How Martin Dwayne Page's Open Mic Quest Led to Japhy's Descent

Martin Dwayne Page in the zone.
Martin Dwayne Page in the zone. Frank C. Photography
In Pound For The Sound, we get technical with local musicians about what gear they use to create their signature style.

Japhy's Descent guitarist Martin Dwayne Page is the consummate professional when it comes to shredding his guitar. He is a software engineer by day and a solo-ripping guitar player by night. He not only plays with Japhy's Descent, but also has his own solo work and is known to regularly sit in with other local acts. A gentleman and class act, he is always well-dressed, looks the part, and most importantly, plays the part.

Born in Florida, Page and his family moved to the Bay Area where he attended both high school and college. He grew up playing in several different types of bands in San Francisco in the 1990s. His first was called The Stick Figures, and it featured his twin brother playing bass.

After a couple of tries with some other groups, Page joined (the) Judybloom, also out of San Francisco. That's when he really learned how to write songs. However, like all great things, his time there ended and he then moved to Phoenix in 1999 to work as a software engineer.

Page didn't get involved in the Tempe music scene until 2005. He started off by going to open mic nights, and the first one he attended was at Yucca Tap Room. He immediately was immersed into the local scene and met Scotty Johnson of Gin Blossoms right off the bat. It was through open mic that he met lead vocalist and guitarist Travis Ryder. (Page notes that Travis' real last name is unknown. Ryder is a stage name of sorts.) And Japhy's Descent in its earliest stages was formed.

Over the years, Page and Travis continued to attend more open mics, and they eventually met the rest of the band's lineup at said open mics. Japhys Descent is playing at Hu's Yucca Tap Room for the "Summer Sizzler" on Friday, July 7, with a killer local lineup featuring some heavy hitters from Tempe. New Times caught up with Page via phone and email to get some details about his love for vintage guitars, songwriting, and his upcoming show.

New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
Martin Dwayne Page:
Crank the mids, baby! Playing with Japhy’s Descent and Travis on rhythm guitar, often inviting other musicians and instruments on stage, and the booming rhythm section of Brian and James, I need a tone that will cut through the mix — regardless of which guitar I use. Back in the days of Long Wongs, we were playing one of our first shows and I had just recently switched to an all-tube Fender amp. While on stage in that tiny corner, Jack Maverik walked over and started adjusting my amp.

Next thing I know, I could really hear the difference between the two guitars without having to increase the volume. I thought to myself, “I better get a picture on my phone with those awesome settings before I forget.” At the end of the set, I looked down and he had turned my bass and treble all the way down to 0 and cranked the mids to 11! That was pretty easy to remember. Of course, the next step was working at home with all my pedals to really take advantage of that tone.

What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
That’s a pretty tough question. It’s definitely the guitars. My favorite is an American Custom 1960s Fender Closet Classic Stratocaster reissue in Daphne Blue. I bought it back in 1999. It’s got a three-way selector switch and stock ‘60s reissue pickups. It really makes you work. But since it’s my favorite and oldest, I rarely take it out to shows. It is the guitar on most of my early work with Japhy’s like our Feedback CD. Another favorite is my simple Vox Pathfinder solid-state amp with 10-inch speaker. This is an awesome amp for low-volume practice and recording with close mics. You can hear both my favorite Strat and amp on our song “Very Small Animal” just released on YouTube.

Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
I picked up my American Custom 1964 Telecaster reissue for my birthday some time ago. My buddy Heli was working at Guitar Center and he got this used guitar in for a trade. It was and still is a butt-ugly Frankenstein green color which Fender smartly discontinued on that model. But it has that cool binding and had some low-output '60s pickups. He immediately put it behind the counter and called me to let me know I should check it out.

I was so excited to head over and play it. But when I saw it with that dark “Ocean Turquoise” finish, I was like, “I don’t know, man.” Heli threw in a case and a classic “ashtray” bridge cover, and assured me that if I didn’t like it, I could bring it back for a refund. Although I replaced the pickups with Fender Noiseless fourth-generation Telecaster pickups, that is probably my best working man’s guitar and it’s been with me ever since. It’s my favorite in the studio for rhythm tracks, and it can take a beating on stage for sure.

click to enlarge Page's collection of toys. - MARTIN DWAYNE PAGE
Page's collection of toys.
Martin Dwayne Page
On the track “Bite Your Lip,” there is a ton of rocking guitar all over place. Heavy, crunchy, and distorted on one end with a strong clean rock tone on the rhythm on this track. And let's not forget the ripping solo that sounds like it's from outer space. How did you go about recording for this track to give it the feel that it has guitar-wise?
I finally picked up a fuzz pedal, the Way Huge Swollen Pickle. I’ve always wanted to try a fuzz pedal effect and quite frankly, I liked the name. I’ve been listening to more Black Keys, Jack Black, and some old R&B soul/funk like Bill Withers, Ray Charles, and the like. I wanted to write a driving song with just a simple funky rock beat. I wrote a full song and brought it to the band to see if they liked it. The intro survived the writing process after the boys heard the whole song, tore it apart, and we took it from there. But it was one of the first tracks we recorded for the Senseless EP and was built on a riff that we all jammed until it turned into a song.

The fuzzy funky rhythms were recorded at STEM studio using the Fuzz pedal and my Fender Deluxe 40-watt tube amp. We actually did very little mic placement because we were just recording the rhythm parts as scratch tracks. But they came out so good, we decided to keep them. For the solo, we were back at Brian’s Oak Street Studios for overdubs. I wanted a quick, simple solo so we could jump right back into the main riff of the song and powerful chorus. We decided we needed a bridge, but didn’t really want additional lyrics, so my solo part was born really to break up the song. This time, we put a mic on my small Fender 15 watt Blues Jr III with a 10-inch speaker and cranked it to really drive the tone. I believe we also used a mic at the back of the room to capture both tones.

Although the rhythm funky track was cut with my Fender Starcaster hollowbody reissue guitar for that deep, warm tone, I went back to the Fender Strat to capture a more hollow tone on the solo and fattened it up with extra echo using the MXR Carbon Copy analog delay pedal. And then added my Vox wah-wah pedal for the sweeping sound on the solo. All said and done, I can’t believe its original inspiration came from old-school funk.

click to enlarge Page's pedal board setup. - MARTIN DWAYNE PAGE
Page's pedal board setup.
Martin Dwayne Page

You had said when playing in SF-based pop band (the) Judybloom that you really finally learned what songwriting was about. Can you expand upon what you mean by this and how that has influenced you as a writer today?

Sure. In my early bands in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had started out with my twin brother, Marshall, on bass. Even though we wrote original songs, it was our first band project and we really wanted to understand this whole “music” thing. The Stick Figures only lasted less than a year and I was out looking for another project. I had been in hard rock and heavier bands in San Francisco, but I wanted something more than speed and lengthy guitar solos.

I met (the) Judybloom through the local trade mag, and they sent me a single on a cassette and I immediately fell in love with the songs. This was around when the Smashing Pumpkins were really taking off and an influence on me. Although (the) Judybloom sounded more like Elvis Costello, I was influenced by the Siamese Dream CD from the Pumpkins and I felt I could bring some aggressive guitar techniques to the band like feedback, long sustains, and help build a bed or layer to the songs.

Working with Ned Leonard, I really experienced the writing process when it came to building the hook. Although Ned wrote all the lyrics, it was my job to come up with that hooky guitar part you wanted to hum along to. It was my first experience with a really cohesive unit where we all focused on the performance of the song versus monster drum solo, crazy guitar antics, and … well, whatever bass players do. Just kidding, Kevin McMullen. And years later, when I returned to playing in a band and working with Travis, James, and Brian, that really is our focus. Sure, we can write the epic jam ballads like “Ballad of Dean” and “Pool Shark” (the latter we are playing Friday), but we want to make sure we focus on the true song as we continue to write music together.

Japhy’s Descent is playing The Summer Sizzler at Hu’s Yucca Tap Room [on Friday, July 7] with a stacked line up of Tempe bands and even an out-of-town act from San Diego. Any special words you wish to share about the show?
After this show, we are taking a break as we work on our vinyl single coming out in the fall. So it will be the last time to catch us for a while. But for this show, we are playing all five songs from the Senseless EP live on stage at Yucca. Several of these songs we haven’t played live since the EP was released. I really look forward to playing “Pool Shark.” It’s very slow and moody, Pink Floyd-induced trippy-ness. Travis plays the keys on that one, which gives me a lot of space to control the mood and flow of the song with delicate, light-touch guitar licks which build into a powerful, driving guitar solo backed with Brian and James’ voices bringing it to an emotional crescendo. Yeah, I like that song. Probably going to bring out the 2013 Gibson Les Paul Standard for that show as it will be a little heavier performance. We will be rocking the stage first, 9 p.m. sharp, so I hope to see you out!

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Henri Benard
Contact: Henri Benard