For husband-and-wife duo Eddie and Lynne Martin, co-founders of the Tamassee, S.C.-based old-time music outfit Conservation Theory, music and activism are inextricably linked, conjoined on both a spiritual and practical level. Taking to their instruments relatively late in life, the Martins named the band in recognition of their ongoing efforts at land preservation, and played their first proper gig at a function for a conservation effort they were spearheading. Eddie Martin recently spoke to Scruffington Post about both the joys and challenges of taking up music well into adulthood, and of the fulfillment inherent in helping effect change through the medium of song.
SP: What was your musical background prior to Conservation Theory?
EM: Well, my wife and I were always steeped in music; we just didn’t happen to play. We were both brought up in very musical homes; all of her kinfolk play music. I remember visiting the Grand Ole Opry when I was a kid. And through my teen years, I picked up on all kinds of influences, from Flatt and Scruggs to Black Oak Arkansas.
SP: How did the two of you finally come to play music yourselves?
EM: When we started dating, we followed John Harper a lot, and he was a fixture at the Museum of Appalachia. So this one year, Earl Scruggs was coming out to play for the first time in forever, and he chose the occasion of the museum’s 2000 homecoming. At the show, the did a giveaway for a banjo. My daughter put in a bid in my name, and that was the one they drew. So we got to go back stage, have the banjo signed, hang out a little bit. Later, on the way home, I said, Lynne, we’ve been gifted this banjo for a reason. And she said, well, if you learn to play that banjo, I’ll learn to play fiddle. And that set us off. It was an epiphany, a blessing beyond measure.
SP: At what point did you decide to start playing out as a band?
EM: For a long time, it was just she and I working on our instruments on opposite ends of the house. Every so often, we’d get together and play. And at some point, we did that and decided it sounded good enough that we might do it in front of other people. There was a landowner meeting for a land conservation project we were working on, and it was kind of an event, with music and food and everything. We got a friend of ours to play guitar and harmonica, and we played a show. And since my wife and I have always had an interest in land conservation, we came up with the name Conservation Theory.
SP: Describe some of the projects you tackle in your conservation efforts.
EM: We’re looking at areas that are threatened by development that are worth saving for historical or environmental reasons. There’s an iconic property in Walhalla, S.C. that we worked on a few years ago, the scene of an old Civil War-era tunnel. There was a waterfall there, too, and people liked to visit the area. Well, a developer came along and decided it would be a great place for a gated community. We were among the people who took the lead and kept that area from being developed, and an additional 500 acres as well by using a combination of conservation easements and purchases and local government actions. The city of Walhalla owns a big part of the property now, and we got another portion donated to the state.
SP: Is conservation a theme in a lot of the songs you write?
EM: We have a few conservation songs, yeah, but we write about a lot of other things, as well. My wife writes a lot about hope and love. My brother-in-law (guitarist Marty Hopkins Gavin Martin) likes to write about people going through hard times. I just like to write about different experiences I’ve had.
We’re a simple band playing simple songs, and we want to be able to get the emotions we feel out in song, by tickling the edge of those words with the notes and chords that we’ve learned. We feel like we’ve been gifted this path for a reason, so we decided to take an active role in developing that blessing.
Conservation Theory will play Preservation Pub Sunday, July 15 at 9 p.m.