In 1984, in the growing Pacific Northwest city of Seattle, a 14-year-old Kevin Martin knew he was witnessing something special.
At the Opera House, in the shadow of the Space Needle, he was rocking out to a newly formed three-piece band called Soundgarden, featuring a young man named Chris Cornell on the drums.
"That was quite an experience, being 14 years old and going to see this big rock band that everybody was talking about," Martin said.
Kevin Martin fronts Candlebox at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., earlier this year.
Photo by Ben Beksel Photography
Soundgarden wouldn't be the only band to come out of Seattle in that era to make waves in the music industry. Mother Love Bone would soon rise as the "next big thing," only to have their climb cut tragically short. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and other massive groups that are synonymous with "grunge rock" to this day came from the Emerald City during the time period.
Candlebox, fronted by Martin, grew up around those bands - recording next door to them and playing in clubs down the street from them. He laments, however, that his band was never as well respected as those led by Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder or Layne Staley.
"Being a young band in a city that was already so successful musically was really, really difficult," he said. "To this day, we still are kind of considered the red-headed stepchild of Seattle. ... Even though we're friends with a lot of those guys, none of them ever said, 'Hey, come on the road with us.'"
That's not to say Candlebox has not had its successes. Its 1993 eponymous debut release peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and featured two singles - "Far Behind" and "You" - that charted on the Billboard Hot 100. Its fifth and most recent album, "Love Stories and Other Musings," was released in April and hit No. 12 on Billboard's Independent Albums chart.
The new album is a combination of new recordings and hits familiar to Candlebox fans, though Martin says that wasn't something the band had wanted to do. Rather, he said, they were asked to re-record "Far Behind" and "You" for an edition of the "Guitar Hero" series of video games and were later "coerced" into producing the album as it was.
"As a band, we felt those songs really kind of needed to be left alone and should just be used for what they were supposed to be used for," Martin said. "That being said, I think we did a great job at them, but it was really difficult to recapture those songs that way."
Martin said that the band has evolved a great deal in the two decades since it was formed, becoming better musicians and better songwriters along the way. The new album, he said, features a number of songs that have "real space and patience - something we needed to learn." Even through all the changes, though, he said that fans from the past will always have a link to the band.
"A Candlebox record always sounds like Candlebox," he said. "There's always that one thing, I don't know what it is, on each song that makes you think of us."
Martin, married with a young son named Jasper, says he hasn't "settled down," but that traveling while his family waits at home for him is difficult. However, it isn't as difficult as it was in earlier days of rock.
"My wife can't stand the fact that I'm constantly gone, but she knows what it is," he said. "It's a lot easier now than when Journey wrote 'Faithfully' back in the '80s, when you didn't have cellphones and you didn't have Skype. ... But it's still painful to be away from them, knowing I'm not going to wake up and see Jasper in the morning or see my wife next to me."
Though he could stay home with his wife and son, leaving his touring days behind him, Martin said the thrill of being a traveling performer is something that someone in his line of work can't just forget.
"There's a term that gets thrown around in a lot of different environments, and it's 'the lifer.' You become a lifer because musically, it's all we know," he said. "In our hearts it's all we know, in our heads it's all we know. It's what we do. I go to sleep singing songs, I wake up singing songs."