+ By Christine Fillat

There’s always something happening at Metropolitan Kitchen & Lounge. The interior is dark and cool. There’s electricity in the air, due to a state-of-the-art sound system. Every night, the place is booked with some sort of performance art: rock and roll, rap, punk, acoustic, spoken word, improvisation, jazz, electronic dance music. And there are open mic nights.

At the front door, you will encounter Joe Martin. He’s a gentle giant with a sweet demeanor, his imposing figure belies the reason he came to Metropolitan in the first place: to be a bouncer. He manages the venue, books talent, schedules security and sound checks, and just makes sure events and nights go smoothly. He is also in a band called 3rd Grade Friends.

Martin is the embodiment of Zen. He is calm. You cannot imagine the clash of music lurking within. He loves the recordings of Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, LCD Soundsystem, and Miles Davis. He has a four-year-old daughter, Violet. At a recent 3rd Grade Friends show, she approached the stage and yelled at Martin. He couldn’t quite hear what she was saying, as he was in the middle of a song. When the music stopped, he could make it out: “Dad! You’re too loud!” Martin remembers a similar scenario from when he was a child. His mother studied opera at Catholic University, and would sing for him. He remembers covering his ears. It was too loud.

Martin eventually got over his aversion to loud sounds and started making some of his own. In 3rd Grade Friends, Joe plays guitar and Robin Eckman plays drums. Their recent record release party at Metropolitan for #Ourtime, was hosted by Justice the Genius Child. For their schoolyard chums, 3rd Grade Friends provided coloring books, face painting, and candy.

Up.St.ART Annapolis recently asked Martin about himself and his music. This is what he had to say.

Up.St.ART Annapolis: Tell me how you met Robin. You were in third grade together. Were you both new at school? Did you hang out together? 

Joe Martin: Robin and I met in third grade. We weren’t like most kids that age. You just kinda knew everyone at the playground; most of you are friends when you’re at recess. We didn’t really hang out on the regular until after high school. I didn’t know we both moved to the school at the same time until a couple years back. Fifth grade, we had drum class together. He had mad chops even then. I didn’t keep at it because I wanted the whole drum kit, not just a snare drum.

UA: When did you start making music together?

JM: Robin and I really connected when we worked at the moving company [Short Hop Moving] together. Robin used to have house shows at Mung Manor on Route 2. I had an improv group I put together called the Blue Shirts, which played with his band, Cookie Head Jenkins, probably before we started working at the moving company. When we worked at Short Hop Moving, we did grueling work and bonded over music and started playing after work for hours at a time. Three to five times a week. We formed a group called Herd of Wookies. We’d make up songs on the moving trucks and occasionally jam at the moving company’s warehouse.

UA: How did the name 3rd Grade Friends come about? 

JM: Robin and I were getting ready for our first show as a duo, and we went back and forth with some names. Robin came up with the name 3rd Grade Friends, and I was sold. 

UA: Do you write the lyrics together?

JM: I usually write the lyrics, unless we bring in guest singers like Pretty Tony or Justice the Genius Child. We both come up with the song names. 

UA: I am tempted to call you the Frank Zappa of small bands. The two of you are like a small orchestra.

JM: Ha! I’m not a huge Zappa guy, but Robin loves him!

UA: So, there is this political undercurrent in #Ourtime. It is so great. There’s this universal response to school. We all go there, we all survive it.

JM: You’re def getting our school angle. Everyone goes there. Third Grade is when you really start to come into the world and realize certain things and remember experiences, develop friendships. You just want to have fun and live life.

US: How did the show go on Saturday (July 15, 2017, the #Ourtime record release party)?

JM: The show went amazingly well on Saturday! We had an awesome turnout, and everyone was smiling at the end of the night. When we took the stage, it was great to see so many people with their faces painted and just having fun. Warmed my heart.

Also, I don’t know if I mentioned this, but on Sundays I work at KA-CHUNK!! Records on Maryland Ave., selling records. 

CF: If you could do another job, what would you do? What do you see for yourself in the future?

JM: I don’t know. I’m not sure. Before I started doing this job, I had gotten laid off and did a ton of odd jobs, and this was one of the odd jobs I fell into. Doing security is how I started out here. Doing all the booking, I feel like the job is a Joe Martin job. It is the perfect fit.