Back Home – Marty E. Relocates to Upper Peninsula and Releases ‘Benevolent Criminal’ Debut EP

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Marty E. stands near the waters of Lake Superior. Photo – Virginia @lostinthewoodsmichigan 

Marty E. relishes returning to his old childhood stomping grounds in the Upper Midwest.

The Bessemer, Michigan garage-rock singer-songwriter and guitarist-drummer recently relocated to the western Upper Peninsula near Ironwood after living in New York City for more than 20 years.

“Everybody asks me, ‘Why did you move from New York City to goddamn Ironwood?’ The reason is I grew up in northern Minnesota, and my parents and grandparents all grew up in this area, like Ironwood, Michigan and the Hurley, Wisconsin area,” said Marty E., who’s also known as Marty Erspamer and hails from Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

“My great-grandfather had emigrated from Tyrol in Austria, and he went to Cleveland, but had heard the mining business was booming up here. Along with his brother and his cousin, he jumped a train, hitchhiked and somehow got here. The three of them started building houses up here, so I have deep roots here.”

Those deep, familial roots inspired some of the raw, honest tracks on Marty E.’s debut solo EP, Benevolent Criminal, which is now available on vinyl. The six-track EP features a seamless blend of gritty, lo-fi alt-rock, punk-rock and garage-rock instrumentation fused with introspective lyrics about change, loss and renewal.

“When I was singing, Jaime [Hansen] and Keith [Killoren] both really helped pull workable performances out of me and [taught me] how to think about it and how not to freak yourself out and have a whiskey or have a beer,” said Marty E., who’s inspired by The Replacements, the New York Dolls and The Velvet Underground.

“You want it to come out how you hear it in your head. Hindsight is always 20/20 when you’re recording, and you’re like, ‘I could have done this better, and I could have done that better.’ What it is … is a snapshot of the time, and I’m just really happy that I was able to come up with a recording that what you hear reflects what was here.”

Radios to Lakes

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Marty E.’s “Benevolent Criminal” features a blend of alt-rock, punk-rock and garage-rock instrumentation fused with introspective lyrics. Photo courtesy of Marty E.

Marty E. first shares Benevolent Criminal’s forthright sound on the contemplative opener, “The Radio,” which addresses the changes he’s experienced as a musician over the last three decades.

Alongside thunderous drums, ricocheting cymbals, bold bass and roaring electric guitar, Marty E. sings, “Things are different today / The ghosts pull the strings that way / A change in the sound / Echoes and lights surround / The spirits in the breeze / Whispers set in the sun / From on high over the trees / I always remember the one.”

“That’s a perfect introduction to the record … you reflect on what’s changed and you reflect on what hasn’t,” he said. “A lot of ghosts pop up when you’re creating something or at least when I am.”

Next, Marty E. tackles everyday annoyances in the thumping noise-rock jam, “Headache,” as pounding drums, throbbing bass and bluesy electric guitar infiltrate his life.

He sings, “There’s gotta be an easier way / To get so screwed / Not my idea of pleasure / Anyway I’m not in the mood.”

“The reason why I wrote that song is that we had a pipe burst in this crawlspace. Long story short, I got it fixed, but there was water down there … and I’m taking towels and wringing them out into buckets,” Marty E. said.

“I asked my girl if she could just hang out by the trapdoor here to keep me company while I’m doing this, and she said, ‘All right.’ Then I hit my head and was like, ‘Aw, goddamn it!’ And she said, ‘Are you OK?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, but there’s got to be an easier way to get a headache.’ And then the whole rest of this song is about working for the man and all the bullshit that is.”

After getting rid of his “Headache,” Marty E. seeks solace in the natural beauty of northern Michigan on Benevolent Criminal’s Waterfall.” Flowing drums, glistening cymbals, shoegaze electric guitar and tranquil bass provide a welcome escape from city life.

He sings, “So far away from New York City / Or your city of choice / Ghosts of the gales of November / A long-lost distant voice / Far away from nowhere / Wherever you have in mind / Echoes of last night’s thunder / Follow you like a sign.”

“We’re surrounded by waterfalls here, and I wrote the song reflecting on living in the middle of the city and this rat race,” Marty E. said.

“And it doesn’t even occur to you that any other way exists. It’s so deeply ingrained in you, but when you do something else, you’re like, ‘Holy shit, this has been here the whole time,’ so that’s what that’s kind of about.”

Finally, Marty E. shifts from waterfalls to the Great Lakes on “All That Glitters is Blue,” a sentimental ode to home and relationships. Dreamy and distorted electric guitars, strolling bass, soft drums and shimmery cymbals immerse him in gratitude.

Marty E. sings, “Don’t go chasing those northern lights / They’re right outside your front door / All who wander aren’t lost / We who wander aren’t lost / Pictures inside of heaven / How could you ask for more? / All who wander aren’t lost / We who wander aren’t lost.”

“It’s all about hanging out with your favorite person at that big blue lake, whichever one you prefer,” said Marty E., who lives near Lake Superior. “One of my friends … told me that the song has a ramshackle beauty about it, kinda like The Replacements.”

Benevolent Criminal

Marty E.’s Benevolent Criminal journey started while living in New York City. He previously played drums in several renowned rock bands, including The Dirty PearlsThe Sex Slaves and The Union Dead, and fronted Midnight Crisis, a post-punk / hard-rock project.

By 2019, Marty E. relocated to Michigan and brought a guitar with him that his girlfriend had found inside her old Queens apartment building laundry room. Once the pandemic lockdown hit in spring 2020, he was ready to start playing that guitar.

“I did these video lessons, and I said, ‘Why don’t I try writing a song,’ and I wrote ‘Waterfall,’” said Marty E., who also performed with Lady Gaga during his stint in The Dirty Pearls. “It’s simple chords, and it’s all about the placement and the rhythm and what you do with this string here and there.”

That initial song led Marty E. to hone his guitar-playing and songwriting skills throughout the pandemic.

“A lot of us found ways as I like to profanely put ‘turn chicken shit into chicken salad.’ A lot of people did that and they took the time to reevaluate,” he said. “I did the same, too. I would almost start writing songs to practice playing guitar. It’s fun to write music … and if you love music, it’s sort of its own reward.”

As a reward, Marty E. identified six songs that would lead to the creation of Benevolent Criminal. He collaborated with co-producers/guitarists Keith Killoren and Jaime Hansen, guitarist Michael Pully and bassist Noah Smit to record the EP at Hansen’s Eau Claire, Wisconsin studio in late 2021 and early 2022.

“I’ve always wanted to make a record called Benevolent Criminal since I was in college. My publishing name with ASCAP is Benevolent Criminal, so I decided that this was gonna be it,” said Marty E., who ran a crowdfunding campaign to fund pressing and releasing the EP on vinyl.

“I had those guys and my friend Jaime Hansen play some guitar on it, and he engineered and co-produced the record with me, too. I played most of the guitars on it, but I had those guys help me out with some additional guitars on ‘The Radio’ and on ‘One Way Down.’”

Fans can now purchase a copy of Benevolent Criminal on 10-inch vinyl via Marty E.’s Etsy store. The EP will also be available on CD and streaming platforms later this spring.

Looking ahead, Marty E. continues to write new material and wants to record a full-length album soon. He’s even booking live shows, including a May 13 performance at Superior Culture in Marquette.

“I have a bunch of new stuff that I have structural skeletons for … and maybe like a verse or two or a chorus or something lyric-wise,” Marty E said. “I’m gonna start demoing those really soon.”

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