Martin Grech's Open Heart Zoo - uncaged

Story by Jack Foley

GONE are the days, it seems, when rock genius was defined by how loud or wild you can be. The foul-mouthed, lager-loutish antics of the likes of Oasis (while still fun and great for attracting headlines) seem to be able to sit comfortably alongside those artists who quietly go about their thing - impressing all and sundry with the quality of their music, rather than the outrageousness of their acts.

Witness Coldplay, or David Gray, as good examples of what I am talking about. Or the rapidly emerging Electric Soft Parade. Well, now step forward Martin Grech.

Martin who? I hear you ask... Grech's eagerly-anticipated single, Open Heart Zoo, taken from his debut album of the same name, hits stores today (September 30, 2002) and is already being hailed as an instant classic. And while the name of the track and its artist may still require some head-scratching, then consider it is currently being used to accompany the advert for the new Lexus, currently on TV.

Little wonder then, that those who speak about Grech, refer to him as someone who can provide listeners with access to 'the most intense, beautiful and forward-looking music of the day'.

High praise indeed, for a lad of only 19. Yet the quietly-spoken teenager, who wears his guitar slung unfeasibly low and has a fondness for black clothes, is generating a lot of buzz within the music industry.

Born in 1982, Grech first became interested in pursuing a career in the business at the age of 12, while still living in Aylesbury, and having bought Radiohead's The Bends. He immediately went out and obtained a guitar and a chord book and disappeared into his bedroom to begin his career.

Grech also put his family's knowledge of the music industry to good effect - as his mother had been a professional singer doing popular covers, while the household piano became a popular fixture for mother and son.

As Martin's confidence grew, he tentatively began writing his own material, forming an early band with local friends and, gradually, comprising the songs which make up the debut album, Open Heart Zoo.

The real leap forward, however, came four years later - at the age of 16 - when Martin was introduced to producer Andy Ross, while still at school. The teenager made an instant impression on Ross and began travelling into London to the producer's studio to work on demos.

Over the three years that they subsequently worked together, Martin was able to explore and develop in a conducive environment and the demos quickly turned into an album. The huge vistas, contrasting moods and mass of detail within Open Heart Zoo owe a lot to the creative freedom Martin was allowed by Ross.

The album which resulted has drawn comparisons with some of the top names in the industry, including Radiohead (for obvious reasons!), Muse, Bjork and Soundgarden. And such is the acclaim it attracted, that the busy Grech is now halfway through penning his second album.

When asked to name the current bands he is impressed with, however, he struggles to be forthcoming, citing only Sigur Rios as a firm favourite, although the likes of Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden are mentioned as perennial favourites.

Talking about the inspirations which drove Open Heart Zoo, however, Grech is more forthcoming, saying: "The 'Open Heart Zoo' thing came from the general feeling of opening up for the first time. If you do an album and if you're being honest about it, you're putting your whole self on display, even if some people can't read it, you're still on display.

"At the moment, I'm feeling good about it, but it's still a bit weird."

Keep hitting these pages for more on Grech, or click here for Paul White's review of the single...
Alternatively, click here to buy the album...