Credit: Tinboat Productions
Traces of Glory is a documentary chronicling the story of the band Idaho, which premiered at the Raindance Film Festival . It details the life of Jeff Martin, lead singer of Idaho initially and now its only member. A fascinating look at why not every talented artist becomes a massive superstar, and why perhaps the art is more important than the fame. In this interview, I talked with husband-and-wife duo, director Mark Allen Davis and producer Jan Jensen, as well as the man himself Jeff Martin.
Jamie Cook: A lot of the documentaries that you've made in the past have focused on people who were fighting against a system of massive commercialization, of making money out of every little nook and cranny you can find. Was this a story that you were drawn to because of that and because of that theme that you carry throughout your work?
Mark Allen Davis: We didn’t know that it would be a documentary about that when we first started. I think that that storyline sort of emerged from our interviews… I mean, I think it's where we come from, as filmmakers. There's a little bit of we fight against the bigger studios, you know, especially now that they're in the documentary space. And now it's big money pouring in, which is in a way, sort of upsetting. But that storyline emerged with Jeff. I'm not sure we knew that going in, but it became sort of a strong current. And I think it's why we bonded a little bit in the beginning, in that we had similar feelings about making creative things your own way and not having to be beholden to other people or commercial interests that push you in certain directions. And I know Jeff felt that pressure early in his career and seemed to turn away from that in a really refreshing way. I think that struck a note with us, certainly when we discovered that storyline.
Jan Jensen: I think we're really drawn to niche topics too. We are probably never going to make the commercial, very-accessible type of film that's like, “Oh, clearly everyone's interested in bees or whatever.” If we were interested, we would, but we tend to find the left of center, obscure topics that people like.
MAD: If you came across something that was just a mind-blowing topic, we'd probably do a film about it. But we don't go out and look for those things and then set them up, it's more things that we’re directly related to. And so we're very passionate about those things because of that.
JC: Recording all this footage as you were starting out the band, did you always have the idea that you wanted to use it later, or was it just you wanted to document what you were doing?
Jeff Martin: I really love (it's not a voyeuristic thing) capturing moments and reliving them as a fly on the wall because it's a way to revisit your past… I really enjoy recording something and looking back at it years and years later. I knew I'd end up somewhere, but I look back at it now and as Mark said earlier today, I get so mad at my cinematography, it's so frenetic and amateur. But he was able to sift through all that and find little moments where maybe by accident I put a camera down on a table and it stayed still for 2 minutes, or moments where I put it on a tripod.
JC: You get a lot of childhood friends in… how willing was everyone to get involved with the making of a documentary? Was that a hard thing to convince people to do, or were they immediately on board with the idea?
JM: I mean, everybody that was interviewed were obviously on board to do it. There were people that weren't. Doug Smith, who was not in Idaho, but was in all of the bands leading up to it, and he toured with Idaho later just as a drummer and was somebody I really had a great working relationship with. He was like, “No way am I going to be here for this." It's not easy to get everybody on board. Some people were terrified about what it would do to their reputation. You learned a lot about your group of friends and their character issues and your relationship with them. We thought it was solid. I lost a friend over this, got in a fight with them about rights to photographs It's an interesting thing, doing a documentary. It really shakes your life up and you can kind of see who's on board with you and who's not in general.
MAD: There were a lot of interviews that we couldn't get because of COVID. Yeah, but there's something neat about the documentary, I like the small cast. You get to kind of know everybody a little bit better, it's not just boom, boom, boom, talking head, they're gone. So they made it work. The limitations are not bad.
JC: With Idaho going through many iterations, formally being a four piece band and now being just yourself, did you ever want to try to form a new four piece to take on the mantle of Idaho?
JM: Well, not a lot of people came into the fray after we got dropped from Caroline Records, I was kind of running the show, but the original band was a real collective. After that, it became basically the Jeff Martin solo project. But Dan stayed with me, the four-string guitar player, and then, in 2000, he left, and I worked alone. And now I have Ravi Franciso, who's kind of become a good sort of four-string guitar buddy for me. I think the more the merrier really does work. And I miss having that band that works well together. But it's like having lightning strike twice. It really is difficult to orchestrate that. And it just hasn't happened. I've been able to manage it on my own.
Traces of Glory premiered at the Raindance Film Festival 2022.
Edited by Lydia Leung, Film & TV Head Editor