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Interview: Billy Martin from Level 27

Interview: Billy Martin from Level 27


by Jeanette Nguyen

Ashes engorged the atmosphere and the sky shifted into a somber, chalky shade of grey. On this particular fall night, a series of wildfires has swept throughout Southern California, ironically, setting an ideal backdrop to The Happiest Place on Earth: Good Charlotte guitarist Billy Martin, along with long time friend and business partner Steve Sievers, are anticipating the new line launch of Level 27, an exclusive collection of nightmare-esque designs. Described as “wearable art,” the now independent clothing company is inspired by Martin’s love for fantasy, sci-fi and horror.

The event took place at Disney Vault 28, a trendy and upscale boutique located in the Downtown Disney District. Prior to a public meet-and-greet, FanBolt had the opportunity to chat one-on-one with Billy Martin.

What’s the inspiration behind your designs?

Billy Martin: I like anything that’s not real. A lot of people go to the movies and they say you’ve got to see this movie cause, whether it’s true to life or it tells a compelling story. Those movies are cool and I appreciate a good story, but I like style over substance. If it’s a movie with cool characters, a cool director–just really visually exciting things, those are the things I love.

Tim Burton is a pretty big influence. Aside from that, I love Lord of The Rings and Star Wars.

As far as books go, I really like Neil Gamin. He has a very specific way of writing. I’ve read a lot of his books.

I like to research Tim Burton and see who influences him and see who influences that person, kinda go back a couple levels. I usually end up reading older books or watching older movies to see who influenced the modern artists.

Do you prefer classic or modern art?

Billy Martin: I like modern stuff more. Sometimes I’ll see a classic and think, “Hmm… I don’t get it.” Then I’ll see something like The Cabinet of Dr. Calgary. It’s a really old black and white movie, but everything in it just reminds me of Tim Burton. It was an old German movie with no sound and color. I think it’s made in the 20s or something like that, but it just screams Tim Burton. It’s cool to see and think, “He must love this movie.

How did you get into drawing?

Billy Martin: It was something I’ve always wanted to do before music was ever around. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to draw comic books or work in cartoons. I used to sit in front of the TV watching cartoons on a Saturday morning and draw whatever I saw on TV over and over again.

Around the time I turned 15, I was really into music and it seemed cooler to be a guitar player than a drawer. I picked up guitar and fell in love with it and thought, “I don’t want to be an artist anymore. I want to be a musician.”

I ditched art and thought I’d do music for sure. I started a band with Steve back when we were in high school. From there, we played throughout high school. Then I started playing with Good Charlotte, and it just worked out. We got signed and the next thing you know, we had a lot of success. I was really lucky because I loved music, but a part of me was like, “How could you give up on art? That’s all you did your whole life.” My mom would always be like, “I can’t believe you don’t draw anymore. That’s all you used to do, and you’re so good.” I thought, “You’re right, why did I stop drawing?” I needed to get back into it and I started Level 27 because I needed a goal. I’m not drawing just to draw because I could give up on it, but if I had a goal or something specific then it would keep me busy.

I put some drawings on a shirt and people liked it and wanted to see more. All of a sudden, a door was open. If someone asked me to pick music or art, I don’t know if I could pick one. I love them both just equally and it’s pretty cool I get to do both now.

In the past, you’ve done illustrations for companies like Marvel Comics and Upper Deck Trading Cards. Now here we are at Disneyland. How did you get involved with Disney?

Billy Martin: I started doing stuff for Disney about a year ago. I met a friend who worked there and he started letting me do freelance stuff, like designing cookie jars and snow globes. It was fun for me because I got to draw stuff I wouldn’t normally draw. Some people at Disney found out about Level 27 and thought it’d be a good idea to do exclusive designs to premiere here at the store and do an event–a signing with a Level 27 theme at Disneyland. I couldn’t say “no” to that!

How do you envision Level 27 a couple years from now?

Billy Martin: I’m not really sure. I don’t see myself as a fashion designer. I do it because I like to see my drawings on a shirt. I would rather spend time working on books or comics and try to get into animation, while still doing a clothing line based around my art. At this point, I just want to keep doing it because it’s fun and I like seeing my drawings on shirts. You know, I’d like to do it as long as people are into it. I don’t want to say that I want to become some big fashion entrepreneur. It’s just something fun Steve and I do and it’s cool to do something with your best friend.

One of the real reasons was I knew as soon as I got busy with Good Charlotte I’d be all across the world and it’s hard to keep in touch with your friends when you’re traveling. But I figured if we had a business, it would help our friendship with being interactive all the time and we’d get to do cool things together. That’s really why we wanted to do it and it’s been about six years and we’re still doing it.

It seems so cliche having a clothing line nowadays. Every guy in a band has clothing line, so sometimes I feel stupid when people ask me about it, but truthfully I do it because it’s fun and I like seeing my artwork on shirts.

Let’s talk about your first book.

Billy Martin: I finished this book probably three years ago. It’s called Damious McDreary: A Boy and his Bat. I wrote it, illustrated it and shopped it around for a while. I met a company here in California called Gentle Giant They’re actually a toy company. They make action figures and I pitched them the idea of releasing a book with an action figure to go with it. They’ve never printed a book before because they’re a toy company, so it’s been a learning experience. It’s been a long process and we finally have everything ready, but they figured it would be smarter to wait until the next Good Charlotte record came out, so I can be promoting it on tour as we go from city to city. We’re probably looking to put a new Good Charlotte record out the summer of next year.

Speaking of a Good Charlotte record, tell us about the latest release Greatest Remixes.

Billy Martin: We talk about doing that every record, “Hey, let’s do a remix record!” Benji and Joel [Madden] have really been into the DJ scene and they’re always out DJing. They’ve met a lot of DJs and they work with a lot of hip-hop producers for fun. They’ve met a lot of people who sometimes just do remixes for free, like, “Hey, we remixed your song. Check it out!” We had so many things compiling, so we wanted to do a remix record since it’s going to be a while until we put another record out. We figured it would be nice to put a remix record out to give the fans something.

We had a couple other bands do covers. We were on tour with Metrostation and we told them about it and they said, “Can we do a song?” They did it on their laptop in a hotel on their day off and turned it into us by the end of the tour. They did a cover of “I Don’t Wanna Be In Love.”

Some of the songs are remixes and some are covers. It’s something we talked about doing forever. It was easy. It was fast. We just put it together for the fans. I think they’ll really enjoy it.

There are a couple new songs on there, too. Benji and Joel live a couple houses down from The Game and they’ve become really good friends with him. They just got in the studio one day for fun and recorded “Fight Song.” No one has heard it before and it’s been sitting around for two years because it doesn’t really fit on our record and it wouldn’t fit on his record, so we decided to put it on Greatest Remixes.

There’s a couple other demos on there from past records, just songs that didn’t make it on the record that everyone liked. We didn’t want to call it “Greatest Hits” because most of the time bands do that at the end of their careers, so we took all our biggest single, remixed them and called it Greatest Remixes. It’s a different take on a greatest hits record.

How is Level 27 different from your band mates, Benji and Joel Madden’s clothing line DCMA Collective?

Billy Martin: Basically, just because it’s my art. Those guys are maybe more into fashion than me. They go to Fashion Week in New York and try to be a part of the fashion scene. It’s something they’re really into and I think DCMA is more, I don’t know if “couture” is the right word, but it’s something like that.

DCMA is more specific with exactly what they want and it has a lot to do with their fashion sense, style, the bands they’re into and the artists they’re into. I think the difference is I’m actually doing the designs whereas they’re coming up with ideas.

Everything that each one of us does only helps the bigger picture. Every little thing we do individually helps Good Charlotte as a whole. If they want to do DCMA and produce for other people and I want to do Level 27 and put a book out, it just makes the Good Charlotte picture bigger and everyone’s super supportive of each other. We’re actually going to do a DCMA/Level 27 collaboration shirt together. It’s a drawing that I did and one of their guys is gonna put some logos and mess with it. We’ve been talking about doing it forever, but I actually just sent them the artwork last week.

Any closing thoughts or comments?

Billy Martin: The only thing I really wanna say is I’m so appreciative. Eight years after our band came out, six years after we’ve been doing our clothing line, people still care. I’ve seen so many bands come and go since the day we got signed. Bands that have come out and had huge singles on the radio and they’ve broken up and working regular jobs. I thank everyday that somehow I still get to do what I love and I still have a cool job. And people still care what Good Charlotte does or what I do on a personal level. I just wanna say thanks. It’s cool. I couldn’t do it without everyone else.

FanBolt would like to thank Steve Sievers for setting up this interview.

Level 27


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