Russell Trunk Magazine Interview
January 2007

'80s - The Motels

'Lonely No More'

Formed in 1971 in Berkeley, California, the band (then called The Warfield Foxes) moved to Los Angeles by 1973 seeking a record deal. The band consisted of Martha Davis on vocals and guitar, Dean Chamberlain on lead guitar, Chuck Wada on 2nd lead guitar and others. While in L.A., the band changed its name to "The Motels" and both Robert Newman (drums) and Richard d'Andrea (bass) were added to the line-up.

After recording a demo for Warner Brothers, which was turned down, they were offered a contract with Capitol but the band turned that down by disbanding in 1976.

In March 1978, Martha Davis was approached by lead guitarist Jeff Jourard to form a new Motels. Extensive auditions resulted in a new lineup consisting of Jourard's brother Marty who played both saxophone and keyboards, Michael Goodroe on bass, and Brian Glascock on drums. By Mother's Day 1979, The Motels had signed with Capitol Records and released their first album in September of that same year. Their first single, "Closets and Bullets," made no impact on the charts, but their second single, "Total Control," found its way to the Top 20 in France and the Top 10 in Australia.

In 1980 Jeff Jourard was replaced with Martha's boyfriend Tim McGovern as lead guitarist. The band went back into the studio to record their second album, entitled "Careful." Released in June of 1980, the album made it to the #45 spot on the US album charts.

The band hired record producer Val Garay for their next album. The album, "Apocalypso." was scheduled to be released in November 1981, but after hearing the final product Capitol Records rejected it. Frustrated, the band attempted to go back and rerecord the entire album - which they did. The album, now titled "All Four One," was released in March of 1982.

  Before any singles were released, the song "Mission of Mercy" had made enough airplay to land the #33 on the Billboard chart. Their first single from the album, "Only the Lonely," found its way into the Top 10 in the U.S. by June. Other hits included "Take the L" and "Forever Mine." Their first successful U.S. album coincided with the emergence of MTV, which led to music videos for both "Only the Lonely" and "Take the L." By now, the band had added a sixth member, Scott Thurston.

The Motels returned in 1983 with the album "Little Robbers." The first single from the album, "Suddenly Last Summer," made its way to the Top 10 in the U.S. The album went gold in the U.S., Canada, and several other countries. In 1985 the band released their sixth album "Shock." The first single "Shame" became a Top 30 hit on the pop charts and a Top 20 on the dance charts. Two other singles were released, "Shock," and "Icy Red."

On February 13, 1987, Davis decided to dissolve the band and go solo.

Three members of the 1978 version of the band reunited with Davis in 2004 for an appearance on Bands Reunited; rejoining Davis were Michael Goodroe, Marty Jourard, and Brian Glasscock. Also appearing in that group was Adrian Peritori (aka "Guy Perry.")

Martha Davis reformed a version of the band called The Motels featuring Martha Davis, in 1998; as of 2006 she continues to appear under that name with various lineups.

Chatting recently with lead singer Martha Davis, I first asked her why the name change came about from The Warfield Foxes to The Motels? ”Well, we had our first gig - after I think three rehearsals - Halloween night in 1971 at a place called Project Arteau in San Francisco. Everyone appeared to be on acid. There was a naked blue man dancing in front of me. It was my very first gig and I remember being f**king terrified! I was a very, very, very, very, very shy child. I was ready to walk out the door, but there was a bunch of bands playing and it was just this crazy, crazy scene. We played some covers like ‘Stand By Me’ and I had an afro wig on! It was good. It was 1971! The name came from a theatre in Oakland called The Fox Warfield so we just inverted it and then somehow became The Warfield Foxes – which was silly!”

”When we first moved down with that first incarnation to Los Angeles we added a drummer in Robert Newman ... and we were suddenly now The Angels of Mercy. And we played under that name at our first gig there at Barney’s Beanery! At that time on Santa Monica boulevard that’s where all the motels used to be. So walking down there one day he looked up and said, ‘why not The Motels?’ Bingo! And so when that band broke up I coerced him into giving me the name, as my picture was on all the posters.”

After recording a demo for Warner Brothers, which was turned down, you were then offered a contract with Capitol … but then the band disbanded in 1976! What happened? ”Yeah,” she says matter-of-factly. ”Perfect! Yeah, we get record company interest and blow it! We were playing the Starwood - and we used to open all the time for Van Halen - but the night we got record company interest it was from Carter, who was our first producer. He saw something there from the very get and he sat me down to talk to me. I was so nervous I poured a glass of wine in my lap! Afterwards I went backstage and said that I thought Capitol Records was interested in us. And then Robert Newman, the drummer said, ‘well, that’s too bad as I’m leaving.’ And so, when the dust had cleared the next day, the guys suggested getting a new drummer, but I added that they should probably get a new singer too! To be honest I was more musically aligned with the way Robert was thinking – I was listening to David Bowie and Roxy Music and really wanted to explore some newer, crazier stuff. And the boys were totally knocked out by how much Van Halen were drawing 10 billion beautiful young woman! So, off I went to form a new band over night.”

So, just how did you go about getting the new band together? ”The only thing I had was equipment. That was how I lured them in! Because to be a chick in music in those days was not really a plus. It was just starting to happen, but it wasn’t like a big thing. So, I had a bunch of gear and that did it!”

What was it like at the height of your fame, doing all the TV shows, interviews, etc.? ”Well, it’s really sad to say this but in some ways for the biggest part of my career I probably wasn’t very much there. And in the ‘80s a lot of us weren’t very much there, but for all different reasons. My mom had committed suicide when I was around 20 and my dad had died around a year and a half after that and I was raising two kids – because I had become an air force wife at 15 – and, well, my parents were just held together. They just weren’t made for each other. It was one of those perfect dysfunctional families that people like to have. It all came crashing down when my mom committed suicide – and this is the part that I believe always happens in life – in that by her committing suicide she literally was the one to allow me to make music."

"Because at that point I wasn’t allowed to go into music. My dad was like, ‘you have two children, you need to go back to school, what are the odds of you making it in the music business, blah blah blah’ - and he was speaking the truth! It was stupid to go into the music business and believe that you’re gonna make money at it, you know. And then my mom dies and she leaves a diary – which I never knew she had – and in the diary she basically says that she had given up the things that she loved in life to satisfy other people. Whether it be my father or the PTA committee. So after reading it I realized that I had to do music. So, in some ways she was instrumental in me actually doing it."

"And it was such an interesting time, but I poured myself into that so much that I literally was pretty much on automatic pilot. It took me years, and years, and years - not until I was 42 – to actually really deal with that. And then I got mad at her and blew off a lot of steam, but I still love her.”

  Do you believe that your first successful U.S. album coinciding with the emergence of MTV, was why songs such as "Only the Lonely," "Take the L,” and "Suddenly Last Summer” all became such powerhaus hits for you? ”Yeah, isn’t that funny how something like that can come around and bite you in the ass?” she laughs. ”The thing that was funny about that was the reason I love writing is because the shy girl who’s afraid to speak her mind can now dissolve into the visceral characters I write about. And videos allowed us to take it to the next level. I mean, it was fun to dress up and act! We did ‘Take The L’ and ‘Only The Lonely’ for just six grand,” she laughs. ”And we shot them in a few days … and I think those days are long gone now!”

Do you think that ‘Only The Lonely’ would have been such a hit without MTV behind it?! ”I have no idea … and to make my answer all the more confusing, that album was made twice! It got rejected by Capitol and ‘Only The Lonely’ was on it – just a different production of it. So, who’s to know as they said they couldn’t hear any hits on that album and we would have to have another go at it. So we did and just redid ‘Only The Lonely’ … and look what happened! I’m sure the excitement of MTV at that time definitely helped it, yeah.”

And where did “Only The Lonely” originate from anyway? ”I’ve had this guitar since I was 8 years old that my father brought home one day from work in the '60s. It was what I wrote most of my songs on. And I picked it up one day and literally ‘Only The Lonely’ was sitting there! It’s how songs come to me. When I think back to what it probably was it was me being in this situation of what I had wanted coming true – as I had signed to Capitol Records and I was living the impossible dream – but I was unhappy. I hadn’t dealt with the stuff that I should have had. I was in a band with a lot of ego-driven guys so it was very overpowering in many ways. So, I was not happy, but I should have been. So, it’s kind of that feeling when you see people who are living the social-like dream but you see their loneliness, their emptiness like it’s a big game.”

  Will we be able to hear your third solo CD, Beautiful Life sometime soon, perhaps? ”Oh yes, oh yes,” she exclaims with a high pitched voice. ”It’s really good … and you know what’s really weird about it I think this album is for my mom. I think it deals with her suicide. There’s a lot of depth and sadness in there and maybe it brings me full circle, yes. And I’ve already written the next album after this one because it takes so damn long to put albums together! Especially when you’re doing them yourself. I think that the next album feels a lot lighter. It feels kind of like I unloaded everything on the last record. Not to say that I don’t like this album because I’m very happy about it, but this new one is just … different; lighter.”

Tell us how your 1978 band reuniting with you in 2004 for an appearance on Bands Reunited really went, behind the scenes! ”It was funny as hell! I mean, it was hilarious. We got together in the room, we started playing and it was awful! I mean we just didn’t have those old synths any more and nobody could remember the chords! So, we played it once and it sucked and so we played it again and it was perfect! The Motels have always been, and still maintain that level of fun. You have to be able to enjoy it.”

Would the old ’78 line-up ever reform for a tour, perhaps? ”That really hasn’t been something that I’ve wanted to do. First of all, one of the main things is that before anything else I’m a writer, and I have written hundreds and hundreds of songs. I write all the time and I tend to try and believe that ‘cause I’m constantly writing that I’m writing contemporary stuff. I’ve moved on. So, I get with these younger guys and have the sound of now. You kind of have to surround yourself with what’s current and just lock in to it.”

  And now you are back with an acoustic version of ‘Only The Lonely’ which can be found on the ‘80s Hits Stripped’ CD. When was it recorded? ”A couple of years ago. It was to do with my fabulous Manager who said, ‘you know what, you really need to do some acoustic versions of some of your songs.' So, we said OK and we did!”

Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk