Published on April 17th, 2015 | by Katy Evans1
Vicci Martinez comes home with Enter-Exit-Stay
Since February 25, Vicci Martinez and her new production company Enter-Exit-Stay have released nine strong songs that sound decidedly different from her past work.The new music blends epochal electronic/hip-hop infused production, thoughtful and nuanced lyrics, and Vicci’s soaring, assertive voice.
This team–band really–is working through a very new, very experimental process of constantly releasing, promoting, and sharing content. And they are nowhere near done. Each song builds on the next, revealing more of Vicci’s new sound but without resolving; this work is not finite, the “album” doesn’t end. The songs just keep coming.
So what’s going on here?
What’s the plan? Turns out, this is an effort simply to share a new vision from Vicci Martinez, simultaneously in very capable hands and just a little bit out of control. This strategy was borne of collaboration and is the result of four aggressively creative people spending nearly all their time together writing, producing, engineering, and rehearsing.
Vicci now spends upwards of 60 hours a week working with local songwriters/ musicians/ producers Aaron Stevens, Paul Hirschl and DJ Phinisey, the trio that comprises Enter-Exit-Stay.
All of the music all of the time
This disparate crew of overachieving artists has come together to make the most progressive, sophisticated, and complex music Vicci has produced so far in her career. This series of songs is about evolution and creativity, about discipline, learning from each other, and building family.
I sat down with Vicci, Aaron, and Paul at Hank’s recently to see how this grand experiment in making and sharing music is going.
Aaron Stevens explains the current trajectory: “We’re running it like a start-up. We get up stupid early, we work really hard, we go to the gym, we come back to the studio and work really hard, then we go write and go rehearse. It’s been 16-hour days for as long as I can remember just to get the music out. There is no end in sight for when we will stop releasing songs. We actually have a bunch of slow jams and pop songs that we haven’t released yet–”
Vicci interrupts, “and sometimes we don’t want to do anything like that and we do something totally different, do something with an orchestra or opera or something. We have such a wide range of styles and options with Aaron’s style, my singer-songwriter background, and with DJ and Paul; like, I took DJ to a few crazy places in LA and he got into some African and Cuban and soul-funk stuff that’s totally influencing him now. It’s endless.”
At last count, I had heard that they were approaching about 30 new songs. “We have way more than that actually… it’s like; it’s a lot of songs.” Aaron sounds exhausted but exhilarated at their creative pace, all of them do. This partnership has resulted in an explosion of creativity that, at least in my experience, is rare.
Vicci, Goldfinch, and the beginnings of a new sound
Vicci Martinez is a Goldfinch fan, “when I love a band I want to make them a part of my life.” A strong friendship grew between Vicci and Aaron more than five years ago and the two have written and performed together as far back as 2011. “Aaron is my favorite songwriter and he was the one who taught me the version of Jolene I ended up performing on The Voice.”
“Aaron couldn’t write a lyric that I wouldn’t love or wouldn’t be happy to sing,” Vicci shared, “I know his lifestyle; I know his family and how important they are to him; and anything that’s coming from there, it’s like, fuck yeah, world. There’s something behind it that I can always connect with.”
The music-making was friendly but sporadic until October 2013 when Aaron introduced Vicci to music producer and engineer DJ Phinisey.
During the making of Rockwell Powers’ recent album Build, Aaron and DJ Phinisey developed a mutual musician/friend crush. Aaron guested on one of Rockwell’s songs, DJ recorded and produced the album, and while in the studio together, Aaron and DJ clicked.
At the same time, Aaron and his wife Faith Stevens had been working together to develop a hip-hop influenced dance project that they hoped DJ would help score. It was Faith who came up with the name Enter-Exit-Stay as a way to describe their project, inspired by all the different ways people enter, exit, and stay. Aaron explains, “ it’s all the big implications and tiny details of what those kinds of movement can mean for each person.”
The title soon grew into a moniker for a formalized musical relationship between Aaron, DJ, and Aaron’s Goldfinch bandmate Paul Hirschl. The three started making music at a pace that would lead to a triumphant metamorphosis for them and for Vicci Martinez.
In the magical and challenging camaraderie of true collaboration, artists find they can lift each other up and move through challenges in a way that’s much harder alone. This is Vicci’s and every member of Enter-Exit-Stay’s current experience as they make music together.
“The way we’re doing this is not typical,” Aaron said, “it’s bizarre.”
Vicci expands, “it’s a lifestyle. I know companies work like this but musicians? Fuck no; they go to their gigs, they write songs, they go drink, they sleep ‘til 3 pm. The manager takes care of all your shit and you’re basically their bitch always checking in, ‘where do I gotta go, where do I gotta go?’ This band is totally different, we’re like a company; we’re employees with really high expectations of each other. Now that it’s part of our lives, our egos will come into it and it’s like a competition; we try to one up each other with everything we did each day.”
Aaron tries to describe just how bizarre the process is, “It’s a strange experience – the work happens like really swiftly moving water and you have to make the decision to jump in and roll with it it or just watch–”
“Be a little bitch and just watch it!” Vicci interrupts and elaborates.
Aaron laughs and continues, “everyone is just jumping in all the time and then a song comes out. We go from zero to a full song in one session and then by the second session, the song is pretty much all buttoned up. I don’t even really know how it’s happening. I have never written this fast before.”
Vicci smirks, “I’m putting crack in their water.”
The team works five days a week, eight to twelve hours a day and occasionally also on the weekends. Vicci explains that the whole point is to just keep the content going, and I ask, indefinitely? Vicci enthusiastically states, “Yeah!”
A winter wedding
Vicci tells me how they came together officially. “Before January 1st [of 2015], it was mostly the three boys piling up work so they had stuff available. After we signed our contract and got married basically, right around Christmas, we took two weeks off and then came together. Since then, a whole new sound has evolved.”
Now, the four have begun to settle into their roles; in that familiarity, they have also grown. Paul Hirschl, for example, plays a unique role as teacher and instigator for the group. The three explain.
“He teaches me,” Vicci says. “When we’re in the studio, we’re not just rehearsing. There’s a regimen and I wasn’t used to it. If we didn’t have the connection that we have to be able to tell each other like it is, straight up, a lot of the work we do now would have, in the past, probably made me just go, ‘fuck off.’ Paul will tell me to play a song this way or that way, he makes me practice. At first I was like, ‘fuck that, I have no time, maybe I need a break or need to take a nap,’ but now I do it and it’s changed everything.”
Paul smiles and shrugs, “I don’t change my methods with different people. I use the same tactics with the kids I teach that I do with everyone else.”
Aaron breaks it down, “Paul’s abrasive, he really is. When he’s in the studio, he’s a perfectionist. I had to advocate for Paul with Vicci and DJ; Vicci flat out said ‘I don’t want him here.’ It only took one or two sessions and they both got it. My experience with Paul over the years has shown me that he helps make me a better musician and songwriter.”
“He’s done the same thing for me,” Vicci agrees. “If Paul didn’t do what he does, I would suck so much right now. It drives me nuts but it’s so good; I’m so amazed with myself!”
This work has been a serious education for Vicci and she loves it. “We’re about to perform all this music we’ve made together for the first time; and there’s a lot of technical things we’re trying to work out.
“Typically this process is all about spending money you don’t have; you’d hire some asshole to come in and do it all and you don’t learn shit. That’s what happened to me. I did all of this before with tracks and a big band sound that I had nothing to do with. I’d walk into the rehearsal room I didn’t know I was paying for, some guy gave me my parts, there were all these people trying out to be in the band; they’d be in and then they’d be out and I really just didn’t know what was going on. But now, with all this experience and expertise, I know how to do so much more. I want to have a resume when we’re done.”
The art on display
April 18 marks the public debut of Enter-Exit-Stay plus Vicci Martinez when they perform live at the Rialto Theater. And they are really excited. Vicci put it best:
“There’s too much love, there’s too much positivity, and too much passion in this for anyone to not feel it. Even if the whole system went down, [at our show] we will be able to make every single person there cry and be healed but it’s not from us, it’s the art.
“And that’s what I love, it’s not just me trying to do that shit, it’s a group that’s leaning on each other and knowing we can hold each other up. Whether people like it or not, it’s ours, our painting, and it’s done. You don’t have to like it but it’s done. Don’t try to fuck with it, it’s in the frame.”
This concert supports Centerforce, a local nonprofit that offers employment services for individuals with developmental disabilities.