to be seen. But last month, when his father entered the hospital for a stroke and his sister lost her home to a fire, the decision about whether or not to return home to Virginia became immanent. Plans were made, shows were canceled and a ripple of unrest surged through the music community. A farewell show was staged at 4th and Central and everyone was notified of Martin's departure. But in the nick of time, his father's prognosis brightened, and Fast Heart Mart's farewell street performance was turned into a tenth anniversary celebration and music video shoot for the song ‘Cheap And Sunny”!

Martin is still on yellow alert for his father's health as well as his own, but if he does eventually leave, fans can be comforted knowing that he will always be writing songs and recording them—even if he doesn't tour. There will be another documentary forthcoming, and Martin still has a strong interest in film scoring and soundtracks, so his work is far from over. But we all came to realize how much we would miss the happy surprise of his harmonica wafting on the breeze as we round a street corner.

Reigning goth-country king and queen The Handsome Family have always been our guiding lights through the crazy romp we've taken through the music biz. Their dignity and authenticity is hard won and rarely matched in this unreal game. I will close this little tribute with their words:

Rennie And Brett Sparks (The Handsome Family):

We love Martin's songs. Totally original. A beautiful mix of punk rock and folk and his own perspective on things. He has one of the few bands we know that work hard enough to make it. Most people just don't put in the effort. We really admire how he has been able to tour and make music without compromising his beliefs. We both believe that Fast Heart Mart will be around making music for a long time. Martin has done so much, written so many songs and is still so young and lots of great work ahead of him. Here's to another ten years.

I'll drink to that.

~RC

Discography

The Songs Of Martin B.

Heart And Soul —Fast Heart Mart

Pissed Off Preschoolers

Celibacy is the Ultimate Rebellion —Fast Heart Mart

Hobos In Limbo —Fast Heart Mart (Little Kiss Records)

The Movie Theater —Fast Heart Mart (Poop Pissin' Records)

On The Porch —Hobos In Limbo (Mutant Mariachi Records)

X-Mas Demo —Hobos In Limbo (Mutant Mariachi Records)

The Red Record —Fast Heart Mart And The Sidewalkers (Mutant Mariachi Records)

An Orange Album —Fast Heart Mart (Mutant Mariachi Records)

Cheap And Sunny —Fast Heart Mart (Mutant Mariachi Records)