Raise your hand if you’ve ever held your breath for a minute.

Now keep it up if during that minute you synced an entire verse to a song while you were more than 30 feet underwater.

Enter Kevin Martin, a multi-platinum musician turned freediver out of necessity – though you’d never know with his warm demeanor and utter lack of ego one would expect from a singer with his credentials.

Martin is the frontman of Candlebox, a Seattle-based rock band whose chart-topping debut album was certified 4x platinum by the RIAA. With singles like “Far Behind”, “You” and “Cover Me”, the album launched a 30-year career that saw the band release seven studio albums, continuing with their 2021 album “Wolves”.

The band have unique ties to the Keys, as they filmed the music video for their single “Understanding” both above and below the waters of Marathon with legendary director Gus Van Sant in 1995. Next month, Martin will return to the Keys for the first since filming as he performs an acoustic set at the Key West Theater on Tuesday, February 22.

Before the show, Martin was kind enough to call in for an episode of the Florida Keys Weekly Podcast and reminisce about his time at Marathon, the early days of Candlebox, and his thoughts on the music industry today.

How did a band from Seattle end up choosing a small island in the Keys to film the music video for “Understanding?” We were on tour and Gus offered to do the video because he felt connected to the song. He knew the history of how we were treated in Seattle, so he kind of had a “fish out of water” concept. He’s an incredibly talented director and a lovely human being, and we just had a blast. We had to take a scuba diving course as we would be over 30 feet underwater. In fact, Gus wasn’t even there the first day of filming because he stepped on a spotted eagle ray, so he went to the hospital.

What was it like filming an entire verse while holding your breath underwater? Oh man, they had these speakers underwater, and I was trying to lip sync them. I had no idea how long this verse was until I got to the end. This might not be my favorite video Candlebox has done in terms of looks, but it was quite the experience.

You were in Seattle in the mid-90s, surrounded by one of the greatest musical movements in US history, the Seattle grunge movement. How does Candlebox fit into all of this? Well, the sad thing is that we weren’t really comfortable. And I was five years younger than a lot of the big names in Seattle, so there weren’t many 21-year-olds going to date a 16-year-old. We formed Candlebox in 1991, so we came to the end of things, and we really don’t sound like any of those bands. But what makes us collectively sound like Seattle bands is our sincerity. I don’t think any of the bands that came out of Seattle really cared about having a rock star career. It was just, “we can’t do anything but make music. This is how we are supposed to live our lives. And if the career comes with it, great.

Who still inspires you today? I don’t really listen to Pearl Jam or Alice in Chains or Soundgarden. I haven’t listened to Soundgarden primarily since Chris (Cornell) passed away. I was just a huge fan, and he was a good friend. I was very good friends with Layne (Staley) and when he passed away it was heartbreaking. I’m really inspired by a lot of the new kind of alternative music that’s come out. I think The War on Drugs pushes the boundaries musically, and I would compare it to what the Beatles were doing when they did “The White Album”. I also like Perfume Genius, Billie Eilish and an Australian band called Gang of Youths.

Do you listen to your own music? I rarely listen to Candlebox, certainly not the first three albums because I’ve known them for 30 years. But there are a few tracks that I really love about “Disappearing in Airports” that I’m so proud of. And then some stuff from the last album “Wolves”, which I think is probably Candlebox’s best album since the first album.

Many musicians from the Seattle scene are sadly no longer with us. How did you avoid following this same path? Do you just consider yourself lucky? Your environment certainly has a lot to do with the drugs you take or the alcohol you drink. I moved to Seattle when I was 14. I came from San Antonio, Texas, I was skateboarding and living my life that way. So I didn’t really fall into the trap, because it wasn’t something that appealed to me. I really preferred to be outside and do things.

Your debut album went four times platinum, and at one point most people in the country knew the lyrics to your song “Far Behind.” Is it ever strange to think about it? I think for any musician, when you make your first album, it feels like it takes a lifetime. I really enjoy the time I spent writing and recording these songs. It’s really more about the accomplishment of making the album than how much it sold. Is it a bit mind-blowing? Yeah. The fact that “Far Behind” is the song that keeps me touring and pays my rent that’s now been going on for 30 years is amazing. It’s a gift horse that I would never look in the mouth.

Over the past 30 years, the country has seen a huge change in the music industry. When you started, people bought albums and listened to them all the way through. Now you have more streaming and singles, and Best Buy doesn’t even sell CDs anymore. What’s it like to be in a band that’s been releasing albums through this transition? The industry is screwed, frankly. It’s distorted. You can’t make money as a band anymore unless you’re in the top 20. I have a lot of friends who are in young bands that opened up for us that I respect, and I would hate to be in their shoes right now trying to sell an album or get some recognition for what they’re doing. There’s so much competition, and it’s all about not letting you succeed. I don’t know how anyone does that right now, man.

OK, now for the fun stuff. True or False: You still have at least one pair of Doc Martens that you owned in the 90s. It’s true, and I still wear them.

Finish this sentence: The most underrated artist in the grunge movement was… Mary Lou Lord, or there’s a band called Bam Bam I’m obsessed with.
Were you a fan of Eddie Vedder or Kurt Cobain? Cobain, just because I grew up with punk rock.

Corina C. Butler