Looking back on his last Los Angeles alt-rock outfit, Iglu & Hartly, vocalist Sam Martin — who now fronts Youngblood Hawke, with its omnipresent single “We Come Running” — sees the Faustian bargain quite clearly.
Sensing rabid interest from British labels, the band pitted the companies against each other to see how much money it could get, says Martin, who opens for Keane at the Warfield on Friday as part of Youngblood Hawke.
He adds, “We were like, ‘Holy s***! They’re giving us close to a million dollars!’ And from that moment on, we were doomed. You have to pay that money back, and we didn’t even come close.”
The title of Iglu’s sole album for Mercury — “& Then Boom” — proved prophetic. At one point, the band had a chart-topping U.K. single and played 120 shows in 150 days in 17 countries.
But as Martin and guitarist Simon Katz watched in disbelief, their egomaniacal lead singer gradually turned on them, finally forbidding them from contributing any further material. So they quit.
“We were on top of the world, and literally two weeks later, we were sitting in our apartments, broke, going, ‘What the hell just happened?’ We played with the devil, and we got burned.”
Separately, the two musicians licked their wounds and let their anger simmer. It was a scary time for both — they had such a distaste for music, but what could they do instead?
“I waited tables at a retirement center, I folded clothes at a warehouse,” Martin says. “I did anything to eat, thinking, ‘Damn! I’ve got to take this miserable job just to survive now — this is crazy.’ You get to live your dream for a little bit, and then it just drifts away, which is harder than never having experienced it at all.”
Previously, Martin and Katz never had written together. For fun, and catharsis, they started. Soon they composed more than 200 songs, oddly uplifting ditties like “Running.” That song was buoyed even higher by the West Los Angeles Children’s Choir and included on Youngblood Hawke’s eponymous debut EP. They just wrapped their full-length follow-up, with more inspirational paeans such as “Last Time,” “Black Beak” and “Live or Die.”
“We were in a deep, dark hole, but we wanted to make music for ourselves to get out of that,” Martin says. “That’s why a lot of the songs seem extremely positive.”
Even the quintet’s moniker is optimistic. Herman Wouk’s “Youngblood Hawke” is one of Martin’s favorite books, about a young Kentucky novelist who tirelessly pursues success in New York. “An artist who would do anything to do their art?” he says of its easily relatable protagonist. “From the first page, I just got chills.”